PC's Foreign Language Program Is Golden
Penn Charter's Foreign Language department has been awarded a 2017 Golden Globe Award by the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association (PSMLA). The PC department, chaired by Sarah Aguilar-Francis, received the top honor in the biannual Exemplary Program Award in recognition of faculty excellence and student achievement.
Penn Charter's modern language faculty are advancing curriculum and teaching methods to focus on students' ability to use the language in meaningful ways rather than just to analyze grammar.
"With this approach, students regularly interact with each other to research and discuss current topics, which ultimately results in improved confidence and greater communication skills. It is no longer about the language concepts they know, but rather what they can do with the language they have acquired," said David Brightbill, academic dean for curriculum and professional development.
It is an immersion-like experience, teachers develop theme-based units and students take part in small-group activities where Chinese, French or Spanish are the primary languages used. Students engage with authentic resources – articles or videos written or produced for native speakers, rather than materials created by textbook companies.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, for example, students read food blogs and recipes written in Spanish, and selected favorite dishes. In teams of two, students discussed their preferences and developed a pitch in order to convince fictional cafeteria staff – their classmates – to develop a culturally appropriate menu.
Students studying French read La Belle et la Bête, Beauty and the Beast, in the original French, by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont. De Beaumont, a governess to French aristocrats, wrote the story for her charges to teach them to be kind and to see the good in everyone. After reading La Belle et la Bête, students create an illustrated short story or comic strip, in French of course, that teaches a moral lesson to children.
Penn Charter's robust Latin program uses a different instructional model, but was part of the reason PSMLA bestowed the award. Many Latin students spent spring break immersed in Greco-Roman history on a trip to Greece and Italy.
Aguilar-Francis reports that the modern approaches provide flexibility for teachers to adjust the curriculum to incorporate students' interests, current events and other cultures, resulting in higher levels of student engagement, participation in upper levels of language instruction, and improved proficiency. The new method will be used in Lower School next year.