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!
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.