Comprehensible input allows teachers to implement Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD) to ensure students are reaching their full potential.  What could the teacher do to make a topic...

Comprehensible input allows teachers to implement Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD) to ensure students are reaching their full potential.  What could the teacher do to make a topic more understandable and comprehensible for a student who is not understanding? 

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Thought and Language (1934) Lev Vygotsky writes,

A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow.

It is no wonder why he is an advocate of C.I. Comprehensible input is the use of verbiage that will make it possible for any student of any background to understand the basic concept, or the gist, of what is being presented. It allows teachers to implement ZPD because it places the student at a level of instant mastery which will motivate the student to move to the next step, which is the ZPD.

Comprehensible input is mainly used in second language learning scenarios, and in collaborative learning scenarios when there is the MKO (most knowledgeable others) and the LKO's learning at the same time. The process of comprehensible input also entails that the teacher is knowledgeable enough in terms of vocabulary, content, and pedagogy to summarize and synthesize a topic in a way that the main idea comes out naturally.

These are widely-used ways to create comprehensible input:

  • non-verbal communication-  the non verbals that come in communication are just as important as the verbals. The teacher must enact what she is saying, not by acting out, but by showing (with hands, with motion, or with modeling) what is being taught.
  • proper intonation- think about how even the human voices in GPS machines are being switched to more personable and upbeat ones. The way in which the teacher says the words deeply affect communication: an excited mode provokes excitement,  a tone that reflects wonder entices the student to ask questions. The connection between the message and the receiver is more profound if it elicits sentiment or connection.
  • visuals in picture and print- a word such as "believe" is abstract and, what is more, is sometimes hard to spell if you are not a native English speaker. Hence, to have both the word in visual, written form, and a semantic web about it that helps to explain what the word is associated with makes the input comprehensible in examples of concrete/abstract concepts.
  • schema-by starting the lesson with a KWL chart (what we know, what we want to know, and what we will learn) helps activate prior knowledge, which is another of Vygotsky's heavy areas of study. Building schema is essential for scaffolding. There is no way for students to connect new information unless there is a way to correlate it to something that is relevant to them. A lesson can be started with a "Have you ever...?" or a "Did you know...?" Sometimes teachers start their lessons by asking students to play "six degrees of separation" which is to take out objects and, as the students see them, they realize what the objects have in common. This is what directly links the student to the concept, as they can understand it better.
  • check for understanding - a quick check for understanding can be performed by asking the students to either rephrase or say something that is related to the new topic. For example, if you are teaching division,  you can end the first section of the lesson by saying: "Negative is to Positive what Darkness is to ______".

The most important aspect of comprehensible input is the provision of examples and similarities. Thesauri are awesome and visual dictionaries such as Taggalaxy, Visuwords, or Merriam Webster online provide the very visual connections that students of the 21st century need to make their learning relevant.

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