First Day of School

Babilonia in Taormina, Sicily

No matter how many times I start a new school it’s still nerve wracking, especially since I was starting in a language that I’m not really at all comfortable with. The new students were given a three ring binder with information and told to sit in the garden. It was really quite lovely, chairs and tables were set up beneath the trees around which there were flower beds. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with a warm soft breeze blowing.

The director greeted us and made his introductions about the school and the classes as happens in most schools, but this time he gave a lengthy explanation of the teaching methodology used at the school and how the classes are not organized in the traditional manner.

As I listen, one, I’m thrilled I can understand what he saying and two, I can’t believe the school actually follows communicative principles. At least enough that they actually talk about them. Everything he said could have been said by one of my instructors back when I was earning my Masters in TESOL at American University. This, however, was the first time I’ve heard these principles articulated by someone else outside of AU, much less in a foreign language. Truly music to my ears. Being the skeptic that I am, I was still hesitant to believe what he said would actually materialize in the classroom, but I was hopeful.

The test was nothing extraordinary, lots of grammar, of which I knew enough. It’s the oral test that was difficult for me. I tried to explain that I don’t really speak Italian although I’m sure that was painfully obvious. He placed me in level B1 which is probably above my speaking level but not above my level of grammar.

Classes are divided into an analysis part and a practice part. The analysis part is the study of the usage of the language or grammar. The practice part is to put into practice what you have learned. The director explained that in the analysis part, student errors would be corrected but not in the practice part. In neither part would information simply be given to the students. Students would first discover and analyze the grammar and then practice it. All very communicative.

Since we missed the analysis part, our first day of class started with the practice part. Of course not really being able to speak Italian, the class was quite difficult for me. I understood most everything but really couldn’t communicate with the same ease as the others. The topic of the lesson was nature, of which my vocabulary is almost nil, but the other students were quite nice and I was able to contribute.

The lesson was organized very much like the communicative lessons we were taught to give at AU, starting with an exploratory activity just to get us thinking of vocabulary related to nature, followed by a discussion of a video related to nature and the possible destruction thereof, next a discussion in small groups of the pro and cons of living in the country or city followed by an organized debate. And lastly a drawing activity in which we worked in pairs sitting back to back to draw two halves of the same picture. Meaning you have to communicate your ideas to your partner in order to draw a cohesive picture.

Probably the most communicative lesson I’ve ever experienced. And although it was probably above my vocabulary level and I left the class mentally exhausted, I was able to complete all the tasks, make a fairly cohesive drawing of a mountain complete with path and waterfall. All in all a fabulous first day.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Taormina, Sicily page.