When you’re teaching, what are you thinking about?
I’ve been reflecting on this question lately. It’s probably not a surprise, but I’ve realized that my best classes are the ones when I am truly present in the moment for my students. It’s when I’m not preoccupied with the plans I’ve created, or the objective I have. When I am listening to them and open to letting them lead, that is when our best classes happen. It’s when the students are more important than the course content.
The OWL approach allows this to happen. That’s part of what we mean by “Organic”. We let the topics and words come organically from the students. We provide a context and community for communication and then guide the students in their discovery of the language.
Some days I get too caught up in my ideas. I have a fun video to watch or a game that I want to unfold in a certain way. I think more about these plans than I do the students.
On other days, my mind is more where it needs to be. I’m watching, listening and completely present with the students. I’m picking up on their moods, listening to more than just the words of their stories, and I’m able to use what I observe to inform where the class goes next. Sometimes their language (especially their errors) tells me what type of practice they are ready for and sometimes their stories allow for a new topic thread that engages everyone. This works because as long as the five OWL goals are in place, the rest is flexible.
I think my* OWL classroom is most effective when my energy is spent in the moment more than in planning. It’s a shift from how I used to teach, when the planning took more energy than the execution of the plan. It’s the other way around now.
I do plan. It just looks different. When I do it well, it is a balance between being well prepared and being open to change. The best scenario is having activities prepared without specific content. The activity is the structure and the students provide the content. I suspect my plan does not look like most lesson plans. It’s more like a list of ingredients that can be added as needed.
I also prepare by learning and practicing strategies and techniques to uphold and nurture the environment (http://www.owlanguage.com/about/) as well as familiarizing myself with the ACTFL levels so that I’m always in line with where the students are and where they are headed. The OWL goals are my daily objectives, the ACTFL levels map out the skills for each year, my students provide the content. I’m learning that this works best when I’m present in the moment with my students.
How do you allow yourself to be present in the classroom? How do you make yourself tune into your students so that you can guide their discovery?
*I use the word my because some OWL teachers plan differently.