Thursday, February 9, 2012

WAYK - branching out and reaching out

Oh my goodness what a week! My original plan was to write this post Monday, but things have been off the wall! I went to an awesome workshop with Evan Gardner (creator of Where Are Your Keys) on Saturday and got to pick his brain Saturday evening. Monday, he observed one of my classes and I've considered (update: decided on) making some changes to my classroom. Needless to say, it has been an exciting week! To make it easier, I'm going to break it down into 3 posts:

1. My weekend with Evan Gardner (This one! yay!)
2. My students' Monday with Evan Gardner
3. My + Δ of Where Are Your Keys

1. My Weekend with Evan Gardner
I had the wonderful privilege of attending a conference Saturday with Mr. Gardner and sat down with him and some teacher friends Saturday evening. We got an opportunity to pick his brain about the beginnings of Where Are Your Keys, its uses, and where he wants to see it go. About halfway through our "jam session" (if you will) my 5 year old daughter joined the party and we got to see some of Evan's techniques in action. What an experience! Granted, she's heard me speak Latin in my classroom, to other teachers, and to the family dog, but she's never been fully immersed in a conversation. She blew me away!

What was incredibly inspiring was the way Evan Gardner jumped into a language. Having had roughly 10 days or so of Latin instruction, he dove right into speaking with us (often half in Latin, half in English). It was amazing to see him in action and shamelessly pick his brain. One of the things that has led me to this point, and gotten my excitement up about WAYK, is watching my daughter learn her first language. In a natural setting, things flow easily from one point to another with questions and corrections built in. In a classroom, often, teachers are forced to teach topics, vocabulary, and constructions based upon a curriculum, not based upon when the students are ready. Where Are Your Keys provides a more natural alternative for foreign language learning.

We discussed many topics Saturday afternoon and evening, often starting with techniques - ways to do things, ways to progress:

Technique -- Long cut, short cut: "If you know the long way of saying it, say it the long way first because you can't create a shortcut without the long way first."
       It's all about connections. Make as many connections as you can with as many repetitions as possible. This builds a sense of confidence in students knowing that, as they go, listeners can pick up on what they are saying and fill in the blanks, if necessary. The sooner you can get to back and forth discussions, the sooner you can start modelling shorter ways of accomplishing things. But these things take time. Introduce as much vocabulary into the "long cut" structures as possible. Do it again. Keep going and, naturally, you will come to a place where a shortcut can be introduced and be well received.

Technique -- shut off your English mind:"That's what sign language does... it shuts off your English mind."
      Okay, not technically a technique, but it so should be. Focusing on signs allows your mind to reorganise itself without immense amounts of resistance from itself. Students forget that they want to connect the new language to English and instead focus on what is in front of them: an object or picture, a complete sentence, and a sign. The technique also reaches a wider range of students. By combining a visual, audial, and kinesthetic technique, more and more kids get the thing they need to make the connection and learn in the target language, without relying on English.

Technique -- Prove it: "Okay, I've set you up with a scenario... this is what you need to do in order for this situation to work out. Okay do you get this?... Prove it
     Often times, especially for Latin teachers (where word order doesn't matter), we think that students understand a point, when, in reality, they have simply applied something from English and not learned the new topic. With this technique, teachers can test the boundaries of what has been taught by having students set up their own scenario and try to apply what they know. This "teachable moment" can be reworked when necessary by the teacher and then turned into another teachable moment. I will expand on this in part III.

Technique -- Anyone can do it: "There are tricks to teaching, why don't we pass them down?"
     Where Are Your Keys originally started out working with Native American languages that were dying out. Often times, there would be 2 or 3 people left in a nation who knew the language and it wasn't getting passed down - it was dying out. What was needed was a technique that would allow people to hunt out the language quickly and pass it on to others. What was needed were students, who could turn around and be teachers. What was, and is, needed in classrooms are students who can take ownership of their learning. If 1 second of time can be saved, then WAYK has been successful. It creates a "Tree of language support". If Student A doesn't know, they ask Student B. If Student B doesn't know, they ask Student C. Eventually, perhaps, it gets back to the teacher. The teacher teaches one person and it gets passed down the tree, saving everyone's time and getting knowledge passed, understood, and taught faster and faster.

Technique -- it's gotta break down to some little tricks: "If we're going to do this, and we're going to teach people how to do this, then it's gotta break down..."
     Here are the flashy, gaudy tricks! The big trick to WAYK is speed: making language learning quick, easy, and effective. The more time saved, the better. This is where techniques come in. Where Are Your Keys does not have a single way of working. It has many ways of working, via techniques. What Evan Gardner realised is that, especially when you are learning a language from 2-3 people who are grandparents, in order for the method to be most effective, it has to break down to something simple, flashable, and fun. The techniques provide a quick, fun way of teaching a few people something who then are able to go and teach others.

I learned so many things Saturday night and I hope to write about them all, but I don't want to overwhelm you (or spend a year writing one post!). In my next post, I will talk about how my kids are reacting to the WAYK method and our experience with Evan Gardner the Monday after this jam session. I hope to put in a few more words about what I learned from him, but with a little better classroom context.

What about my daughter? She made a bracelet yesterday and brought it to me. She asked me, "I forgot... what is this?" and I reminded her: "faba rubra". Almost instantly, she remembered the other colours from our game. She chanted them perfectly with a little giggle. I've been wanting to teach her Latin and I think I've found a way to do so, without overwhelming either one of us.
Originally WAYK worked to bring back dying languages, but it doesn't need to stop there. Take a look at the  Where Are Your Keys players' map. It is already being played/used all over. See that little spot in good old Georgia, USA? That's me and my little classroom (okay, short, but WIDE classroom). There is already a growing community of people who want nothing more than to strike up a conversation... So, go ahead, I dare you... Ask it.... "Quid est hoc..."


  1. I'm intrigued. Where can I find out more about WAYK? I guess I'll be doing some Googling later, after my kids are in bed.

  2. Using signs does indeed work! When Evan stayed with me, he taught me some Chinuk, using the WAYK game (all the way through "want/have/give/take"). I have been practicing Chinuk on my own using the signs, and what is so weird is that my hands know what to "say" immediately but it takes a bit for the words to come out of my mouth. But the signs do indeed trigger language in my brain, due to the constant repetition.

  3. Mama C, the main site is here: and Evan is always glad to answer questions:

    Also, a quick introductory video is here:, but it doesn't really convey the real experience.

  4. Mama C -- You should definitely check out the videos on the WAYK website. I'll be posting 2 more posts in this particular series, but I've made WAYK my main method of teaching now, so there will be even more as I test things out, so please come back and see what's been updated.

    Keith -- I am so glad you said that. I am also, soooooo glad you got Evan to come down to work with us! Maximas Gratias!

  5. Gratias tibi ago quod te amicam et "sectatricem" blogi nostri "In aversa charta" adiunxisti. Accipe amicitiam a magistra cuius discipuli confecerunt quae in eo blogo exhibentur. Etiam ego blogum tuum sectatura sum. Vale!

  6. Salve Montserrat,

    me paenitet quod aegra eram et de epustula tua oblita eram! Mea culpa!

    Amo, valde, fabulas in blogo "in aversa charta". Spero ab te moxmox audire!