(Originally posted 3/11/12)
We all use incomprehensible language in class. I do it all the time. Sometimes because what I think is comprehensible and what is comprehensible to my students are two different things. Sometimes because, as Susie pointed out, I am thinking like a teacher rather than like a student. Sometimes because I just so love a word, phrase, song, story that I ignore that little “voice” in my head and turn it into a lesson. Sometimes, and yes, I admit it, I am thinking only of myself and I want to be a little tougher or a little bit more impressive (“Wow” my ego says to me,” Look at the level of language that you can teach!”)Sometimes I just end up wanting to hang out with the 4%ers for a moment and roll around in a little grammar ecstasy. Sometimes the 11 years that I was in a student and the 14 years that I was a teacher in a non-CI classroom suck me back in.
Here is what I have observed in the 15 years that I have tried to wrap my mind around the CI based classroom:
1. Language acquisition occurs in the brain of the student.
2. I cannot control the brain of the student. Ever.
3. I can do my best to control the environment that the student is in, and therefore the environment in which the language is delivered to the student.
4. The best environment that I know of is:
a. focused on a storyline (a story, a reading, a conversation, a compelling visual etc.)
b. encourages every student to participate.
c. clearly allows every student to feel welcome and capable.
d. filled with repeated, interesting, comprehensible, heart-connected, compelling input in the T.L.
e. eliminates ever other distraction possible.
f. relies on continues student -teacher feedback and response.
Each level, each class will require different things to make 1-4 happen. It is an incredible challenge some days to make that happen. But teachers who love teaching and who love students and who love languages love that challenge. And there is a very strong, supportive group of colleagues out there to help. COLLEAGUES…not ancillary materials. :o) Wonderful, capable,caring people who have been more help than an materials I’ve ever come across.
Lastly…(if you’ve made it this far) is a story that,for me, brings this point about comprehensibility home. Over 10 years ago, at my first Susan Gross workshop, Susie taught over 50 teachers French. A room full of interested, motivated, language-skilled, language-experienced teachers. After TWO DAYS of instruction, the group could not yet recall the phrase “a glass of water” We could recognize “glass”. We could recognize “water”. But we could not recognize “glass of water.” She did not get angry. She did not get frustrated. She spent over AN HOUR interacting with us, and “a glass of water”. At the end of the hour, we could clearly hear, and recognize the phrase. We went on. Then, about an hour later, she asked us to produce it. Silence. Nothing. We got as far as the initial “l” sound. (and she had used the phrase intermittently) in that hour! As a group, we were depressed at our lack of ability. Then she pointed out to us that if we, a group of motivated, talented professionals needed HOURS more of CI with this phrase, that our students would certainly benefit from the same. She told us that the fact that we didn’t yet “own’ this phrase did not make her a terrible teacher, or make us horrible learners. She said that it was now clear indicator that our brains needed more clear, comprehensible input and time with this phrase before it was ACQUIRED. THEN ,she said that it was her job to remember that AND to make that exposure as stress-free as possible, because if she freaked out about it and hyper-focused on it that our affective filter would go up and it would take us even longer to acquire it. THEN, she purposely involved us in a story w/conversations that was hysterically funny. By the end of day three we had, as a group, a much better hold on the phrase and a much better perspective on how TPRS works.
And I don’t know about the others, but I still can produce the phrase with ease. :o)
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