This is a repost for Dana from April of 2016 when I was in India. It’s also for anyone else following the Helena Curtain thread, which has been going on since 2012:
We have about twelve World Language teachers here at the American Embassy School. There are also what seem like countless ESL teachers all over the campus, since our student body is so cosmopolitan. They are tucked into classrooms in every single building, from the elementary to the high school and beyond.
Among all those language teachers, besides Linda Li and Zach Al Moreno, my colleagues in the middle school, there is little interest in storytelling. The ESL teachers are all but oblivious of us. There are even those in the high school who have made it clear that they oppose it.
The recent vertical alignment meeting [Dana it’s the one where I got roasted by the curriculum creatures in the middle school building basement] drew/attracted to my classroom an unexpected guest today, one of the vocal critics of comprehensible input instruction, to “check it out”. I did what I was supposed to professionally do: invite him in and thank him for the unannounced visit.
To make a long story short, the kids nailed that class, and the observing teacher was very involved with the class. He enjoyed every minute of the class very much. A Spanish teacher, he knew just enough French to get involved in the building of the story.
The kids spoke at least 30% of the time in the 85 minute story [those were the pre-25 min. days, Dana]. It could have been 40%. That is how good the story was. (The story was about two bars of soap at a water park stuck at the top of a water slide and afraid to come down.)
In the short time we had to debrief after class, my visiting skeptic, in spite of all the fun we had just been having, asked me the usual, almost hackneyed by now, question, “What do you do to teach them the words they need to know for next year?”
I thought for a moment, and, thinking how the students had spoken so beautifully during the creation of the story, because they were so into it, decided to forego the usual answers to his question, since I knew he didn’t want to hear them anyway, because they made too much sense.
Instead, I just said, “Well, the way I see it is that we can have the kind of speech output we just saw from those kids just now, or we can have them memorize word lists that will be largely forgotten by next year anyway. But we can’t have them both, right? The lists are too boring to produce that kind of student speech in a class. Would you agree with that?”
“In the first case, what you saw today, they clearly want to speak the language. In the second, the other way, the room would have been largely silent. You know that and I know that. So you can take your pick – during class the room can sound empty, or it could be alive with language and happiness and interest like you just heard for almost an hour and a half. You get to pick now. Which one do you think would really be best for those kids who just walked out of here with those big ear to ear smiles on their faces? Which one do you want?”
He said he had to go to a meeting.