Monday, March 12, 2012

Teaching Foreign Languages in the Elementary School: A Service Learning Initiative

Teaching Foreign Languages in the Elementary School: A Service Learning Initiative: E. Nicole Meyer

E. Nicole Meyer is a professor of French, Humanistic Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. In addition to her many duties, she coordinates and administrates a service learning project for undergraduate French students to teach elementary students some French. 

There are two sides to Meyer’s initiative, the undergraduates and the elementary school. The service provided to the elementary school is one in which those children volunteer to spend their recess, and in the coming semester after-school time, learning French. For the undergraduates, this is experience is a 1 or 2 credit internship style course. 

In order to set up a program like this Meyer emphasized the need to develop good relationships with elementary or preschool administrators. They will be key in making the program a success. It will be necessary to have a time and location for the sessions. Advertising and communication with parents will also be important. Scheduling for both the children and the undergraduates can be a challenge. 

From the university perspective, Meyer recommends that the undergraduate students be at least fifth semester language learners in order to have the necessary language ability. Before they are sent out they are then required to study second language acquisition theory. The students are required to develop a teaching portfolio of resources and lesson plans to pull from, complete with journal reflections and reports of their experiences once they begin in the classroom. Throughout the experience, the participants meet frequently to share resources and ideas. 

Content of the sessions include a basic introduction to the language, cultural exploration, and songs. Some activity ideas Meyers shared included: coloring books (Dover Books); using students’ backpacks for vocabulary; musical chairs with vocabulary or questions on post-it notes on each chair (in order to sit, students must answer the question); plastic easter eggs full of slips of papers with questions or vocabulary; cubes with clear sleeves on all sides with cards (cubes are pairs-one with verbs, one with subjects, for example); fake school store; matching games; giant paper (from a newspaper office) to draw big pictures on; and a TL party or celebration. 

This program is highly customizable depending on what needed to be accomplished. Wherever there is a need, a program like this would be invaluable. Grants and research could be done to support these types of programs. Some ideas I have about similar programs are ELL programs for young students and their parents in communities where there aren’t many resources of this nature already; a technology-enhanced career search support class for displaced worker or computer-skills for people who are missing basic skills to even meet requirements for entry into other programs supported by instructional technology students or education students with special interest or skill in technology; a community cultural enrichment program in which international students share their experiences with children or interested community members who’ve never had the opportunity to travel. The list could go on. It is important to develop a strong sense of the goal of such a program and develop a list of potential resources and need as a first step. 

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