Saturday, January 21, 2012

WAYK - Keeping things low key

Today, I experimented in my Latin II and III classes with a game called Where Are Your Keys. I won't lay out the whole game (Evan Gardner does a much better job of it than I), but it uses a game mentality and basic hand signs to learn a language (or any task). It uses a series of methods or techniques to acquire skills and isn't limited to one way of doing things. From my experience, I've seen it work really well in small group settings. Now, I'm not writing this post to suggest a way to play, but rather the experience my students and I had with this game and what that can mean for other educators. So... here we go...

I'll be honest, I was hesitant about this game's ability to be applied in a classroom of 20, 30, or more students. How could I turn a game, that in my view, worked best in small groups and make it apply to a whole class of students? Would the students find it useful, or just silly? And, my biggest worry, would I remember the signs I had just learned to demonstrate the new vocabulary?

I began with my first class of the day, a small Latin II class, and told them we were going to play a game. Immediately I was bombarded with questions like, "do we get to pick the teams?", "do we get a prize?", and (my personal favourite) "How do you win?" They were vocally disappointed when I said the game was all inclusive, non competitive, and no, there were no prizes, we were in this together... And so we went.

We started with four pictures of things they knew how to say in Latin. This immediately set the tone and let them know that I wasn't going to leave them totally in the dark. I demonstrated the hand symbols and asked everyone to move in together. We played each round in a simple "copy cat" form before branching out to doing it together/call and response. I spent the majority of our time with this on technique, using the same four pictures. After each successful round, we applauded ourselves, "Hey! We did it!".

In the other 3 classes that participated, the response was much the same. Excitement at the thought of a game, resentment at the thought of no prize, and happiness and pride when it came down to actually doing it. The kids laughed with each other, even though they weren't sitting near the people they usually did, and one student remarked, "Now, we're like a family". Overall, the game was enjoyable and all the kids wanted to play again.

I think the game is great, especially for vocabulary acquisition, and there are some specific reasons I would, and will, use it again.

  1. It allowed students to go at their own pace - One of the things WAYK stresses is a check for fullness. There is a simple gesture that allows students to let you know when they are "full". I allowed them to sit to the side and watch. They could jump back in whenever they wanted. It was important to stress, however, that students not feel ashamed when they are full and that it was okay, even recommended, that they take breaks where necessary. It is my opinion, that competitiveness is pushed way too much in schools and students often feel like they have to keep going, even if they are taking on more than they can manage. This is an easy way to let students have a break, take a minute, sit back, relax, and then join the learning again when they are ready
  2. It is easy for students to pick up on - Often, I watch students struggle and struggle and then give up on complicated topics, structures, and even vocabulary. I saw that they were so enthralled in the repetition, the motions, and the game, that they didn't notice when things got a little more difficult. Things went much more smoothly this way.
  3. Students felt comfortable and were better able to participate - Through the repetition and the ease of the signals, students relaxed and let the Latin flow. They forget about "looking cool" and how bad their days were and had some fun. I only did the basics, but it would be easy to introduce some more "complicated" constructions without them realising... One of those, "look at you go" moments!
  4. They are coming back for more - Even after one session, I had students come back after class and tell me that they not only enjoyed the game, but retained things from it on the first go. The real test will be the next time we play, and I am excited to see the results.
Having thought about this for a day (I started this post Friday evening), there are a few things that I think are most important about this game and what it does. It takes away a lot of the stress I think students walk into a foreign language classroom with. Students can let go of what happened earlier in the day/in a previous class and concentrate on something fun. The combination of speaking, listening, and simply hand motions lets students forget the outside and concentrate on the moment. It takes away the stress of foreign concepts that students often struggle over and lets them learn it through simple techniques.

 For the teacher, it is very involved in the moment. You are the leader. It can be tiring, but it is a lot of fun, for both you and them and I am all for fun! I plan to make some more regular posts about this as I experiment with it and take note of my students' reactions. I welcome any questions, suggestions, or criticisms as I want nothing more than to make this work the best way I can. 

Here are some links to the Where Are Your Keys website to give you some more information. Check out the techniques map or their videos. I am looking forward to doing more and posting more about it and I hope you enjoy it too.

Miriam