So you’ve had The Experience. During a comprehensible input demonstration– maybe you acquired some Russian from Michelle Whaley or Chinese from Linda Li– a lightbulb went off, or you saw a colleague’s beginners writing loooong awesome stories without using notes or dictionary, and you thought, somebody finally cracked it, and then you decided, I’m going to go full C.I. in my classes, and then you wondered, what can I expect?
Today’s question: what can I expect when I switch to using comprehensible input?
Expect to screw up. You are going to finish your three-period story in twenty minutes, at which point you will feel helpless, almost naked, in front of the kids, minus a plan.
Expect to say something and stare at a sea of blank, silent faces.
Expect a kid to ask in March, after hearing it two thousand times, “how do you say there is in French?”
Expect to have your colleagues ask “but how are they going to learn to conjugate verbs and use pronouns if they don’t practice doing that?” and to not yet have an answer, because the SLA research is complex and voluminous.
Expect to wait a long time for speech from the kids.
Expect to walk past your colleagues’ rooms during your planning period, and see their kids beavering away at worksheets, or engaging (possibly even in Spanish) in their communicative pair activities, or dutifully listening to the Russian audio dialogues and answering multiple-guess questions, or “practicing their German dialogues,” and wondering, are my kids actually doing anything?
Expect to be out of your seat, out from behind your desk, and out of your comfort zone.
Expect to feel like nothing is happening.
Expect to feel like an alien at Department meetings, where topics such as “how can we get the kids to speak Spanish more?” come up, and you want to answer– “Why bother? Let’s wait until they want to talk, and until then give them lots of good reading and listening.” But you don’t say anything because, well, we’re all on the same team here, aren’t we, people?
Expect to finish a class with 30 new words on the board, despite injunctions to carefully shelter vocab, and then find kids throwing random junky words into their stories.
Expect the kids to say “but last year when we took Mandarin, Mr Yu made us write the characters out thirty times each, and we got marked on it, and that mark boosted our overall mark,” and expect to explain, again, why they now have to listen and read for comprehension, and then show understanding, which they cannot do while plugged into devices or fiddling with the font colours on their educational software self-assessment, metacognition-boosting, learning-style customised portfolio plans.
Expect to pray that your Adminz will judge you on your end-of-year results, and not on the fact that if they observe you in October, they will wonder why the class doesn’t prominently feature all of the kids constantly speaking the target language.
Expect to look online, and see experienced T.P.R.S. teachers’ results– kids’ writing or speaking, the same results that inspired you to start C.I.– and wonder, how come my kids can’t do that? Am I useless? What am I missing?
Expect all this because you are now playing the Long Game.
In the Long Game, as Scott Benedict and Susie Gross remind us, you are teaching for June and not for the next “unit test.”
In the Long Game, while you are planting language seeds now, these will become amazing flowers only after months and months of careful watering with input.
In the Long Game, you are not there to hand out worksheets or police the textbook’s “communicative pair activities,” where the kids correctly wonder why should we ask each other questions in French if it’s soooo much easier to get the same info in English? and speak French only when you wander by their desk.
In the Long Game, you are not there to tick off boxes on a Common Core curriculum list, or make sure that the textbook’s stupid worksheets are done.
In the Long Game, you do not assume that just because you’ve “taught” the passé composé, the kids have “learned” it. You do not assume, while playing the Long Game, that just because it’s November, the kids are ready for Grammar Item #237 on Page 89 of the textbook, which is what your Department has always done in November, because by golly, if all our kids rose to the level of Superstar Suzy and actually studied their Grammar Item #237, they would do as well as her, would they not?
When playing the Long Game, your old anally-retentively prepared Integrated Performance Assessments– the wrong kind of IPA for a teacher– wherein you carefully designed a set of inter-related activities to “teach” Vocab Set A and Grammar Set B, and then some tests to measure “proficiency,” are going to flop. Because, as Long says, “the idea that what we teach is what they learn, and when we teach it is when they learn it, is not just simplistic, it is wrong.” And you are going to wonder, if I taught it so well, why did they not learn it?
In the Long Game, you have to follow Papa Blaine’s dictum to trust yourself enough to shut your door and do what is best for the kids.
In the Long Game, get ready for paradoxes.
But most of all…in the Long Game, get ready to be stretched. Sometimes it’ll feel like yoga, and others the rack. But when come June the classroom is finally still and full of echoes, you’ll feel like, wow, I did it, now I can do almost anything.