A student responded without thought to my question in Spanish, “Where are you all going?” “A la biblioteca” was his answer. I had caught him unawares, stepping out of a door behind him with other students around him. I watched his face closely and saw no flicker of thought, just the utterance. So I reported this to his teacher the next morning and she practically floated off the ground. She had designed this class specifically to up the proficiency and get away a little from the grammar drills. She was the same teacher whose class I had taken as a sub and reported on the worksheets the students had to fill out for the assignment. That was the sort of thing she had been forced to do and rebelled against by designing this class. I was raked over the coals on a listserv for “criticizing a teacher’s sub plans”; I accepted part of the blame for that b/c I hadn’t made clear in my original post that this was in-house subbing and I knew the teacher and her feelings about worksheet grammar. My clarification made no difference; I was persona non grata for having criticized a teacher.
But back to this “no thought” notion. It’s sort of zen-like but it raised the hackles of a lot of teachers. Why? Because thinking is more important even than reading in education and thinking is the major life skill for most people. Teachers emphasize it; it’s their bread and butter. So when someone says a student should be able to respond in L2 without thinking, they find it anti-intellectual, anti-academic. But they should remember that speaking a language, even L2, is not an academic skill, it is a natural ability we all have as possessors of human brains.