OWL in Our Classrooms

In their work planning for the implementation of our Spanish Initiative, the World Language Department has been doing intensive work into researching teaching methods. In order to optimize language learning for all students, Chair Nellie Herman, Lanessa Davis, Bernarda del Villar and Feiran Zhang have been attending conferences and trainings, searching the professional literature, and experimenting. One particular method has fired their inspiration: Organic World Language, or "OWL," and teachers are using OWL this spring in Levels 1 and 2 almost exclusively, and incorporating its methods into higher level courses as well.

According to Ms. Davis, "The method more closely imitates how a person learns a native language. The goals of the method are to build community, to take risks and make mistakes, to infer and use circumlocution, to speak only Spanish, and to have fun. I no longer focus on grammar, but rather on increasing the students' confidence and proficiency in the language. I want to measure what students can do instead of what they can't do. The other great thing is that students are up and moving 90% of the time, playing games and chatting. We do read and write, but use these means as tools to consolidate the language material under use in the particular lesson. Assessment of progress and feedback will largely be based on participation and homework, which will consist of practicing on Duolingo and reflecting on the class through journal entries."

I have participated in two classes using OWL so far, Spanish I and Spanish IV/V. In both classes, students were up on their feet in circles, or moving around to find partners to speak or play a game. Target vocabulary and structures are demonstrated and on the board, and students use them repeatedly in varied contexts. There is some call-and-response style practice of new words or grammar, but the then are immediately incorporated into a communication, role play, or conversation.  Students were asked to apply new material in reading and writing toward the end of class. These classes are full of energy and laughter and noise, and everyone is using Spanish throughout the entire class. It is fun and confusing and encouraging and so exciting: students are integrating Spanish in ways more formal methods do not achieve. Visiting classes, I was immediately absorbed into the action, and surprised myself by the amount I could understand and do in Spanish, a language I have never studied.  While other methods will also be used as we advance in the Spanish Initiative, OWL is going to be a large part of the Spanish experience for Dublin students, increasingly fluency and cultural competence exponentially. The Language Department will be doing further OWL trainings this summer, and they welcome you into their classrooms to see the method in action for yourselves. Come join in the circle!