This spring semester began for me with the incredibly invigorating Day Zero event, organized by Cynthia Jones and Carlos Guevara. The inspiring conversations concerning syllabus design and retention with my colleagues, reminded me that we all share similar goals, that we all aspire to help our students learn and that this is why we have chosen Hostos Community College. However, I also noticed how my discipline, French language teaching, situates me differently. In my class, students generally neither write essays, nor do they need to write annotated bibliographies or learn research skills. Instead my course emphasizes memorization, oral communication, listening skills, and the courage to try the unknown in front of others.
When I searched for some bit of teaching experience or expertise that I might be able to offer, I thought about the aspects of language teaching that I have applied to teaching other subjects such as Film, Literature, or Humanities. These techniques at first may seem too specifically geared to a language learning class – however, they offer a seed that can be extrapolated to most other teaching scenarios.
A Binder. By requiring the students to bring the same notebook to class, an OER course such as mine can remain organized. As a language teacher, I assign and return home work nearly every class. The students then have a record of what they have done the entire semester that resembles a book. A few checks and grades for organization keep the class on the same page, ready to review what they have done when necessary. If your class only completes computer or web assignments, perhaps you might adapt this technique in which the student demonstrates their organization of the course material for a small reward.
Review at the Beginning of Class. Language courses are cumulative (another reason the binder can be useful). At the same time, nearly every class is composed of a new grammar lesson and/or new vocabulary. This can be daunting for the students (and the professor!) Everyone needs the class to begin on a positive note that underlines what we achieved the class before. I have learned that a homework review is better at the beginning than starting class with a new concept. However, ideally I weave the review into natural and relaxed conversation at the beginning of class.
Conversation A. I am grateful for the lightness of my teaching discipline; beginning a language means talking about the series and music you like, your favorite recipes, and what you want to study. For this reason, language teachers can get to know their students as individuals, without it feeling too deep or intrusive. While this is embedded in the language class, I have found that it helps me connect with all of my students to give them time to explain their preferences and to try and incorporate these interests in the assignments. It also helps the students get to know each other and find common interests.
Conversation B. As language courses (at least the in class portion) are about speaking, I aim to have my students speaking in the target language the majority of the class time. If I realize that I have spent too much class time explaining a concept or lecturing, I aim to do better the next class. My students learn the most and are the most engaged when they are actively communicating. For this reason, I organize activities in which they will speak with one another, perhaps alternating partners multiple times, in what I call a party activity.
Community. By emphasizing the connection between classes and the cumulative aspect of learning, either through the binder and the reviews that are woven into conversation and/or formally explored, we encourage student retention. Furthermore, we create an environment with favorable conditions for learning, proving that the work that is done one day counts for the next. At the same time, we balance this expectation with care, because students must feel safe and comfortable when they are attempting to speak in a completely new way. By posing the right questions, at the right moments, and more importantly, encouraging and making space for students to pose questions to us and to one another, we emphasize the community in our community college classroom.
PhD French & Francophone Studies, Graduate Center, CUNY
MPhil French, CUNY
French Certificate, CUNY
BA Languages and Literature, Bard College
Areas of Interest, Film and cinema, Francophone literature, immigration, theory & decolonization.