Alaskan teachers have been sending around a flurry of “successful moments” after last weekend’s AFLA conference. I’m relieved that it’s over, but now that I know it went well, I wish I could go back and relive it without all the worrying.
We had a wonderful time with Ashley Hastings, Judith Liskin-Gasparro, and Michael Miller, as well as with a number of local presenters. I particularly enjoyed having Cindy Hitz here to add to the fun! I’ll post a picture of how much we look alike when I can get back to my beloved smartphone.
There are so many moments that I could tell you about, but I’m going to share what happened in my intermediate class today. I was trying to channel Michael Miller, whose keynote presentation on embedding culture I saw for either the second or third time, and this time I think I finally “got it.”
The kids were all buzzing about Homecoming, which I’d missed, and I asked for a lot of specifics about the dance. Then I threw a picture of a Russian school dance up on the overhead, and we started talking about the differences I’d noticed from attending Russian school dances. Almost every group of kids had fixated on why Russians didn’t have cafeterias in their schools (that’s where we hold our school dances), so we talked through a typical Russian school day and schedule to explain. I’d never been able to make that be interesting information for my students.
Then today, I was sharing a newspaper article about a dance at a school for children with disabilities, and in the text was something about how the “not young at all” teachers were out on the floor dancing too. I asked whether our teachers had been dancing at Homecoming, and they hadn’t, except for one (I think…this is where it turned into something else). One student said that another had been dancing with that teacher. Then he made it that the boy and the teacher had flown to the moon to dance. A few questions later and it turned out that the boy had gone up right after the game with the teacher to practice dancing as training for the boy to be able to dance with his beautiful girlfriend.
Between the interest the kids had in the article and their disbelief that these two boys were spinning a story in my classroom, I am not sure whether anyone noticed we were speaking in Russian. I feel like I finally understand how Michael uses culture. For two days in a row, kids have said that class time just flew. It’s a reconnection that I’d never expected to happen in my classroom. Storytelling is wonderful, but being able to share real information about the country in a way that makes sense is even better, and when these storytelling-trained kids run off with the conversation, I suddenly feel as though I’ve arrived.