Faculty Insights Blog
Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences teachers and other faculty members share insights about childhood development and educational issues.
Collaboration and Casual Conversation Key to Foreign Language Proficiency
Insights from Ana Farach, Barnesville Middle School Spanish Teacher
At this year´s ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) annual expo on World Languages, which took place in Boston, the words proficiency and collaboration were all the buzz. Why do the students sign up for language courses, one presenter asked? To learn to speak a language! It was the obvious answer, but the way toward that goal is far more demanding than that simple statement.
While I did not attend near half of the hundreds of great presentations and workshops that were offered, many of the presenters I saw highlighted the importance of collaboration. For the foreign language classroom, collaboration means the disruption of the traditional classroom setting in the hopes of creating global communicative learning. This form of learning bridges cultural gaps through communication with other students, near and far, mostly through casual conversation.
But what does communication across borders mean for our students? If faced with a class of native Spanish speakers through a chat window, what would our students do?
For foreign language teachers, the fact that a language class should make such opportunities consistently available to their students should push them toward innovation. This can happen through exposure to authentic audiovisual materials that allow students to respond orally, record their responses, and then receive feedback from their teachers for improvement of their oral skills.
The ACTFL’s own Conversation Builder (http://aapplcb.actfl.org/) is a great tool for this. My sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students will soon start using it. This and other resources that help students achieve proficiency with the help of technology bring life into the classroom. Through our exchange program with a sister school in Lima, Peru, students have often communicated casually via Facetime and other apps. I am taking this concept and applying it more broadly, connecting with schools from the Spanish-speaking world so students can practice oral skills consistently at home.
Some of our students are exploring Spanish anew with other Spanish-language learners. Through our exchange with Butler Montessori School, our seventh graders have practiced speaking with students their age who are learning Spanish in a similar environment. During our recent visit to their school, the students stepped out of their comfort zones to meet new faces, chat in Spanish, and take a joint Spanish class.
We look forward to expanding this and other opportunities. In the meantime, parents can expect to hear the kids speaking Spanish to their iPads at home!
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