Online language classes preserve interactive nature

August 29, 2020 — by Anjali Nuggehalli

French 3 students play charades in breakout rooms to practice new vocabulary

Before the school closure, French teacher Elaine Haggerty’s room sometimes smelled of aromatic crepes being cooked in the back of the room as students performed their French dialogues in front of the class. This vibrant classroom environment is evident in foreign language classes across the school, as the curriculum is based on teaching each culture with groupwork-oriented activities. 

With the school year starting completely online, many of the interactive lesson plans that students enjoy during in-person language classes are impossible to replicate, but the language department is working to ensure that their students don’t miss out on the collaborative nature of their classes while engaging in synchronous learning. 

Chinese teacher Mariam Fan, for example, had her students complete a Multiple Intelligence Survey. Fan then put her students in groups based on the results of the survey. 

“This survey helps me figure out my students’ learning styles,” Fan said. “They also have the opportunity to suggest activities that will help them learn better.” 

For example, students who have a strength in music may hold a variety show where they play music together and teach their peers about various song styles. 

Fan also plans to implement interactive online learning tools such as Pear Deck, Quizlet, Kahoot and Gimkit.

“I would like students to propose alternative tools and projects for the class,” Fan said. “If they feel it is useful to their learning, we can work together to design new activities together.”

Haggerty also said she plans to design her online classes to be extremely group-based. A large portion of her synchronous lessons will be in Zoom breakout rooms, where students will have the opportunity to speak to each other in French. 

“What I found through online learning last semester is that sitting alone and writing isn’t a good way to keep up a language,” Haggerty said. “To avoid that problem, I’m doing what I can to maintain my students’ speaking abilities.”

Aside from class time, Haggerty is also incorporating collaborative work into homework and exams. For assignments, students work in groups and record their verbal responses to several different prompts. That way, they’re not only speaking but also getting the opportunity to help each other learn. 

Haggerty has had greater difficulty with administering exams during online learning, as she recalled several instances last semester when she could hear students typing into their browser while taking a test. To remedy this issue, Haggerty is taking a more unorthodox approach to testing, coming up with questions on the spot that students must verbally answer, like in a real conversation.

Haggerty also emphasized that her tests won’t be the “end all be all” that determines if students pass or fail. Instead, it will be more constructive so that students can understand which topics they need to review and then have the opportunity to retake the test. 

Spanish teacher Stephany Marks is taking a similar approach to testing, moving entirely away from written tests. She is also doing oral tests to encourage academic integrity and improve conversational skills. 

In other aspects of her class, Marks has felt that her curriculum has remained similar to in-person instruction. She already utilized virtual tools such as slideshows in class, so the transition to remote learning wasn’t too abrupt. Still, learning to navigate newer tools has been a difficulty. 

“The main challenge I’ve had with synchronous learning is figuring out how to use Zoom and all its features,” Marks said. “So much of class is spent checking who’s got their camera on or who’s in each breakout room.” 

While all of the language teachers’ lesson plans have shifted with online learning, their overall goal for students has not changed.

“The main thing I want students to get out of my class is to be able to speak a new language confidently,” Haggerty said. “I want them to focus on speaking and be able to communicate effectively.”

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