Undoubtedly, all educators face dramatic obstacles trying to teach in a pandemic. Language classes offer specific challenges — try to master pronunciation through a mask or practice conversation when social interaction is restricted.
“Language learning —the art of communication — has a human component and cultural component that is better understood in person.” Señora Zahn
Nevertheless, by breaking away from a traditional mindset — and sometimes even traditional classrooms — the world languages department persevered for the students, proving the power of flexibility. Here are a few things we overheard this year in the world languages classrooms this year.
“Move your computers to the side. We are going to sanitize,” said Señora Grimm. “Normally you’d do this with partners.”
At each desk she stops to distribute hand sanitizer, then flash cards. Next, she offers remote learners a modified vocabulary review for the day’s debate on when to brush your teeth, before or after breakfast. “I do some things paperless,” she explained. “But they have to have some hands-on activities.” — Spanish 2
“Fried Rice – Yummm,”
Mr. Talken names the file as he shows Chinese 2 students how to use video software already installed on their laptops. Combining lessons in technology, culture, and real-life application, Mrs. Tseng requires each student to prepare fried rice at home, then submit a cooking video. The best video from each year earns Iron Chef status and is archived for future students to watch. (Read more and watch winning videos here!) — Chinese 2
“Señor, there are questions in chat right now. They’re asking about extra credit.”
Students monitor the chat thread on every Teams call so questions from remote learners can be heard and shared in class. Señor Cabrera — who teaches in a science lab, a regular room, and the choir room — dons a headset so he can be heard through his mask. — Spanish 2
“Why do they sing in the cemetery?”
asked Daniel Lee ’24 after watching a video about the Day of the Dead. “In Mexico, they celebrate death,” explained Señora Bowman, who has transformed one half of the cafeteria into her classroom, complete with a rolling bulletin board for calendar activities and the high energy required to carry instruction over the non-stop noise of fans and echoes from classes on the other side of dividing curtains. — Spanish 1
“I want to be a penguin,” declared Nick Abel ’22, “although I can’t walk well.”
“You can waddle,” suggested Andrew Freund ’21, discussing (in Spanish) the pros and cons of various animals. Despite added delays to coordinate students in and out of the classroom and manage various online resources, upperclassmen in Señora Zahn’s Honors Spanish 4 maintained positive energy, clapping for each other after presentations and often rewarding correct answers with cheers and fist pumps. — Advanced College Credit Honors Spanish 4
“Will, we’re in examen right now, so if you could just mute please,”
said Ms. Schmidt when a remote learner joined the class Teams call (broadcast over the classroom speaker) with an enthusiastic, “Hello!” Responding calmly to the unexpected has become a survival skill for teachers who face uncertainties daily, such as how many students will attend in person versus remotely, often requiring last-minute changes to lesson plans. “You never know what to expect,” commented Ms. Schmidt. “But I’m so grateful we’re here. It’s an adventure.” — Latin 4
At De Smet Jesuit, an all-boys college prep high school in St. Louis, students are required to take two years of a world language; however, many students pursue four years and earn college credit while in high school. To learn more about our dual enrollment courses in Chinese, Latin, or Spanish, visit our World Languages webpage, download our curriculum guide, or contact Mr. Williams, our Assistant Principal for Academics.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 Odyssey magazine titled, "How Boys Learn: Seen and Heard in World Languages" and showcased how students and teachers successfully and safely adapted to school during a pandemic.