Sunday, September 28, 2014

AFFIRMATION AND NOTICING: One language teacher’s integration of the InterPlay principles while tutoring

ATLANTA SKYLINE. This photo was taken from the fourth floor of the Scheller Collge of Business at Georgia Tech from a breakout room where I was conducting tutorials with Chinese graduate students enrolled in Quantitative and Computational Finance. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, ESL language coach)
Written by Ruth Schowalter, ESL language coach and InterPlay Leader-in-Training

One-on-one English tutorials with international graduate students are intimate and supremely rewarding for both the language learner and the instructor.  Having taught English as a second language at the university level for more than 20 years, I have met thousands of bright, talented and motivated people of the world and supported their efforts to gain a comfortable fluency using their “academic” language—English!

Now, as an InterPlay Leader-in-Training, I have been experimenting with ways to use the principles of InterPlay in my language instruction. Before I go any further in this discussion, you might want a working definition of InterPlay. Well, there are many definitions, but here is a simple one for starters:

INTERPLAY is “easy, fun, and life changing. It is based in a series of incremental “forms” that lead participants to movement and stories, silence and song, ease and amusement. In the process, we discover the wisdom in ourselves and our communities.” (from the InterPlay website)

To understand how these life changing and incremental principles of InterPlay can be used in language instruction, let me explain a few applications I am currently experimenting with in my one-on-one tutorials with Chinese graduate students majoring in Quantitative and Computational Finance at Georgia Tech.
ESL TUTOR AND TUTEE SELFIE. Arthur (his English name) and I took this selfie at the conclusion of our one-hour one-on-one tutorial. I learn so much each time I have the opportunity to meet individually with students, especially now as I integrate the principles of InterPlay into my language instrutction. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, ESL language coach)
As I train in InterPlay, I am learning to discern the good and name it with a greater frequency than I did previously. Affirming the good is one of the tools of InterPlay. However, as a language instructor specializing in pronunciation, I am trained to recognize and record where English language learners are deficient in producing English with an American accent. That is, to point out “the bad” –the opposite of “the good.”

This noticing and focusing on the deficiencies is what students demand. After all, that’s what I get paid for, and in their belief system that is the “only” way to make improvements. Acknowledging their achievements, areas of spoken English in which they demonstrate strong skills, is quickly skimmed over, and dismissed as being insignificant in the learning process!

Previously, before InterPlay, I excelled at outlining my students’ flaws so I could lead them down the avenue towards accuracy. I disregarded their “humanity” and honored their hunger to achieve. In my rich past, I once had a student from Colombia pout during a meeting where I was explaining why she was failing my advanced-level pronunciation course. She was not impressed with the detailed document, which recorded her speaking errors over the academic session. “In your class, we call ourselves the D students,” she told me. My endless hours spent evaluating the shortcomings of their speech was not proving to be the way to motivate them individually or collectively.

I had failed in my ruthless ambition to show them precisely where they could improve. Thus began the reformation of my teaching. My pedagogy evolved. I transformed my role from “evaluator” to “coach.” Instead of grading students based on their performance observing a strict course agenda, I would set up overarching course goals, observe their individual behavior and cheer them on as they meandered on their personal language journey. I developed a new course using the acting tool of improvisation to teach fluency in a manner that enrolled me as “coach” (see this blog, blog, and blog for examples).

Once I had figured out the “content” of teaching language using improvisation along with the collaboration of my improvisation teacher, I needed more of a “how” in order to implement these improvisational tools. Discovering InterPlay has become THE HOW!

Therefore, “affirming the good” is the first thing I am practicing in the one-on-one tutorials I am conducting now with my Chinese graduate students at Georgia Tech. This affirmation practice requires me to retrain my teaching brain. Really focusing on the positive outcomes of each student’s speech demands patience and being present to the individual.

At the beginning of the hour-long session, then, I set up a way to “playfully” interact with the “tutee” and allow him/her to speak for 10 minutes or so without any correction. We do this “playing” while standing up and moving, using our hands, feet, and entire bodies. We have already warmed up our voices and played with vocal variation.

Once I have set up an objective, for example, “Tell me about a former work experience,” or “Give me your ‘elevator speech,’” I keep the student on his/her feet moving about the room, experimenting with their delivery while strolling. I stroll or walk with the student too. Once the “walk about” is completed, we sit down and AFFIRM THE GOOD. This begins with NOTICING, another InterPlay term.
CHOOSE A VOWEL. Often English language learners need multiple ways to perceive how to produce target language sounds. Here Boya and I pose with a mirror as she chooses to work with the "ahhhh" sound, which is a low-mid vowel requiring the mouth to be wide open as if having the back of your throat examined by a doctor. Using different lip, tongue, and jaw muscles in another language feels clumsy and makes it difficult to produce sounds accurately. A student's ability to move towards accuracy is greatly increased when having fun, experimenting, being permitted to make mistakes and recover, and then to make choices about future ways to implement these English vowel sounds. Affirming the good in the students progress greatly enhances their optimism in becoming successful communicators. (photo by Shi Tang, QCF student)

InterPlay teaches us to “notice” what our body is experiencing; that is, to tune in and see where we might be feeling tension or energy. Is the tension residing in the neck, the stomach, the throat? In InterPlay, we call these noticings, “body data.”

As a language instructor, I am very interested in having my students connect with English and the wider American culture. For me, this connection to our U.S. English speaking culture is more than just intellectual--it is emotional and physical. Having the students be more in touch with their “total” beings, seems a positive way to support their successful language learning. Fluency results from ease and comfort, from connecting with the self and extending that sense of self to others. We use language as a social tool in addition to a cerebral one.

Although it surprises my Chinese “tutees” when I ask them how they are feeling and to share what they are noticing in their bodies, it makes sense to them as we continue our tutorial session. Let me explain....

Well, InterPlay offers a way to use the “body data”! After I, the instructor, has listened carefully to the student observations of what feels good or bad in the body when speaking English, we discuss “why” these feelings are occurring. In InterPlay, we call this “body knowledge.” For example, one of my students expressed feeling more ease when slowing down his speech and making it more musical. Using his hands to punctuate a key idea felt different (slightly awkward) but effective resulting in a feeling of accomplishment.

Many international students learning English for academic purposes equate fluency with speed. The faster one talks, the better one is at communicating. This is a false assumption since their hurried speech generally results in a stream of unstressed words devoid of musicality resulting in a breakdown of meaning.

Well, “noticing” how they felt during the tutorials with these Chinese students revealed that when they speak fast, they feel nervous about finding the right vocabulary and cut off from the listener. Relying on being solely in their heads while speaking distances them from experiencing a fullness when communicating with others.

“Body knowledge” is knowing when these good and bad experiences occur. I’m experimenting with teaching students to be aware of what feels positive and effective when they are speaking English and to practice those behaviors to increase the frequency of fluency. And then the reverse, if something feels bad when they are speaking English to reduce that behavior—like speaking fast but incomprehensible sentences. Implementing what you have learned from body data and body knowledge is called, “body wisdom.”

Whoever thought that as a language instructor, I would be teaching “body wisdom”! As I work and play towards integrating the principles of InterPlay in my ESL teaching, I am surprised, pleased, and expanded!

CONCLUSION. You probably won’t be surpised to learn that I have a lot more to say about this topic of using InterPlay to teach English as a second language! I really really do!  I want to tell you right now about “witnessing” and explore the concept of “incrementality.” But, for now, I will stop with this incremental step, this blog entry about the InterPlay principles of “affirmation” and “noticing”!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank my Chinese graduate students for their earnestness in learning English. They elected to take this “accent reduction” course and are very open to trying new strategies and tools to increase their fluency. I appreciate their trust in my methodologies and vulnerability. What a gift you are to us all.
SELFIE WITH TUTEE. Such fun! A new found way to relax and speak English both on a personal and academic level. I am convinced that academic English cannot be pursued without making personal connections at a very warm human level. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
If you liked this blog entry, see this one that I have written about a specific lesson I taught in the fourth week of September: Embodying English: Integrating the tools of InterPlay into my language instruction

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Incorporating InterPlay into my social work

Dear friends,

The "mascot" that greeted me in the classroom

I have been a social worker for over 17 years (really all my life if you ask my parents) and one of the things I do is prepare foster care and adoptive parents to get ready to have kids in their homes.  I have been teaching the classes that these parents need (to meet minimum standards in TX) mostly the same way for the past 12 years.  We talk about things like attachment, grief and loss, behavior management, planning for change, etc.

This past Saturday I was in TX to teach Behavior Management.  Since I have been going through the Interplay Leader training and had just completed a leader weekend with +Phil Porter I decided that it would be a great time to incorporate some of what I had learned.

To begin the class instead of the regular seated introductions I had the class meet me in the back of the room in a big circle.  I introduced the concept of deep breathing and releasing the breath with a sigh and tied it in to self-regulation in children and noticing our body data. 

I facilitated a round of "I could talk about..." with the person saying their name and I could talk about...."  One of the participants said his name and said he could talk about theater - BIBO - I totally relaxed and knew this was going to be great!

The beautiful Texas Sky
We ended up doing four rounds of this "game" before we went into the warm-up.  After we finished the warm up and sat back down in our seats to begin the official training I talked about how children who have been through trauma often times are "out" of their bodies since they felt unsafe and the warm up is a safe and great tool for them to get in touch with their own body data and body wisdom.

One of the things I cover in behavior management is the skill empathetic listening. After lunch instead of just talking about it I guided the group through babbling.  It was a great series where they babbled about adoption, leisure time and free time.  They noticed with their second/third partners and then with the whole group.  The responses were very positive and the group enjoyed being heard.

Isn't being heard such a simple thing?  And it is so powerful!  I have taught this for over 17 years and I truly felt like they understood the concept and could apply it with their future children after using the Interplay form of babbling.

Interplay is such a simple and powerful tool.  I have been using it in my own life now for over 10 years (thanks to +Sheila K Collins) and I am grateful to have the opportunity to share it with others.

Flowers from EarthSprings where I did InterPlay the first time

I enjoyed incorporating it in with my Social Work and seeing it make a fun difference in this training and thought it might be fun to share the experience with you.  I look forward to exploring new ways to include it in my trainings!

Where have you incorporated InterPlay in your work life?  I'd love to hear about them!

Wrapping you around with infinite love and playful delight,

Christine Gautreaux, LMSW
"Unless commitment is made, there are only promises & hopes… but no plans." - Peter Drucker 

Monday, September 15, 2014

GIVE PERFORMANCE A HUG: An Atlanta InterPlayer's Notes from Phil Porter's performance workshop

Written by Ruth Schowalter, InterPlay Leader-In-Training

It’s an exciting time to be an InterPlayer! This October, InterPlay, a social global movement dedicated to ease, connection, human sustainability, and play, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. On the eve of such an auspicious time, InterPlay Atlanta had the good fortune to host InterPlay co-founder, Phil Porter for multiple events—a performance workshop, Second Saturday, The Secrets of Leading InterPlay training, and a Leading and Following workshop.

Here on this blog entry, I would like to share from my notes a few of the key ideas that Phil Porter presented in his workshop entitled, “Giving Performance a Hug,” to us InterPlay Atlanta performers who have just named our group, “Soulprint Players.”

Here goes...wheee...!

We are surrounded by performance of high caliber and have immediate access to it, explained Phil Porter. Exposure to that excellence can be scary for us in some ways.

In InterPlay, he explained, we are creating endlessly every time we do something. He referred to the “nob of intention” which we can turn up or down depending on what we want to do when we are creating—and this IS performance!

Therefore, we can begin to smooth out the “scary” part in performance by thinking of everything we do as a constant process of creating.

When we acknowledge the aspects of our humanness, InterPlay performers can push or play with what they or “doing” or “creating.” We can pay attention to what part of our “performance” is consistent and expand our range from there.

For example, what might I learn about myself, my partners, my world when I talk loudly or softly, quickly and slowly, or in a high-or-low-pitched voice? Walking in an “unusual” way or path is another activity, which allows us to experience a wider range of possibilities when creating. “Ideas for walking are endless,” Phil said, “A pot full of ideas, living things, trying to crawl out.” He assured us that something--the “fullness”-- is there, inside of us.

InterPlay asks us what we are capable of doing.  And by expanding the range of our possibilities, we have more access to information about ourselves, thus enhancing our lives and performances! Hurray!

As performers, we must be IN our bodies so we have access to it to perform. Phil describes the people in his InterPlay performance group, “WING IT! Performance Ensemble,” as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

In InterPlay, we have a wide range of forms available to us such as “side-by-side stories,” “following and leading,” or “shape and stillness.” We play with them regularly so that they become a part of us and our repertoire as humans and performers opening us fully to our voice, movement, and story telling abilities.

Ask yourself, “What am I doing? How can I do the opposite?” Performing allows us to make aesthetic choices. In the same way a painter who has used a lot of green on her canvas might add a splash of red for contrast, so might an InterPlay performer slow down or speed up his movement or speech. Opposites enhance!

“We tend to go back to the middle,” Phil Porter said. He encouraged us to play around with the range of what we think is possible.  In one vocal exercise, he asked us to play around with volume at either end of the spectrum of loud and soft. When we finished, he asked us to measure our “loud” and “soft” on a scale of 1-to-10. Then he had us do the speaking exercise again to try to increase our existing range on either sides of the spectrum. To support this change in behavior, we were asked to step farther apart from our partner and not be too concerned about what our partner could or could not understand. Oh, was that fun playing around with speaking REALLY LOUD and REALLY SOFT!

Other forms of dance like ballet might provide simplicity or structure by having the dancers look and dress alike. In InterPlay, which fosters multiplicity of voices, performers are all different sizes, shapes, ages, and races. Therefore, it is the structure of the InterPlay forms that provide the SIMPLICITY for a performance.

And the COMPLEXITY comes from individual choices that InterPlayers make. For example with the form, “Walking, Stopping & Running,” individuals can choose when to walk, run, or stop, to enter and when to leave. They can choose to move alone or with others, to go with or against them. The possibilities are infinite!

By exploring the concepts of opposites, simplicity and complexity, and expansion, we can move into new territories of BEING. As we create, we expand, we connect with others, and the change becomes a part of ourselves. We discover that our willingness to expand has allowed us to grow.

Ta da! Expanding our humanness, expands our creativity, which enhances our performance!
MULTIPLICITY OF VOICES. Here are some of the participants at the conclusion of Phil Porter's performance workshop, "Give Performance a Hug."--photo by Ruth Schowalter
The beautiful aspect of using the improvisational tools of InterPlay is that it results in a multiplicity of voices being heard and affirmed. InterPlay performers are individuals making choices about how they want to BE in the moment either as a solo performer or an ensemble one—indeed a creative act!

Summarizing my experience from Phil Porter’s workshop, “Give Performance a Hug,” I have these thoughts:

I love InterPlay! I love Phil Porter and my fellow InterPlayers.

I appreciate being “given permission” to BE more myself through play.

I find it exciting to think of the actions that I take in my life as an endless process of creating.

Being invited to expand what I know about myself through playfulness alone and along with my community excites me.

Finally, it just takes my breath away to think that BEING MYSELF and playing with others through voice, movement, and story telling can go to the stage and become performance!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thank you to Jennifer Denning, InterPlay Atlanta director and founder of “Soulprint Players,” for holding the space for InterPlay to grow in Atlanta and nurturing it in numerous ways. Jennifer has lovingly cultivating a group of InterPlay performers in the past year, ensuring that we Atlanta InterPlayers get training from the best (see this blog, this one, and this one for performance workshops with Sheila Collins).

PHIL PORTER with Ruth Schowalter--photo by Christine Nichols Gautreaux
Thank you to Phil Porter from coming to Atlanta and giving us such an enriching weekend. Thanks also to Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder with Phil for developing such a rewarding way to live our lives playfully. Sheila Collins you have given us a wonderful foundation for “Soulprint Players” here in Atlanta!