Day three in Brattleboro-beginning Spanish with Elissa McLean, the main organizer of this incredible week! I have worked with Elissa before, but I have never been lucky enough see her teach. She worked with Grant Boulanger's beginning Spanish class and did an impressive job of jumping into the class, despite the fact that she was a "substitute." She used humor to engage the students right away, and was able to use the fact that she didn't know what all Grant had covered to check for comprehension and get more reps of the structures that the students had already learned. Her wait time was incredible, allowing for more participation and engagement. She was amazing on her feet; given the fact that she hadn't been in Grant's class save for a few minutes the day before. She captivated my attention, and that of the students. Elissa is one of those teachers who makes personalization seem so effortless, and her ability to go super S-L-O-W-L-Y kept everyone anticipating her next words. These pauses were far from awkward; I have a hard time with quiet in conversations, both in the classroom and in casual chats with friends, so I have a huge amount of respect for those who use this effectively. This is a critical skill for CI teachers, and one that I plan on bringing to the top of my "things I really want to focus on and implement this year" list.
On Friday, Grant was able to return to teach his class for the final day. As I mentioned in my post about day 2 of this conference, it really is wonderful to be able to see so many teachers with different styles work with and engage their students. Grant is so calm in the classroom, yet this does not mean that his class is not with him 100%. In the debrief afterwards, both the adult and adolescent students remarked on how Grant made an effort to get to know them as people. One student said, “[It's] nice to be able to have one-on-one interactions with your teacher.” Another noted that in the class there was an atmosphere that allowed for risk-taking, where students felt they could make mistakes and it was ok. When you're telling stories, she said, any words are welcome and if you mess up, it's not that big a deal. (More proof that stories are effective!) It was very powerful to listen to the students reflect on their experience in Grant's room, and hear that they all felt they learned more in this short time than they had in more traditional classroom settings. I think the comment of one student sums it up well: "[we were] learning by playing, [it was] really a lot of fun.”
On Wednesday I spent the afternoon listening to management techniques with Annabelle (quelle surprise!) and Thursday I was in Grant's session on going slowly. Both of these sessions allowed me to focus on one of my biggest weaknesses (which I've mentioned about a gazillion times before!)-classroom management. My major takeaways from the two sessions dovetail with each other nicely. Movement can not only be used to control behavior, but also to force me to slow down. When things are slow, therefore more comprehensible, students are engaged and disruptions are greatly reduced.
I think that this slide from Grant's presentation sums up a lot of my learning at Express Fluency this year. Understandable = slow. Interesting, meaningful, relevant = personalized. Use rejoinders to allow students to access expressions that appear in their everyday speech. Show the students that they mean something to you with a positive attitude and ask questions about them, their likes, their lives. When they see you care about them, they will care about your class. Don't leave time for students to become distracted, but if they know that you're talking about them, and they understand what you're saying, this should take care of itself!
This week has allowed me to connect with some incredible people, watch some stellar teaching, learn new techniques, and be reminded of some important basics that are easy to forget. I am officially excited to start the year. I feel prepared to attack the issues I've had in the past, and want to have a successful year. But, as we all know...
Compelling + comprehensible = success!
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twentieth year teaching, and seventeenth at Marion Cross.