OWI Coaching Checklist

Lots of people are using one word images. It is because they are great to create images and images are great to create stories. So if in your department you are working on coaching each other on teaching using OWI, here are some ideas Tina and I have developed:

Establish the existence of the object, its size, its color, and its emotional state, and any other simple little details, but not too many that they would confuse the kids.
Use your hands to metaphorically take the words from the wall and place them on the object.
Point and pause while touching the word, then literally put it on the object.
Walk slowly over to the words – do not vaguely gesture behind yourself in the direction of the words.
The feeling when you regally walk over to the words is “I am in control” and “This is important so watch me point to it.”
Place air time between each word, let it drop into their minds.
Do not write all the different parts of the word on the wall. Just SAY the connecting words like “is” and “of” and such. Trying to focus on the grammar parts is too much. Keep the learners’ focus on meaning, not form.
Forget the idea that you are teaching parts of the language. Drop the strong idea you may have received in trainings and other coaching that you need to be asking a lot of questions. (“Don’t make two statements in a row” is what they taught. Why not? If it is interesting to my students I see no reason not to make as many statements in a row as I want.)
Remember that you are talking about something that you all like, creating something together. You are having fun being together is the feeling, not “I am up here getting so many repetitions on these targets that you can’t help but learn the language!” Why doesn’t that work? Because it gets boring. Students feel so pressured with all the rapid fire questions. We have to work on making it compelling! Why? Because students can understand everything they hear, in the moment, and still be miles away from actually understanding the words, recognizing the words, knowing the words, feeling the words, being able to use the words, and on some level they are just praying that their teacher will find another way to use the words and make the words come alive for them, and be interesting to them. On some level our students want to feel as much as think the words. They think all day. Let your class be a class in which they are invited to feel emotions, exp. the fine emotions of happiness and love that they develop for the character they are building with you and their classmates there in class. They just pray that thee sounds will come back to them not just in their minds but also in their bodies, and the teacher’s job is to find a pathway for the words to reach deep. Reviewing the artwork is key. Using Write and Discuss also helps bring that deeper experience of the image. Students crave more times hearing those words, in that context, about that little happy pink cat with a big happy face.
Be quiet and not too dramatic but you DO have to make the object REAL. And that is done by “touching” it, moving the words from the wall to it, gazing upon it, interacting with it physically and talking with it. You do not have to be a clown but if you do not make the object real you are sunk.
Absolutely give up asking individual questions. If you are a student and you are trying to grasp everything and it is all in a foreign language then the last thing you want is a teacher asking you an individual question. You are like 30 seconds into the class and as a student you are like “Dang! I have no clue!” And up goes the affective filter.
Avoid getting too excited about the ideas – they are such fun – because that causes us to speed up. We need to remember to put airspace between the chunks of words. We need to get in the habit of touching the words, connecting with them and checking for comprehension, and saying the words again maybe, and then proceeding on. Be physical but give up the idea of getting somewhere. This is a skill called Staying in the Moment.
Give up the idea of asking a ton of questions. One of the big tragedies in this work is the elevation of the student above the teacher because of the teacher’s clear need, an air of neediness, of desperation, to get creative answers to all her questions. We don’t need a lot of questions, we only need something interesting.
The idea of asking so many questions has been in CI circles for too many years now. Why? The answer is that we feel that we are going for the reps because we think that the more reps we get the more the structure will stick. This is not true if the child is not really “feelin it” as described above. The get involved for the quiz but just look at their body language and we can see how they are really just sitting there, trying to pay attention like they do in all their classes. All those trainers in CI who keep saying we have to ask a million questions miss the point that if it doesn’t grab the kid then all those reps will be like rain on concrete on a hot day. We can learn to make it interesting anyway, without all the questions. When a teacher is needy the kids smell that and it makes them irritated. They watch us talk instead of being with us in co-creation of the image and later the story.



3 thoughts on “OWI Coaching Checklist”

  1. (“Don’t make two statements in a row” is what they taught. Why not?…)

    This is a good point. If the students can understand two statements in a row…why not? Now, if two statements are too much to comprehend, that is different. But then, maybe we are violating SLOW. But if they can follow the story and keep it in their working memory we may be inviting them to a higher level of processing.

  2. Nathaniel, you brought in the term “working memory”. It reminds me of Robert’s blog posts having mentioned + or – 3-5 new terms because of memory/cognitive research. I would have agreed in the past but now I am just looking for compelling and not focused on new terms.

    I think the subconscious process of SLA has to do with Krashen’s descriptions of compelling and noise tolerate. This is why I totally dig NT. Now, I can get a little too quick and if I do, then the more new terms I add, the more some students will get lost. However, if there is input that is boring than there is less comprehension. The feeling and attachment to the input is not there.

    New terms are impressions, I say in the fabric of the unconscious. Deeper is the impression when it is compelling. As time more on and more wide input is provided, the impressions become deep tracks. This is why the messages and the story arc are so important. This is why the invisibles have such a high engagement in the class.

  3. As I understand it, part of the NT instruction is acknowledging that kids are imprinting (I dunno what other word to use here) the melody, cadence, individual sounds, patterns of the language – where one word ends, where the next one begins,, what the words look like in writing (a few at a time on the board, that is) – they are unconsciously assigning letter/sound correspondences – as they also piece together meaning. It’s a pretty tall and complex order for the brain! So adding all the comprehension Q’s and expectation of responses might be a tipping point – and not help in any way (on the contrary, it might add stress or distraction!)

    So having the nice gentle flow of a comprehensible story – in the teacher’s slow, relaxed and artful style (teacher stays in bounds, simplifies, circumlocutes, uses repetitive language, gives lotsa extra-linguistic supports – tone facial expression, gestures, visuals) lays a nice foundation for the more detailed and discreet language coming later. But not until all that unconscious familiarity gels.
    The foundation work is crucial – I’d say it’s pretty much all I get to do in grades 1-4, though I do have many 4th graders who demonstrate a solid foundation and accelerated processor…

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