Just how does a school make learning accessible in a discipline such as foreign language? This has been both a challenge and a success at McLean, where our students bring varied learning styles and learning differences to the classroom and where our mission is to make learning accessible to a broad range of learners.
When McLean was a kindergarten through grade 9 school, Spanish was the only foreign language offered and it began in grade 7. As we planned for the addition of the Upper School in 2000-01, we wanted to increase our language offerings with careful attention to how a second language could enhance our students’ language experience. And, of course, we needed to make sure that our offerings would be accessible to our students.
Today at McLean, we offer three foreign languages that are entirely mission-appropriate and address the wide variety of learning styles that our students use: visual, auditory, kinesthetic – or a combination of the three.
Spanish begins in grade 3 and continues through Advanced Placement Spanish in Upper School. Students who take Spanish have easy verbal recall and are comfortable with the “produce-on-demand” requirements of an essentially verbal language. Spanish students, at least in the younger grades, are those whose preferred learning style is auditory/verbal. And even as reading and writing are introduced in the upper grades, students still rely heavily on auditory skills because classes are conducted almost entirely in Spanish.
In grades 5 and 6, our students take a semester of Spanish and a semester of Latin. Latin introduces students to another kind of language and the exposure prepares them to choose a single language at grade 7. Latin is a profoundly structured language, with conjugations of verbs, declensions of nouns, and variable word order. Latin appeals to students who benefit from structure and order, who prefer visual learning, and who shy away from the instant recall of a modern spoken language such as Spanish. Our students also love the study of Roman culture that is a natural piece of the Latin curriculum. Latin at McLean is offered through AP Latin in Upper School.
At grade 7, our students choose Spanish, Latin, or American Sign Language. The beauty of the ASL offering is that it appeals directly to the kinesthetic learner. If Spanish or Latin is a challenge, students often find that ASL is accessible – and fun. Exposure to an entirely different way of communicating gives our students increased sensitivity to the importance of communication in the deaf culture. We teach American Sign Language through ASL 4.
In addition to language courses, our Latin teachers have developed a spring break trip to Italy for 7th and 8th graders, where their classroom experiences are reinforced by visits to ruins, historical sites, and cities throughout Italy. Spring break trips to Spain for juniors and seniors led to the creation of an exchange program with a school just outside of Madrid. Three seniors from the class of 2012 spent their 2-week senior projects in Spain, and we just said good-bye to seven exchange students from Spain who visited us this fall.
Conjugations…declensions…accents…inverted question marks…finger spelling…
Spanish, Latin, and American Sign Language – offerings that make second language learning at McLean accessible to the broadest range of learners.