June 17, 2013 | Irish
Engaging Students in Their Own Language-Learning
Some thoughts I have had about pedagogical techniques for foreign-language acquisition in schools.
Sometimes through this site I hear from foreign-language teachers. These encounters make me wonder about ways to engage students, especially more advanced high school students, in language-learning projects that would help connect the classroom to the world around them.
A New York City Public School
I think it would be fun to have students write blog entries or journalistic-style articles about local language-learning adventures in the vein of what I do here. Maybe once a month each student could write about the experience of applying their language skills somewhere outside the classroom, whether with a student they know who is a native speaker, with a senior citizen in a retirement home, in a deli, at a restaurant, in a café, at a cultural event they attend, watching a foreign film, or involving something else of their choosing.
From a practical standpoint, students in a class could be divided into fourths so that in any given week only a quarter of them are submitting entries/articles. They could each give a brief presentation on their experiences to the class (in the target language, if they are advanced enough), which would develop their language and public-speaking skills.
By the end of the year, the class could have a robust blog site documenting their language travels and growth over the previous nine or so months. Alternatively, all the pieces could be collected in print format into a bound volume for posterity.
This would be easier to do in New York than some other places, because it is usually a simple matter to travel without a car here and there are hundreds of languages floating around. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done in many other cities and towns, too!
One thing I have wondered about—and this I would leave up to teachers and administrators—is what the safety issues would be and how to manage them with teenagers. For sure I wouldn’t recommend that a teenager roam some of the neighborhoods I have explored without taking along an adult. But those could be fun family adventures, perhaps.
It is exciting to consider the accumulated experiences a group of New York City schoolkids studying, say, Spanish could accumulate over a school year. Such a project would offer them a combination of foreign-language experience, public-speaking experience, writing experience, and getting-out-in-the-world experience.
Younger groups with less language knowledge could still do something similar, just lower-key and more classroom-based, and with much more supervision. I love the idea. I don’t know whether it would be too much work for the teacher, but it seems to me to throw some of the labor onto the students, which can be a good thing from a pedagogical point of view anyway!