OWL – 1

A repost:

Got this from Jen:

I keep meaning to ask about this. Are you/is anyone in the group familiar with OWL?

http://www.owlanguage.com/about/

Someone I met last year at Skip’s conference had been to one of the trainings. It seems very similar to what we do, with the exception of the 100% TL. For this reason, and I think some others (but I can’t remember), this person felt OWL suited her needs more than CI/TPRS. It seems to be popular here in the northeast (based on what I glean from the website because there are “groups”). I have no firsthand experience / knowledge except for a few conversations with that colleague and browsing the website.

Anyone? I wonder how similar/different it is?

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22 thoughts on “OWL – 1”

  1. I hadn’t heard of it. There are things that sound similar – structure of the day, students are the curriculum, 90%+ target language, no grammar unless it comes up, sitting/standing in a circle.

    What’s different that stands out is the 0 use of translation. That’s stupid. And it says there is student pair and group work and production practice. We do that stuff too, I guess, but I don’t think we’d promote it as such.

    I didn’t see anywhere where it lists the actual methods they use. . . TPR? TPRS? Natural Approach?

  2. Hi all. I’ve seen a presentation by the “inventor”. Here’s what I saw:

    She started the presentation w/ participants in a circle standing. She gave commands to the group in the TL w/o using English at all to support. “hands in front. Repeat: hands in front. hands behind. Repeat: hands behind. Hands up. Repeat: hands up. hands down. Repeat: hands down. ride a moped around the circle!” Then, when someone became out of sync with the group in some way, she put the focus on them. In my group, someone fell. “oh, clase, She fell. Repeat: She fell.”

    No clarification of meaning at all, just mimicking. Very quickly even a few of us who knew the TL were lost.

    She went on like this for quite a while. After about 40 minutes she opened to questions. Then, a few moments later the session was over. She ended by promising there was a writing component to “the program” and that it was all based on ACTFL proficinecy guidelines, but that she didn’t have time, in such a short session, to get into all that.

    She’s coming back to MN in Oct. for a 3 hr post-conference session, but it costs more $ than just the conference so I’m not going.

    That’s my own take and my own interpretation of what actually transpired. Jim Tripp was there too. Maybe he’ll chime in.

    My own take is that it’s TPR-on-steroids + submersion + forced output. I do very much like the “no curriculum” piece, but needless to say I think we have a leg up on that one.

    She is a good marketer and speaker, though. I’ll give her that.

    1. ditto on what Grant said. I was there with him. TPR on steroids is a pretty good description. Way better than most legacy classrooms, but I also think that what we do is better for our students. Now, we definitely did not get the whole picture re Grant’s comments, but the lion’s share of what we did was stand in the circle and do TPR and repeat back to her in TL. Perhaps her nerves led her to “submerse” many a person. Not sure. But I am fairly certain that “transparency of meaning” is nowhere in OWL’s philosophy. Also, one of the guys who was hanging out with her as a fellow OWLer spoke highly of the woman who articulates “comprehensible output”. Never looked into it. Seems to be an oxymoron.

  3. no translation and output from day 1 = not so good. I met an OWLer in Portland and she liked it much more than her textbook, but she has gone all-in on tprs because she says it’s easier on the kids (less stressful), and stories work better than the endless PQA and TPR that OWL demands. OWL is easier to learn IMHO but I dunno what you would do for readings.

  4. Thanks y’all…I had very much the same reactions when talking to my friend. The big red flag for me was the prohibition of L1 and the output as you all stated. I was not thinking of wavering on where I am, but I just met some other folks down the road from me who are apeshit wild about OWL. Which is great for them. So I wondered what it was like. Seems to me folks are still hell bent on “getting kids to speak” (aka forced output).

    I did some further reading from the website and other links to articles folks have published in their school papers, newsletters, etc. Yeah. The whole students teaching each other thing seems really odd to me. In one article the teacher was proudly exclaiming how great it was that the kids got uncomfortable and then the others could coach him through that. I am still suspending my disbelief since I have no personal experience with it. At least it’s not a textbook or a prewritten curriculum. So they got that going for them.

    I was / am just curious. Not curious enough to fork over $300 though.

  5. Right, Jen, $300!!

    I had several follow up conversations with the gentleman that Jim mentioned in his comment. They are big into not just allowing, but creating discomfort for the students. The belief is that language learning requires embracing ambiguity and that discomfort somehow prepares them for that.

    What I like about TCI is that we follow the mantra that Susie Gross preaches – nothing motivates like success. And Krashen’s mantra – why delay gratification if we can experience joy in the TL today?

    In a world where we have to fight for enrollment numbers, we have no business pretending to be the ones who have to “teach kids to overcome discomfort”. Hell, they’ve got their whole life to deal with that.

  6. Turns out my dep’t is offering us a free two day workshop next month (during the week, funding for subs included), so I took them up on it. Let me know what to look for, and/or what questions to ask (without getting myself into trouble). As a Latin teacher, I will be looking for the reading component, so I’ll definitely press them on it, if it is not addressed.

    1. I’m interested in your take on it. No specific questions, go in open & let us know what you felt / heard / saw. I have had several people ask me about this / ask me “oh is this what you do?” But I can’t really respond not knowing exactly what they do. Have fun!

  7. I will probably write more about this but I will start with some thoughts here:

    So I just completed a 6 day Organic World Language Bootcamp (at my school). I brought them in after going to one of their demos at CSCTFL conference and enjoying it. I also know that Anabelle Allen- La maestra loca likes it.

    So basically what it is, is the following: Team building activities and games in the target language, lots of TPR, non-targeted instruction, what might be considered extended PQA, and short bursts of having students output to each other for 30 seconds at a time. There is an organization called “Gear Up” that prepares kids for college (they have nothing to do with language teaching) and a lot of the methodology of how to group students and do classroom transitions possibly come from them.

    They have a business model where you can’t find anything out about them unless you go to a training. I think this is done to create a buzz around what they do and also so that someone else does not just rip them off. Also the handouts and books they give you during training are kind of bare bones. They have you take notes collaboratively with other participants and reconstruct what you saw. So in other words you don’t have the GO TO books like we have in Ben’s books where it’s all in there- you are going to be somewhat dependent on them if you try this teaching and need to troubleshoot.

    What I do like-

    1- The idea of doing class standing and in a circle. There’s no sitting in your chair and tuning out. (A “unit” of instruction for them is called a “circle”)
    2- Frequent brain breaks which add a lot of fun to the class.
    3- They encourage you to say the words out loud if you want. I really enjoyed doing this in French and it kept me motivated. I sometimes like that this can sometimes be discouraged in CI.
    4- Non-targeted instruction. They go in with no targets. Basically they start with checking in and seeing how the class is doing and going with what they call a “Hook”. Could come from what a student is wearing, current events, or anything students mention.
    5- Amazing activities for reading that can be added to Ben’s reading options
    6- Amazing activities that would “get the box checked” with admin.
    7- You could totally take their method and CI-ify it. (I mean the cops will not show up if I have a whiteboard next to the circle and have L2/L1 translation)
    8- I think this may be the answer of “What do do in years 3 and four”
    9- They are against explicit grammar instruction.
    10- They give you training on ACTFL proficiency levels which is very useful and confirms the no explicit grammar.
    11- This is very similar to “The Natural Approach”
    12- Presenters were very open to what Ben is doing with the Invisibles and to NTCI.
    13- Presenters are as enthusiastic about OWL as we are about CI.
    14- Some of the activities made me think that sometimes maybe we translate to English more than we need to.

    What I don’t like-

    #1- They mix in what I would call pop self-esteem psychology (or almost affirmation group therapy) and the circles they ran in English and they make you do things like “Share something with your partner you have been vulnerable about”, now walk across the room with a gesture of that weight and throw it. It made some teachers uncomfortable and I would definitely leave this element of OWL out of my instruction. I think this mixing of this stuff with language acquisition can get them accused of being a cult. They even mentioned that “People think we are a cult” jokingly. I believe the leaders do mean well and I 100 percent believe they are great people, but I think this kind of thing wasted a lot of time of the Bootcamp (It was six 8 hour days) that could have been dedicated to focusing on L2 demos and showing us how to run them. It also turned a few people off to what is otherwise a very cool method.

    #2- Some of the team-building stuff that involves hugging and physical contact I would not use in a secondary or elementary school context.

    #3- I went home every day exhausted from standing and sitting on the floor all day. Bootcamp was too long. It could have been condensed to 3 or 4 days.

    #4- They prohibit translation absolutely. Even if you ask them after a demo what a word meant they will not tell you. They believe in the value of having the student struggle and then reflect on their struggle (I think this comes more from the team building framework they use than actual SLA research). For example, I LOVED the French circle which was probably at a Novice High Level because I speak a Romance language and I have seen enough CI demos in French to have picked up some. The novice circle which was in an Indigenous Panamanian language I was LOST for about 50 percent of the time on some days and it felt like crap and demotivated me. I had the perception that everyone else was getting it but me. I think that was the case in one of the demos. That being said I think the no translation thing could be something for level 3 and level 4 PROVIDED THAT the students had two years of solid CI instruction. It could work.

    #5- They put comprehensible output (which I have heard is “quite speculative” according to it’s author- Merrill Swain) in a more prominent place then comprehensible output.

    #6- They advocate authentic resources rather than class created or TPRS novels.

    #7 – It seems to me their approach on transitioning students, brain breaks, pairing students up, fun icebreakers, and cool activities is very well developed, but what they actually believe about SLA and how that relates to their instruction is not as well thought out.

    Moving Forward:

    I am going to try the approach out this year one class period a week. I will CI-ify the method and see how it goes. Maybe on Fridays I will do half a period OWL circle and half a period Word Chunk Team Game.

    Would I recommend that you go to their trainings? Yes. I would 100 percent recommend you go to their training PROVIDED that you have been teaching with CI for at least 3 or 4 school years and have a good handle on that. I think this really has the possibility to enhance our instruction and can actually be nicely meshed with the Invisibles. You can turn their activities into CI activities very easily.

    Honestly, I would not recommend newbies to CI attend (unless you are the type of teacher that is studying this stuff day and night) because OWL does not address making yourself comprehensible or going slow. Depending on the teacher, they do go slow and comprehensible, but they do not emphasize that in their training.

  8. Greg thank you for this exhaustive report on what sounds like an exhausting method. I particularly wonder about all the standing up and also all the hippy love stuff. Not needed. One thing you said really jumped out at me:

    I was LOST for about 50 percent of the time on some days and it felt like crap and demotivated me. I had the perception that everyone else was getting it but me….

    What happened to you is significant and negates the good stuff. It sounds very much like what many kids experience in TPRS classrooms.

    1. If they could just write it on a whiteboard with translation it would have been great. That is how I am going to experiment with adapting these activities.

  9. Also Greg said:

    they believe in the value of having the student struggle and then reflect on their struggle….

    This is a disaster and is in direct conflict w the research. The words “struggle” and “reflect” imply involvement of the conscious mind, thinking, and are not what Krashen figured out in his decades-long research. He found just the opposite to be true, that language acquisition and comprehensible input must be (his word) “effortless”.

  10. Also from Greg:

    they put comprehensible output (which I have heard is “quite speculative” according to it’s author- Merrill Swain)….

    I won’t even comment on this except to say that Krashen’s work is “speculative” is just a dumb-ass thing to say.

    No comment on the output part either. That’s just ignorant. Kids aren’t born and then they start speaking. It takes a little while to fuel up the speaking car before it can go down the road, like YEARS.

    1. No what I mean is that I heard that Merrill Swain said her theory is “quite speculative”. She said that about her own research. I don’t have a source for that though. Anyone?

  11. Pairing students to practice output?

    Uhh, that would be like sending them up a ski lift w/o any skis. The kids need quite a bit of input before they can pair up and talk to each other in pairs. Oy ve!

  12. Correction:

    #5- They put comprehensible output (which I have heard is “quite speculative” according to it’s author- Merrill Swain) in a more prominent place than comprehensible INPUT.

  13. Thank you Greg!
    I went to a 2 day “OWL 1” training a couple of years ago, and although I wondered what the next level was like, was not compelled to spend more money on it, as my district provides $0.00 toward PD. I did go into it with curiosity, wanting to learn more classroom games and such.

    I understand clearly the whole system where you must go to their training to learn. My experience was similar (although much less intensive) in that I walked away with a few things I thought I’d adapt. In my training, most of the other participants were traditional, so this seemed “great” and “new,” while I was already many years down the CI path, so my filter was a bit different.

    This part resonates with my experience: “what they actually believe about SLA and how that relates to their instruction is not as well thought out.” Your description of the business model and the whole “struggle and reflect” piece is definitely what I noticed and felt uncomfortable about. IN my training we did this whole thing with assessments and the ACTFL levels, but I thought they presented it in a very traditional linear way that I was like NO NO NO! Like there was this big emphasis on “pushing the student to the next level” that did not make sense to me. Since I was there to learn, I just absorbed it all and did not confront them. I was / am open to always looking at what I do from various angles.

    It’s clear their approach is just different, and like you, I did take away a few things I could use and adapt. I’m definitely still curious about the games, since I have a block schedule and love to get my students up and moving, and outside as much as possible. Honestly the best brain breaks I do tend to come from the kids. We have a big theatre program and I try to get those kids to teach us “theatre games.” Many are same or similar to what Annabelle does.

    As far as the “self-esteem” stuff you describe, we did not do any of that in the 2 day training, other then the initial activity where we were supposed to talk to 5 different people (in L1) and find out one thing about each person, write it on a post it and put it in a big jar. They used these papers at random times for a brain break. IN my classes I try to have the whole system support self esteem but in a less direct way. I think that is the point of what we do as CI teachers, but maybe do not make that a big neon sign statement. I know for me it is a core principle, with the L2 almost a byproduct. I can see that stuff being super uncomfortable and backfiring unless it were scaffolded gradually with a ton of trust, which could totally be possible in some groups but maybe not the first thing I’d jump into.

    Thanks so much for this comprehensive reflection!

  14. Self-esteem comes from within. When a kid experiences respect from the teacher, when they see that they can hang w the instruction in a natural and unforced way, when they feel invited to be an authentic part of the community, their self-esteem naturally goes up. It’s not dependent on an eager teacher consciously offering you an esteem building product in class.

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