By Lauren Davis, Upper and Middle School Spanish
I had gone to ACTFL (American Council of Teachers of Foreign Language) last year and returned from the conference with a new perspective on my classroom philosophy and a curiosity of how to incorporate more technology into my classroom. There, I had observed many inspiring teachers testify to how the use of technology was transforming their classrooms for the better. In anticipation of going to ACTFL this year, I was experimenting throughout last year and through this fall so that I was ready to dialogue and compare with others who were already exploring innovations in their classrooms.
This year, I went to one talk that caused me to reflect on my teaching strategy this year. In Spanish 3, each year in the Spring, we have a unit on business. Last year, although I saw a lot of potential for that unit to make the class practical for the students’ future interests, I did not deviate much from the textbook. Ever since I taught that unit last year, I have regretted not bringing the lesson more into their world and have been scouring the internet for ideas.
Thinking about how to present this to the students I teach and how to make this lesson relevant in a language classroom, I was looking forward to finding talks at ACTFL that focused on a business perspective. I found a talk given by two professors from George Washington University; one was a business professor whose nationality was German and another was a German professor whose nationality was American. They had been commissioned by their respective schools and several outside organizations to create a curriculum using business case studies in a foreign language classroom. They saw this as a novel implementation as business cases are usually inaccessible to the untrained businessman and are full of statistics and devoid of cultural and environmental factors. The professors chose to preserve the purity of the research and concentrated on infusing the cases with cultural and linguistic subtleties. This was highly successful at bridging two disciplines that are highly related outside of academia. They started with German and have since branched out to incorporate other languages into these cases. A typical class would begin with the presentation of a case, real or fictitious, and the professor would stop the reading of the case at a critical moment where the protagonist would have to make a decision. The class would then divide into groups and discuss the ramifications of the decision from different points of view including cultural, religious, business, etc. Then, the class would convene and discuss what each group had decided was the best decision. The teacher would give another piece of information from the case and then send the students back to deliberate.
I plan to use what I learned from this talk to enrich both classroom discussion and cultural understanding in my foreign language classes. The world is increasingly a place that requires skills of quick and informed decision-making. Giving students the opportunities to try out an idea, fail, and refine their idea in a safe environment is what I see as the goal of education. Foreign language education places emphasis on cultural sensitivities and language expression, both of which are essential elements in the toolboxes of world-changers.
The experience of attending a conference together with other members of the department gave us a chance to step back from the daily responsibilities and reclaim our vision for 21st century language learning in the classrooms of the World Languages Department of Westtown School. As we ate lunch together and shared exciting ideas, I longed for this to be more a part of our weekly routine. I really appreciated my colleagues’ wisdom and was energized by their excitement. I hope this enthusiasm will carry us through this year.