Here is the second installment of the new Invisibles book:
We want to free comprehensible input (CI) as a pedagogy from its current cage. In order to do that, we must begin with a renewed look at the concept of what a language curriculum even is.
We who embrace CI are like the early pilots who flew with uncertainty but great determination to make aviation happen. The last thing we want is a curriculum that can’t fly, that falls apart in our hands when we use it in our language classrooms.
The textbook model is just worn out. The reason that it is worn out is that there was never any connection between what it offers and the research.
Other new curriculums in foreign language education will appear. We’re all moving in one direction as a profession these days – in the direction of aligning comprehensible input with the research as the way that people actually learn languages.
There is an interchange between the pilot/narrator and the Little Prince in Chapter 2 of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. When he first meets the Little Prince, the pilot says:
Narrator: Mais…qu’est-ce que tu fais là?/What are you doing there?
Narrator: Et il me répéta alors, tout doucement, comme une chose très sérieuse/And he repeated to me, quite softly, as if it were a very serious thing…
Petit Prince: S’il vous plaît…dessine-moi un mouton/Please…draw me a sheep…
The Little Prince asked the pilot to draw him something! That incredible relationship – the stuff of legend in the literary tradition of France – didn’t start out with words. It started out with a child wanting a drawing from an adult.
Children are interested in images, especially ones that they themselves have created. Invisibles are characters invented and drawn by students and the Star Sequence curriculum is how we use them in class.
When we spin such characters into existence in the way that Saint-Exupéry did in Le Petit Prince, the usually closed gates of student engagement suddenly open wide. The students, fully immersed in the zany details and interesting peculiarities of the characters they have created, forget that they are in a class in which they are supposed to be “learning” and they then lock onto the messages being conveyed about the drawing.
Locking onto the message is what the research tells us is the way people learn languages.
This idea that conscious focus on how the language is built vs. unconscious focus on only the message will be expanded on later on in this book. The reader is asked to pay particular close attention to the words in italics in this paragraph as the talisman, the guiding principle, for every single idea presented in this book.
We all know that the only thing we have to do to be effective at language teaching is to create ways of really engaging our students in the target language, and we do that by getting them focused on the message. That’s the trick, and it’s not an easy one to learn if we have been brought up and/or have a background in traditional textbook language teaching.