The January Blossom

If you are new to teaching with comprehensible input (CI), at first it can feel frustrating, because it is hard to tell if your students are making any progress in acquiring the language. This is especially true if, like me, you don’t force output (and you absolutely should not. Encourage, yes, but force, no), because if students aren’t producing, it may seem that you have no evidence that they are acquiring language. Teachers who don’t have a lot of confidence in their abilities may get so frustrated by what they see as a lack of progress that they may give up and go back to traditional methods (yes, I was guilty of this as a novice CI teacher).

But those who stick with teaching with CI might notice that something magical happens right around the mid-year mark. All of a sudden, students start spontaneously producing language, which demonstrates that they have been quietly acquiring language all along. A colleague of mine refers to it as the “January Blossom,” and it can be pretty amazing to witness. This week I have noticed the blossom in two of my classes.

Students in my seventh grade French class recently were paired with pen pals in France, and yesterday they all sat down to write letters to their new friends in French. This is the first time I have asked my students to do any sort of free writing in class, and they knocked it out of the park. Every student, even the weakest of the group, was able to write down anywhere between two and four sentences about themselves in about five minutes with absolutely no help from me. Some of my stronger students wrote even more. Why was this possible? Because we have been doing Special Person interviews now for the past few months. During these interviews, I ask a series of questions about the student’s family, hobbies, and favorite things. In a class of seventeen students, my students have heard others answer questions about themselves sixteen different times. Thanks to the power of compelling, comprehensible input, my students can communicate about themselves on a variety of topics with a great deal of accuracy. I was very impressed by their abilities and, more importantly, they were proud of their progress as well.

My eighth grade students and I have started talking about the 2018 Winter Olympics in class, which I introduced to them with a PowerPoint about the fifteen Winter Olympic sports in which the athletes are competing. Usually when I show a PowerPoint to the class, I include some French sentences with new words highlighted that I translate into English in parenthesis to facilitate comprehension. This time when I finished going through my PowerPoint, one of my students raised his hand and told me that he already knew ALL the expressions I had translated on the PowerPoint from other activities we had done in class together. Then I asked the rest of the students to raise their hands if they also knew those expressions and almost every hand was raised. This means that my students have been acquiring language that I didn’t even realize they were acquiring!

I am looking forward to seeing what kind of progress students will make as the school year goes on. And I hope you are enjoying your January Blossom as much as I am enjoying mine. And if you don’t see signs of it yet, maybe your blossom will take place later in the year. But thanks to the power of compelling, comprehensible input I can guarantee that you too will have one of those moments where you will ask yourself “How did they know that?” when your students know the meaning of a word you haven’t targeted explicitly or will marvel at student output who produces something that you think is above and beyond their abilities. When that moment comes, enjoy it and be proud!

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