Kids only learn things when they feel encouraged, when they are made to feel as if they can genuinely do it. They are very good at faking learning. The old model of forcing kids to sit and listen to our comprehensible input is outdated. It needs to be replaced with a new model. What is that model?
I suggest a model based on the old concept of building authentic relationships with one’s neighbors. Something often done on one’s front porch, rarely is this done anymore, but it holds within it what I feel is the key to language acquisition, because it holds the key to community, and because there is no community without communication.
Neighboring is a state or feeling in the classroom where the kids enjoy being there, sharing language, with no particular pressure to learn something special, some word or structure, some grammar structure, etc. or to be tested on them, because they are babies in language learning and babies don’t take tests.
Neighboring in a language classroom is a state where goodness and lightness of spirit reign, and where people count more than language gains, and where trust abounds, so that language can just emerge into the classroom because the people in the room want to be with each other, which leads to a natural sharing of ideas, and a state referred in these pages many times over the years as “flow”.
There is no such thing as forced language anyway. It’s a contradiction in terms. Forcing language to go in a certain direction, to teach a certain thing, is like trying to get water to flow down a mountain in a certain direction. It can’t be done. If it is done that is called damming things up. Trying to keep a conversation interesting while focusing on a particular structure is just awkward.
Forcing the attention of the class on structures during a story creates stories that are weak and uninteresting and has unfortunately led to many failed attempts at this kind of teaching by many talented teachers over the years. Forcing language is just unnatural. Only unforced language that emerges in a natural way, in a neighborly way, with no one person dominating the conversation, can bring true acquisition. All must feel an equal part of the group.
Allowing new words into a story at the very moment when they are needed to drive the action forward will frequently, through the mere inclusion of this student-generated language, lift the input up to a level that one could call compelling. But for that to happen, there has to be a feeling in the classroom that we all are neighbors. We must learn to love our neighbors.