My daughter’s school in Canada is like many others – or so I have heard from other parents and educators. From the outside, things look fantastic. The school has a beautiful and newly constructed playground, the library is stacked with books, the classroom spaces are well-maintained, and the staff is amazing – they are warm, caring, and dedicated individuals and your child would be lucky to be in any of their classrooms. And then you dig a little deeper, unfold the layers and take a look at what is actually happening education-wise – and what makes the school look great slowly begins to fade away.
Let’s start with consistency across the grades and between classrooms. At my daughter’s school there are 3 distinct divisions of teaching philosophies:
a) Reggio Emilia Approach: In the lower grades – kindergarten and grade 1, you have a team of teachers who are very much inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Children learn through inquiry and play. The spacious classrooms are set up with large tables and plenty of materials thus inspiring children to explore. The environment is very nurturing and children’s independence is encouraged.
b) Reggio Emilia Approach: Then you move on to grades 2 and 3, where you have a group of teachers who are strongly opposed to this philosophy. And so, you have young ones moving out of an environment of self-directed learning and thrown into a teacher-led environment, which happened to my daughter this past year as she entered the second grade. The abruptness of this transition was harsh not only for her but also for many of her classmates. Worksheets, printing practice, and limited time for centers and exploration became the norm. Although the second and third grade teachers all followed more of a teacher-led style, it was unclear what the common bond was, other than their teaching method. Some gave homework and spelling tests, others didn’t, some preferred to set up the room with large tables, some preferred to have the students in desks, etc. There were inconsistencies in curriculum covered, for example, my daughter’s teacher felt that instead of teaching social studies one term, she would devote extra time to teaching reading. My daughter was already a top reader in the class, so I wonder what she missed in socials and how this will impact third grade ….
c) Understanding by Design (Ubd): Moving upwards to grades 4 - 7, you find teachers using Ubd as the common link in their teaching philosophy. Even though this group of teachers is linked by Ubd, there are still significant discrepancies in classroom setup, methods of discipline, amounts of homework given, and some teachers are into experimenting with various teaching methods such as genius hour, while other aren’t.
Basically, as your child moves from one year to the next, there is no consistency. Their journey is solely dependent on the teachers they get and not the school as a whole because there doesn’t appear to be a school-wide agreement on how things should be.
As for grading and testing, again, it seemed up to individual teachers – everyone seemed to be on different pages as to how to evaluate the students. Some preferred assessing through projects and samples of work, others relied more on quizzes and tests. Rubrics appeared to be pulled off the Internet, and from all this teachers needed to cohesively (as a school) discern on a four-point scale whether a child was Emerging, Developing, Proficient or Exceeding in their abilities, which made me wonder if from teacher to teacher and year to year, if there even was consensus….
And lastly, several support programs were being offered – ELL (English Language Learning), Learning Support, Speech Therapy, etc. and my daughter’s school was fortunate enough to have a fantastic team; however, they were completely disconnected from what was happening in the classroom. I watched as individuals would pop in and try to catch what was happening in the classroom to support students on the fly – it was a blind leading the blind situation as they didn’t know any more than the student did about the activity they needed to support. Alternatively, if an Educational Assistant (EA) wasn’t in the class, students would be pulled out; for example, those ELL students needing language support. During those sessions, it appeared that what students were being taught were lessons separate from those happening in the classroom.
As I mentioned previously, what I observed is what so many other parents and educators have witnessed at their schools. A mishmash free-for-all where there is a lack of consistency for the students in terms of teaching philosophies and assessments/grading, and where learning support operates on the fly and doesn’t always connect to learning in the classroom. And I wonder, as I am sure many do, what the impact of this hodgepodge on student learning is … and if we continue down this path, what will education for the next generations to come look like?
During my time at the Netherlands Inter-community School (NIS) in Jakarta, English classes were offered 3 times a week to our Dutch-stream students as part of our Modern Foreign Language (MFL) program, which was linked to the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). This meant that during MFL blocks, students would see concepts being taught in social, science, etc., in their English classes (see Language Framework). The aim was to teach students academic English terms in preparation for their transition to an English-speaking middle school because in Jakarta, there were no other alternatives after Dutch students completed Primary 6 at our school. However, some of the Dutch parents were concerned that the amount of English learnt during the school day wasn’t enough, so the administration at NIS decided to explore the idea of extra English classes being offered to the Dutch-stream students after school. These classes were to be run by teachers at the school, as everyone on staff was required to lead one after-school activity as part of their duties. Instead of offering a traditional non-linked after-school program, it was decided that we would try something a little different and have the program tie into what students were already studying at school so that the impact on student learning would be greater. This meant that teachers running the after-school program would need to look at what was being covered in Dutch math and language classes since those two areas were taught using the Dutch National Curriculum and not the IPC, and therefore were not already being covered during our MFL blocks. So, if fractions were being covered in their Dutch classes, students would learn the same terminology and practice questions in English during the after-school program.
I am back in Canada now and wondering if the same concept of linking school curriculums to after-school programs would be beneficial here as well. What if those in charge of after-school extracurricular activities such as art classes, music classes, foreign language classes, tutoring programs, etc. were aware of the school’s curriculum(s) and long-range plans? What if they could meet with teachers on a regular basis to discuss ways to enrich their programs and connect and tie them into school subject areas? What would the impact on learners be?
Would it be possible to organize and coordinate such a link between in-school and after-school activities/programs? I believe this could be done with the creation of an extended or modified version of the School District Framework. If you are interested in exploring the possibility of connecting after-school activities/programs at your school to in-house curriculums, contact us!
No matter what language you teach – French, Spanish, Italian – we know Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers are always on the lookout for amazing resources. Check out links to 19 of our favorite websites offering foreign language resources to help you liven up your lessons and engage your learners!
Modern Foreign Language activities for elementary, middle and high school. Resources include games, exam questions, vocabulary banks, sentence building activities and much more!
Available Languages: 22 World Languages and ESL
Offers music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks in a variety of foreign languages.
Available Languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, French, German, and Japanese
3. The Guardian Teacher Network:
Find news articles, lesson plans and printable activities suited for students 4 – 18 years of age.
Available Languages: French, Italian, Spanish, and German
Search the site by foreign language to find lesson plans and printables for your students.
Available Languages: French, German, Greek, Lithuanian, Spanish, and Urdu
Offers a large bank of mostly free foreign language printables created by teachers for teachers! The resources are geared for upper primary, middle and high school students, and new content is always being added.
Available Languages: German, Spanish and French
6. NFLRC (National Foreign Language Resource Centers)
Visit their site to find a wide range of online materials, articles for educators and professional development opportunities.
Available Languages: Pretty much any language you can think of!
7. FLTeach (Foreign Language Teaching Forum)
Browse their collection of links to awesome foreign language websites and resources. You are sure to find inspiring ideas for your classroom!
Available Languages: Chinese, ESL, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish
Find high quality foreign language lesson ideas and online materials in a pinch!
Available Languages: Almost anything you are looking for.
9. Share My Lesson:
Free resources created by foreign language teachers for teachers. Includes lesson plans and materials in a variety of formats.
Available Languages: French, Spanish, German and more
Free online language lessons and games. Each mini-lesson includes reading, listening and speaking activities.
Available Languages: Large selection
Free online foreign language games for learning phrases, vocabulary, alphabets, spelling & grammar.
Available Languages: 40 different languages
Read their articles to find lesson ideas and new teaching methods to liven up your foreign language classes!
Available Languages: Activity ideas can be applied to any foreign language.
13. World Language Café:
Spice up your world language lessons with their games, activities, teaching tips and lessons on culture!
Available Languages: French and Spanish
A collection of photos and short authentic videos that are sure to engage your students.
Available Languages: French, Spanish and Dutch
15. Jim Becker’s World Languages Links:
Find links to amazing online resources for 29 different languages!
Available Languages: 29 different languages
16. World Language Resources:
Find 115 links to open educational resources for teaching world languages.
Available Languages: French and Spanish
Offers authentic and engaging videos, exercises and games for students.
Available Languages: German, French, English, Spanish and Italian
An app offering foreign language games for students of all ages.
Available Languages: German, French, English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese
19. Teachers Pay Teachers:
This site offers exactly what is says – teachers pay teachers for classroom resources, including lesson plans, printables, etc.
Available Languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Gaeilge, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish
Have any other links to awesome to foreign language resources you would like us to add? Let us know!
How to Help Your Foreign Language Students Improve Their Speaking & Listening Skills
Making the Language Connections in Modern Foreign Language Classes
Ensuring Meaningful Modern Foreign Language Classes in the Early Years
How to Link Your MFL Curriculum to the IPC