Last week, a student was absent for all four days of a four day week. On the fourth day, the students asked in Spanish if they could write get well cards to the absent student. In the OWL spirit, I said sure and began rummaging around in my closet for stationary. While I gathered supplies, I asked students to write their well wishes on the board. Without hesitation the students rushed to the board, grabbed a marker, began chatting in Spanish and writing down their messages. Once ready, I called students back, handed them the cards and two minutes later I had get well cards ready to mail. The whole activity took a maximum of 8 minutes, from original inquiry to final product.
Now you might not be that impressed. There are no commands. (No mas inferma por favor.) There is no cute “Get well soon” slogan. (Tú necesito mucho bien.) There are errors both in spelling and in grammar. (Tú esta inferma. Me gusta tú.) Vocabulary is basic and sentences are incomplete and confusing. (Tu gusta “rojo de garganta”). However, I was ecstatic with the class. From my perspective, I saw class that cares about a each other. I saw a class that communicated comfortably all in Spanish. I saw all the community building activities paying off! Moreover, I saw a group of students attack an out of context task without hesitation. We had no prior conversations about health vocabulary nor grammar structures. Instead of trying to translate from English, they went right to the Spanish they knew and used it to communicate successfully. If they didn’t know a word, they described it to a classmate who then provided the missing word. They were a class without judgement and as a result they were fearless with their language!
Moments like these remind me of why I love OWL. First, through constant community building, judgement is taken away allowing students to take communicative risks. Secondly, OWL students think in L2 from day one. In an OWL classroom there is never direct translation. Students are forced to find L2 meaning using their L2. As a result, students stop translating from English to their L2. Instead, they go straight to their base vocabulary and begin to use it to communicate. This combined with a supportive language community forms the perfect environment for creative thinking and courageous language learning. Again, did I mention, I love OWL!?