Martin’s report on The First Agen Workshop

When Judy announced a TPRS workshop in France, organized by herself, Alike Last, Teri Wiechard, and Lynnette St. Georges, I felt at once the urgent desire to participate. I wanted to finally meet some of the people I am in contact with, and I wanted to overcome my situation as a ‘lone wolf”.

So I quickly arranged everything to be able to go there. Two of my colleagues joined in! Personally, I discovered that, more than once, a heavy burden fell off my shoulders when discovering CI. First, when I realized while reading about the theory of CI that I don’t have to do all the crappy things I used to do in my life as a teacher.

Second when I found so many people on the net willing to share their experience and help in any possible way. Third when – like now for this workshop – I finally met people striving for the same goal. It is not only the relationship with our students that is improving when using CI. It is also the relationship with our colleagues because we treat and respect one another as human beings.

So the first workshop in France finally started with 15 participants and Françoise, our great helper, three not having been able to make it in the last minute.

Judy had been able to lodge most of us in her house, in her friends’ or her students’ houses. Some went to a hotel. Agen (60,000 inhabitants) is a city with a Mediterranean flair, one hour’s drive away from the Atlantic Ocean and two from the Mediterranean Sea. Narrow lanes alternate with large boulevards, there are many historical stone buildings and monuments and a pedestrians’ zone. You can sit outside a café or restaurant in numerous places. There is also the river Garonne and the Canal du Midi to go to.

We were heartily welcomed in the rooms of the Centre Culturel d’Agen on Tuesday morning, received our handouts and the schedule for the week. We dived into it and had a Dutch lesson (the first out of three) with Alike, one of the presenters. It didn’t seem very difficult to us three Germans, as the Dutch is pretty close to some German dialects, but much harder to all the others.

After that Lynnette told us briefly about the Philosophy and History of CI teaching and The Three Steps. After lunch that most of us took in an excellent restaurant just around the corner, language classes started.

On this and most of the following days we hard the chance to observe different persons teaching students recruited from the region. Three nice Dutch ladies were excited to do French with Alike or Lynnette, and a group of students of different ages wanted English lessons with Judy and – on one morning – with Marie-Pierre, one of the participants.

All teachers insisted on getting to know their students first, and building rapport. As nobody knew the group beforehand, all teachers had to adapt their program to the people present. It was interesting to see the students relaxing more and more.

Each day there was the opportunity to exchange observations with Teri in a small group, following these questions:
1. What is the most important thing you observed that you are taking away from the teaching?
2. What is something you would like to practice this week?
3. What questions do you have?

Afterwards some person would get up and practice a specific skill to get coached, following the rules Teri was using at NTPRS. For observing teachers, she gave us a very detailed list of questions from which to choose, concerning the skills of personalization, question techniques, pacing, comprehension checks, teaching techniques, use of the native language, grammar instruction, acting, reading techniques, creating classroom community, and output.

We also split up several times to get coached by one of the four presenters. From the beginning of the workshop, we had the great advantage of being a small group of 19 people that did not change, thus being able to build community and trust, lose our fears and open up progressively. Personally, I was reassured of what I am trying to do in my classes, and I got a lot of help and structure to be able to go further down the road.

Thank you to Alike for teaching us some Dutch, introducing us to Multiple Intelligences and sharing her big collection of materials with us. Thank you to Lynnette for showing us in four lessons how to choose, plan, use and vary the structures a certain group of students needed. Thank you to Teri, for being the rock in the waters and leading us always back to the three essentials of our work: Keep the language comprehensible, interesting and repetitive. Thank you to Judy for sharing with us her experience and her way of teaching and all the work she had to organize this workshop.

Thank you to the four of you for coaching us, for your loving care, your open-mindedness, your energy and your heart-warming personal involvement. And a big thank you to Lori, Alexandra, Aïcha, Bruno, Rachel, David, Petra, Marie-Pierre, Lillian, Ignacio, Jacqueline, Victoria, Glenda, Françoise and Daniel for being there.

It feels so good to have new friends!

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