The following story was written by Middle School Spanish teacher Judy Williams for the spring issue of Ties.
There’s a lot of welcoming in the Middle School, especially at the start of a new academic year. In the hallways before first period, new and returning seventh and eighth graders huddle in small groups while brand new sixth graders muddle over the combinations for their lockers. This year, the Middle School world language team added a new component to the definition of “welcome” for sixth graders by introducing them to all three languages offered in our program—Spanish, French, and Japanese—in the first semester of their Middle School careers.
While in Lower School, Tarriers study Spanish, and usually in May of their fifth-grade year they are asked to choose one of three Middle School languages being offered. Some choose French or Japanese without having any idea if it will be a good fit for them. We felt it would be a good way for all sixth graders—including those new to CWA who haven’t studied a language—to be exposed to each of the languages and make choosing a particular one to study a little less daunting or stressful. The sixth graders will complete about half of a first year of their chosen language. By slowing down the sixth grade courses just a bit, this will also allow easier adjustments for seventh or eighth graders who are new to CWA. “Students get to explore multiple languages, realizing their opportunities for language learning in the MS, the US, and beyond,” says Middle School French teacher Maren Hassenger.
When sixth grade was in the Lower School we did a very similar rotation—10 weeks of each language. That rotation ended when the sixth grade became a part of the Middle School in 1996, and what we hope to accomplish by reintroducing it is to expose students to all three languages and hopefully gain students in French and Japanese who may not have considered either option to be the best fit before—classes can even out in size, as traditionally the Spanish classes have been the largest. “It gives the students more understanding of what goes on in the other languages,” says Middle School Japanese teacher Alia Greenbaum. “It also might encourage more dual study of languages in the Upper School, which in turn might make all three programs stronger as the students find out where their passions lie and what they’re good at so classes will be filled with more enthusiastic learners.”
Students dove into their chosen language upon returning from winter break in January. Before break, students ranked their choices and provided us with feedback on the new model—all that we’ve seen so far has been positive. The students like getting to learn a little of each language, and some who may have chosen one language without the rotation have realized they prefer another one.
We all celebrated the completion of the rotations on the last day of class in December, and we ate foods from all three cultures and enjoyed a day of acknowledging their successes. An added bonus has been getting to know all of the sixth graders, and while we will continue the year teaching only those who have selected our respective languages, we are thrilled to be able to chat with all of them—welcomes, hellos, thank yous—in four languages now. //