OK, a bit of review. An OWL teacher is a teacher who believes in organic language acquisition and who employes the methods of Organic World Languages. Then what are those methods? How is the OWL teacher different? How is the classroom different? How is the learning experience different? You can read exactly how OWL defines the methodology here, but the point of my blog is not to reiterate the information on the official site. Instead, here in my words are the methods that define me and my classroom.
1. THE CIRCLE
All desks are pushed aside and students sit or stand in a circle. This circle changes shape over the course of the class as students complete class activities. However, every class begins and ends in the circle. In addition, students come back to the circle after every activity. It encourages participation and allows students to hear one another clearly, but most importantly it emphasizes the fact that language learning is social and cannot be done with out constant interaction.
2. MY STUDENTS ARE MY CURRICULUM
Class conversation, school happenings and current events shape my classroom. I am not tied to what comes next in the text book nor in the curriculum. I am able to base my lessons on topics and issues that are of high interest to my students while simultaneously covering curriculum benchmarks. For instance, Justin Bieber’s arrest was the basis of a lesson on stages of life and responsibility.
3. LESS ASSESSMENT
Students are given a baseline evaluation and individualized objectives at the beginning of each quarter. They then have one formative assessment a month to alert them to their progress and then are evaluated again at the end of the quarter. Limiting assessment makes students see what language really is, a communication tool, not an academic subject. Students become more creative with their language, make more mistakes and without knowing it, learn more.
4. MY CLASSROOM IS LOUD, YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO BE MY NEIGHBOR
Team building is essential to a successful OWL classroom and as such there are many games and we all know games can be loud. There is lots of repetition of vocabulary and of phrases which again can get loud. Finally, there is a huge emphasis on interpersonal communication and as such students are constantly conversing in groups in two or three. With 20 or so people talking at once the volume rises quickly!
5. 100% IMMERSION
From day one there is an understanding that English is not allowed in the circle. If students need a word, they must either describe it, draw it or act it out. Likewise, it is OK if a student does not understand everything. The goal is to understand the gist of a conversation. As students become braver in asking for vocabulary and adapt to not understanding everything, the need for English quickly disappears.