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by Erica Fischer on Jan 21, 2012

Motivate Students to Start and Stay in World Language Classes

Hello everyone! We had an engaging and fast-paced discussion on Thursday concerning the best strategies to get students motivated to start and stay in world language classes.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and contributing your thoughts to the discussion; it was a wonderful debate and I’m sure that everyone had something to take away with them at the end! Below you’ll find a summary of the night’s discussion, or you can check out the entire archive.

The “Two and Done” Problem

Too often we see that many students stop taking a foreign language after the second or third year, when it is no longer a school requirement or when students think they’ve reached their higher education “quota.” This is a shame, as students are often just getting started on their path to fluency and cultural awareness.

We often hear our neighbors and others exclaim, “I took two years and don’t remember anything!” To avoid our students following the same path, it’s important to explain to kids that two years is not nearly enough to develop the language skills necessary for communication. Getting this message through could go a long way toward retaining students.

Attracting Students to World Languages

Attracting students is often not as difficult as retaining them since many school districts require several years of world languages, but it is still a challenge. Also, by strongly hooking students early on, our chances of retaining them once their required classes are over increase.

Participants had some wonderful ideas for implementation in your school to increase student attraction:

  • @dr_dmd’s school offers a curriculum fair for all incoming 8th-grade students to attract students to take languages.
  • Language clubs for students are a great resource for attracting new students. Encourage your students to set up a booth at the end of the school year for incoming students, or at orientation before the school year begins.
  • For future efforts in attracting students, try surveying your new students at the beginning of the school year as to why they chose your language (@mannkm).

Retaining Students in World Languages

As we mentioned and many participants echoed, retaining students is the real challenge. Our discussion on Thursday focused mainly on this issue as it is at the forefront of many teachers’ and administrators’ agendas.

Often, students take a language only to satisfy the sometimes-mythical two-year requirement for college. Once they’ve reached that point, they depart the program in droves. How can we keep them around?

One of the most effective ways to keep students engaged in the language is to capture their hearts. Make learning fun and help them to see why it’s necessary to learn languages in our modern world (@ITeachHola). Try to steer clear of the worksheet-based, grammar-heavy instruction of the past, and emphasize communication and production in the classroom.

This is the most important piece when it comes to retaining students — our enthusiasm and passion for the language transmitting to the students.

How else can we get students burning for language? Sometimes, simply being upbeat and interesting isn’t enough, especially once senioritis and related higher-grade illnesses start to kick in.

  • One option would be to bring in professionals from various sectors to speak (@msfrenchteach). This is a good way to show students the real-world possibilities with learning a language.
    • Use your high-school alumni who have gone on to use the language professionally or personally (@ITeachHola). One suggestion to help in this: students can follow you on Facebook after graduation. Use this new connection to keep tabs on their language use! (@msfrenchteach)
  • Another possibility to retain kids in the later years is to branch out from just language to cross-curricular materials (@karacjacobs). This is related to keeping the language fun and engaging.
  • Traveling abroad is another great way to keep students interested in the language (@AudreyMisiano). Try contacting the local Rotary or other service club sponsoring exchange student programs; ask a member to stop in to speak about study abroad opportunities.
  • AP classes might be strong retainers. The theme-based classes and high reliance on authentic readings and videos keep students involved in the class (@Catherineku1972).
  • @tonitheisen recommends looking into passion-based reading. Passion is contagious.
  • Related to using authentic resources as often as possible, a favorite tactic of #langchat participants, is to use lessons applicable to real-life as often as possible. For example, @mmesidle’s 6th-grade students shop, prepare and cook their own French meals. Their next step: a field trip to a local patisserie.
  • Encourage social media usage as well (do teenagers require encouragement?). Students can connect with other students with similar interests all over the country or world. Show them opportunities to use language to connect with even more individuals (@mannkm).
  • As mentioned above, language clubs are fantastic resources to motivate kids to stay enrolled. Time is limited of course, but their effectiveness increases with the more time that students and teachers alike can put in (@senoralopez). If you get desperate, stress that colleges look favorably on involvement and leadership in such school clubs.
  • When you survey new students at the beginning of the year, as mentioned above, take note of what they’re most interested in learning. Cater to those interests to keep students engaged. For example, a desire to learn culture is often the main reason that @mannkm has noticed students choose to learn French.
  • Give students opportunities to interact with other students in the target language, through Skype or video exchanges with other countries.
    • @js_pasaporte’s classes exchanged culture boxes.
  • Students respond well to Web 2.0 tools. Try keeping a wiki or other online portfolio of students’ progress as proof of advancement — very motivating (@dr_dmd).

Some ideas that require more work on the administration side:

  • Maybe try a jumpstart program over the summer to get kids ready for AP classes (@maezinha73). This ensures kids continue to think about the language over the summer, and also keeps them hooked on the language before their schedules get so full.
  • Try having your older or higher-level students teach special classes to younger students. For example, @AudreyMisiano’s 7th-grade students regularly do an outreach program for elementary students in the area. This requires some collaboration between different schools, but it’s well worth the extra work. Kids teaching kids is a win-win for both, as younger students look up to what they can one day do, and older students feel a sense of pride and ownership in the language.
    • If class times are a problem, try videos and letters between the two classes.

At the end, the most important point is to show our enthusiasm for the language and try to make that connection for students between the language they’re studying today and the world after graduation. Hopefully, your attitude plus some of the great suggestions above can help a few more students stick with languages past those first two years!

Thank You!

As always, thanks to everyone for showing up and so freely sharing your experiences and ideas in the interest of collaborative professional development. We appreciate your participation!

If you missed the chat, or thought of something to add after signing off, please feel free to comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks, and see you next Thursday!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

5 Comments

  • Audrey Misiano

    I’m wondering if anyone has tried talking to their administrators and guidance counselors about the importance of keeping students in language classes for the long run. Perhaps if we start doing this more, we can encourage counselors, especially, to keep students from dropping courses. Educating guidance counselors about the amount of undergraduate credits available along with the dollar amount saved by taking college level courses in High School could possibly help our cause. The students in my school can earn up to 6 undergraduate credits. Many guidance counselors may know all this information already, however, perhaps it’d behoove us to make closer connections with them to promote our programs…plus, maybe putting a dollar amount on the savings would help make students and parents see just how valuable staying in the class can be (not that I think the value is only monetary!)

    I’m curious to hear if anyone has tried this angle and if so, how’s it working?

  • This is an ongoing conversation at my school. We have not had sufficient numbers to run French 12 or Spanish 12 for a few years now according to minimum registration numbers set by the district. We do have some student interest and admin support, but we are trying to compete with senior science classes etc. which students see as more valuable for post-secondary studies etc. We do tend to lose some students at the junior level too if there is an issue of a learning disability or they need support with their other courses. Languages have traditionally been one of the first things dropped in favor of a learning assistance block.

  • Audrey Misiano

    Families can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars if students earn college credit in high school. Students where I work pay $175 for 3 credit hours of French or Spanish, and can earn anywhere between 3 and 9 credits. It’s a steal. The hope would be that by going into the higher levels, students would gain a love for language learning that they’d carry with them to college and beyond.

    I am going to talk to my colleagues who teach these levels about connecting with our guidance counselors. I’d be willing to do it, myself, however, it makes more sense to come from them…we’ll see what they think.

    Any thoughts or suggestions? Please share! Thank you, merci y gracias!

  • juanbapst

    I post student videos on our website and make them into actors and actresses. They love it. It remains to be seen if we will get more students in Spanish 3, but my campers are loving their 15 minutes of glory.

  • I’ve been meaning to get back to write this update for weeks now…my personal life is chaotic right now…I’ve been missing so much #langchat, too 🙁

    I finally connected with a couple trusted colleagues. Without giving too many details here, I’ve understood that this sort of approach (talking to guidance counselors) would be an extremely important move to make. They are definitely holding one of the keys to improving our numbers. Some guidance counselors may simply not know the facts…and the facts are not just the monetary ones I outlined previously. There’s so much more. For instance, just this weekend, the NY Times posted an article that finally admits that being bilingual makes you smarter—> http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=1&smid=FB-nytimes&WT.mc_id=OP-E-FB-SM-LIN-WBA-0301812-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click (I’ve been patiently waiting for someone brave enough to make that statement…and am so ecstatic that the NYTimes did!)

    My basic understanding from my conversations is that through communication, connecting with and informing our school counselors and administrators about what language learning does for our brain, for college acceptance, for our pocketbooks, etc. not only can we promote language learning as a whole, but we can move towards teaching the people with power that what we do should not be the first thing that gets dropped…it should be the last! :o)

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