Literacy in the New Year


Hello OWL community!  Sorry for such a long break without posts. As many of you know my Denver condo flooded in early November and my husband and I were sent packing for almost two months. Recently, we returned to our lovely home with lovely new floors, new walls and a new ceiling.  The mundane routine of work, gym, dinner, sleep, repeat has started once again, but it has never felt so good.  Best of all, I am able to sit down on a Sunday night, blog and reconnect with my community of innovative and inspiring educators.

After such a long break, I have much to post, but have decided to to start 2015 with a reflective question and a challenge.

I’ll start off with my question:

What is the role of literacy in a world language classroom?

It is embarrassing to admit, but for the first eight years of my teaching career, literacy played a bit part in my classroom.  I taught students more about the language rather than how to be literate in the language.  Instead of spending time looking for ways to improve reading, writing, listening and speaking, I looked for fun ways to teach grammar, memorize vocabulary and extensive lists of irregular verbs.  I then wasted hours creating contrived “real world” scenarios which demanded specific vocabulary and grammar structures. Fortunately, since introducing the OWL method to my classroom, literacy activities alongside level appropriate questions have become the backbone of all lesson plans.

Unfortunately, literacy in an OWL classroom frequently gets overshadowed by the popularity of the circle. While the OWL circle is essential and loads of fun, the literacy activities that are completed daily in and outside the circle formation are what ensure the progression through the ACTFL levels. Therefore this year in my blog, I will be putting special focus on the literacy techniques within the outrageously awesome structure of the OWL circle.

This brings me to our challenge:

Redefine yourself as a literacy teacher.

Go ahead, make the switch.  Stop worrying about teaching vocabulary, grammar and culture. Stop trying to teach how we were taught, it is OK. Instead think how you can teach for proficiency, how you can build literacy. How you can prepare students to interact confidently in their fill your language in here world.  If you teach Novice levels, talk to elementary teachers.  Do you teach intermediate to advanced? Talk to seventh, eighth or ninth grade language arts teachers.  Observe them.  What methods are they using to improve the reading, writing, listening and verbal skills of their students at the various developmental levels? Are you isolated or just don’t have time? Follow some literacy boards on Pinterest. Take these ideas and work them into your lesson plans and of course, let me know how it goes!



Community + Thinking in your L2 = Why I Love OWL


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!?



English Week: Course Expectations!


We are off and running and what a great start it has been! Day one was invigorating.  We did introductions, transitions and games and spoke lots of SPANISH!

Then on day two, we did course  . . .

expectation two

The decision to do so early was more logistical than necessary. As Ashley Uyaguari points out in her blog, through the use of the circle OWL students implicitly understand classroom expectations. My gosh is this true. Before even receiving the handout, the students informed me they were expected to participate, work with others, smile, laugh, and speak ONLY SPANISH! Way to go class!  However, students did still have questions as to where homework is posted, how they are graded and most importantly what school supplies they should buy!  Ha! We therefore spent twenty minutes going over expectations to address their questions. After this brief conversation students were rearing to get back to the circle.  They had enough with English!

Below are my course expectations.  Please feel free to use any components or just take a look to see how another OWL teacher presents her course to the school community. I did this flyer using Lucidpress Document, a Google Docs app.  It was easy to use and if you email me, I can share the document and you can use the same layout and just change what is necessary. Anything to save valuable time!

Español Uno Expectations (1) Español Dos Expectations (4)


Terminology: What is an OWL educator?


The OLA vs OWL Educator

As OWL techniques have infiltrated classrooms throughout the nation, there has been some debate amongst teachers. What do we call ourselves? Who are we? Are we OLA teachers? Are we OWL teachers? What does it mean to be an OLA teacher, an OWL teacher?

Over the past year, I have started to refer to myself as both an OLA and an OWL educator to the confusion of both my colleagues and parents.  To clarify, OWL stands for Organic World Languages, an educational organization based in Portland, Oregon.  This fabulous group under the direction of Darcy Rogers developed a teaching method that promotes Organic Language Acquisition (OLA). OLA is the theory that language learning should be natural and painless and mirror the processes of first language acquisition.  I ascribe to this theory and therefore call myself an OLA teacher.  Additionally, I am also an OWL teacher as I employ the specific methods endorsed by Organic World Languages.