How do we help students gain mastery of a foreign language? We offer more opportunities for them to use the language in an authentic way.
Every language teachers knows this truth, and Riverdale Country School Chinese teachers Betty Li and Lu Li sought out the rethinkED team’s help to offer such opportunities. Working with Betty and Lu, the rethinkED team organized an event at Teachers College, Columbia University.
On Friday, October 5th, ten native-Chinese Teachers College students volunteered to spend the afternoon with twenty-one RCS Chinese language students, ranging from first-year students to fifth-year students. The volunteers and the RCS students had much to offer each other: the volunteers are students of education, eager to learn more about American schools, and the RCS students were eager to develop their language skills and learn more about China.
Over lunch, small groups of native-Chinese speakers and RCS students talked for nearly two hours. There was a clear sense of energy and hospitality in the room, and everyone seemed at ease in casual conversation. One volunteer offered to perform Peking Opera for everyone’s enjoyment. Afterwards the groups went on a tour of Columbia University’s main quad, taking pictures and learning more about each other on an unseasonably warm and sunny fall day (80 degrees!).
The event was not complex: we simply offered food, space, and time to foster conversation in a foreign language. The students and volunteers loved the experience, and many hope to keep in touch with each other. The event, we believe, was a success, and the benefits are clear.
But that doesn’t mean that our work is done. Our goal is to design experiences and to encourage teachers to think like designers. This event was one prototype, and our next step is to seek feedback from the teachers, the volunteers, and the students so that the next version is even more effective and enjoyable. Continuous improvement is what we’re all about.