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We recently finished “Wooly Week”, which for the uninitiated is a week-long celebration of all things Wooly. New products, new songs, new activities for everyone who subscribes to the Sr. Wooly website. And this has renewed the strength in my opinion that this website is the best thing ever.
Now, I probably should preface my list of reasons for my opinion with this disclaimer: I work for Sr. Wooly. I’m not a full-time employee, or anything, I’m a full-time teacher. But working with/for him is my side hustle: I produce and edit some of his print materials, and occasionally serve as a sounding board for the crazy ideas he comes up with.
If you haven’t stopped reading yet, secure in my jaded, possibly purchased opinion, I’m sure you’ll find some of the same great benefits to using these materials.
One of the elements I respect most about the Sr. Wooly stories is that they are developed from the story first, and then work is done to tell the story in the most simple language possible. Oh yeah, and then set it to music. While looking at the lyrics of a simple song, such as “Es una ganga“, there really isn’t much to the lyrics. “How much does that shirt cost?” “This shirt?” “That shirt.” “It costs $5.” “It’s a bargain. What a bargain.” This is possibly the simplest set of lyrics in the entire catalog. But the STORY, of a sales clerk and his terrifying experience with two strange visitors is gripping.
2. Useful, varied, natural language. The language used to tell the stories comes at users in multiple ways. The song lyrics and tunes get stuck in your head and WILL. NOT. GO. AWAY. Just try to listen to “Una canción original” and not walk away singing about Jennifer Bilby. For weeks.
And if you have any students who have worked with this song and don’t acquire the word “escrita”. (What? A well-acquired irregular past participle! WIN!!) None of the songs shelter grammar…you won’t find a song that only uses -AR verbs in all forms. Because nobody talks in conjugations. And while we teachers may notice an awful lot of past subjunctive/conditional in Billy y las Botas 3, the song is engaging and comprehensible for all students, and the use of that language makes sense in its context.
3. Narrative. One of the key skills as people move up the ACTFL proficiency levels is moving from memorized language to created language. Sr. Wooly bridges this gap beautifully!! They pick up MANY words/phrases in the lyrics of the songs. Which is great. But the magical move from novice to intermediate (and beyond) comes when they can recombine what they’ve learned into new chunks of language. As a teacher movietalks one of the videos, students hear some of the lyrics in new contexts, surrounded by other words. The embedded readings do the same thing. They allow students to see words they know combined and recombined, and they move closer to being able to narrate in a similar fashion themselves.
4. Fun. Because there isn’t enough play and fun in our kids’ lives. Kids who are in middle school and high school are dealing with such adult issues. Things that thankfully DO get attention today from adults (no sticking your head into the sand that suicide, abuse, bullying, academic pressure, gender and sexuality acceptance, harassment, and so forth.
So when do the kids get to be KIDS? When is playtime? And not just sit on your phone and break bricks with bouncing balls (I can’t believe my kids are all obsessed with an upgraded version of Pong!). Interactive, goofy, no-holds-barred, tilt your head back and laugh FUN. Of course some consider Sr. Wooly’s stuff to be, as Christian in 3rd block put it, “cringey”. But I have yet to find any other materials with as fun of an attitude, while they still provide benefit to our kids’ language acquisition in real, tangible ways…it isn’t just theoretically gonna help them. We’ve all seen it.
5. Support, support, support. Sr. Wooly gets teachers, because he IS a teacher. Although out of the classroom, he gets how we need to learn ways to use new materials. For Wooly Week 2019, the team produced two full weeks of lesson plans working mostly with just one song, Una canción original. The activities were interactive and engaging, and scaffolded through language skills.
But it doesn’t stop there. Sr. Wooly gives year-round support to teachers through his newsletter/blog and through the Woology group on Facebook. This teachers-only group, in which Jim Wooldridge and his team are all active, is a place for teachers to share struggles and joys and find better ideas for teaching our kids. And the Señor Wooly fan page on facebook (for teachers and students) shares all the vital Wooly information.
And students get support too! The “Nuggets” (leveled-activities) on the website are adjustable among 4 proficiency levels. This allows a whole class to be assigned one level, but individual students be adjusted individually to best meet their needs, whether they are more advanced or need more support than the rest of their class…all without students knowing the difference! Because no slow processor wants it to be glaringly obvious that they have the “dumbed down” version of the activities!
Share! We're all in this together!