"The Case for Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input" by Stephen Krashen, Journal of Bilingual Education Research & Instruction, 2013 15(1): 102-110, is a must read for language teachers interested in second language acquisition.
When I first read this article, I tried to imagine what a lesson designed around non-targeted comprehensible input looked like. How could I prepare for a lesson by not choosing focus words or targeted structures?
This year with my Spanish 4+ students, I am inching closer to teaching with non-targeted comprehensible input and understanding how to prepare for these classes. I dutifully come to class each day with a prepared lesson plan, but most times, the lesson serves more as a guideline or a back-up plan because I allow the students' interests, energy and unforced conversation drive the lesson.
Here are a few examples of what that looks like ...
1. November has 15 school days so I decided to name November as Reading Month. In Sp4+ class, every day we read 3 fiction/non-fiction online books at the start of class. (I use the website, A-Z reading. Interesting enough, the non-fiction books are the books that create the most conversations with students.)
Last week I estimated 15 minutes needed of class time to read the 3 books. Wrong. It took the entire 70 minute class period to read the (short) books because after reading a page, a student would say, "I have a story to tell" (in Spanish, of course), and then proceeded to share a story related to a word in the book. The page that described a spider stirred up 15-20 minutes of conversation among the students.
That is how people communicate in their first language, no scripts, nothing planned, simply sharing experiences with others. Sometimes the conversation skips from one topic to another and someone will ask, How did we get onto this topic? and we trace our conversation backward. Now that...is interesting too; interesting to see the direction of a conversation when allowed to flow naturally.
2. Last week my plans were to read chapters 10 and 11 of La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie A. Baker. Students pleaded with me to continue reading to the end of the book. What? They're asking to read more? There's only one answer for that question: Yes.
3. A teacher in another discipline stopped in during class to drop something off in my room. The students saw this interruption as an opportunity to talk in Spanish with the visiting teacher. The visiting teacher provided the compelling input for more than 10 minutes.
4. The day my friend from the Dominican Republic, Nelsi, came to visit, the students embraced the opportunity to talk and interact with her that I swear that class was shortened by 30 minutes. That's how quickly the time flew.
How does this work for language acquisition? Second language experts tell us that the high frequency words and structures will naturally appear and reappear - thus the label high frequency. This has been true in my experience.
I don't consider "crecer" to be a high frequency word, but in the last 3 days, it has appeared several times in different, unrelated materials. I didn't target this word, but because of the "non-targeted" repeated exposure in different contexts, "crecer" (& various forms of the verb) are now part of the students' working vocabulary.
The continual implementation of "non-targeted comprehensible input" has transformed my class structure and my thoughts on teaching. My lesson plans are evolving, and each day I have the opportunity to witness first hand how this change has benefited the students in ways I could only dream about several years ago.