Here is the third installment of the new Invisibles book:
A Spatial Curriculum
Let’s expand on the idea that we learn languages by focusing on the message only. In the past, language instruction has largely involved isolating parts of language in the form of grammar or working from word lists, and then breaking everything down into pieces and analyzing it. This is a left-brain dominant process requiring thinking. It is a process that involves planning and memorizing and testing and filling in blanks and no small degree of boredom.
The reason that that kind of teaching is boring is that languages don’t exist in pieces or as single words – they don’t function that way – and so they can’t be acquired that way – they exist in full blown context or not at all. Languages cannot be broken down and still live and thrive outside of meaningful context any more than a tree can exist outside of an ecosystem.
The result of the old kind of teaching is that our students learned unimportant things about the structure of the language, which allowed them to pass tests, but they didn’t allow them to even come close to acquiring the language itself. The result is the common phrase, “I took four years of Spanish in high school and I can’t say a thing.”
The curriculum described in this book is different. It is spatial in nature. Here is how I represent it:
By starting in the Create phase of the star with an image created by a student, instead of starting from a grammar point or from certain words packed into a semantic set or a thematic unit list, in this schema we just talk to the kids about their image, going clockwise from one node to the next in the star, expanding the language into space, as it were.
After all, what is our goal in this work of teaching languages? Isn’t it to use the language to communicate with our students? Isn’t that the standard – Communication?