Regional War Rooms – 2

I hope the regional War Rooms idea takes flight. There are just too many people on this PLC who can’t get to national conferences. I guess each region will react to the possibilities in its own way (let me know if you want a group added to the list of War Room groups in the categories list), but I will be pushing the idea throughout the year here and going to certain regional meetings/trainings as they get organized since I have the time to do that now.

I very much agree with what Matthew said a week ago here that free regional trainings could bust through a lot of limitations in the national training models we have now. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but it’s just that so many people can’t get to them and that War Rooms certainly won’t work at national conferences in the future not just because of the crowds but, it seems, because of the politics.

So below in a very lengthy article – and I apologize for its length – I have put my heart out there on what I think makes a War Room training work and so I publish it here so that when a group plans a War Room training in their area perhaps they can review the process as described below before meeting together for the training:

Anybody can do War Room coaching. But I think we need to drop the term coaching. That term implies that there is one person who knows something about this way of teaching and watches someone who doesn’t and then tells them how they can get better at it.

In my opinion, that is not what this approach is. We don’t teach that way in our classrooms. We don’t tell our students what they are doing wrong and then they get better at the language we are teaching them. There are no experts and we can’t keep acting as if there are. There is only us.

We know that the only way a person can get better at a language is by hearing it spoken in ways that are interesting and meaningful to them. In my view, the same thing applies to us when we get better at teaching a language – we get better at it by doing it more.

If it is true that the only way to get better at teaching like this is by doing it more often, and that being corrected or being told about things that we are not doing has no value (it doesn’t), then that implies that the person working is always going to be right. What does that mean?

It means that the person working cannot possibly change and get better by focusing on what they are doing that is wrong, but rather that they will improve only by working more and more and by observing others. That is the basic philosophy of what a War Room is, in my own view.

If the facilitator, when pointing out what they saw after the person worked, says something like:

…I didn’t understand when you added in those new words after you said such and such…

Then that is the facilitator saying what they saw happen. They are reporting that they didn’t understand at a certain moment in the ten minute teaching session. That is not a criticism. It is just saying what they saw happen for them. They could also at that point say:

…I also felt that the group didn’t understand at that point….

And then they could open it up to the group for their observations of what they were experiencing. There is no expert here pointing what was being done wrong (going out of bounds), there is only an observation by the facilitator of what they saw happen and by the group as well, if they saw the same thing.

The facilitator could then ask the question:

…What would it look like if you taught that section of your class over?….

The person working could then choose at that point to explore the question raised by teaching for five more minutes or they could sit down if they didn’t feel comfortable about doing that.

This work is so hard when you are first learning it (and so easy once you’ve learned it!) that the person should have the option to sit down after their first ten minutes of work because their circuits were blown, which I saw happen in the national conferences more than a few times.

What a person does when they are teaching is where they are. We cannot change that just as we cannot catapult our students forward in the language in our own classrooms by using some new teaching method or computer program. All we can do is talk to the kids in the target language and all we can do in these War Room sessions is let the person work. We are not in control of the process of getting better at this work just as we are not in control of the process of our students getting better at it. It is all unconscious, and we learn by doing, not by talking.

A new person working is not making a mistake when the go out of bounds, they are just where they are. If they go too fast, which they are guaranteed to do, the facilitator says something like:

….I didn’t understand right there at the beginning but when I signaled you to slow down from the back, so that I could understand, you did a great job of adjusting and then I understood….

So the process of working in a War Room session becomes one of the person working and getting feedback by the facilitator (we need just one person in charge to avoid confusion, is the only reason) with the group experiencing the language and nothing else. The person working should certainly not be put in a position of trying to imitate someone else or awkwardly practice some skill like a five year old. They should not be made to feel as if they can’t do it but someone else can and if they just work hard enough they will get it. They should only teach, and be given feedback about what the people learning the language in the group experienced.

Teachers should not feel as if they have to try to remember a laundry list of “things to do” handed to them by some coach who supposedly has mastered the things on the list. Such is the nature of this approach to teaching that there is no one who does it perfectly. It is all a process of personal unfoldment into our own hard earned version of the approach. If those observing just try to learn the language without judging, then the person will get better.

In War Rooms we should just observe and let the person work and let the facilitator express what they saw and add a point or two about what they experienced and invite the person to do a little more with those thoughts in mind to finish that session.

So I suggest these things to describe the process of what happens in a War Room training:

1. The person stands up to work and they teach their language for ten minutes and the group observes. All they do is try to learn the language, nothing else.
2. One person writes down what they see happening. In Denver and Chicago it was me, but it could be anyone who has enough experience to be able to write down what they see happening with the person working. The person facilitating the session is not a coach, because the term coach implies that if the person working would merely listen to the coach then they will get better, but that is not true, as described above. You can only tell people what you see.

So the War Room setting becomes one in which the person working is teaching their language while others try to learn it, like in a real class. And the facilitator simply takes notes on what they see happening.

War Group sizes should be kept small (15 to 20). They should have been kept small at the national conferences but they swelled in size. This shows that the national conferences are not the best place to do this training.

When we keep the group small, we ensure trust and so the person working doesn’t have to worry about who is watching because they know that everyone in their group is just there to learn the language and not to judge them.

This is the kind of notes I was taking last month:

…I really liked it when Sean spent ten minutes on limpia/cleans. I needed that. I needed all that time because now I really feel like I needed that many repetitions….

…I really like his association with a limp cleaning rag. I thought of that every time he said it….

…I really liked Jason’s energy. He just went for it. He took that expression and slammed it into the lesson so many times that people in the group started shouting it out. Instant chanting initiated by the group and not even the teacher – that is how much energy he put into the group with his high energy style of teaching….

…There was a sentence you said that had seven words in it, but it was too fast for me to understand. I think it was seven words, it could have been more or less. Now can you say a sentence in your language in one full minute and put football fields of time between the word? The timer will time you. Ready? Go…..

So we learn that the person who is facilitating the group just writes down and shares what they see.

A person may ask, “Well, if they aren’t being told what they are doing wrong, how can they improve?” My response to that is that that is the old model. I never got better at anything whenever people told me what I was doing wrong. When I was running cross country in college, my coach never told me that the problem with my running was that I wasn’t moving my legs fast enough – he just let me run and the more I ran the faster I got.

It is the same way with our students, isn’t it? The more we speak to them in the target language, the more they understand the target language. This is what Krashen and Terrell call the natural way of learning a language. You get better at it because you do it more. And the people in the group are unconsciously picking up all sorts of things from the people working. That is really how the teachers in the group are learning. We already know that.

It might even be possible that the person facilitating the group need not even write down anything. One person teaches for ten minutes, then the next one, and the next, and , by focusing on the language we learn how to teach it. The process of learning how to teach this way then is accomplished completely unconsciously. It is by observing others that we learn.

I certainly talked too much between most people’s sessions. Give me a soapbox and I become a problem. That is not a dig on me – I have studied this stuff for so long that I naturally have a lot to say about it.

We conclude, then, that if the group decides to even let the facilitator talk, it should be kept to the five minutes allotted, with the two minutes of stoppage time. There are probably people bigger than the facilitator in the group who could just get up and carry the facilitator away if they go over the seven minutes.

Stopping the facilitator from droning on is important because with each passing minute that I droned on I was pulling the group’s work more into the realm of the mind and out of the body, more into analysis and less into real teaching, because real teaching doesn’t exist in the mind.

In this plan, therefore, the facilitator would therefore have only two jobs:

1. write down what they see. and comment on it after the person works.
2. communicate with the timer to extend time if they feel it is best for the person working and for the group.

The person working teaches, the facilitator simply points out what they saw happening, the person working teaches a bit more if they feel like it, we do it again with another person, and that’s the War Room plan as I see it.

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