Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Listening to Quakers

Taken on the way to the train, after our lesson.
Last week, the library was replacing the flooring in the room where my higher-level class meets.  Rather than cancel class, we decided to take advantage of our excellent location in the heart of the Historic District and go for a walk.

In a recent lesson, we had explored local sculptures (we went outside for that, too). I had introduced the topic with a recording about the LOVE sculpture, which is well-known to almost everyone in the class.  This beloved piece is located near City Hall and people wait in line to have a picture taken of themselves in front of it.  Learners quickly connected the sculpture to the city's name (City of Brotherly Love), but when I mentioned that this was a Quaker thing, there were puzzled looks.

It turns out that nobody knew much about Quakers.  I can understand, I didn't know much about them either until around ten years ago!  One learner mentioned Quaker Oats.  There is indeed a picture of a Quaker man on the box, but that company is not run by Quakers. According to their website, the image represents the Quaker values of honesty, purity, integrity, and strength.  I noted that Pennsylvania is nicknamed the Quaker State, that Philadelphia was named by a Quaker, and that the Quakers call themselves Friends.  (Heyyyy ... brotherly love!) We talked a bit about it before returning to our lesson topic.

from Amber Kennedy

Last week, five learners met me at the library and we decided to find out more about Quakers, heading for the Meeting House on Arch Street just a few blocks away.  (We stopped to take a peek at Benjamin Franklin's grave on the way!)  At the Meeting House, we had a chance to ask questions of two volunteers.  Both adjusted their speech for L2 learners at our request, but they still spoke fluently and it was a challenge for everyone.  But learners were interested, asked questions, and asked the speakers to repeat themselves periodically. (I was quite proud!)

Wampum showing Native American-Quaker friendship.
As I often do when we go on outings, I used my Audio Memos app to record part of our experience.  Yesterday, the learners that went to the Meeting House shared what they learned -- as best they could remember -- with those who had not come with us.  Then, we had a listening exercise.  I had recorded about 15 minutes' worth of talking and singled out four brief segments during lesson prep. I made a worksheet with several listening questions for each segment.  We reviewed the questions first, so I could make sure everyone knew what to listen for, then I played each segment as many times as learners wanted me to.

They got some answers right away, but there were also mysterious bits.  It was helpful to have the learners dictate what they heard of a sentence while I wrote it on the board. I added gaps for each missing word, and then they'd listen again.  Slowly, we'd fill in the gaps.  I only had to supply the answer a few times -- when speech was heavily reduced, or when there was a new vocabulary word.

For example, one question was "What is a pacifist?"  As a class, they dictated the following:

___  Quakers were ___  ___  ___  pacifists.  ___  we don't believe ___  using ___  ___  ___  .

(The Quakers were and are still pacifists. So, we don't believe in using violence to resolve dispute.)

The last word was new, and the word "still" was hard for learners to discern.

What I love about this kind of activity is that the whole group is  physically engaged in solving the puzzle.  Eyes close and heads tilt toward the speakers as they focus intently.  Brows furrow when the unsolved parts go past, heads nod when a hard-won word is now recognized. They don't seem to tire of the repetition, either.  One learner even asked me to post the audio on our web page, so she could listen some more at home!  I think this is because the recording is real.  A real Quaker talked to some of us using real English to tell us all (including me) some things we didn't know before.

We are ridiculously lucky to be holding our civics class in such a fabulous location, of course.  But this level of engagement can hold true for more ordinary subjects as long as the learners are invested in the experience where the recording took place. (Check this report from a couple of years ago, when learners and I went "shopping" at a department store!)

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