Using Comprehensible Input to Teach Russian – Michele Whaley and Victoria Maximova

Traditional Russian teaching is based on what Olga Kagan once called “the empty basement”: the idea that Russian study must first have a foundation filled with complete knowledge of Russian grammar before students can proceed. Methods used to teach Comprehensible Input are based on the idea that grammar is acquired with all of the other elements of language; it cannot be specifically taught — or learned. Teachers are starting to accept that these new methodologies are not another way to “fill the basement.” This round table will allow teachers of Russian to discuss and share best practices for teaching with comprehensible input, continuing to change the way that Russian is taught and acquired.

Providing comprehensible input is possible through any number of methods, but it is easiest to understand at the beginning through one lens. Often that lens is Storytelling. Storytelling engages both students and teachers, and it helps forge bonds in a group of students that lower students’ affective filter, allowing them to acquire language more quickly and effectively. Teachers can use storytelling for only a short time at first, as opposed to other methods, getting stronger and more confident in using the critical skills of delivering comprehensible input. Later, through this “doorway” of storytelling, teachers will find that they can use any text, any conversation, to open true communication with students. 

The long tradition of teaching Russian assumes that there can be no such conversation until much higher levels, when students have learned all the grammar. The descriptions of levels in Russian are based on grammar, rather than on proficiency, so Russian teachers have a huge leap of faith to make as they start to adopt CI methods. A roundtable with Russian teachers who are committed to the idea of comprehensible input will allow teachers to share both their concerns and the ways that they will consider changing their lessons, based on what they have seen and heard at the Agen Conference. Leaders and attendees will share resources for learning more about CI methods and create a network of teachers who are interested in working together for a common goal. 

This presentation takes place in “English 2 room” on Thursday July 30th at 20:00 Paris time (CEST). To access the room, please click here to consult the visual map (restricted to registered conference attendees).