The isolation that we see in some students plays a tremendous role in preventing them from making strong and observable gains in the language.
Therefore, a focus on building community is just as important as one on comprehensible input when developing best practices in our field. In my opinion comprehensible input and building community are now the left and right hands leading us to higher levels of instruction.
So another focus we can have this year is how to build community in our classrooms. (My deeper mind is yelling, “Just use the Invisibles!” and I agree – it’s that simple!) But let’s warm up for that in-depth discussion of the Invisibles (will happen later on here) by discussing the concept of community in general terms.
Noam Chomsky has said: “Grammar [is] acquired by virtually everyone, effortlessly, rapidly, in a uniform manner, merely by living in a community under minimal conditions of interaction, exposure, and care.”
Wow! What an amazing statement! If it is true, and it is, I can only scratch my head in wonder that teachers didn’t jump on it to inform their pedagogy when Chomsky said it over forty years ago. Look at the words he uses: community, care, effortlessness, interaction with others, etc. One could infer that the only requirements for language to be acquired are to be in a caring community! I think so!
But it’s never that simple in schools. The biggest obstacle to building a strong classroom community, in my opinion, is shame. It increases gradually year-by-year increase starting in elementary school and continuing through to the end of secondary school when many seniors don’t even want to be in the building anymore, having had their fill of boredom and shame in class and outside of class.
One could say that the only time they experienced the glow of being a valued member of a community was normally in a club or on a sports team, school communities where shame rarely rears its ugly head because everyone is working together in a common direction outside of the classroom, where tests don’t pervert learning.
The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once defined love as facing together in the same direction:
…aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder dans la même direction…/Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction….
That is also a pretty good definition of community.