Thursday, February 15, 2018

Non-Targeted Input in its Pure Form

 After class yesterday, I took the below photo of my classroom board. If I had to describe my idea of a perfect class/lesson, this would be it.


The writing on the board is the result of a 60-minute class entirely comprised of non-targeted input. Non-targeted input, in a very basic explanation, is teaching in the target language without any preplanned targeted vocabulary or grammar structures. In non-targeted input, teachers put the emphasis on communicating in the language in a natural way. 

Do the words on the board look random? They should, because they are random. Natural conversations are free-flowing and the direction of the conversation changes with something as slight as a laugh, a side comment, a reaction, a person entering the classroom, or even a hiccup. It is completely unrestrained.

Consider this: Did you ever have a conversation with a friend and at some point in that conversation you ask, 'How did we get on this topic?" Then you backtrack from where you are in the conversation and how you arrived at that spot and you see how the flow of the conversation weaves and wiggles and moves from one topic to another.

That is what the photo of the board shows. In fact, it was non-targeted input in its purest form because I didn't even plan to have non-targeted input today; didn't plan to "story listen" or to create a character; my plans were to read a story and later watch a brand new video (by a very important person!). As students needed vocabulary to express their thoughts, I wrote them on the board. You'll see that there are sketches, some by me (obviously I can NOT draw a fork, tenedor, well), and others by the students that sketched things to help make themselves understood. Along with the sketches on the board, there is a command, a verb in the subjunctive form, the past tense, present tense, various unrelated nouns - totally random but imperative to the conversation.

What were the students and I doing that involved such a random grouping of words and structures? At the beginning of class I noticed that a student didn't seem to be himself, so I asked if he was ok. He then proceeded to show us a bandage on his hand and then told us, in Spanish, what happened. At times he needed help with some words. When that happens, I pause to see if any of the students know the word and I give them the opportunity to say it.   When the student was finished, we knew what had happened and why he had a band-aid, and the photo he showed us on his phone perked up the whole class. 

From that one conversation, a handful of other conversations were born. Another student then told us about one time when she was hurt, then another student, and pretty soon several students had their hands up and there was a wait list to take their turn to talk, in SPANISH! They couldn't wait for their turn! We heard about a girl that didn't see a kite string and she ran into it and it got caught in her braces; about a girl when she was little was trying to go up a down escalator, and so much more. 

It was like watching two old men try to outdo who has the most health problems, but it was my students instead, sharing about their mishaps, one story outdoing others. 

After twenty-five minutes had passed, I knew my lesson plans were not going to be of use to me that class period because the momentum continued to grow. There was NO WAY I was going to interrupt that, (not even to show a new music video.) The students were interested and engaged in what their classmates were saying, laughing, and taking ownership in the teaching and learning taking place.  

Midway through the class period I instructed all students to look at the back of the classroom, away from the board. Then I asked them to tell me some new words they heard from the conversation that they didn't know before. I realize they may not have acquired the words yet, but they have a powerful start in doing that.

It's after those types of classes that I leave school on a teaching high. BUT, that doesn't happen every day and I make no claims that it happens every day. It's the right combination of the mix of students, what has happened in their day before they come to my class or what they're looking forward to later in the afternoon, how they feel physically, and emotionally, and how they react to what their classmates say and to what I say. As teachers, we ALL have not so good days, good days, great days, and days that we can't wait to share with others.  


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