If you walk into my classroom, you’ll first notice a big empty space. No desks, no chairs. Well, if you look carefully, there are some chairs stacked in the corner. But, for the most part it’s empty space.
If you were to observe a class of students, however, the movement is actually the first thing you would notice. Really, how often do you see students and teachers jump, move around like animals, skip, or create the pegasus you see above? Depending on the day and level, movement can be integrated throughout the entire class period.
The empty space allows for movement and the movement supports community building, establishing a target language environment and helps me deliver comprehensible input to my students.
Here is a quick list of how I use movement in our Spanish classroom:
1. Attention/Classroom Management & Brain Breaks- I use movement to help students focus. This has two parts. I will call out a movement that will 1. help students to focus and 2. allows the me to easily see who is listening.
For example, we may say hands up, touch your head, jump or stand on one foot. Doing whatever movement is called out helps students to realize directions are coming up and the teacher can easily see who heard and is listening actively.
A movement is also used when we see that students are fidgeting or losing focus. When I look around the circle and see signs of checking out, I quickly bring a movement into class to get the blood flowing, the mind focused and back to the topic. Annabelle Allen describes this well in the Inspired Proficiency Podcast, episode 5.
2. Pairings and Groupings/Community Building: We have students move around the classroom a lot in order to interact with different people. I may have students move across the class doing different actions and when they move to a new spot they are new near people with whom they can talk.We may also ask them to make a line in order of their height or how many hours of sleep they got last night and this also gives us a new order to pair and group students in. We may have them dance around the room and when the music stops they have to create a group of three as quickly as they can. There are countless ways that open space and movement can allow for students to interact in many different configurations throughout a single class period.
3. Play! Movement is fun. We infuse our classes with play through movement that takes students out of their comfort zone and just gives them the freedom to be silly, to be kids. Sometimes we move like crabs, jump on one foot, paddle a canoe with a friend, move like a spy or create a train with the class. This might seem silly…. Well, it is! But, as I narrate in Spanish and they feel what the words mean with the movement their bodies make, it’s not only fun but also a great strategy for maximizing comprehensible input.
4. Comprehensible Input
The open space and movement allows for me to act out anything and for the students to play along. When we all use gestures and movement with the target language, and THAT keeps me accountable for keeping it all comprehensible. If students don’t move the way I say, I know I’ve said something that’s too complicated. I explain games, tell stories, ask and answer questions, describe movies and pictures, all in the target language, all with students interacting and moving and eventually talking.
We definitely take movement to the extreme in my department. And of course, I don’t think everyone has to do the same. But, I would challenge you to think about how much your students are moving and whether adding some of the movement I’ve described might enhance the amazing things you do in your classroom already. If you want to talk more about this, comment below and I can discuss it on the Inspired Proficiency podcast.
- Ashley Uyaguari
Picture the scene: a high-school classroom, a rainy Friday afternoon in late April 2008. 25 or 30 students in that last-period Latin II class are attempting -- not very successfully -- to focus on an activity that they usually enjoy. After 15 years teaching in That Particular School District, I have a pretty good idea of how things “usually” work, and I’m trying -- not very successfully -- to ignore a sudden flash of intuition: what “usually” works is no longer working.
“You guys look so sad. What’s up?” I finally ask. And they tell me: “We just hate textbooks. We hate everything about them. The readings are contrived and stupid; the characters in them are flat and dead; the grammar explanations are dumb; the exercises are ridiculous; the things about culture are obviously too simple.” The floodgates opened, and as they listed their objections, I realized something important. They were saying what I had been realizing -- not just about That Particular Textbook (which, to be fair, is a “good textbook” as textbooks go), but about the relationship between pre-packaged learning and 21st-century learners.
“We hate textbooks, but we like this class,” they told me. “We really like it when we make up stories together -- when we make better characters and better stories and better situations. Couldn’t we just do that?”
Yes, we could do that. Yes, we should do that. And they had some very specific ideas about how we should do that -- ideas that are important when you’re dealing with a “not dead but immortal” language, ideas that have been influencing my work with engaging CI in Classical languages for a decade. “Great stories,” they said, though not in these exact words, “make you think about great questions. Stories and Questions are key.”
As we built great stories and great questions together, and as I learned more about Stories and Questions, I realized there’s a particular rhythm of questions that I follow, whether I’m building a story with language learners, designing a workshop or conference session, or talking with someone who might want to work with me. The questions are important, but so is the order, and this is the order that has worked best for me:
I think of the CI techniques that Justin Slocum Bailey listed last week as a beautiful toolbox filled with beautiful tools, and I’m reminded of a great quote from my friend (and fellow Latin teacher) Jason Talley, who once said
Tools are how we solve problems. What is the problem we’re trying to solve here?
On that April Friday in 2008, it turned out to be a “Who and Where” problem. My students and I had a shared Why (purpose) and What (desired results): they wanted to learn Latin, understand Roman culture, and be able to read and understand “real things that real Romans really wrote.” But the “Who” and “Where” of That Textbook’s authors were so different from ours that we couldn’t use That Textbook as an effective tool. We had to build characters and stories together instead -- characters and stories that ultimately grew into “this little thing” and took me on a journey I never would have imagined. But your students aren’t mine, and we may or may not share a Why or a What. “One size fits all” doesn’t work for clothes, and it works even less well for language acquisition.
If it seems like you’re “struggling with CI,” or if it seems like your students are “resisting” or “getting stuck,” try working through those questions in the order I listed them. Struggles, disconnections, and stuckness are usually symptoms -- symptoms of a disconnect between your How and at least one of those other questions. Find the disconnect, and a solution will probably be obvious. And if you can’t find a solution alone, don’t worry: there’s a whole Posse out here, ready and waiting to help.