Monday, December 10, 2012

Training nurturers

Another frequent question, in addition to that of finding nurturers, is the question of training them. If you're a GPA-trained language learning advisor, then you have been through a ten-hour Phase 1 experience in which we tried to get everything to happen "perfectly" from the first moments of Session 1:

 MARKS OF A PERFECT NURTURER IN PHASE 1, SESSION 1
***Starts with two items.
***Brings in only one new one at time.
 ***Introduces them in a full sentence in the host language, such as "This is a man," rather than just saying "man" or saying "This is" in English (or other bridge language" and "a man" in the host language. With Lexicarry items, frequently asks, "Who is saying..." (e.g., "Who is saying, 'Hello'?" rather than just "Hello".)
***Gets the GPs to point by asking them in complete questions ("Where is the man?" or "Which is the man?" etc.)
***Good at randomizing and asking in ways that are unpredictable, while not forgetting to include earlier items.
***Asks about the newest item more often than earlier items.
***Has good sense of when to add the next item, based on GPs responses
***Notices when a GP is confused about an item or two (or just can't remember an item) and focuses on those for a bit
***In introducing items in the first activity, intermingles the introduction of "nouns" (man, woman, boy, girl) and "pronouns" (typically, "emphatic pronouns" as linguists would say--independent words meaning I, you, he, we, you plural, they, etc.) In other words, after item 5 of the set (man, woman, I, you, boy...) has been introduced, the nurturer might be asking, "Where is the woman? Where are you? Where am I? Where is the boy? Where is the woman? Where is the man? Where is the boy? Where are you?..."
 ***If a GP mistakenly points to the woman when asked "Where is the man?" the nurturer responds naturally in the host language saying something like ,"No. That isn't the man. That is the woman. Where is the man?" 
***The nurturer also throws in host language comments like "Good. Right. Etc."
***And once things are well under way, the nurturer naturally alternates between full sentence, "Where is the man? Where is the woman? etc." and isolated words "man, woman, etc." of course, pausing for GPs to point.
***Through all of this the nurturer never says a word in English (or other bridges language). This means s/he doesn't try to explain the language or culture to you in English (etc.) rather than pushing on with you in your growth zone.
***The nurturer is always clearly interacting with the GPs, communicating with them, caring for them, and not "teaching them words".

Now the nurturer who displays all these marks is a well-trained, no doubt naturally gifted nurturer. As Angela and I started Phase 1, Session 1 with three different people recently, we saw again that training them to proceed as just described is a slow process and they will improve over many hours as we keep reminding them. At the outset we fully explain all that we want them to do, and then as they repeatedly don't do what we asked them to, we remind them occasionally, but only occasionally. Our current nurturer is now proceeding increasingly as described under "MARKS OF A PERFECT NURTURER IN PHASE 1, SESSION 1" above, but is still far from perfect. So we overlook most of what he doesn't do, and occasionally remind him of a point he is not following, and he apologizes, and keeps getting better. By the time we've done the First 100 hours with him, and perhaps coached through the first, say, ten hours with another GP or group of GPs, he'll hopefully have all those MARKS OF A PERFECT NURTURER IN PHASE 1, SESSION 1.

 We find that we can get people to do what we need (in various languacultures) without providing a lot of theoretical reasoning. They do what we ask. They see that it works. For them, that means they've got the point. I think if the people we trained with were certified language teachers, we might need to give a lot more of the theory. However, we find the metaphor of "big brother/sister to me as I struggle to understand you or talk with you" is pretty effective. Also it helps to explain the fact that they are not "teaching" us, but rather "playing with us" in ways that help us learn (better, grow). "Play" is a key concept in the GPA. We need to emphasize it more.

 So in the end, training nurturers doesn't seem all that complicated to me, if I know what they are supposed to do, and care to train them rather than just let them do what comes naturally. Phase 1 is the most challenging phase in this regard. Phase 2 is far more intuitive conversational interaction. Nurturers easily see the point of things like massaging, expanding, vocabulary recordings, etc. They often don't get the point of "retelling" by the GP: that the GP is to talk at his or her current developmental level, using "his/her own words". When nurturers feel they are a teacher at that point, they will typically want the GPs to sound like natives, even in Phase 2 and 3, i.e., to use rote memorization, rather than actual speech production processes! So again, the "big brother/sister" metaphor is a help. "I'll struggle to talk in my own words, and you help me to do it a little better."

Having admitted that training takes time and patience (on everyone's part), we still forewarn you that the next time you are a Phase 1 coach in one of our training events, you'll find us speaking to you when you don't get your nurture to follow the MARKS OF A PERFECT NURTURER, even in PHASE 1, SESSION 1.
 We want you to know what it is supposed to look like, but then as you train nurturers, we want you to realize that it will take awhile to come to look like that.