Friday, January 30, 2015

GPA: Wrapping It Up

Phase 6: The Un-Phase

I can’t say much about this; it’s still uncharted waters at this point.  Basically, the idea is that the GP will continue learning and growing into the host world indefinitely, but structured sessions are no longer necessary on a regular basis.  It’s also called the “Self-Sustaining Growth Phase”.

Any questions you have about the GPA? the various phases or activities? my personal experience with the program?  Ask away.  I’ll do my best to answer.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

GPA: Phase 5

Phase 5: The Native-to-Native Discourse Phase

Phase hours: 500

GP-nurturer ratio: 1-1

Materials needed for sessions: movies, recordings of radio or TV programs, recordings of dialogues between native speakers

Activities in session: massaging movies, radio and TV programs, and recorded conversations, various talking activities

Activities out of session: reviewing recordings from sessions, visiting with host family/host friends, planning sessions, reading, watching movies, listening to radio broadcasts, etc.

Understanding level: almost anything host people say to each other (as long as it's not highly specialized)
Speaking level: explaining and justifying
I was really happy to reach Phase 5.  It's my favorite phase, and after 500 hours in Phase 4, I was quite ready for a change.
I've been using "Building on Firm Foundations" in my sessions.  I've been through the lessons several times already in English, and I'm enjoying it in French too (nearly as much as in English maybe?).
Apparently voracious readers have an advantage in achieving high levels of proficiency in another language.  Happily for me, I adore reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

GPA: Phase 4

Phase 4: The Deep Life Sharing Phase

Phase hours: 500

GP-nurturer ratio: 1-1

Materials needed for sessions: recording device, notebook for writing new vocabulary in

Activities in session: life stories, "day on the job" interviews, various talking activities (GP tries to retell a story from Phase 2 or 3, GP tries to describe in detail a scene he/she observed), recording for feedback (GP records himself/herself, perhaps telling a story, and then plays it in session, with the nurturer stopping the recording and correcting each error), books (nurturer is recorded reading, then the recording is "massaged")

Activities out of session: reviewing recordings from sessions, visiting with host family/host friends, planning sessions, reading

Understanding level: deep explanations of host life, beliefs, and practices

Speaking level: complex stories
This is a collection of stories that local school children would be familiar with.
As you can see, the print isn't too small, so it's not too overwhelming for new readers...or new readers of French, as the case may be.
I also read articles online to give me new vocabulary.  Wikipedia gave me the whole spectrum as far as difficulty went.  I found food articles easy (because I'm pretty familiar with this domain).  And interesting (because the world is full of different foods).  And practical (because food is a necessary part of everyday life).  And enjoyable (because I like food, in spite of what my African friends may think when they look at me).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

GPA: Phase 3

Phase 3: The Shared Story Phase

Phase hours: 250

GP-nurturer ratio (this is the last Phase where it's feasible to have more than one-on-one): 1-1

Materials needed for sessions: cartoons and stories, recording device, notebook for writing new vocabulary in

Activities in session: shared experiences (e.g. outing to the market, making fried plantains, visiting the zoo), Script of Life, cartoons narrated by the nurturer, "bridge stories" (stories that both the GP and nurturer are familiar with - such as fairy tales or Bible stories)

Activities out of session: reviewing recordings from sessions, visiting with host family/host friends, planning sessions

Understanding level: complex stories (provided the content is already somewhat familiar)

Speaking level: simple stories (mostly in present tense)

We like our coffee break.  "Coffee break" is perhaps a little misleading.  We don't usually have coffee.  We chat and have snacks and drink tea and sometimes...
...We even invent our own games.  (Or at least, Ruth invents games and then persuades us all to play with her.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

GPA: Phase 2

Phase 2: The Story-Building Phase

Phase hours: 150
GP-nurturer ratio (starting in Phase 2, it's important to have a lower ratio to allow each person more time for talking during the session): 3-1

Materials needed for sessions: wordless picture books, recording device, notebook for writing new vocabulary in

Activities in session: stories with wordless picture books, stories using drawings

Activities out of session: reviewing the recordings from sessions, visiting (possible but extremely difficult!)

Understanding level: simple stories and descriptions

Speaking level: words and simple phrases tied to "the here and now"
Telling stories is a team effort.  In the first part of the phase, the GP tries to describe everything on the page, then the nurturer retells the story the way a native speaker would tell it.  In the second part of the phase, the nurturer describes the pages, and the GP "massages" the description, asking questions and getting clarification on anything he/she doesn't understand.

In the final part of the phase, we take turns telling stories from our lives using simple drawings.  (In case you're curious, that first story is about the mega-snowstorm we had one winter in MO, when I fell in a rather deep snow drift...because I walked down the hillside instead of taking the road, which had been cleared.  Yeah.  The second story is about the middle-of-the-night tornado during my last couple weeks there.  Oh Missouri weather, how I miss you.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

GPA: Phase 1

Phase 1: The Here and Now Phase

Phase hours: 100

GP-nurturer ratio (this ratio may vary somewhat depending on the situation - I’m just giving you the ratios we had): 6-1

Materials needed for sessions: everyday objects, toys, simple pictures and drawings, camera for taking pictures (for review), recording device, notebook for writing new vocabulary in (“word log”)

Activities in session: a variety of TPR-type exercises

Activities out of session: reviewing the recordings from sessions

Understanding level: words and simple phrases tied to "the here and now" - items on the table in front of us, actions demonstrated by the nurturer, simple pictures, etc. 

Speaking level: essentially none

And here's a couple snapshots for you -
Taking pictures of all the objects on the table for a review

Detailed plans are provided for each session in Phase 1

Thursday, January 22, 2015

GPA: Intro

Basic philosophy of the GPA (Growing Participator Approach)

“It’s not a language to be learned but a life to be lived.”

In other words, the goal isn't simply to understand a language, but to be involved in a community.  To understand how people in this new community see themselves, their society, and the world as a whole.

Traditional methods tend to be grammar-based, while the GPA is closer to the way a child would learn his or her first language: lots of listening, correction while speaking (Child: "I seed a bird." Parent: "Yes, you saw a bird."  Child: "I saw a bird."), etc.  You don't get long grammatical explanations; you aren't expected to memorize conjugation charts or vocabulary lists or dialogues.  Instead, you're progressively gaining a base of knowledge from which to spontaneously (though not always "correctly") express yourself and to understand what is going on around you.

There's all more that could be said, but since I'm not trying to write a thesis here, we'll move on. :)

Terms used
Growing participator (or GP):  The language-culture learner, whose participation in the host world should ideally grow deeper and deeper over time.

Nurturer: The “teacher” (may be on a formal, paid basis, but may also be unpaid), who nurtures the GP into a deeper understanding and participation in the host world.

Host world/people/etc.: This is pretty self-explanatory.  For example, my “host people” are West Africans.

Super-charged participation sessions: Language-culture learning sessions, with activities designed to facilitate participation in the host world.

Growth zone: The area of language-culture that provides enough challenge to stretch the GP, but not enough to be overwhelming or impossibly difficult.

Iceberg principle:

Basically, the idea is to get as many words/phrases into your "iceberg" possible, then move them steadily up in the iceberg.  Traditional methods would tend to see only the words in the tip of the iceberg ("words I have mastered in every respected") as the ones actually learned.  However, the GPA considers words at any point on the iceberg to be learned at some level.

Massaging: Used in many different activities throughout the program.  The GP records the nurturer (telling a story, for instance), then plays back the recording, stopping each time he/she doesn't understand a word or phrase, or else needs clarification of some sort.  The nurturer explains as necessary, then writes down any new words or expressions encountered.

Negotiating meaning: When either the GP or nurturer says something the other doesn't understand, they dialogue until an understanding is reached.  (Nurturer: "She put the food on the table."  GP:  "'Food'?  What's food?"  Nurturer:  "You eat food.  You cook food."  GP:  "So, a burger is 'food'?"  Nurturer:  "That's right."  GP:  "Is water 'food'?"  Nurturer:  "No, water is a drink."  GP:  "Okay.")  The dialogue is an important and valuable part of the learning process, which would be shortcut if the scenario went like this... Nurturer: "She put the food on the table."  GP:  "Hold on, let me look up 'food' in my French-English dictionary.  Oh yeah, here we go.  Nourriture."

Script of life: A detailed, step-by-step description of an everyday event, such as taking a bus, washing one’s hands, or making tea.  In general, people in the same culture will share a basic "script" (a normal, expected way of doing a certain thing).

Word log: A written list of all words and phrases learned (along with the date of the session).