Our work can be effortless if we want it to be, if we can but rise above our need to “instruct”, to “deliver instructional services”. As we slowly rid ourselves of the old ideas of what a teacher even is, how a teacher behaves in class, many of us (in my view because of the non-targeted piece) are learning new and wonderful things these days about who we want to be in our classrooms. We are changing! It’s getting a lot easier!
But even if we speak to our students nervously while using CI, even if we still buy into the old model of what a language teacher is (someone who prepares kids for tests) our students still receive input, the magical process outlined below still happens, and that is really all that counts.
Nothing else counts in language teaching but providing comprehensible input to our students. All the testing, especially, is without merit. The only thing that counts is providing our students with messages that they want to understand during their time during the day with us.
So our jobs are a lot simpler than we think. All we have to do is provide our students with understandable messages, messages that are as interesting as we can make them (the Invisibles make them very interesting for many of us).
Having spent the first few months of the year simply providing understandable messages, usually by October of the first year, the next challenge of getting them to read is effortless. Why? It is because the students just start to read automatically (as long as they are allowed to read on their own) because they first listened. It’s a natural process.
It’s just like when it rains, the rain causes things to grow. We give them enough listening input, and reading ability just happens. It follows no conscious reasoning process, and is based on a level of unconscious neurological activity linked to sound that is far beyond anything we could devise to “instruct” the language.
So we don’t have to “teach” reading. As long as we have provided enough comprehensible listening input in class, reading happens automatically. We actually start them off by reading the things that they create together in class – and that is possible on the first day of class!
What about writing then? When does that come in? It’s the same thing. Once the students have heard and read enough, they can write. It’s all a natural progress that WE HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH because it just happens.
As long as the auditory input was there first (as with our first languages as small children), we need do very little. All we have to do is just frontload their instruction with the spoken CI and then, with more and more CI happening, the other three challenges we have as language instructors fall like dominos.
It’s a four-tiered natural process and so is so easy for us because tiers 2-4 happen when they sleep after hearing all the (tier 1) listening input. It all arranges itself in sleep as long as the “building blocks” – the comprehensible input – have been put into place in their unconscious minds first.
The first tier of our instruction when we provide them with all that listening input naturally leads to the second tier of reading which naturally brings them to the third tier of natural writing – which is why we do free writes and not forced writing – and then, at a different time of emergence for each student, comes speech.
How hard is that? We have only been made to think that our work is hard. When we provide enough CI, the kids make great strides in our language classes and we don’t have to worry about how we teach nearly as much anymore. For some of us crazies, it means that we no longer have to plan our classes. I see that as a pretty good deal, given what our paychecks look like these days.
Only two things count in our work: (1) our kids need to feel good about themselves as language learners, and to that end we consciously work at building community from the first moments of the year, and (2) they need to be given enough listening input.
And so what we thought was an impossible and emotionally grating task suddenly becomes a possible and even enjoyable one, one that is certainly vastly different from what we used to think language teaching was all about, as we go forward in hope and optimism that teaching is worth it!