Academic Insights: TCS Languages & Culture Department

Dia de los Muertos

Trinity College School’s language classrooms are open wide, the sound of student voices fills the hallways with songs, conversations, film dialogue and extemporaneous conversation in Spanish, French, German and Latin.

Given the interest and initiative of faculty member Maria Velasquez-Labrecque, a great deal of instruction and support has been provided for the development of a dynamic language instruction method. At the beginning of the year, the methodology and practice of “Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling” (TPRS) was the focus of departmental programming. Joined by the remarkable Adriana Ramirez (author and coach), who led the team through the sensations, practices, challenges and opportunities that attend upon this practice, all language teachers in the department prepared for a dynamic new teaching opportunity. The TPRS method relies upon continuous and active student engagement in and utilization of the target foreign language. The old practices of memorization and rote application give way to a highly personalized and contextualized participatory exploration of language. Through the calculated and deliberate delivery of comprehensible input, students are provided both with the means and the arena for directed and purposeful learning. Communication is the purpose of language and the TPRS model is affording students to connect and share from the first moments of their study.

Ms. Velasquez-Labrecque’s students are developing comfort with the risks required when daring to employ unique modes of expression and a new language. Her students transform their classroom, having it become a place that echoes with creative expression, heightened engagement and active learning. The collaborative nature of the space, with students facing one another in order to emphasize the connection afforded by language, brings a lively, performative atmosphere to the classroom. This energy was shared with the larger school through the Dia de los Muertos celebration spearheaded by the students of Spanish. Music in Osler Hall, a Mexican meal, and traditional dedicatory altars in Cirne Commons all helped to celebrate Spanish at TCS.

The French program at TCS has embraced a similar strategy for teaching and learning. Under the leadership of Ms. Tiffany Bathurst, Mrs. Rachel Stephens and Mr. Andrew Petrolito, students both at the core and enriched levels are employing the TPRS model in order to promote orality and a confidence that is required to use the target language. The further incorporation of the DELF (diplôme d’études en langue française), something being facilitated through the efforts of Ms. Bathurst, provides students with a certificate that can attest to an internationally recognized standard of proficiency and bilingualism. This, together with a commitment to participating in the Concours d’art oratoire, provides students in the languages and culture department the opportunity to aspire to various levels of proficiency through practice, application and creative exploration.

Mrs. Stephens continues to build strong students both in French and German. Exploring the inflections and culture of these two languages, she makes the spoken word a commitment in all of her classes. Beyond TPRS, Mrs. Stephens uses Touchstones Discussion Project texts in French in order to foster the collaborative capacity for creative and extemporaneous discourse.

The Classics are strong at TCS. Courses in Latin, classical civilizations and philosophy are providing students with material, practices and lessons pertinent both to a study in the humanities and to contemporary culture. The critical thinking and process-based analysis fundamental to the reading of Latin cultivates in students the intellectual self-discipline that is key to language and other areas of study including both mathematics and computer science. Students in Grade 12 Classical Civilizations are learning how to read and interpret various archetypes rooted in classical mythology that inform popular modern narratives celebrated in art, book and film. An essay asking students to read the film Cool Hand Luke through the Promethean episodes of Hesiod’s poetry, challenges them to exercise a heightened sense of cross-cultural literacy. Students in Grade 12 Philosophy are learning the need to think deliberately and critically. Exploring the course thematically, emphasis is placed upon cultivating awareness of the thinkers, systems and responses that are pertinent to questions that address the complementary aspects of ethics, metaphysics and epistemology. Embedded in the course is a text entitled Mapping the Future. This Touchstones Discussion Project challenges students to read primary source texts, derived from a variety of authors, with the aim of helping students to discuss both critically and constructively key elements of the curriculum.

The energy of the teachers in this department and their overt love both of language and students, make it a daily pleasure to work as part of the team in languages and culture.

- By Dr. Greg Hodges, head of languages and culture