Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Language and Culture in West Orange!

A beautiful display by the 5th Grade

I went to West Orange today to see a model language program which provides all of its students with the opportunity to learn a second language. It doesn't matter if you are studying Chinese, French, Italian or Spanish - communication is key. The district goal is to increase student proficiency and make sure that this happens in a highly authentic cultural context so that students can achieve a deep understanding of the world.

The program has heart and it wants to help students seek a greater understanding, empathy and esteem for the people who speak the languages being studied. The school website, has this wonderful quote about the program written by Ed. Acevedo, the knowledgeable World Language Supervisor:

"As the world moves towards a global community, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in languages other than English. It is imperative to understand the perspectives of a culture that generate its patterns of behavior, ways of life, worldviews, and contributions. Proficiency in a world language is a vehicle to gaining knowledge that can only be acquired through that language and its culture."

This is the team of visitors I had the honor of traveling with to West Orange:

From left to right, Linda Materna, World Language Supervisor, Scotch Plains; Cheri Quinlan, World Language Coordinator of New Jersey, Grisel Lopez-Diaz, Professor NJCSU and Ed Acevedo, West Orange World Language Supervisor

One of the highlights of the day was observing the heritage language teachers and their students. As the teachers worked with poetry, art and literature and connected them to the student's everyday life, I understood that each and every teacher believed that all of their students would be able to master Spanish. High expectations and rigor were evident in every interaction.

Later, in a conversation with students from a wide variety of Spanish-speaking countries, I heard it from the students themselves. "Es lindo compartir." - "It's beautiful to share." As the students clearly expressed their joy in learning and sharing with each others, I understood why West Orange says that they have heart - the social and emotional connections are a clear foundation for academic growth!

Small children, big ideas

The day wasn't over until we visited the elementary school students and saw them dancing and sharing their thoughts on music, animals from the Galapagos and Carnival Masks.

Again, even though we saw extremely enthusiastic teaching and learning, the best was hearing the students themselves talk about how much they appreciate their world language experience.

What do these kids like to do? They like doing projects or being able to call up a special phone number to hear a story in the target language to share it with their families. Many love creating their own learning tools. They were proud of their own special box containing laminated photos with target language words. Students keep this box of personalized materials with them through the years of elementary school.

"I have my box of flash cards from when I was little," said a second grader. "It's nice to look back and remember!"

Nieves Dissipris, an enthusiastic contributor to Spanish teaching!

Thank you to the teachers and administrators of West Orange for a wonderful visit. Special thanks go to Edwin Acevedo who helped share the wonderful job his district is doing to celebrate and promote the study of World Languages!


Anonymous said...

Well done! I love hearing about your travels to different classrooms in NJ. Very inspiring!
~ Lauren

Maryann Woods-Murphy said...

Thank you so much! I'm glad the report of my travels and thoughts is reaching into the lives of others...