Preparing Students with Language Learning for the 21st Century

Our first Teacher Tuesday blog post is here! Today, we are featuring Gisele Vázquez Falls, Global Studies and World Language Department Chair at Tallwood High School (VA):

Preparing Students with Language Learning for the 21st Century 5 440x325 300x222I started teaching in the early 90s and I still remember how difficult it was to find “authentic resources.” Even as a new teacher, I knew how important it was to make learning a foreign language meaningful and real for my students. With guidance from my mentor, and my language colleagues, I learned how to find what I needed. I also learned that World Languages teachers are some of the most creative, innovative, and resourceful people I have ever met! I find it interesting that as things are changing in the teaching profession as a whole, they are really just evolving in World Languages. In a nutshell, we’ve been doing cooperative learning, differentiating instruction, and performance-based instruction in World Languages classrooms for many years.

These strategies are nothing new to us, but what may be new is how we do it. With the abundance of social networking, email, and online language programs, teachers have the tools to provide the global connections we have always wanted but were lacking. Studies have proven that collaborative and cooperative learning methods improve students’ motivation to learn. As language teachers, we know that group activities and pair work have tremendous advantages over individualized tasks. Students love the interaction and it is an effective way to give students the practice time they need. Making social links with students from other countries, school exchanges, pairing them up with language students abroad is the next reasonable step.

I am fortunate to teach at the Global Studies and World Languages Academy, GSWLA, at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach. We are a “school with in a school” with approximately 400 Academy students out of 2000 students. Students in the GSWLA are required to take four years of a first language and at least two years of a second language. Considering all of the other aspects that the Academy covers during the day, such as international business and trade, global systems, global connections and AP classes, we need more flexibility in language learning. World languages teachers have taken a comprehensive approach to blended learning. The use of new technology is appearing in classrooms all over our school and district. BYOD policies, 1:1 strategies, the use of flipped classrooms are giving students the opportunities to connect in meaningful ways.

Many of our students in the GSWLA are passionate about their language study and because they have the unique opportunity to travel abroad in the program, they grasp the importance of knowing a second language and take responsibility for their own learning. Our students can work online before even starting a formal language course in an effort to test out of levels. The use of Rosetta Stone online learning has provided an excellent supplement to the outstanding instruction going on in the classroom. Students can work online at home, in the school’s computer lab, or in their study blocks. Many of them take advantage of the opportunity to study languages other than the one they are currently studying formally, in what we call a “choice” language. Again, a factor contributing to this motivation is that we offer 8 cultural exchange delegations (Northern Ireland, China, Spain, Israel, Philippines, Germany, and most recently Jordan and Japan).

I believe that the work we are doing at Tallwood High School and in the GSLWA is preparing our students for the 21st century, where careers and success will depend on how they can communicate effectively with people from around the world.

About the author:

Gisele is the World Languages Department Chair in the GSWLA at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, VA, and has over 20 years of teaching experience. She is a self-directed, enthusiastic educator with a strong commitment to student development and the learning experience. Her skills include designing challenging, enriching and innovative lessons that address the diverse needs of students. Gisele is finishing a Master’s in Spanish Language and Culture at the University of Salamanca. Follow Gisele on Twitter: @gvzqzfalls.

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