On Tuesday afternoons my classroom shrinks to the size of a kitchen bench. Perched on the bar stools among the afternoon snacks, bits of abandoned craft and the makings of a dinner to come, my young student and I work our way through an Italian language course.
His grandma offers to make me a coffee. Mum puts business calls on hold for a minute to play with her youngest on the sofa behind us. Little sister Emma*, the craft generator, sidles up and shows me her latest artwork. Darcy* gets the giggles. He insists a drawing of a goat in his workbook looks like a donkey. It becomes our private Italian joke of the day.
It dawns on me that teaching and learning in this space is a delightful exercise in shared hospitality. We could sit in a quieter spot, away from ‘distractions’, but the kitchen bench is Darcy’s choice. Although ‘learning a language’ is the parents’ desired extra-curricular outcome for their intellectually curious little boy, relationship building is at the core of what’s really happening. Language learning is the conduit and the by-product.
I wonder if I could imagine the learning spaces and what I could achieve in the learning process, in a classroom setting, differently. It is a refreshing thought and one I want to explore further.
A significant component of any Languages Syllabus is communicating. Students learn to exchange personal information in conversation. Questions progress from: “What’s your name?” and “How are you?” to “Tell me about your family” and “Do you get along with your sister?”
Although these ‘conversations’ may be presented as role play situations, in my experience students see them as mimicking genuine personal communication.
If this is so, what then may they reveal and teach about personal integrity?
Inspiration can sometimes arise from unexpected sources.
The following is a quote from The Lieutenant, a novel by Kate Grenville, set in the early colony of NSW. The quote refers to the main protagonist, Lieutenant Daniel Rooke, an astronomer, meteorologist and linguist, who sets himself the task of acquiring the language of the local indigenous people.
"What he had not learned from Latin or Greek he was learning from the people of New South Wales. It was this: you do not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you..... The names of things, if you truly wanted to understand them, were as much about the spaces between the words as they were the words themselves. Learning a language was not a matter of joining any two points with a line. It was a leap into the other." p.233
sale (noun, m.) - salt; luce (noun, f.) - light
Use the above words in a sentence.
Is there such a thing as just teaching a subject in a way that is isolated from any considerations about belief or student formation? Does “doing something Christian in the school curriculum” mean finding a separate space in the day to preach words of God?
These, according to research conducted by Trevor Cooling and colleagues, are assumptions that are held among some teachers in church schools. It is not surprising then that they would “struggle to imagine how their faith might shape their work in the classroom”.
As the bride and groom approached the wedding guests, female relatives showered them with rice grains and wrapped sweets from a small ceramic plate. Then, completely to our surprise (and the bride’s), an otherwise reserved aunt of the groom took the plate in both hands and emphatically and decisively smashed it at the newlyweds' feet. The guests laughed, clapped and cheered. It was a joyful if not somewhat startling beginning to the exuberant feasting and dancing that were to follow in true Sardinian style.
Rejoice with those who rejoice!
My husband and I were not outsiders to this spectacle. The bride was our eldest daughter. She has just married an Italian of Sardinian heritage and now Italy has become her new home. Our two families are now joined, though oceans and potentially the mutual distinctiveness of our cultures separate us. For we are different. We could find each other’s ways a little peculiar.
"Are you going to make us do these jobs at home??"
The reality of the possible consequences of making a household job chart in Italian class had suddenly dawned on one Year 4 student.
Every morning, students and teachers assemble to pray the school prayer:
“…Help me to think in a kind way, to act in a kind way, to speak in a kind way….”
Every morning offers a fresh start, to acknowledge God’s love for us in Christ and how we may love and serve Him in the way we treat each other. And every morning I am challenged to consider: Can I live out this prayer throughout this day? And for my students: How can I support them to seek to do likewise?
It’s a new term. For me it’s a new school, for a term, and a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with a colleague to design Italian language learning experiences that will encourage our students from Pre-K to Year 6 to become attentive and reflective listeners, interested in the lives and stories of others and what they can learn from them.
As we prepare, we have been questioning and considering:
Why do I teach this content this way?
How can we shift the focus from ‘I’ to ‘other’?
How can we create more meaningful language learning opportunities with a focus on hospitality?
How can we infuse our lessons with a winsome mix of authenticity, humour, collaboration, action and reflection which will engage an energetic jumble of boys?
All in 30 minutes a week.
Will we succumb to "let's be realistic"? Or take up the challenge to be ambitiously real!
All good teachers strive to make learning meaningful for their students. The challenge can be greater in the context of LOTE (Languages others than English) in the Primary school where you may have as little as a 30-minute weekly allocation. Add to this an ‘opt in’ policy as a subject (in NSW) and with it no guarantee of continuity in subsequent years. As a result, despite our best efforts, language learning can become piecemeal, devoid of lasting significance or meaning for our students. Colours of fish and fruit, hair and eyes. So what?
Can we paint a bigger picture for the purpose of language learning? One that encourages our students to reflect on moral and spiritual dimensions? That expands their understanding of how they can show love to their neighbour?
"But I don't care about where you can buy cheap designer jeans!"
In my son's Year 9 Italian textbook, fashion and shopping were predictably the context for teaching vocabulary about clothing. For the exercise under protest, he was required to compose an email responding with advice to an imaginary friend's bargain hunting request.
Whether intentionally or not, the unit assumed and sought to appeal to the stereotypical superficiality and consumer mentality of young people, while choosing to ignore their possible broader concerns about global clothing waste. Its underlying message: appearance is everything. Thankfully, this boy wasn't buying it!
Hello, I'm Libby.
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