The Colegio Bilingue Esperanza faculty have spent the past four days in training on the OWL (Organic World Language) approach to language acquisition. Basically, it is a method of developing a second language through 100% immersion. In this post, I’ll discussing some major take away points from our four day training.

Teachers at the Colegio Bilingue Esperanza experiencing an OWL lesson.

Point 1: Take Risks, Make Mistakes, Provide Corrective Feedback

I remember sitting in my Spanish classes at both Pepperdine and in high school feeling distraught about speaking in another language. I was afraid to make mistakes while learning a language, and it wasn’t just me. Everyone in the class felt that they could not make a mistake without being ridiculed by another student or punished by the teacher. With the OWL approach, there is constant positive reinforcement. Students are praised for making mistakes. Then the teacher provides corrective feedback so that the student learns the language in a positive manner.

Point 2: Students Develop Curriculum.

Thread. A thread is something that connects one point to another, no? One of my colleagues said that a thread is a thought process. With these thoughts in mind, students are able to develop their own curriculum based on the different subjects that come up in the circle. Below is a picture of what the teachers came up with during the training.

IMG_7380-1 I know its hard to see in the picture, but all topics are somehow linked together. With this idea, students learn the vocabulary that interests them and not just some unit in a textbook. They learn how people really communicate in the language instead of learning phrases that are no longer used in normal everyday life.

Point 3: Language Levels

During the training, we spent quite a bit of time discussing how to diagnose the level of proficiency of a student. We spent hours analyzing sentences or stories students wrote. At the end, we were able to identify their language level. We broke up the students into novice, intermediate and advanced levels, and from there we had low, medium and high subcategories between the main levels. For example, if you are new to a language, then you would be a novice low (NL).  If you are able to speak in sentences and create your own sentences in the target language, then you would be considered an intermediate student. If you can create sentences and tell stories in both the past, present and future, then you would be considered an advanced student. This year I will be working with students with zero background in English as well as students who have had two years of OWL English instruction, which means their levels range from Novice Low to Intermediate High.

Point 4: Tree

To the right, is the picture of a tree we made during training! I know, IMG_7320anticlimactic, but there is a point! The point of learning a language is to be able to communicate, yes? Yet, in America, we spend most of our time worrying about the mechanics of a language, such as placing a period at the end of a sentence, or using the past tense correctly. We try to get our students to speak or write in the target language, but we nitpick for grammatical or punctuation errors. While this would be good for students at more advanced levels, it’s pretty terrible to take off points for students who are at novice levels. There are four levels to our little tree. The root of language is the content/context, or why we are speaking the language in the first place. Second comes the trunk or the function, which is how the language is used in everyday life. The branches represent the text types, which is how the student is communicating, such as in paragraphs, spoken or memorized phrases. Finally, the leaves on the branches represent the mechanics, aka the grammar and punctuation, of a language. In this approach, the goal is to first place an emphasis on learning the context/content of a language and work towards the mechanics later instead of placing the emphasis on the mechanics and then learning on the context of the target language.

Overall I found this workshop to be incredibly helpful and practical. It made learning and working in a second language comfortable and fun.

For more information on the approach, here is a link to the website.

I look forward to exploring this method in my teaching in the coming months. First day of school is January 19th! Be on the lookout for the next post about the first week of school.



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