Kelly Farrow teaches English language learners (ELL) at a small private Christian school in Pasadena, California. After teaching for nearly a decade, Kelly jumped at the opportunity to become a facilitator at last year’s summit at Azusa Pacific University. She walked away from the experience with new teaching strategies for pushing ELL students to speak up in the classroom as well as deep connections with teachers who share her commitment to her students.
What inspired you to become a teacher? Did you always know you wanted to teach?
Kelly: No, definitely not. My parents are both teachers so I grew up with that world and said, “Oh no, it’s not for me.” Then after college I got a job in the business world, and the more I worked, I realized really that wasn’t for me. I was pretty blessed to have an opportunity to teach homeschool kids foreign languages. As I started working with these really great kids it just kind of snuck in that like, “Okay this would be really great.”
So, let’s dive in a little bit into last year’s Summit. What was it like?
I was able to volunteer to be one of the facilitators, and so I had that training and got to come in a day early and hear what Edcamp is all about. I had not experienced it before. And I really enjoyed and appreciated that part of it, being able to in some small way help that conversation move along. People had great things to say. They were really open to sharing, even challenges or problems, they were helping each other out. I really appreciated that opportunity.
Is there any particular memory, story or person that really made a connection for you?
Yeah, one lady said that she worked as a sub. For one of the seminars, we invited subs and first year teachers and new people to come in because for subs especially, they’re in kind of a weird fly-by zone. But they need help and support. So, I was able to share with her a little bit of background and build that human connection with her, because I think she feels as a sub she’s isolated. Nobody has time to talk to her. Nobody has time to tell her what’s going on. So, I felt like we had a really nice conversation, talking through some of that.
Did anything in particular surprise you or stand out?
Since I’m still new to California and the way they do things as far as education goes, I wasn’t sure numbers wise what to expect, or what would be typical. Each facilitation room probably had 15, 20 people in it, so there was a lot of conversation and people to share. I thought it was very, very well organized. I don’t feel like anybody walked out of there saying, “Oh that was a waste of my time.” I think everybody benefited and there were people there from all backgrounds, some with no teaching background. Overall, it was a really good, well run experience.
What did you bring back to the classroom with you? How has it made a difference for you this school year?
One of the speakers was really excellent and touched on things I’m working on. She had plenty of experience with ELL and that was kind of her main focus. She was talking about, “We’ve got to get the kids speaking more in the classroom. It’s not just all written on a piece of paper and here do your grammar sheet. It’s got to be conversational.” Because what do people always say when you say ELL students, “Well gee, they don’t really want to seem to talk much,” or “They can understand but I don’t hear them produce.” These are the kinds of things that you hear and what she said just really, really helped me. And this year I’ve definitely put that into practice, and have attempted to keep getting these kids more used to speaking with one another, which is much harder than it sounds.
Do you think the Summit was an effective way to bring teachers together and build up that network of teachers with similar interests and challenges?
Yes, I found that the way that we built the sessions where you write suggestions on whiteboards and come up with common themes and build the conversations from that was pretty effective. And I was able to connect with one other woman who I’ve kept in touch with because we both volunteered as facilitators.
The theme this year is “It’s Personal. Meeting the Needs of Every Student.” What does personalized learning mean to you?
We all have different intelligences and personalities. You don’t have to craft a lesson to address them all. But I do think the teacher should have some background on this and keep these things in mind. And I feel like you just do the best you can to try to work those things in, and actually find out how they like to learn, and what they like to learn.
How do you think personalized learning helps meet student’s needs?
Part of it is they actually feel cared for. You have to build that personal connection. And plus, we learn best when we’re using a learning style that feels right and makes sense for us, because then you’re going to retain it better.
What are some common misperceptions about personalized learning? Do you think it’s generally understood?
I don’t know that the average person does. Even among educators, there’s a huge sense of, “Oh my goodness that is so much work. I just can’t.” And I don’t know that that’s entirely misperception, I think it’s almost just more of a cop out. And I think to some extent, yes, but I still feel like the rewards are better too. And you have to remember that as a teacher, you have a huge blind spot, which is you’re coming in from your own teaching style, you don’t know any different. For example, I do really well with auditory. If I come in with that because that’s what I know, I’m not going to hit hardly any percent of the population. The misconception is, “Well the only way I can teach is what I know best.” Well, maybe not. You have to stretch a little bit.
Do you have an example of personalized learning you’ve seen or put into practice?
So, I actually have the huge luxury where I can go and sit down with each kid, take a look at what’s going on, but that really only comes when you have a small group of kids. And when I taught overseas, I was able to try to work in a lot of kinesthetic activity because this was in Japan, and the Japanese classroom for a lot of the day you know you’re sitting, it is a little bit more on the traditional side. So, I would try to incorporate getting up, moving around activities. The kids were always a little taken aback because they’re not used to it, but once you kind of get into that, I feel that’s powerful too. I think that kinesthetic piece is the one that’s left out the most. And I feel like those were times where some of those kids who are a little bit more active, they get that opportunity.
What would you say to a teacher who’s considering attending this Summit based on your experience last year and what you’ve taken away since?
I would say first, you certainly can’t beat the price. It’s not a huge time commitment, and because having time just to connect with other teachers, share your experience with others, you absolutely can’t beat it. You should definitely be there.