Just so y’all know, I’m not teaching Russian (yet) this year. I am still reading everything I can on CI and participating in our state language conference and FB pages related to iFLT and NTPRS. So much of what we do as CI/Storytelling teachers is just plain good teaching that everyone should know it.
In some ways, my new position is exactly the same: I’m providing comprehensible input and scaffolding reading for students, and I’m helping (teenaged) teachers encourage and strengthen language acquisition.
In other ways, it’s very different: I am in a vocational program, teaching early childhood education. Half my day is teaching what educators need to know about working with young children, and half my day is leading a group as they participate in a lab school for preschoolers.
Much as in my first years of teaching and first years of Storytelling, I am spending long hours learning and preparing. While no one is ever “done” perfecting any part of the teaching craft, luckily at least the class management piece is not an issue. But this out-of-school time is also the kind that I look at the clock and think, “how can it already be 6:00?” I’m engaged in something that is vitally interesting and that I’m passionate about. And each little piece leads to something else I need to read, research, or write. It flows.
When I think of Russian lessons that flowed, and when I look at the classes that flow now, one of the pieces that stands out to me is transition elements. Understandably, the big sections in a language acquisition class (the songs, the reading, the conversations) have to be personalized, compelling and comprehensible, or students of any age zone out. But transitions are critical. Teaching more content, I am having to learn new brain breaks. If I want new random groups for a discussion, it’s better when I have a Quizlet Live game first that organizes them for me. (I can’t use “practicing counting” or “everyone with a red shirt move toward the board…” as a means of getting new groups.) If I want students to sit in new places, I have to start by having their name tags or notebooks out before they arrive. Hmm. As I read this, it occurs to me that I actually can use those language-based transitions in this class, because I’m modeling what will work well on the preschool floor. After all, we do songs and clapping games for practice.
Lesson flow was easier for me to achieve when I was teaching Russian. Song instruction flowed naturally from singing to drawing to discussion about the artist or the situation. News articles flowed well from personalized CI talk with the new structures to parallel story-asking, to maybe a MovieTalk on the same subject, to an embedded reading versions of the article, and then back to a small-group response. I could have a quick brain break with movement that echoed something in the lesson. And it was okay if we went off on a tangent directed by student interest.
I definitely wasn’t always perfect, but “flow” was easier to achieve if I was on my game because I was concentrating first on language acquisition, with content/culture being secondary. Now I have to cover a lot of specific content, because I want my students to be prepared in the preschool for safety, health, guidance and developmental needs.
Justin Slocum-Bailey has written about how we sustain flow for individuals by validating student needs. I’ve been using his signals in our classroom – especially the ones to identify distractions and “full up” feelings. And I’m working hard to personalize the experience for everyone. But in addition, I’m trying hard to be clear about transitions and make it feel as though each small part of a daily two-hour class moves naturally into the next one. I hope that the content classes will feel to my students much like my swift-moving hours of preparation: there’s never enough time, and I want more!