In outlining his CI (Comprehensible Input) program checklist, a terrific resource for those of us daring to transition into using CI in our practices, Lance Piantaggini mentions the use of Fluency Writes in helping chart student growth. He defines these as timed writing assessments used to show how many words a student can produce in the target language. He also warns that these writings can show what a student can produce at that time and are not a clear signal of acquisition, but that these are possibly (definitely) a necessary evil for those of us who like to get paid for doing our jobs.
These Fluency Writes, as timed writing assignments, can usually be done as a review of a story done in class or a Free Write, which is a wholly original narrative produced by the students.
This second idea is intriguing as a potential way to help acquire new material to use in class – especially for those of us who are trying to transition CI into our practices and are lacking the materials. One of the challenges of CI is that the teacher is really performing the language each day while the students absorb things – this can be a mountain of demand even though it will immensely benefit your students. It is almost like lecturing each and every day, although we are told to not do such things.
Anyway, Ben Slavic writes about using these free writes as substitutes for novels. The class stories are the ones CI instructors will search for and redevelop but can also use the material from student-produced free writes as well. He writes, “Using free writes as sources of reading material for our kids is a fine idea indeed. All we have to do is re-write, in corrected language, what our kids wrote as free rights and then publish those texts and distribute them to be read during the FVR [Free Voluntary Reading] period to start our classes.”
Input comes in two forms in a CI classroom – the input provided by the teacher and reading. In either case, the messages should be comprehensible, and there is no way a student-produced story will fall outside the sheltered vocabulary required for proper CI. It also can serve as extra motivation for students to produce better stories in their free writes because it could be featured in class. This would be something else to celebrate, in addition to the growth students may be showing with their work (moving beyond a previous limit of words produced). It could also lead students to think about episodic treatments, where their free writes turn in to opportunities to further extend their stories and characters beyond what they had written before.
The way to make this work, Ben Slavic seems to suggest, is to set aside a 10-15 minute time frame to take these special examples and type them up for class consumption.
One of the ideas I am tinkering with is also to divide up my class (currently 45 minutes daily) into 10-15 minute blocks, each separated by a Brain Break or Brain Burst activity (see Magister P’s post here). Lance Piantaggini suggests that you create a standard time frame for your Fluency Writes (in this case, free writes) which students can get used to the feel of the timing. I would say that a middle 10 minute period could be a free write while that last 10 minute period (after a Brain Break) could be your time at your desk looking over samples and processing them for future classes. I haven’t gotten there yet, but giving the students an activity to do while you look over their work and process it would be ideal.
This would be an excellent way to not only build camaraderie in class (a CI prerequisite), but also fuel their motivation while also giving them the practice they need with more CI in future classes. The free write is output, and perhaps it is forced, but it is something of a necessity regarding our job performance and documenting student growth. Besides, this output doesn’t have to be done every week but could be done quarterly or so just as a way for students to stretch their legs a bit and show off what they have learned. It also can create an authentic situation for students to produce output – something we want after acquiring a language anyway (I know, that is the destination and we have yet to arrive!).
Share your thoughts! I’d like to hear more practical ideas!