I've been thinking a lot about CI, and language teaching, and changes I want to make in my classes since I returned from NTPRS in San Antonio. (Intro post on my experience here.) Now, I'm here in Brattleboro, VT at the Express Fluency summer conference with some powerhouse people! (NB-I just realized that I did not write about the pre-conference workshop day yesterday with Tina Hargaden; I guess that will have to come later! D'oh!) The fabulous thing about being here is having the opportunity to watch other teachers teaching. During the mornings, Brattleboro Union HS is the site of some language classes for kids and adults à la IFLT. I spent the morning with one of my favorites, La Maestra Loca Annabelle Allen, teaching Spanish to students aged seven to 12 (and two adults), 16 students total.
I was so lucky earlier this year to be able to travel to New Orleans in February and observe, visit, and talk with Annabelle. Our personalities in the classroom are very similar, and I wanted to see how she establishes classroom procedures. I will be the first to admit that classroom management is not my strength, Annabelle has impressed me with the control she had over her classroom. I was thrilled to be able to watch her again, despite the fact that I had spent several days with her a few months ago. This time, however, I came with a different agenda. While the goal of my visit to NOLA in February was just to see another teacher in action, today I wanted to see her teaching during the "first days of school." She began developing relationships with her students from the moment class started. By the end of the first hour, two of her students already had nicknames. She made the class completely about the students, talking about their hair, their likes, where the live. When she moved to a story-telling activity, Annabelle used students who had been more "active" during the class actors, or sound effects. There was one student who had obviously had some Spanish, and she designated her the artist for the activity, giving her an important task that allowed her to process the language in a different way. I thought this was genius for several reasons. First, it made her special. She was able to do something unique to her. Secondly, it pulled her out of the activity, giving other students the opportunity to absorb the language without a super-fast processor/student with a leg up. I loved being able to see Annabelle in action again, and am still amazed with how much I was able to learn and take away from my morning.
So I'll admit now, I might seem a little crazy/stalker-ish; I attended both of Annabelle's afternoon sessions today. A few minutes into Annabelle's post-lunch presentation, I found myself in a similar situation to the one in which I found myself at NTPRS (see link to the post referenced at the beginning of this post). I didn't have any major lightbulb moments, I wasn't thinking about my teaching in a completely novel way. This has been my experience at most of my CI/TPRS conferences over the past six years. Today, I was able to see some ways in which I could tighten my teaching, or add to activities that I already do, or approach things from a different angle. I will now think about using music as a way to cut down on the use of English during group activities. Brain Breaks have become a huge part of my class procedures, but now I look forward to explaining the rationale behind them to my students, and really emphasize that these are not games! I saw how PictureTalks can be a great way of recycling material (do a PictureTalk in the beginning of the year, and then bring it back as a gallery walk or writing activity later in the year).
I plan on spending tomorrow morning with Dustin Williamson; I have known Dustin for years, but have never seen him teach. One of the things I love about the language lab set-up is having the chance to observe teachers with different personalities and different teaching styles work with different levels. Thank you, Elissa, for organizing this week!
Allison Litten teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This year she is teaching kindergarten and grades 1, 2, 4, and 6.