On March 9, 2017, I attended an OWL (Organic World Language) Visitation Day at Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma, WA. Prior to this, I had heard about the OWL teaching methodology from several teachers and was intrigued, but I knew I needed to see the techniques being used in the classroom before implementing them in my own Spanish classes.
For me, a takaway from the OWL Visitation Day is how vital it is to teach students of all levels to take risks with language and how to circumlocute. Students in the classes I observed clearly knew that they are expected to communicate in the target language 100% of the time. I’ve struggled with having my students stay in the target language during a specific activity, much less a whole period, so I was curious to see how well this rule worked. Throughout the Visitation Day, I was continually impressed by how motivated students were to use only the target language and the variety of strategies they employed to do so.
For example, to practice describing something without using the word itself, students used familiar vocabulary, identified what category the word belonged to (food, action, etc.) and used gestures. Many useful phrases in the target language were posted around the room and students often referred to them. What’s more, they didn’t use English at all and clearly felt comfortable taking risks in the target language. Instead of simply telling my students to use the language they know, I plan to do a better job of teaching them how to circumlocute and consistently model this myself, starting on day one. Learning these skills will help them to be more effective and self-assured communicators, whether they’re speaking with classmates or native speakers.
I gained a lot professionally and personally from attending this workshop. I plan to attend future OWL workshops so that I can continue to grow as a language teacher.