The following is an article that was written for the school magazine, FLOURISH Fall 2019.
At Trinity School, we know that our students are capable of understanding, communicating, and speaking in another language when given the time, tools, and talent from our skilled World Languages teachers. The brain of a young child, particularly during the preschool and elementary school years, can acquire additional language skills as if it were their mother tongue because the language center of the brain is still developing and readily available for more information. We know that these young language learners have innate curiosity and wonder that allow them to feel confident and less worried about making mistakes. We also know that in addition to cultural benefits to learning a second (or third) language, there are cognitive benefits such as enhanced problem-solving and critical thinking skills and character development.
Trinity has established a FLES (foreign language in the elementary school) program for Spanish and French instruction. This type of programming is focused on content and themes that provide opportunities for storytelling, role-play, and real-life situations. We focus on the developmental skills of listening, speaking, and cultural competency through authentic experiences such as stories, music, and cuisine.
At Trinity, learning is our focus. Just like they do in our language arts classrooms, World Language students explore vocabulary and grammar through integrating their communication, reading, and writing experiences rather than through direct and isolated instruction alone. FLES programs follow a natural progression of understanding, speaking, reading, and, ultimately, writing. This follows the natural development of language acquisition in one’s first language. All our students, Early Learners through Sixth Grade, are developing language and building proficiency that will prepare them for middle school and beyond.
Instructional techniques focus on communication and learning through gestures, expressions, and role-playing, such as ordering food at a restaurant or asking for directions. Trinity Teachers utilize visual cues, manipulatives, puppets, games, songs, and rhymes. Additionally, reading instruction and classroom libraries help develop communication skills and encourage students to remain in the target language with material that is comprehensible and that they will grow into as their proficiency progresses.
At Trinity, collaboration is our culture. We have invested in professional development and the best teachers in the field so that with their experience and continued research, we implement current best practices and methods for teaching. Annually, World Language experts visit Trinity to provide professional development in the areas of content knowledge, assessment practices, and classroom pedagogy. Our teachers also attend national and regional conferences to learn specific methods of instruction and network with other educators in the field.
Based on the ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Language) Standards, Trinity designs its curriculum in Spanish and French with culturally specific and parallel content knowledge, authentic experiences, and academic outcomes. Centered around a theme or story that students can connect with, Trinity teachers intentionally craft and design lessons that are engaging, relevant, and purposeful for young learners.
Teachers who understand the relationship between the content, their students, and themselves engage in high-quality instruction and planning for the entire department. For example, in the Early Elementary Division, French Teacher Vesna Galtere and Spanish Teacher Jessica Murray have developed a strong working relationship that puts children and their content at the forefront of all they do. Each one is responsible for teaching a different language; however, they are both invested in all the EED students. Through the use of classroom agreements and learning progressions for desired proficiency, they ensure that they have common academic outcomes. Routines and repetition, with structure and predictability, enable students to practice vocabulary and phrases until it becomes a habit in their daily communication. Even though Madame Galtere and Señora Murray teach different languages, their routines, expectations, and experiences are common for students. Their continual communication and collaboration are vital in maintaining and enhancing a robust World Languages program.
When students transition to the Upper Elementary Division, methods and practices remain the same but have a deeper focus on reading and presentational speaking. Students have confidence and are prepared to remain in the target language for the entire World Language class. By the end of Sixth Grade, students can communicate spontaneously and with confidence. They have the skills to ask questions to gain understanding and clarity of tasks.
A highlight of the Trinity School curriculum, our World Languages program fosters wonder and curiosity, instills cultural awareness, grows interpersonal communication, and develops strong proficiency outcomes for our students as they move on to middle school.