As I have mentioned in previous posts, after I attended the ACTFL conference this past November I abandoned most traditional second language teaching methods and have spent most of the last four months teaching using comprehensible input (CI) (prior to this I did some CI activities here and there but I usually abandoned them and went back to traditional methods, mainly due to lack of training). Here are my thoughts on what I have noticed so far.
1. The overwhelmingly majority of my students report having an easier time reading in the second language than they did at the beginning of the year. While this is partially due to the many stories that we read together in class, the main reason why I think they feel that it is easier to read in the target language now is because we do independent reading. Every Monday students read a book in their target language for about 10-15 minutes. I also read with them during this time to set a positive example. I do not obligate students to keep a log, I do not force them to read, and they do not have to write a report or take a test on what they read (although I am thinking of having them do a final project or presentation on their favorite book that they have read this year just for fun as an end-of-the-year wrap up activity). We are at the point now where we have been doing so much reading that students are recommending books to each other, but unfortunately we are also at the point where students are running out of books to read, especially in French, which has fewer books to choose than Spanish.
2. Grammar topics that once were troublesome are not anymore now that I use CI. In my French 2 classes, students historically have had trouble with the passé composé when I taught it traditionally. This year I taught it using CI methods and I have been very pleased with the results. I started with readings written in the past to get students used to seeing the structure. Then we completed tasks based in the passé composé, did movie talks in the past, and played Mafia (if you are not familiar with Mafia, visit the blog written by Martina Bex and learn how to play it. My students love it and they hear lots of verbs in the past). I have also noticed that my students of Spanish are also starting to pick up some tricky things as well, like the personal a. And while I have never formally taught the formation of passive voice using se, my students have seen it so many times that they just figured it out on their own. The end result has been that my students feel very comfortable expressing themselves, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
3. My first-year French students are comfortable enough in class and have been exposed to enough language that they have started to speak it just for fun. The technical term for this is “spontaneous output,” and I love it. We start every day with a chat about the date, weather, or any other activity I feel the need to discuss, and as time goes on, more and more students have started to produce some simple French. Usually they are insulting each other, but it’s all in good fun. One student has declared himself the class emperor, and came into class the other day proclaiming, “Je suis (I am) Emperor Louis Philippe! Je suis emperor de la classe! L’état, c’est moi (This is the only 15 year old boy I know who is obsessed with the musical Camelot)!” So of course now we have all started calling him “Votre Majesté” and will be creating a story about him very soon.
4. Due to the amount of writing my students have been doing, they can write more, write faster, and write more accurately. All my classes do timed writings where they have to write as much as possible in five minutes. They also write stories in groups as an introduction to new words. As time goes on, I am finding that my students are making incredible advances in their writing. Students who could barely give me 50 words in September are easily writing over 100 in five minutes. In addition, the group story writing has been taking up less and less class time and the writing has gotten more and more accurate as time goes by.
5. As the year has progressed, students have an easier time understanding me when I speak in the target language. I know that, according to what ACTFL says, the ultimate language class goal is to spend 90% of class in the target language, but I have not been able to do that. Nevertheless, I spend so much more time speaking in the target language than I did when I taught traditionally (mainly due to the fact that I don’t have to explain grammar extensively) and the students understand me more and more as time goes on.
I am looking forward to the end of the year to see what kind of growth I see in June, but for now I have seen enough to be convinced that teaching with comprehensible input is the way to acquire a new language, and I’m not planning on going back to my old traditional ways ever! I hope to be able to spread the word about how drastically teaching using CI has affected my teaching and the acquisition of my students.