Schools have put even the most loving of teachers in a position of being forced to assign grades and rank their students based on how quickly they are able to grasp concepts in their conscious minds – from “mastering” a target structure in a certain period of time, to being able to perform a mathematical calculation by the time the test rolls around. In the process of language acquisition, true language acquisition, unlike traditional school-based language learning, it is unnatural to sort kids into “fast” and “slow” or “smart” and “dumb” or “right” and “wrong”.
There is no wrong in language acquisition. There is just a natural unfathomably complex process that will unfold for each of our students in their own good time, given enough input. No curriculum that we can design can imitate the process. We must get over the illusion that we can learn a language. We can only listen to it enough and then we will acquire it. This is what the best research that we have tells us.
I choose to assess my own students’ comprehension in my own comprehension-based language classroom in a way that does not judge, measure, parse, or weigh how my students measure up to some measuring stick, how they are lacking in certain areas, how they need to change. We cannot change our students – we can only make our classes more interesting.
I choose also to stop allowing myself as a teacher to be measured in terms of what my students can or cannot do as well. There are too many factors at play to make such judging of my own work accurate.
I choose to measure what my students can do vs. what they cannot do. God doesn’t judge and I take that to mean that I shouldn’t either. Telling kids what they can do is what I perceive to be one of the cornerstones of the brilliant work of Claire Ensor, who in my opinion is one of a new breed of ESL leaders who will patiently over the next few decades lead the the ESL world out of the stink hole that they have been in over the past fifty years.
We are all perfectly equipped to acquire languages. It might not happen by next Thursday’s quiz on “tiene que” but it will happen perfectly given sufficient time and comprehensible input. The language is the curriculum. One of the biggest wedges driven between students and their teachers, a wedge that instantly puts looks of mistrust between them and their teachers (vs. looks of joy), is the false idea in the mind of the teacher that they can actually teach their students language – all they can do is give enough loving and interesting input. That’s all.
Even with comprehension methods, teachers continue to judge kids in batches of thirty to thirty five or more, weighing the “smart” (socially capable) ones vs. those who are not socially capable. There is no such thing as “smart” in languages, there is only the factor of processing speed and social capacity, which factors are directly related to how hard the personal lives of kids is at home, how much pain they are in.
As long as we continue to judge and rate kids against some man-made measuring stick, we will continue to fail to reach our students in truly exciting and authentically human ways. There will always be some degree of falseness in our instruction when we judge them and rate them and tell them that for a higher grade they need to change. The fact is that true language instruction involves no curriculum at all, but only the daily massive repeated input that we get when we “just talk to them”, to quote the greatest TPRS master of them all, the unmatchable Susan Gross.