Pandemic Denial and Comprehension-Based Teaching

The pandemic is very much still happening in the United States. Hundreds of people are dying every day, life expectancy has plummeted, and COVID-19 has become the 3rd leading cause of death. Despite this reality, our leaders have decided to embrace denial as their primary strategy. As a result, the dominant narrative in the U.S. is that the pandemic has long since ended and that, despite the well-over one million lives lost, our earlier attempts to protect human life were a harmful overreaction. This narrative can be seen at its strongest in our discourse about schooling. What does this have to do with comprehension-based language teaching? I believe this narrative to be one of the biggest obstacles impacting our success and growth as language teachers.

According to popular discourse, schooling in 2019 was near perfect, the months in 2020 when most schools were remote nearly ended human civilization, and now 2023 is the fight to undo the harms of 2020 and return to the glorious “normal” of 2019. (This narrative is problematic for many reasons, but I’ll try to stick to the ones that pertain to the language classroom.) When schools first went remote in 2020, this was viewed as a chance to pause and reexamine our priorities as educators and reimagine how we approach schooling in general. Suddenly the emphasis was removed from standardized test scores, competition to get into the “best” schools, micromanaging of movement, etc., and shifted to the physical and emotional well-being of educators and students. By the summer of 2020, all of that was gone and replaced with “the urgency of normal” rhetoric that championed a return to the status quo. Once this took hold, a cognitive dissonance was formed between the observable reality of our classrooms and the urge to pretend like it’s 2019 again.

How is this showing up in the language classroom? I’m hearing stories of utter dispair from comprehension-based language teachers. Many have either left the classroom or are actively trying to do so. The common theme in all of their accounts is how what used to work in 2019 just isn’t working anymore, but since everything is “back to normal” the reason must be that they just aren’t good teachers. They attempt basic PQA, but none of their students respond, all of them are trying to sneak phones, some are fully asleep, some have earbuds in their ears, and others ask to go to the bathroom and disappear for 30 minutes at a time. Things are VERY different in the classroom right now, but there is no space to express these struggles other than blaming the 2 months their students were on Zoom, 3 years ago. Between the toxic positivity of how wonderful “normal” is and lamenting the one fleeting break from the status quo, these teachers are left blaming themselves, burning out, and/or quitting.

I’m not blaming any individual, we are all coping with the largest mass death event in U.S. history and one of the largest in human history, while facing the grim reality that no one in power has any interest in doing anything about it. We’re all trying to get by however we can. My aim here is to suggest that we as a community address the realities of this moment and start coming up with ways to deliver comprehensible input to the students, given the real conditions under which we are working. The world of 2019 wasn’t perfect and it’s never coming back. There is a very real 2023 living in our classrooms that we can no longer afford to deny.

In the coming weeks and months, I’m planning on sharing specifically what changes I’ve felt the need to make in my classroom and the challenges I’m experiencing. I’m hoping this tiny effort will create space for more of us to break the spell of denial and start really thinking about what comprehension-based language teaching looks like in 2023.

Thanks for listening,

-Magister Bracey

Incomprehensible Input

Incomprehensible = NOT understood

Input = Language heard or read

There is no reason to do this. This does not promote language acquisition. On top of that, it’s a miserable experience for everyone involved. On some level, we all know this. The question is WHY do we still do it? If we can identify the WHY, perhaps we can figure out HOW to stop.

Often times this is an honest mistake. A number of antiquated theories of language acquisition are centered around being exposed to mountains of incomprehensible input and trying to figure out what it means. A lot of us were taught that way and are simply repeating what we think worked for us. This is easily fixed by attending some professional development put on by Comprehensible Input practitioners. This is perhaps the easiest fix. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Other times the issue has to do with unrealistic expectations. For example, imagine the final objective of a high school French program was to be able to translate Marcel Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu” into literal English and identify the tense, mood and voice of all of the verbs. The goal is essentially for students to engage a completely level-inappropriate text at an absurd level of detail. It is easy to understand the temptation to provide incomprehensible input to students in “preparation” for even less comprehensible input in the future. The solution to this one depends on the amount of power we have to decide our own curricula. If we are able, we should just ditch that goal entirely and replace it with a more appropriate one. Ultimately, if your goals make you feel like you need to provide incomprehensible input to your students, those goals needs to change.

Along the same lines, the problem has to do with our selection of sources of input. For example, say you find a great novella that you would love to read with your students. You decide to use it in your level 2 classes, but you quickly realize that it is well beyond the reading level of those students. What do you do? Often times, we make the mistake of trying to plow ahead anyway, going through heaps and heaps of pre-reading activities to try and make the language comprehensible, one paragraph at a time. Although the impulse is admirable, we end up just providing far more incomprehensible than comprehensible input, and killing any possibility of students enjoying the actual story. The solution here is to either create a more level-appropriate adaption of the same story or to pick an entirely new novella for those students.

In the end, the most important thing for us to remember is that whatever it is that we want for a our students, it will not be achieved through incomprehensible input.

– John Bracey

Want to Get Started with CI? Try SUMUS!

One of the most common questions I get from Latin teachers interested in CI is “Where do I start?”. I had this question in mind when I approached the legendary Martina Bex of the Comprehensible Classroom. I had long admired her SOMOS and NOUS SOMMES curricula as invaluable resources to Spanish and French students. Dipping ones toes in to comprehension-based teaching for the first time can be scary and thus having a pre-maid curriculum, activities and plans would help a ton of people take the plunge. Latin had nothing like this, but desperately needed it. Fortunately, Martina agreed! And thus SUMUS was born.

SUMUS is a developing curriculum that is released individual units as they are completed. Currently there are four full units available, with many more to come! Each contains multiple readings, slideshows, lesson plans, etc., that are all based on CI principles. The content is meant to be accessible and engaging for all different age groups. Regardless of the time of the year, you can plug in a SUMUS unit or lesson at any time!

The whole reason why I wanted to make SUMUS was because I wished I had had something like this to help me when I was first getting into CI. I continue to work on it because even more experienced CI-based educators sometime desire a bit more structure to feel comfortable teaching this way. I am a fulltime classroom teacher and thus everything I create or adapt is something I would personal use in my classes.

I am very proud of SUMUS has turned out so far and I really hope you find it helpful. This year in particular is challenging and exhausting. I encourage you to give SUMUS a try and take a break from planning and creating new materials. Smash any of the SUMUS links to purchase and gain instant access to all of the SUMUS‘ entirely digital materials.

John Bracey

Backup Plans for those Dark Days

We all have those days when just don’t have anything to give. You’re exhausted, the weather is dreary, or you are feeling the very real effects of depression. This year, in particular, these days seem more and more frequent. Whatever the reason, some days you just can’t. I’m having one of those days today so I felt moved to write this. This post was a inspired by an old post on Martina Bex’s website. So without further ado, here are my go-to moves for when these days show up unannounced…

  • The Choice Board. All you do is find literally anything that has or can be read in the target language. This can even be done with FVR books. Have students celebrate their understanding by completing any number of activities from this choice board, also borrowed from Martina Bex with some cool additions from Lauren Downey. No prep and extremely effective.

  • Blooket. is no longer a well-kept secret and have become a favorite online gaming site for language teachers and students. Make, or find, a Blooket set that focuses on high-frequency words in your language. For example, search “frequent Russian words” and then fire up a game. You can assign these as independent activities or just play as a class. Almost no prep and fun. There are ways to make decks that are more suitable for acquisition, but save that work for another day.
  • Video + 3, 2, 1 Reflection. Find a culturally or linguistically relevant video. Show the video and have students write down 3 things they learned, 2 things they want to know more about and 1 question they have. Only prep is finding a video.
  • Write, Copy, Translate or Draw. This is a slight adaptation of Tina Hargaden’s write and discuss. Write a story on the board in real time while your students copy down the story. Stop periodically to check for understanding, establish meanings of words, etc. Once they have copied down the story, Have them either translate the entire story into English (or whatever the common language is) OR make a 6-slide storyboard with original drawings. Some prep, if you need to choose a story. No prep, if you just improvise the story on the spot.

There you have it. All of these are activities that I frequently use in class anyway, except maybe the video reflection. I put them on this list because they demand little or nothing from a teacher who has little or nothing to give, at that moment in time. I hope this helps you.

John Bracey

Game Plan for 2021-2022

  • Keep all remote resources from last year at the ready. (I have a feeling we’re going to need them)
  • Plan lessons around getting to know more about students. Even if the lesson involves a novella, or any other pre-written story, treat it like just another excuse to find out more about them. Ask them how they feel about the story, what they would do differently, etc.
  • Keep things simple. Don’t spend time on making everything sparkly and complicated. (I stink at decorating and graphic design anyway)
  • Keep the intensity and stakes low. We’re still in the middle of generation-defining, deadly pandemic that is closer to the begin than the end. Life is full of fear, death, financial instability, food and housing insecurity. We can’t pretend like things are normal, because we all know they aren’t. Show even more compassion when it comes to grading and assessments than you did last year. Be as gentle as humanly possible.
  • Rely heavily on reading. FVR, novellas, typed up versions of conversations, etc. Reading is truly the richest source of comprehensible input. I never remove my mask inside of my school building, so this also helps me avoid dehydration from talking a lot.
  • Leave everything at school. The past year and half put a lot of things into perspective for us as teachers. The teacher as martyr idea is finished. We can pour our hearts and souls into our teaching while we are at school, but that needs to end when we walk out of the building. We deserve time with our families, partners, hobbies, etc. Balance is a good thing.

Please take care of yourselves.

End of the School Year Reflection

This year has taught me a lot about about being a teacher. Here are some of the key lessons I learned from this school year.

  • Input is still everything. As long as students are reading or hearing something understandable, they are making progress.
  • We’ve all been working way too hard. We all want to make really cool, color-coded, fancy looking stuff that takes hours to make. Those things are nice, but not at all necessary. We can make cool stuff when we have the time and the energy, but we need to stop expecting that from ourselves.
  • There is no honor in self-sacrifice. As educators, we have long prided ourselves on going the extra mile for our students. We spend time, energy and money we don’t have, in order to do this. When it came time to send us back into school buildings during a global pandemic, it became clear that our extra efforts meant little. Not only were most communities unwilling to sacrifice comfort for our safety, a number of them fought with everything they had to put us in harm’s way. It is okay to love your job, but don’t expect it to love you back.
  • Keep attending quality professional development. Workshops, conferences, etc. are a huge part of what kept me going this year. While the state of world was like weight on my shoulders, attending CI-based PD consistently revitalized me. Learning from colleagues and friends, in a virtual room full of people going through the exact same challenges, gave me sense of community and helped share the mental burden. Even though I am feeling drained after this year, I am going to be attending tons of conferences and workshops.
  • “Be ruthless with systems, be kind to people.” – Michael Brooks.

Now is not the time…

This post is for all of my fellow educators out there.

Now is not the time to revamp your entire curriculum.

Now is not the time to compare yourself to “super teachers”.

Now is not the time to hone your craft.

Now is not the time to stay up until 3am creating immaculate Pear Decks.

Now is the not the time to beat yourself up for not providing enough comprehensible input.

Now is not the time feel guilty about using too much English in class.

Now is not the time to “pick up the pace”.

Now is not the time to inject more “rigor”.

Now is not the time pretend like this a normal school year.

Now is not the time to assess your quality as an educator.

Do whatever you need to do to make it through this year. Take all of these wonderful ideas, techniques, and materials, and think about how wonderful it will be to implement them next year. Now IS the time to focus on surviving, and save thriving for another day.

I love you all.

Magister Bracey

How to Start the 2020-2021 School Year!

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It’s officially that time of the year when all of schools will be in session! This is an unusual year but don’t worry, you got this! Whether you are in-person, hybrid or remote, this guide to the start of the year should help you navigate the rough waters ahead.


Congratulations! You are lucky enough to get the opportunity to return to your classroom and spend full days with your students and colleagues again. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for success…

  • Visit your elderly parents, grandparents, and loved ones who are suffering from terminal illness, and say goodbye. Your constant indoor exposure to hundreds and hundreds of people will make it extremely dangerous to visit them until at least a few weeks after the school year ends. Hopefully you’ll see them again, but who knows?
  • Cry deeply. Now is a great time to reflect upon the fact that despite your selfless pursuit of nurturing young lives, your life has been deemed disposable. So give yourself a good cry. You deserve it!
  • Stare into the Abyss and embrace despair. You’re ready! You spent the summer enduring intense psychological torture while your fate was decided, then undecided, and then decided again. Give up! Accept that you are nothing and that your fear of death and permanent organ damage are a sign of moral weakness. Don’t fight it! Stare deep into that abyss and abandon all hope, like a boss!
  • Delude yourself into a false sense of safety. Do you like YouTube? I like YouTube. Do you have a friend who is an idiot or who has no capacity to care about other human beings? Text this mouth-breathing friend of yours and ask them to send you their favorite YouTube clips about COVID 19. Watch them and really pay close attention. Close your mind off to reality and just pretend like everything is just fine. This mindset will truly set you up for success.
  • Don’t forget to sleep! Self-care and mindfulness are of utmost importance right now. It’s your fault that you have been abused and forced into mortal danger in the midst of a deadly pandemic, so you’d better find a way to be happy about it. Sleep is a vital part of this equation. You should get at least one to two hours of sleep before being jolted awake by the nightmares. Consider the nightmares to be like “brain breaks”, because your brain is literally breaking. Take care of yourself!
  • Teach stuff. There will be moments between the unrelenting sadness, sheer panic, total despair and self-delusion, when you’ll have to, you know, teach stuff. Don’t forget to teach stuff. If hybrid, sometimes this stuff happens over Google Meet.


  • Enjoy the temporary feeling of human dignity. We rarely take the time to experience genuine gratitude. Take this moment and recognize that you are living through a pandemic that is projected to have taken the lives of 400,000 Americans by the end of this year. Feel grateful that those who make decisions about your life and death, care whether you live or die. Be present and allow yourself to feel appreciated and loved.
  • Count down the days until all of that is flushed down the toilet. It’s important to be organized and to plan ahead. Even if your safety and well-being are a priority right now, they soon won’t be. That is why I recommend referring often to the tips I provided for in-person/hybrid above. The regular panic attacks caused by reading over those tips will help get you in the mindset to be the best teacher you can be.

You are the real hero. What would we ever do without you? You are lazy and horrible. No bad things would ever happen if you would just do your job. Your fears, concerns, knowledge, experience and expertise are not valid. You just want to stay home and allow kids to suffer from the deadly pandemic that you caused. Get back in that building or else, you whiny little brat. We are all in this together. We are here to support you. This handy guide was made to set you up for the most successful year of your teaching career. You got this!

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