If you are new to all this, before you get too nervous about the changes that you wish to implement next year, I offer one important idea to hold on to – just take an image and work with it and stay with it and don’t go into any other stuff too fast. What does that mean?
It means that many people who are to new to how comprehensible input works its magic in the classroom often innocently pollute the simplicity of the process by thinking in terms of the old model. What is the old model?
The old model is that good teaching is always about moving forward, always presenting new content and new vocabulary, always being such an engaging teacher that even the dullest kids can’t help but pay attention, about constantly entertaining the kids with wonderful new tidbits of information that not only expand their knowledge of the language they teach but also happen to show how smart we are.
The worst form of this warped version of teaching from the old days was in games. Most games don’t work. Games may get the teacher and the kids through the class with some kind of illusion that something was learned, but, in terms of actual language gains, nothing is really learned.
None of that eclectic stuff works because, while all that wonderfulness is going on around them, the kids can’t process it. It is too much for them. Their brain wonders what language to try to process, English or the target language, because it hears both. Even the simplest sounds in the target language are neurologically overwhelming to non-speakers of the language.
When the games degenerate into obvious chaos with English all over the place, the teacher, seeking safety and less noise, quickly retreats back to the safety of the book, where everything looks so organized and wonderful but really teaches less than the game did, because the book keeps everything completely out of the part of the brain that actually learns languages.
Then the teacher tries to do some CI. They give up their games and their books and try a little slow discussion about an image if they are experimenting with NTCI with the kids and maybe dive in w both feet w the Invisibles. They’re terrified, but they try it.
Some of the advanced kids throw this new work back into their teachers’ faces, because they want a worksheet challenge. But some of the other kids are game and some success happens because the Invisibles are simply so compelling. The class often flips and the few kids who are used to memorizing for their A rebel, but the outcasts dive in with both feet. They like the Invisibles and the A kids are left sitting in the front of the row wishing they had another teacher like the one in middle school who let them draw lines the worksheets from pictures of fruit to the word for the fruit.
With inroads made to the entire class with the Invisibles, and this is a caution for everyone for next year, teachers, even those who did a summer training – get to hurrying – they forget that their students don’t yet speak the language – and they start skating around on thinner and thinner ice, arms and legs and minds akimbo, and the kids just sit there and stare as the Big Fall happens. Kids can’t rescue adults who fall repeatedly on thin ice. It’s the other way around.
We who know better, we who have been doing it awhile, must do if differently. But do we really do it any more effectively when we pollute our CI classes with too many of those little stink packets of English and go too fast when we are doing Card Talk and the One Word Images that aren’t then working as advertised?
Can we at least respect the research on mixing languages? Yes, speak English, but don’t MIX the two in class. Do ten min. of TL and then ten min. of English. But don’t do 20 seconds of TL and 15 seconds of English in THAT fashion.
In most cases, including in the experienced CI teachers’ classrooms, the kids stare because they don’t understand and because the teacher is trying to impart too much stuff at too fast a rate of speed and without really hearing what the kid is saying back to them through their sealed lips.
The kids don’t stare because they are stupid or because they don’t want to learn or because they don’t like you or because you are mean. Their stares are “deer in the headlights” stares, if you will. They don’t know how else to respond. They aren’t stupid but they feel stupid. They don’t want to feel like that, so they start to misbehave or tune out or speak English, anything that will get them out of those moments of feeling stupid.
In this scenario in traditional or TPRS classrooms, the really super smart processors lap up most of the instruction. There is little left for the slower processors, because the fast processors are getting all the food. They eat faster and have more active elbows.
Those “four percenters”, in the way they learn, are the worst thing for the rest of the kids, because, when not checked by the teacher, they create the illusion in the classroom that the lesson is working, when it is not, because anyone can learn a language, and a language teacher who is not reaching everyone in the classroom is doing something drastically wrong.
This perpetuates a lie. The truth is that most of the class was possibly left in the dark back at the first expression used in the class, sometimes an expression as simple as, “How are you?” Without proper training to make sure that the dynamic in the classroom is participatory and reciprocal, and that the students and the teacher are each doing 50% of the work (http://www.benslavic.com/blog/?p=4753), nothing real can happen.
Vocabulary is best retained if it is not focused on in a conscious way. Working from images (NTCI/the Invisibles) changes everything.
Our students can only learn if they:
1. Hear the language spoken without a lot of new words around it.
2. Hear it spoken slowly enough.
3. Enjoy discussion that is about them or their peers.
That is when it sticks. The brain hears the language in the din of L2, and then in sleep that night picks out from the din what it wants to retain. If it heard a lot of personalized and slow and in bounds language that day, much of what it heard sticks. It passes the litmus test for getting into the language acquisition system in the deeper mind and the student actually learns something.
This goes on day after day when one is immersed in the target culture, and then a point is reached and the learning curve becomes exponential and the teacher sees something they never expected in their wildest dreams – their students love their class and sign up for it in droves the next year.
If language is experienced as a rich and largely unconscious flow (search that word here or look in the category), a flow that is both interesting and meaningful to the listener, the little words that bring that flowing message, the messengers, stick, the little words are parsed out later in sleep by the unconscious mind, and it all works. Vocabulary banks overfill in this kind of environment, but no conscious work actually is done. Lists don’t work. Any conscious “learning” doesn’t work – it never works. Why do we keep doing it? Why do we keep targeting vocabulary? Don’t we trust the process?
So, before getting all nervous about trying to retain everything you learned in the workshops this coming summer, all you have to do in the fall is to speak to your students in a way that is interesting and meaningful to them. Speak slowly and make sure that you are talking about them and not Marie and Pierre from Chapter 1 of some textbook, as they walk around in Paris, because your students haven’t met Marie and Pierre and could therefore give a rat’s ass about them, except insofar as that rat’s ass is connected to their grade.
So just stop trying to run around the room and teach a bunch of stuff. Just enjoy hanging out with the kids in the target language. Make a one word image with them and learn to laugh and go slowly. Don’t load them up with stuff. Take it light and stay with that one image until you sense that they totally know it for real, and not for fake.
On that fake look – like they get it – learn to assume that they don’t. Why? Because they don’t. They don’t really acquire an expression unless they have heard it hundreds (really thousands IMHO)) of times in meaningful and pleasant contexts. If they haven’t heard the expression enough, then you can be sure that acquisition of that expression has not occurred.
Again, your goal is acquisition of the soup, the Din (search “Krashen” and “Din”) via comprehensible input. Your goal in no way resembles what you used to do, when you would end a class and have only one or two kids leaving the room with anything actually learned (and even those kids didn’t learn much), with the rest feeling very weak in terms of their self-confidence and wanting to take the language class down the hallway, and not the one they’re in.
So many students leave the room feeling more stupid than when they entered! I did it for 24 years so don’t take that as an insult – I am the worst offender. It’s just the way it was done but that is all different now, in my opinion entirely due to NTCI.
The short way to say this is, “Don’t confuse your kids by trying to juggle too many expressions in front of your students like you are some kind of entertainer and by introducing too many words that they haven’t heard before and by going too fast and by forgetting the most basic thing of all when working with teenagers – to make it about them.” Less is truly more in the CI business.