Thursday, September 25, 2014

EMBODYING ENGLISH: Integrating the tools of InterPlay into my language instruction

EMBODYING ENGLISH. Photographed at the end of a 2-hour "accent reduction" class at Georgia Tech, these 9 Chinese graduate students majoring in Quantitative and Computational Finance, are energized. We were up and moving constantly through out the classroom, as a group, pairs, and two groups of five (one student is missing from this photo). Some goals for today's lesson? Volunteering, having fun, and connecting! Oh yeah, and learning how to express the rhythm of English in strong beats and weak beats! (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for InterPlay and its improvisational tools! Hallelujah for the opportunity to instruct English to internationals at the university level who willingly "step into" the playful environment I create in my language classroom!

Imagine putting these three particular over-arching goals on my whiteboard at the beginning of my "accent reduction" class (I call it "accent enhancement"): 

Have fun!
Make connections (with yourself and others)
Learn new language skills (familiarize and experience)

Afterall, I am teaching "communication" and shouldn't we all have fun? Isn't it possible that in a highly energetic and happy environment, we might all have an increased opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others? 

The tools and forms of InterPlay (way too comprehensive to explain here) allow individuals to "expand." Yes, by creating ways for international students to move, engage with one another, play with their voices, tell stories, and work with the target language skills, encourages each one to use English in a new way.

Perhaps through play, students will discover a memorable and useful way of speaking that can become part of their "tool box" of communication strategies.  

For example, yesterday (September 24, 2014) in the accent reduction course I am currently teaching to graduate students majoring in Quantitative and Computational Finance at Georgia Tech, I did some of the following activities to teach the concept of syllable and word stress and reduction.

At the beginning of the two-hour class, I contextualized the pronunciation exercises by teaching the 10 Chinese students to use physical actions to volunteer a response. These physical activities took place in incremental steps (which is an InterPlay concept):

1. A brief InterPlay warmup: To activate our bodies in order to use all our resources to learn we moved by shaking one hand, shaking another hand, shaking a foot, shaking another foot, shaking what you sit on, breathing and releasing your breath three times each time increasing the sound with your breath.

2. Vocal warmup:  To continuing warming up our voices and to start playing with vocal variation (pitch, speed, and volume) needed to express the language goals of stress and reduction, we played around with three vowels sounds, moving our arms and modulating our voices from high pitch to low pitch and back again.

3. Jumping in: Several times, we practiced together jumping into the unknown, raising our arms high above our heads and making appropriate noises to accompany the journey into new experience.

4. Before leaving the circle, I asked everyone to find a partner and to make one hand-to-hand contact and to feel the heft and weight of the other person by pushing the other off of their "spot." (This kind of hand-to-hand contact is a tidbit of InterPlay)

While instructing on how to produce stress and reduction to create the rhythm of English when speaking either one word or an entire sentence, I had students "play" with scripted words and sentences while engaging with one another by standing up and sitting down, clapping, performing together in two groups of five, and creating original sentences while standing and being "danced" out with gestures, feet, and head bobbing.

Once everyone felt "familiar" with how to produce the strong and weak beats of English and had embodied it for more than an hour, it was time to incorporate the rhythm of English using academic words from the world of quantitative and computational finance.
EMBODYING VOLUNTEERING. Two groups of five students each took turns asking and answering questions about an academic concept in Quantitative and Computational Finance. Everyone in the answering group practiced raising their hand even if they didn't know the answer! It was great fun to hear a student when called upon to say, "I don't understand the question." Or "I don't know the answer." They were actively involved in communicating and embodying English. An incremental step toward increased fluency and comfort in this American culture and classroom. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
 I broke this exercise down into two parts: 

Part One Volunteering in Pairs. In this large auditorium classroom, I had pairs go to corners of the room and practice enthusiastically volunteering a response to a question. This incremental step allowed them to gain comfort and ease when speaking in English about their terms specific to their field of finance. Many of them had only spoken about these topics in Chinese. Therefore, they achieved two things in this pair work: 

1) Increased fluency speaking about field specific terms 

2) Increased ease in their bodies while speaking English which leads to future confidence when speaking

Part Two Volunteering in Groups. 
After speaking "privately" in pair work, it was time to get a "bigger" perspective on speaking after volunteering, so we divided the class into two groups and students would speak publicly (see the photo above).

Oh I could write more about this class, but I will stop here for now. At the end of the class I asked the students to pose for the class photo, which is evidence of their enthusiasm and energy generated during this English language class. 

I asked them if we had achieved the overarching goals that I had proposed at the beginning of the class: 

To have fun.
To connect with yourself and others.
To familiarize yourself and experience new language skills.

The answer? They all VOLUNTEERED this answer: 

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! How will you embody English today? 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: First of all, thank you to the 10 Chinese students I am teaching "embodying English" to at Georgia Tech. I appreciate your willingness to play with English and to try something new for you. I am very grateful to Jane Chisholm, who generated such amazing pronunciation materials for this accent reduction course--they are rich and comprehensive! Many many thanks to the InterPlay community, from which I am learning so much about new ways of teaching.

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