I went to the ACTFL Conference in Orlando, Florida, this weekend. Needless to say (I hope), I’m a bit wiped out, even though I attended only four sessions. (The rest of the time I was having a blast teaching Russian.)
I can’t remember the exact title of the session I’d like to talk about, but I think it was something like “Student-Led Language Classes.” We got examples of lessons from two levels of courses taught in the PDL method. They were strange enough that many people actually walked out of the session. Still, I was fascinated, especially by the sample exercise for a level 2 class. I was pretty sure that I had not retained anything out of the level 1 class.
When I woke up this morning spouting some German phrases that I understood, I had to share the experience with my kids. I told them the setup would be unusual. We did the warm-ups I’d seen from the level 1 class, and then set up for a role play. I put out three chairs as our presenter had done, and the students suggested situations. Their voting led to our using “couple therapy.” Our St. Petersburg couple (the only couple) sat down next to each other and another student offered to be the counselor.
The presenter had told us that first he would ask general questions of the players in the drama: how old they were, where they lived, and so on. I asked the “counselor” how long she had been working in the clinic, and where the clinic was. She explained she’d been working there two years, and that the clinic was in a small house in a park. Then I asked the other two students questions.
The rest of the class was divided into support groups for the students in the role play. They sat behind the person they were supporting. If I asked a question that the players couldn’t answer or couldn’t think of an answer to give, the support groups helped. These kids, raised on a diet of TPRS, were ready to play the game, and it developed at about the same rate as a story and pretty much in the same way, except that the individuals in the game had to keep thinking and listening so as to adapt their own answers. (At one point, two of the support members literally ran across the room to grab books in which they’d seen useful retorts. I might have to outlaw that practice to make them use words they have acquired.)
We ran out of time before the counselor could ask more than one question. She came up afterward and said that she didn’t know many questions that she could ask. We agreed that the questions she’d like to be able to ask are questions that friends also often ask one another, and that they would be helpful for real connections with Russians. I started to see how this method is student-driven.
I wrote up a report of the situation to date for the class to read tomorrow. I think that’s what the presenter said they do. He had also said something about keeping a list of the vocabulary for students.
The next phase, once we play out the questions just a little more, is to turn the three groups into strategy sessions. The students are to plan out more what they will say (and how to say it). I am supposed to wander around the groups and help them as needed. Then I will write the whole thing up again for them to read.
I wish there was more information on the website than the brief examples that they give. As a program, PDL level 2 seems to be heavily based on output, but my advanced class had a lot of fun with my understanding of it today. I did do a lot of supporting during my questioning time, and I did some reporting back to the class as well as rephrasing. The time flew by, because all the kids were completely engaged in the developing story.
If anyone out there knows more about PDL, or has sites that explain it (for free!), I’d love to have the information.