Tuesday, July 4, 2017

On Being a Student in a Less Commonly Taught Language...part two

OK, I never wrote part one.  Here is the abbreviated version: 

My first experience learning a less commonly taught language with different characteristics was with Betsy Padovan, learning Japanese, at NTPRS 16. 

She did a great job of using the transliterated Japanese (romaji), all the comprehensible input techniques (going slow, slower, and slower; pausing and pointing, and more), keeping it interesting, and helped me recognize a few key kanji to boot! She did it using gestures, lots of direct translation, lots of group comprehension checks, and lots of retell.  She also wove some pretty brilliant pieces of culture into her lessons seamlessly.  It probably helped that my talking buddy was the brilliant Justin Slocum Bailey, who has enough enthusiasm and joie de vivre to overwhelm any potential fear of failure on my part.  

All in all, I feel like I got a taste of what it was like to be a student in a TPRS classroom, taught by a master teacher.  

Fast forward a year.  I am at Comprehensible Cascadia in Portland, OR.  (My old hometown!)  I am taking an Arabic class with a teacher new to some specific Comprehensible Input techniques (One Word Images and creating stories from OWIs, aka "non-targeted input").  He is simultaneously teaching a series of three hour classes while trying to incorporate this new learning, and being coached in the meantime.  Wow.  

This very talented and brave teacher is taking such a risk.  What follows is JUST my reflection on being a student, where I needed support, and what worked for me.  This is not in any way a reflection on his technique- aren't we all learning together?  Also, through the process of coaching, the teacher made changes to make himself more comprehensible.  How amazing is that?  

As I sit in the back (not my optimal place for learning!) I am learning more about what it is like to be a student, and what that discomfort of being lost feels like.  
So, this what it feels like to be lost, to be found, and how important the important things really are.

  • Gestures are crucial.  This became more clear to me in the Cherokee class, where the teacher used them more consistently and I felt so much more comfortable immediately, as we established a gesture for each major word.  (In this case, it was scorpion, has, wants.) 
  • Pause and Point: When the words for yes/no are nothing like cognates, it really helps me if the teacher goes slow and pauses and points for them too...with the English.  I did not realize how hard these two words were!  Update: the teacher started using gestures (thumbs up and thumbs down) for yes/no verification.  It helps a LOT.  
  • Frequent comprehension checks  ("what did I just say?") in English support me when I check out from overload, or go to the bathroom, or get distracted by the really cool sounds of the words, or...I wanted more of these.  I wanted more repetitions.  I wanted to go slower.  (We have about 7 words on the board...and I still want to go slower.) 
  • Clearly establishing meaning: One moment of checking out (at the exact moment we decided that our character was a bus) and the word bus not being written under the Arabic text meant that I spent the first few minutes thinking that the Arabic word pronounced baasss was a cognate for some kind of fish.  Writing "bus" under the Arabic would have really kept me from feeling like an idiot when I finally saw the picture!  (Again, the importance of not assuming that your students know what a word means...or remember!) 
    This is what a truly responsive, reflective teacher looks like.  
  • Using two colors really helps me focus.  Having the Arabic text in one color and the English in the other helped me choose where to look.  If I knew the word, I could ignore the English, but if I was struggling, that English was crucial to keeping me checked in.   Update: The teacher just erased the transliteration of the Arabic, and moved to just English and Arabic- the sense of relief in the room was palpable.  The transliteration was too much noise for me. 
  • Personalization keeps interest high. One thing that I am struggling with in this lesson is that we established that the bus (our image) is sad.  For me, it would be very natural to start talking about the students.  "Jenny is sad.  No, Jenny is not sad."  This adding parallel character/personalizing would increase the interest for me as we are only 7 words in, but I am not confident about them.  Update: I guess I wasn't the only one who thought this, as the coach suggested it too.   As soon as the teacher started personalizing,  I was able to identify two more words without really working at it, and felt confident about more.  

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