Overcoming Online: Foreign language faces foreign obstacles
October 11, 2020
Remote learning has presented challenges for everyone, and the Foreign Language department is no exception: Spanish, French, and German teachers have had to learn and develop a new system to best equip and educate their students without the advantage of an in-person learning environment.
Language classes at DGN provide four different skillsets: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Along with this, foreign language teachers are looking to expose students to different world cultures and current events. Teachers still must focus on achieving the same educational benchmarks but in a compacted remote schedule.
Early in the year, the district provided teachers with two professional development days to help train them on the use of Zoom and its many mechanisms. Zoom has introduced breakout rooms, giving students a replication of having a small group discussion in school. French teacher Kelly Houlihan has found this to be an important part of her online Zooms and believes it alleviates some of the stress on students.
“Zoom, unfortunately, brings out that anxiety to speak. In a traditional classroom, it is a little more comfortable, but then on Zoom, you just see one person’s face. So I can understand why students would be apprehensive to participate. That is why I think those breakout rooms are key,” Houlihan said.
In the remote learning schedule, teachers have an 80-minute period to teach instead of the regular, everyday, 50-minute time frame. For many students, sitting in front of a screen can be monotonous after the five-hour and 20 minute school day.
Junior student Mackenzie Werthman has particularly faced these challenges while remotely taking AP French.
“It is easier to get distracted, especially when submersed into a completely different language where you do not know what is exactly going on. You can feel yourself start to get discouraged from this in a way,” Werthman said.
Another challenge many language teachers have run into is the use of Google Translate. In class normally, one would be able to mandate what the students have access to, but over the screen, new problems are encountered.
Spanish teacher Joseph Bodenheimer stated, “Specific problems I am facing have to do with cheating. This year, unfortunately, writing almost has to go out of the window because it is very easy to translate everything and find all the answers online. I am trying to find other ways around this.”
Another thing the District has had to draw back on this year is field trips. Every year, the Spanish IV class has a chapter of learning on various art terminology and have been able to take a trip to experience the Art Institute of Chicago. Due to tight restrictions, it is not a possibility this year.
Junior Kelly Stromberg is taking her fourth year of Spanish class and has had to redirect her focus and take in this learning in a different way. Stromberg will miss out on opportunities that earlier classes have been able to experience.
“A downside to this all is of course the class activities in and out of school. I miss being able to speak to my partner in Spanish and actually clearly understand and hear their voice. Although it may take a bit away from the Spanish curriculum, at least we are doing what is necessary in these times,” Stromberg said.
Freshmen started hybrid learning Oct. 5, coming into school for two half-days per week. All students who have decided to go for in-person learning anticipate going back Oct. 19. Until the school board decides on a date for full in-person learning, teachers will continue this remote style of teaching. Houlihan remains positive about this teaching style and the community’s effort, especially in comparison to last spring’s distance learning.
“Everything is smoother and people are remaining enthusiastic, so I hope it continues like this. In a normal year there are highs and lows, so as a community we need to keep checking in with each other,” Houlihan said.