For most university students, classes are focused on lectures and laptops rather than on crayons and construction paper. For the Fall semester, however, four Asbury University foreign language education majors were returning to the basics.
For two afternoons a week, Natalie Young, Rachelle Frazier, Shae Glenn and Joshua Hodge set aside their college textbooks and turned to coloring sheets and classroom games as they taught Spanish to 12 local home-schooled students ranging in age from 6 to 11.
The Spanish class led by the Asbury students constitutes part of P-12 Teaching Methods, a foreign language education course taught by Professor Penelope Lamb. The foreign language department is one of a handful on campus that offers students the opportunity to teach home-schooled students as part of their coursework.
“There’s a practicum requirement for the methods course, so the students go out and spend practicum hours in the local high schools and middle schools, but it’s hard to find elementary programs in language,” says Lamb. “A home-schooled class gives them the hands-on experience in teaching at the elementary level.”
The Spanish class, which met in Reasoner Hall on campus, ran for half an hour Wednesday and Friday afternoons the last six weeks of the semester. The cost for home-schooled students was just $10. Student teachers prepared for the class throughout the beginning of the semester. During the six weeks of the class, they also met on Monday afternoons to plan their lessons.
“They are completely responsible for developing the curriculum,” says Lamb. “I try to teach them the principles before I launch them, but I really want them to be responsible for what happens in the class, so I pretty much take a hands-off approach.”
Much of the planning involved coming up with creative activities and games to teach the elementary school students.
“For colors, we played this game where we had items posted around the room that were different colors,” says Young. “We would go over the colors a lot to make sure they knew them, and then I would say the color — there were several of each color around the room — and they could go to one.”
The elementary school students, however, were not the only ones learning. The student teachers gained from the classroom experience, learning both effective teaching methods and also how young students differ from older students.
“The elementary students learn so quickly. I didn’t realize they would catch on so fast,” says Young. “One day, for the first five minutes, I talked just in Spanish and tried to see how much they would catch on when I asked them questions, and they caught on a lot.”
The student teachers’ confidence in front of the classroom also improves as a result of the experience.
“When I tell them at the beginning of the semester that this is going to be happening, they all get that deer-in-the-headlights look,” says Lamb. “But after just a couple of weeks, when they see how responsive the little ones are… it becomes the highlight of my students’ day.”
Multiple students who have taken this course and been able to teach the home-schoolers in the past have even decided to pursue a career in teaching foreign language at the elementary level as a result.
“One of the things I’ve been most happy about in past years is — my students always come in planning to teach at the high school level or in middle school, but after the experience with the little ones, more than one of them have said, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do now!’” says Lamb. “They hadn’t considered being an elementary language teacher until they encountered teaching the young ones. It’s just so exciting. It’s so rewarding.”
The class is rewarding for the young students, as well.
“This semester we had younger siblings of kids who’ve already been through the program,” says Lamb. “I know our customers are satisfied because they come back.”
The student teachers ended the semester not only with a newfound confidence about their teaching abilities but also with the satisfaction of seeing their students learn.
“Just the experience gives me confidence and prepares me a lot for being in front of kids,” says Young. “And it’s neat seeing it click with them, seeing them enjoy what they’re learning.”