Cara O'Brien-Holen

Cara O’Brien-Holen teaches French at East Anchorage High School. She served in the Peace Corps – Mali, West Africa 1997-1999. I think that that is just cool. Anyway, Michele sent something Cara wrote as part of one of the Anchorage group’s  teachers’ final course reflections. Michele said that she read this “as our final response person of the day, and everyone applauded when I read this aloud.” It is reprinted below with the author’s permission:
When I was in France last month I had the opportunity to visit two English classes at a French Middle School.  It was a surreal experience because I felt as if I were looking into some sort of magical mirror.  Both teachers used gestures, mannerisms, and vocal exaggerations, which I, too, employ in my teaching.  It was evident that both teachers’ lessons were closely tied to the textbook and, which required students to answer in complete sentences.  In one class, the students were learning an expression that to me was not an example of authentic language.  When the teacher asked me to engage the students using the new expression I found it quite challenging to model the example correctly!  I had to correct myself several times when I realized I changed the expression to how I would naturally state it in English.   I was reminded of how during my first years of teaching I relied heavily on the book and followed every aspect of each chapter even if I questioned the authenticity of the expressions and vocabulary choices, finding some unusual or bizarre.  Observing the two classes I felt as if I were watching a former self, as when I once wanted or dictated that students follow the exact lesson, using only the words or expressions given in the text, not allowing for improvisation and requiring students to answer in complete sentences.  Witnessing this made me wince internally.  It seemed so evident to me, now that I was on the other side of the mirror, that too many of the students were not engaged, that the teacher was calling on all the same students (perhaps for my benefit to highlight the stellar students), that there were several students who wanted to participate, but because they didn’t or couldn’t answer in the required complete sentence, their contribution was discounted or dismissed.  Therefore, in each class when I was asked to participate I tried my best to apply TPRS strategies by asking students yes / no and either / or questions, and also asking them who and which questions.  Unfortunately, in so doing I wasn’t modeling or requesting the traditional “must answer in a complete sentence” response so both teachers very graciously thanked me for participating, but then suggested I keep observing instead.  The techniques and lesson structures I witnessed that day demonstrate quintessential reasons why as a world language teacher it is imperative I acquire knowledge of and become adept in TPRS.



2 thoughts on “Cara O'Brien-Holen”

  1. Thanks for running this. I want to use the last line as a quote when we start up our TPRS group again in the fall. There are so many teachers in our group who feel as though they have opened their eyes for the first time–I’m counting on some serious hand-holding from this diverse group on Ben’s blog as we go into the next year. In some ways, the second year is harder, because it’s not new any more, and the miracles don’t look so shiny. We need to keep the shine on, keep telling the kids they are amazing (a quote from Susie), because they will be–it’s just that our perception of them won’t be so much.

  2. That’s a great way of putting it! That after the first year the miracles don’t look so shiny. I had the pleasure of working with a student teacher for 7 weeks who had had other placements in traditional classrooms. When he saw what my students could understand in the stories and do with thier writing and speaking in 7th and 8th grade level 1 he was FLOORED! He had just come from a highschool classroom (level 3) where the students were doing well if they could write a couple of sentences and answer in a complete (usually parroted he said) sentence. I’ve been doing this for 6 years and thier accomplishments didn’t seem as astounding to me anymore…until I got to see it through my student teacher’s eyes. Taking back the classroom, I have been trying to keep in mind all his exclamations of wonder and astonishment…and it’s pushing the kids to work harder and impress me more. Other teachers are complaing about a slump where “the kids don’t want to work, it’s spring what can we do….”and I’m having the time of my life. Again. Just like the first time I tried TPRS. Thanks for the reminder!

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