The Hartford Area Career and Technical Center connected to Hartford High School here in White River Junction, VT, opened its doors and welcomed us. The classrooms were perfect, we had a fantastic place for lunch, and the staff was accommodating and incredibly helpful. We are grateful to Charlie and Doug and the whole crew over there.
Additionally, I was lucky to work with an incredible crew. Elissa Maclean choreographed the week, and I was honored to be on a list of teachers that included Justin Slocum Bailey, Joey Dziedzic, Tina Hargaden, and Linda Li. And shoutouts to Jen Schongalla, Jason Tamez, and Becca Rice for all they did behind the scenes; we couldn't have done it without them.
In case you don't have the desire or time to read the entire post, here’s the Cliff Notes list of what I learned/was reminded of this week (though I do hope you will read the whole thing!):
This was my first experience teaching a language lab: 14 4-11 year olds for 2 1/2 hours for four mornings. I had been wondering for months leading up to the first class what this experience would be like with long classes, short duration, and a wide range of ages and experiences. Four of the students in the class were either past or current students of mine. Five were kids in families that had just moved to Norwich and will be at Marion Cross in the fall. Two were the children of a colleague who spent two days in the teacher training. The other three were kids from the community. Five boys, nine girls; two bilingual English/Spanish speakers; four students with past French experience, two who had had Spanish at their previous school. Talk about a motley crew! But we all came together as a community by the end of the class.
One of my biggest challenges (as I noted last year after iFLT) is going S-L-O-W-L-Y and man, did that slap me in the face after the first day! I realized at the end of the class that I had given the kids WAAAAAY too much! The moment that really made this stick for me was when one of the students said as he was leaving, “I don’t want to come back tomorrow. This is too long!” Needless to say, I was crushed.
I did have a bright spot when a student handed this little card to me after class. (Translation: Bonjour Maîtresse.)
I knew going into this week that I didn’t want to prepare too much because I was going to want to see what the kids were like and, more importantly, who they were. I planned to base what I did on the students: their lives, their interests, their identities. And I managed to do that. We talked about their hobbies. I took pictures of them and we Picture Talk-ed them. I talked about what they were wearing every single day. I validated their opinions and honored their thoughts.
The young man who had expressed distress on Tuesday was smiley and engaged on Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday. What do I think caused the change? I gave him a nickname. He was wearing all blue on the second day, so he became Monsieur Bleu. I connected with him on a personal level and made him feel special and unique, and that gave us a bond that grew each day. (On the last day he wasn’t wearing all blue, but all gray. I asked him if he wanted to change his name to Monsieur Gris, but he opted to keep his original identity. It was very sweet. He's the one hugging my neck in the class photo above.)
When I write up what I did each day, I will post it. I need to do that sooner rather than later, before I forget and get wrapped in preparations for this coming week’s proficiency workshop with Tina Hargaden in Maine.
In addition to the language lab, I presented on reading in the elementary language classroom and Movie Talk (or Video Chat). You can find those presentations here. I delight in talking about both of these topics and I especially love sharing knowledge (and resources!) with other teachers.
All in all I feel really good about how the week turned out. My observers gave me positive and encouraging feedback, and the number of hugs I received as the students left on the last day made me feel great. And one little girl gave me this note on her way out.
Have you ever observed a language lab? What have been your big take-aways?
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public PreK-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twenty-third year teaching, and twentieth at Marion Cross.