Last May I grabbed a few kids and asked them to stick around after school. We sat down in my classroom and I began talking with them. I started by asking them to retell a story we had told during the school year. But my ulterior motive was to get them away from any rehearsed language. I wanted to see how they would respond to spontaneous tangents in conversation. I wanted to see if their commnicative competence was where I really thought it was. Would they be able to follow if I took them off the path of the practiced story? Would they be able to spontaneously respond if suddenly I asked them to talk about other things? themselves? And would they then be able to pick up the strand of the story we had been talking about and continue it?
What occurred was a really great story retell, Oprah style, wherein I paused and asked personal questions of the students. Their answers surprised me. Their creativity surprised me. They co-created an entirely different version of the class story that none of us expected.
I’ve seen video of level one kids in classes that respond to a teacher prompt with a list of words or short memorized phrases. But, true back and forth interpersonal communication like this is not something I’ve seen in any other level 1 video I’ve seen. And, before beginning to explore TCI my level 1 students would NEVER have been able to do this in Spanish. In 2005 I would have thought this video showed level 2 or 3 students. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe this is actually normal. Maybe novices can and should be able to sustain conversation for 13 minutes. Maybe my kids are performing below levels that other folks are achieving with normal novices. Let me know in the comments section.
Personally, when I think about what my goals are for my students, this communicative competence is really tops on my list. Imagine a kid who can engage so calmly and confidently studying 4 or 5 years this way. By that time, this student really will be able to engage in sheltered content that is meaningful at a high level. And then, after high school, they’ll be well prepared to engage in Spanish in any context and empowered to continue to learn the specific vocab necessary for that context, whether it be college or the auto-repair shop down the road.
So, without further pontification, here’s the video. It’s a bit long, but with the surpirse ending that Sarah throws in there, it’s worth watching all 13 minutes.