LCHS French Teachers Draw Kids, Praise With Language Tech Tools

Hip hop and Instagram — what else would anyone expect from a high school French class?

Last month, a pair of French teachers from La Cañada High School were invited to address an audience at the Convention and World Languages Expo in Boston, where about 8,600 foreign-language instructors gathered to learn from each other about how best to teach in 2016.
Merissa Sadler and Erin Kanner delivered a presentation on the topic: “Developing Cutting-Edge Digital Portfolios.”
Their ideas — which have taken hold in their classes over the past three years — were well received at the conference, where organizers encouraged the LCHS staffers to consider speaking at next year’s conference in Nashville, Tenn. Nicole Naditz, who was named the 2015 national language teacher of the year, even retweeted their information: “And that’s totally an endorsement,” Sadler mused.
“What the other teachers got out of [the presentation] was, ‘Here are our digital projects — you can use them and adapt them in your classroom the next day,’” said Sadler, who’s also been known to use pop tunes from artists such as Belgium’s Stromae to inspire and teach students.
“That was what was missing from the conference,” she added. “A lot of times, we get overwhelmed with wonderful ideas, but a lot of work has to be put into them to get them going. What we were presenting was, ‘Here, we’ve done all the work, here’s the rubric, the prompt, here’s an example, here you go, use it.’”
Conceivably, foreign language students in classrooms across the nation could soon be doing more than curating their work in a web portfolio, which, yes, LCHS students also have been.
Sadler and Kanner have worked together to create and implement digital ideas that will further engage students in their classrooms.
“Everybody’s moving toward the digital age, so as teachers, we have to move in the same direction,” Sadler said. “So that means updating our curriculum to reflect the current times.”
She’s seen her students respond enthusiastically to a series of new social media-inspired projects. For example, there’s the Instagram-inspired template (laid out on Google-document slides) that has students using a fresh mind-set to approach the traditional castle research project.
“Kids inherit a castle in France and they have to pretend that they’re checking out their castle and updating their ‘Instagram’ for their friends,” Sadler said. “So they talk about each slide and what it is that they’re doing.”
And then their friends can “like” the image and leave a comment. All of this happens in French, of course.
The LCHS French program has also implemented a Yelp-like review activity as well as an assignment modeled after Snapchat that requires students to tell a story about what they’re planning to do with their imagined $40-million worth of lottery winnings.
“Everyone’s kind of doing website portfolios, but nobody has the projects, and that’s the whole point, to motivate the kids to use the language. Now we’re working a Reddit project, and Twitter and Pinterest projects — we want to take something that the students can easily relate to and still make it educational.”

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