The Middle School Language Department Keeps the Conversation Going

Moving to the Distance Learning Plan required teachers and students to be flexible, to get used to new means of instruction, and to learn to use new technologies. The Middle School language department got one break—for several years they’ve been using a system that could move from the classroom into students’ homes.

“We used to have a free-standing language lab up until two years ago,” said Spanish teacher Nan Pickens. “There was a lot of thought about how to replace it, and then we realized that we couldn’t afford to give up an entire classroom for this one use, and the School was committed to finding us a replacement. So we went with this product called DiLL.”

DiLL allows language teachers not only to provide instruction, but to chat live (either in a group, with partners, or with a teacher), and record students’ answers to pre-recorded questions. The students and teachers were already used to the software, and that continuity has provided some unexpected benefits. “It’s nice to be able to do something that the kids were already familiar with, because they’ve had to learn so much in such a short time,” Pickens says. “It’s refreshing to be able to go back to old habits and have it work for us.”

Another old habit that’s alive and thriving is using audio and video in nearly the same way that they would in a classroom.

“We’re doing all the Google Suite things that everybody’s doing right now, but pumping ours up with a lot of video content,” Pickens said. “It’s a big thing to continue to hear what we call ‘authentic resources,’ which means real people speaking real language. I can play a conversation between two people in Spain asking where the restaurant is, play it back to the students, and then they answer questions. I continue to use those authentic resources that I use a lot in class.”

The most important continuation? Just speaking the language—something that has brought more to students than their typical classroom chats.

“I create these chats for the whole section and then I can see them chatting [in Spanish] with one another, even if I’m not initiating it,” Pickens said. “I think they’re craving that kind of informal communication. It’s just so nice to hear their voices.”

Some of the tools and techniques the foreign language department have developed may continue after students and teachers return to campus. “We’ll take with us some of the things we’ve learned—sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh! Why wasn’t I always doing this?’” Pickens said. “But we’ll be glad to get back to face to face.”

Until then, at least they can be voice to voice.

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