Voorhees implements annual system of candles

January 24, 2019 — by Christine Zhang

As sophomore Aindri Patra walked into Spanish teacher Sarah Voorhees’s room on the first day of second semester, she saw four candles at the front of the classroom, each labeled with a class period, that hadn’t been there the previous semester.

Voorhees has a system of using candles to encourage her students to speak more Spanish in class. Each class has its own candle, and at the beginning of the period, Voorhees lights the corresponding candle for the class. When she hears English in the classroom, she blows out the candle, and whenever a class gets through a candle, Voorhees rewards them with a movie during one of their class periods. It provides the students with an incentive to practice their Spanish.

Voorhees said that the idea of using the candles in class came from PE teacher Yuko Aoki, who used to teach Japanese at the school until it faded away more than a decade ago because of enrollment issues.

Voorhees only uses the candles during second semester, because in the first half of the school year, she said that students are still transitioning to speaking only Spanish in class. The candle system goes on for the entire spring semester — if a class finishes a candle sometime in the middle of the semester, then a new one is started and the process is repeated.

Currently, there are no other teachers who use the candle system like Voorhees does. She said that other teachers have their own ways of getting students to speak the language in class, such as taking participation points away if they hear English.

Voorhees has noticed that her students like the candle system. Patra, who has been in Voorhees’s class for two years, verified this notion.

“I like it because it gives you opportunities to learn more Spanish and watch movies,” Patra said. “It’s a good idea because it’s an incentive for us to stop speaking English in class.”

Patra said that her class last year went through two candles, meaning that they received two movie days in the spring semester.

During their in-class break, students are still encouraged to speak Spanish. In the fall semester, Patra said that students freely talked in English, but with the candles, they have to converse in Spanish, even during break.

Although some people do follow the rules of the candle system, Patra said that it is more of an “integrity thing.”

“It’s not hard to avoid the rules by whispering,” she said. “A lot of the time students end up speaking English and [Voorhees] doesn’t hear. It’s based on an honor system.”

Voorhees said that the overarching goal of all the world language classes is the same, regardless of whether or not they use the candles.

“Our goal, especially in levels 3 and higher, is to have people speak 100 percent in the language,” she said.

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