Monday, September 9, 2013

If you don't want to learn Spanish, you're in BIG trouble.

Last week I overheard some mumbling about the (high) expectations in my Spanish class (sit up, make eye contact with me, respond with "ooohhh" after a statement in a story, answer the either/or, sí/no, or short answer questions, do your 50%, listen when another person is speaking, etc).

When I heard the mumbling, which I'm sure they were surprised that I was able to hear them, I paused and explained that this is how Spanish class is conducted in my room.  Then I said, "If you don't want to learn Spanish, then you're in BIG trouble. You can't stop your brain from doing what it naturally does when it receives comprehensible acquires the language." 

Even if there are students in my classroom that signed up for Spanish to meet college requirements and even if they don't particularly want to learn Spanish, they don't really have a choice because their brain is going to pick up the language whether they want to or not.

From time to time, I remind the students that their first language was acquired after thousands of hours of input. Their parents didn't sit down with them when they were a toddler and explain the grammar rules or give them lists of themed vocabulary to learn. (Why do textbook publishers insist on putting vocabulary in themed units?)  Instead, their parents TALKED to them, interacted with them, and asked them question after question about their surroundings.

Read an example of a mother's interaction with her toddler:
Sally, do you want some ice cream? What kind of ice cream do you want? Do you want chocolate ice cream or vanilla ice cream? Oh, you want vanilla ice cream. That's my favorite ice cream too. The mother then looks in the freezer and discovers there isn't any vanilla ice cream in the freezer. Uh,oh, We don't have any vanilla ice cream. We'll have to go to the store and buy some vanilla ice cream. Sally, where are your shoes? You need shoes to go to the store. Are your shoes in your room? Go to your room and look for your shoes. Sally, we can't go for ice cream until you find your shoes. .....

"Sally" is receiving comprehensible input in this interaction. It's compelling to her because she wants the ice cream. Her mother didn't have to explain the grammar in order for "Sally" to understand the conversation.

Likewise, in our CI/TPRS classrooms, we are providing the input in a comprehensible, and hopefully, compelling, manner so the students' brains eventually acquire the language. 
It takes TIME
It requires REPETITION
It requires the teacher to go SLOW
It requires the teacher to POINT and PAUSE at the new structures.
It requires CREATIVITY on the teacher's part to provide COMPELLING input. 
It requires COMPREHENSION CHECKS so the teacher can pace his lesson.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

We are 9 days into the semester and I can see the undeniable beginning signs of acquisition taking place with my Spanish 2 students.  They didn't study it. They listened, they responded to my questions, they helped to create stories, they read, and, as a result, their brains are beginning to internalize certain grammar structures and vocabulary without having to take the time to translate it before recognizing it. The words are "falling out of the mouths" of some of the students. Others will need more input, a lot more input, before the brain acquires it. But ALL will eventually acquire it at their own individual pace. 

My job is to stay the course and to keep providing compelling, comprehensible input.

High expectations? I suppose some might think that.  But I tell them their brain will thank them. The best part is yet to come, when the students realize their ability to communicate in the language is growing. They'll recognize it, just give them time.  

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