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Keep it cool and teach a language

On Sunday, October 6th, Justin Slocum Bailey gave a very inspiring, practical workshop about how teachers can keep their voice & energy level healthy when teaching language in a dynamic way. Were you unable to attend? Here’s your chance to enjoy what this amazing teacher has shared with us.

Who is Justin Slocum Bailey?

Justin is a highly appreciated presenter and keynote speaker, and also works as a language education consultant in schools worldwide. He is one of the first Latin teachers to have embraced the TPRS-approach and has contributed a lot to how we think about CI today and how it is used in language classes of both Latin and world language teachers.

One of the things he found out is how many of the techniques for effective language education are strongly connected to our use of voice and body, and that you can improve both the quality of your classes and your own health and energy level by working consciously on using your body and voice well.

Justin is an expressive workshop leader, both calm and energetic, who is very attentive to each and every one of the participants. He demonstrates everything in Latin, so that we not only learn many useful techniques for creating a balance between relaxation and action in our teaching, but also experience a CI lesson by a very inspiring teacher.

In the program for this workshop it immediately became clear how he values each of us as a person and not as a homogenous group. He plans to find ‘your best body techniques’ and ‘your best voice techniques’ instead of presenting us ‘THE best techniques’.

Breathing techniques and vocabulary

An important part of the workshop was about how you can energize or calm yourself and your students by using certain breathing techniques, and how your voice changes depending on whether you talk after taking a breath or after breathing out.

It helps when you become conscious of how you breathe, and that is why breathing exercises are good for you and your students. But hey, these take time. Like many activities that are good for you: five minutes of meditation every day, 10 minutes of piano practice, half an hour of running… It always makes me nervous, because the combined time of all of these ‘just a short daily practice’ ends up being a substantial part of your day. That’s why I was very happy to hear Justin say that you can combine the breathing techniques with the vocabulary words your students need to learn. The exercises lean heavily on visualisation, and you can decide which words you include in them!

Variation in repetition – subtle and effective

As you know, repeated exposure to words, sentences and structure is an important part of many CI approaches. And making this repetition varied is essential, says Justin, because “Saying the same sentence over and over again is rude. It is not good communication.” You need to ‘earn’ your repetitions and disguise them so that the students don’t experience them as repetitions. Justin states that we want ‘good communication’ in the CI class, which means: varying the use of your voice, body posture and facial expressions. This is what you do in normal communication, but you could easily forget to do this when you are focused on creating enough repetition.

The good news is: varying your voice, body and face allows you to add repetitions in a natural way. That variation has the added value of keeping your students alert: “One of the things the brain is very good at, is noticing change”, says Justin. So if you change one thing in the way you say a sentence, your students’ brains notice that and pay attention again. You can, for example, stand in a different spot, speak in a different tone, address one student instead of the whole class, use a different word order, etcetera.

Justin changes momentarily into being a Latin teacher, so that we can experience the effect of all these minimal changes. He asks a lot of questions about the sentence “Anuschka wants to visit Argentina” (in Latin). He changes his position in the room, switches between speaking to the whole group and one individual participant, changes the volume and intonation of his speech. To us, his students, it seems like he’s saying something different every time, but it’s still the same sentence! We notice that he seduces our brain to listen over and over again, simply because something small has changed. What I find very comforting about this insight, is that we as teachers don’t have to constantly do very special new exciting activities to keep our students engaged. Small changes already help a lot, and this saves us a whole lot of energy!

Use the room and our spatial memory

Our spatial memory is much better than our capacity to remember unrelated words. As a teacher, you can use this knowledge by hanging several types of important words in different places throughout the classroom. This has several advantages: you need to walk to these words to point at them, thus allowing yourself a break, and your students can use their spatial memory to access the words in their memory.

A different use of space is about where you are positioned in the classroom, and how you move from your ‘neutral’ position to other places in the room. Justin demonstrates and talks about how playing with different positions around the room can add to a calm and clear instruction, and how it helps your students focus and refocus their attention.

Your most important instrument

In CI classes, the teacher talks a lot. Not because it is a teacher centered way of teaching, which is is not, but because it happens to be the teacher who speaks the target language best and thus is the one who can deliver the language input. And because the teacher has to talk a lot, it is very important to take care of your voice. Justin demonstrates several techniques and practices these with us. That is how we find out just how much your way of breathing influences your voice, the energy level of what you say, and how you feel. By playing with this, you can influence the atmosphere, focus and energy in your class.

A very important insight for all participants is that you can speak much quieter than you think. And if your standard volume of speech is lower, you will be able to vary your tone much more and a louder voice will have more impact. Also, including moments of silence and playing with the time and duration of the silence is something we are not yet very comfortable with. But it promises to be an important, exciting tool that will help us focus the attention of our students and at the same time soothe our voice.

It all comes together in a Latin demo class

During several mini-classes in Latin, Justin shows us all of the techniques mentioned above, and many more things that were addressed during the workshop: the use of gestures for clarification, promoting a positive group interation and participation techniques. More than one participant didn’t speak a word of Latin before the workshop, but we are able to participate right from the start with the gestures and rejoinders Justin gave us. He shows his surprise and enthusiasm about our answers though his voice, body language and facial expressions. He compliments us for our participation (which is different from complimenting students for ‘the right answer’) by saying things like: “You’re showing me that you really want to express yourself in Latin”. He also has us greet and applaud each other, which helps create a bond between us.

It was a really wonderful workshop, and I can’t wait until he comes back (hopefully next year) to give this workshop again. Make sure you’re there! We’ve asked Justin to give a full-day workshop next time, so that we can go deeper into some other related topics.

Find Justin’s videos on YouTube:

Want to know why his company is called IndwellingLanguage?

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