The best way to begin this post is to note that Tina Hargaden has released a book called Stepping Stones: Year One And Beyond (available at https://ci-liftoff.teachable.com/p/stepping-stones-beyond-year-one) which is a bit different. It includes modifications and revisions to teaching methods which she has formulated since the release of A Natural Approach To The Year (available in print with the title Year One at https://www.teachersdiscovery.com/product/year-one-books-three-volume-set/world-language). I have not read the new book, so this reflection is based on this original book. Now, on with my review:
While many of my readings have influenced me teaching, I believe that none have affected me more than A Natural Approach To The Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. I’ll qualify that, slightly, by saying I am very glad that I had first read The Big Book Of CI (available at https://www.teachersdiscovery.com/product/bigcibook/world-language?gclid=CjwKCAiA58fvBRAzEiwAQW-hzYsuxMcvXyzJlOuSSG7u7iDD84zfR1w-ozTRWJqPk9TYZiCPgxJ0SxoCbY4QAvD_BwE) by Ben Slavic. ANATTY, as a simpler moniker, has many references to the activities and approaches that are described much more thoroughly in The Big Book Of CI. However, I do believe that ANATTY includes descriptions that are clear enough for someone to understand regardless of whether or not they’ve even heard of The Big Book Of CI. As a book about teaching methods, I adore how it is written in the first person. It includes such a familiar vernacular that it reads more like a conversation than reference book. This made the book, for me, much more enjoyable to consume.
This book is presented as a curriculum that walks you through day one to the last day by using instructional cycles and repeating activities. It is designed for middle and high school, which typically have longer classes than my 30 minutes, so I do have to modify the recommended class structures. That being said, so much of the content has kind of an a-la-carte feel to it so it isn’t challenging to make the classes work. It is very motivational and is a great beginner’s guide to switching from following a textbook to personalizing your classes 100%. For me, it was the perfect way to move from being glued to the set curriculum, as I was two years ago, to being willing to find the activities that my kids love and stuffing as much Spanish into those activities as possible. While it may not be a book that really supports teachers who has been full on non-targeted CI for multiple years, it is a perfect entry point for anyone who is looking to love teaching languages again. This is my second year using it as the inspiration behind how I plan my classes. It has led me to be more flexible, and helped me stretch my own knowledge of Spanish by letting our class discussions go where the students took them, instead of where the vocabulary list confined them.
The most beneficial part of this book for me is the way classroom management is presented. There is so much intention and such a strong rationale to how class rapport is built. I often find myself in discussions with other teachers where I bring up my favorite points from the book. There is a well written mantra (but I will not repeat it here as I do not have permission and do think it is worth getting it from the source) that I have copied out onto a small paper which I keep with me most of the time. I have it mostly memorized at this point and it has helped me through several tough class sessions. It basically reminds you that the best teacher you can be is directly related to how calm you are during heated moments. It reminds you that some moments call for nothing more than calm body language and slow breathing. It talks a lot about breathing. I had no idea how frequently I need to remind myself to breathe. If I learned nothing else from this book, I would still consider my life drastically improved by these reminders. Or, perhaps they are not reminders? Perhaps this was truly the first time that someone found words that rendered classroom management into a tangible reality for me, instead of a “you’ll know when you have arrived” level of nebulous concept.