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In World Languages, the Students are the Curriculum
Christian Jacobs, World Languages Department Chair, Upper School French Teacher


Sometimes, the best strategy is to get out of the way. I learned this at a young age while playing football in Omaha, Nebraska. My mother wanted me to be a star linebacker; I, smaller than my peers, wanted to avoid being steamrolled by larger, more aggressive kids.

Let’s fast forward to the early years of my teaching career during which I practiced what I had learned from my own learning experiences. There were grammar units tied to cultural and vocabulary themes. There were tedious textbook exercises. There were long, difficult assessments – the kind where you have to provide the correct conjugation for the verb “créer” (to create) in the passive voice of the pluperfect. Students either got with the program, or in some cases, they got “steamrolled.” This is the classic definition of rigor in World Languages across the globe.

When I started at Park Tudor nine years ago, my notion of sound pedagogy was radically different than it is today. In our department, we are currently in the third year of a transition to Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI), a series of natural and intuitive methodologies to enhance true language acquisition. Put simply, we focus on meaningful communication in the target language, and we empower students to truly acquire language in a supportive setting. Moreover, we are encouraged to tie curriculum to our most important asset: the students.

As I read Neuroteach, I was pleasantly surprised with the parallels that could be drawn to TCI. Authors Whitman and Kelleher debunk myths around learning styles, multitasking, and disconnecting emotions from learning. Best practices in World Languages support these conclusions. In our department, we believe that ALL students can acquire language (since students have already demonstrated this with their first language), that students must focus on inputs (reading and listening) before outputs, and that honoring social emotional learning lowers what language researchers call the affective filter.  

Park Tudor language teachers have received significant training on how to plan/execute courses that capitalize on the primacy-recency effect. Walk into our classrooms, and you will see:

  • Segmented activities (10-15 minutes) separated with brain breaks.
  • Repetition around high frequency language needed for genuine communication.
  • Lessons tailored to student interests.
  • A low-stakes environment where students are comfortable and engaged.
  • A sense of play, even when the topic or communicative task may be heavy.
  • Self-selection and choice in reading and listening activities.
  • A connection to visual and performing arts (i.e. drawing, theater, music and video production)
  • Retention and recall strategies to ensure acquisition.
  • Shorter, formative assessments favored over larger ones.

I am happy to report that there is no longer an atmosphere of “steamrolling” in our language programs. We have moved away from traditional language instruction. Furthermore, recent results on national proficiency exams demonstrate successful language acquisition across our divisions. We have embraced Mind Brain Education, and we are doing so to best serve our students.

Christian Jacobs, World Languages Department Chair, Upper School French Teacher