OLA Organic Language Acquisition

Organic Language
A Local Innovation
Action Research by Marla Dentino
+ The OLA approach to foreign language instruction was created by
Darcy Rogers of Crater High School, and has been embraced by
several other language teachers in the Rogue Valley and beyond.
Organic Language Acquisition is:
• Fun!: Increases Student Engagement
• Kinesthetic: Up & moving!
• Supportive: Builds student trust
•Daring: Promotes continual verbal
interactions in the target language
• Immersion: No English allowed!
• Spontaneous: Teachers respond to the
dynamics of the circle
• Repetitive: “Recycling +1”
• Comprehensible: word meanings are
depicted with gestures and movements
• Rooted: in language acquisition research
• Growing: developing quite a “following!”
So I decided to try it myself!...
In addition to my graduate studies in the Masters of Teaching
Program at SOU, I am an Instructional Assistant at Talent
Elementary School’s Outdoor Discovery Program.
I support two classroom teachers, Erin Mahanay and David Tourzan, in
the educating and nurturing of 56 students from grades 1st through 6th.
environmental education magnet
school. The program offers a
comprehensive approach to
educating children in that a
spectrum of themes and subjects
are explored through experiential
learning. “Teacher David” has
expressed his desire to
incorporate more foreign language
instruction into the new and
evolving program.
Monday Electives…
The teachers and I each lead three
elective classes over the course of the
school year, with a given focus of our
choosing. Several parents and other
community members get involved as
well, bringing their unique talents
and interests. This allows ODP to
offer its students about 8 elective
choices each term ranging from
Stream Monitoring to Mask Making,
Yoga to Sign Language, Cribbage to
Hip Hop Dance.
To begin my OLA instructor training I began attending the
Professional Learning Community meetings held weekly to
support new and ongoing teachers of varying languages who are
braving the uncharted waters of this dynamic new approach.
These PLCs are so fun and inspiring
that several of Darcy’s high school
students attend them to inform their
own leadership in the circle activities.
(Ex: a common responsibility of
students is to lead a portion of the class
period, or entirely as “Teacher for a
Day.”) During the meeting, teachers
take turns introducing new ideas that
worked well for them in the past week.
+ To cater to the age group of my elective students, I
used various props and visuals, like costumes.
+ I found the OLA approach to be very appropriate for
the elementary grades. The fun and kinesthetic
nature of the method allows flexibility for age and
ability ranges, and the activities can be tailored to
the teacher’s unique personality style.
I experimented with language-simple drama games
the ODP students had learned the previous year
during a drama unit. I taught these as well as more
advanced-language drama games to the other OLA
instructors at a PLC meeting I was asked to host.
+ My inclination to tap the students’ prior knowledge of the
drama games and the language they entail in order to
transfer that familiarity to a second language was validated
by this peer- reviewed journal article:
“Research supports using drama and movement
to enhance the literacy development of second
language learners. Besides being ‘fun’ learning
experiences for children, drama and movement
have proven to assist with developing decoding
skills, fluency, vocabulary, syntactic knowledge,
discourse knowledge and metacognitive
thinking. Additional benefits include increased
motivation and reduced anxiety”
(Rieg & Paquette, 2009).
Throughout the term I visited the
classrooms of three local high
school Spanish teachers of varying
levels using the OLA method.
This video gives an excellent example of students
receiving new language with visible cues from their
instructor as to word meaning.
(insert comprehensible input quote)
+ Although my elective course met only four times,
once every other week, I saw that with
comprehensible input and ample repetition, my
novice level Spanish students were able to follow my
lead in the target language, most of the time. I
interviewed the three students that had taken the
Spanish elective with me last year as well, compared
with this year’s “Silly Spanish” (OLA) way of
learning. They all found the OLA approach to be
more interesting, more fun, and each said that they
learned more this year in the same amount of time.
The real proof for me though was in the end of the
term presentation to their classroom teachers and
ODP peers of what they had learned in their
Student Interviews:
My interviews were conducted with students now
learning via the OLA method whom had at some
point in the memorable past received instruction in
the same target language through a more traditional,
non-OLA classroom setting.
In total I interviewed 3 ODP students (one second
grader and two fourth graders); 5 seniors from
Crater High School; and my own daughter who is a
sophomore at Ashland High and attended an OLA
course at her language level at Phoenix High School.

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