+ OLA Organic Language Acquisition: 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. ODP is more than an + 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 elective: + 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.