Berty Segal Cook, a phenomenal teacher
If I had to describe Berty Segal Cook with just one word, it would be….DYNAMIC. She is, however, so much more! Inspirational, dedicated, magnificent and amazing are all words that easily describe her. Honestly, you may not understand just how amazing she is unless you attend one of her workshops and experience language learning with her. That’s how several language teachers spent the day. I had been looking forward to it for weeks! Many of my colleagues drove hours for the privilege if that tells you how respected she is in the field of second language acquisition. Berty flew in from California last night to conduct the training. She has presented workshops in 22 countries. Jan Coone organized everything, including breakfast and a wonderful lunch! It doesn’t get any better than that! Words can’t describe how rejuvenated and refreshed I am. I feel like I can make it to the end of the year! (Excuse me while I happy dance.)
We began the day with coffee and donuts, always a good move when you’re dealing with teachers. Berty started promptly at nine because she had a full day of activities for us. She explained the differences between the left brain and the right brain. My preferences lean strongly toward the left brain, meaning I am more “linear” in my thinking, and I see details that make up the big picture. I need to take notes and figure out verbs! In many cases, this causes a lot of stress, especially for language leaners. Those “right brain” people can take in the whole of something and use the senses to absorb what is happening around them. I learned that by using right brain activities, intelligence is actually increased! Activating the right brain also determines long-term retention. Berty was able to prove that without a doubt. She indulged our left brains and cited the work of Asher, Krashen and Terrell. She allowed us to make a few notations in our handout, but not many. That was hard for me as a left brain thinker. When she started our lesson by teaching commands in Yiddish, I thought my left brain was going to have a seizure!
Yes, you read correctly—Yiddish (her first language). Berty would take breaks from the commands and let us stretch our legs and get coffee, discuss other aspects of language learning and come back to the commands. After three or four hours, all of us remembered what to do even without her modeling the command for us! She expected all of us to get immersed and involved, so we took turns throughout the day being examples for her lessons. I was chosen (along with four others) for the clothing description activity. I was first in line, so she started by describing my long hair, glasses and blue Cinco de Mayo shirt. Then things got exciting. She lifted my foot about 18 inches off the floor. I quickly grabbed the shoulder of Emily (to my left). My other hand landed on Berty’s back. She paused and asked if I had problems with my legs. My response: Not until today! She went down the line describing each of us. Then she asked the “class” to point out who was being described as she listed characteristics she had mentioned. All the participants were able to understand and be successful! Now we have to change our methods to reflect what we learned.
We were lucky enough to be able to order Berty’s books, and she was kind enough to have Jan copy lessons we can use as resources while we wait for our books. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I will be putting our text books on the shelf as of tomorrow. My kids and I need to have some fun with learning again.
To find out more, see Berty’s website (below). If you have the chance to sit in while she demonstrates her lessons, do yourself and your students a favor and GO! We need Berty in teacher prep classes at the college level! Jan Coone also has a great website for teachers. You can find it below as well. This was a day well spent.