Debbie Varga, Spanish Teacher, Revere High School, OFLA Secondary Language Learning committee
This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a participant at the OWL (Organic World Language) East Coast Boot Camp, led by founder Darcy Rogers, in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. The theme for the week was “Inspire Motivation: Teacher as Learner, Student as Teacher” and provided a tour de force of information and hands-on experiences that guided me to reframe my classroom practice on a daily basis. During my experience, I was able to connect and collaborate with teachers who are passionate about creating an authentic language experience in their classrooms. Many terms have now become a part of my pedagogical lexicon: acquisition vs. learning, modeling, post-planning, ownership of the language, text types, organic learning, threads and progressions, level checks and probes, personalization, and planning “days”, not “lessons”. As I reframe my lessons and approach, I rethink everything I plan in terms of proficiency. I now ask myself, “Is this proficiency-based?”.
I am also noticing that the amount of unsolicited Spanish in my classroom has increased dramatically as compared to my previous years’ classes, which were taught with other communicative methods. Students are not afraid to make errors and sometimes continue talking in Spanish even when moving on to the next activity. The focus is on being understood through the use of 3 OWL principles: 1) Draw it, 2) Act it out, and 3) Use what you know! This creates an environment that allows my students to use other ways to ask for a definition in Spanish rather than resorting to the traditional, ¿Cómo se dice____?. I explain to the students that this question only works if the speaker in the target language understands English, (i.e. ¿Cómo se dice? book?). The goal of an OWL classroom is 100% immersion. And yes, my students remind me of that, even when I stay within the 90% ACTFL recommended guidelines!
Hooks at the beginning or even throughout the class period provide a foundation for moving the lesson forward, as well as recycling content from previous lessons. The language is organic, meaning that the students are the curriculum and through the focus on a questioning sequence that emulates an OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview), students are being challenged to respond to questions that are both at their current proficiency level, as well as the next proficiency level. Therefore, every class becomes an OPI. Students stand in a circle to build a classroom community and movement takes place during class, as well as multi literacy activities.
My OWL lifelines have been the East Coast Boot Camp Facebook group and the Ohio Owlers. Every time I have attended an OWL training, a special bond with the other participants is created, unlike any other one that I experience in other types of professional development. It is an experience you will not want to miss!
I just finished reading the article by Debbie Varga in the Fall 2014 Cardinal. I would like Debbie to know that even though I am retired from teaching Spanish, her enthusiasm for the OWL approach to teaching made me want to return to the classroom and give it a try! So Debbie, why not have someone video tape your class and put a few minutes of the video on the OFLA website. I would love to see you and your students in action. Way to go!