February 26, 2010
There has recently been a great deal of discussion about fine dining in our middle school language classes. French students are engaged in conversations and small skits about eating in French cafés, and Spanish students have researched recipes and traditional foods in Spain and Argentina. All of this talk about food has occurred in the language of study, providing the students with authentic topics and building their vocabulary and grammar skills. Madame Friborg described the approach in broad terms, commenting “we are teaching cultural literacy.”
Throughout our language program, students are introduced to the daily lives and environments of people in other parts of the world. Most units of study present scenarios that would occur in France, Spain, Mexico, Sengal, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Argentina, and other places where French and Spanish are spoken. Our students’ sense of themselves as global citizens grows with each lesson. Madame Friborg noted that the point of learning language is to be able to put oneself into the shoes of another person; this emphasis on respect is an essential element in making meaningful connections with people of any culture.
Our curriculum addresses much more than food. In 6th and 7th grade Spanish classes, Señora Marinez begins the study of each new country with short research projects. Students investigate local customs, forms of entertainment, sports, clothing, architecture, and famous landmarks. They present their findings in a sharing session, practicing their new vocabulary and building their knowledge about the location. Last week, they mounted a display of posters in the hallway outside the media lab. Take a look at the recipes for paella, the description of flamenco, and the presentation about Antoni Gaudi’s architecture.
The 7th and 8th grade French classes exchange e-mails with pen pals in French-speaking countries. We have established a strong relationship with the Matenwa School in Haiti, and with a middle school outside Paris. Through their communications, students find many interesting differences as well as points of similarity. They were delighted to discover that the movie Avatar was as popular in France as it is in the United States. In their messages, students describe their school days, their social activities, and their hopes for the future, sharing their own lives and reading about the lives of their peers thousands of miles away. As they discussed the notes they received from the Parisian class, our BDS students wondered which attributes might be similar in middle schools everywhere, and which might be unique to France. Their curiosity and eagerness to use language as a means to connect with others is a critical step toward true cultural literacy.