Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

April 16, 2010

Babel Tower teachers (l to r): Nikeisha Sewell ’12, Juli Garcia-Vicente ’10, leader Claire Moisan, Camila Barrios-Camacho ’12, Mairéad O’Grady ’10, Hiba Elnour ’12, and Heidi Chun ’10.
Photographer: Grant Dissette '12

At the same time globalization makes communication across cultures more important than ever, shrinking budgets have forced schools around the country to cut foreign language programs. The local Grinnell district is no exception.

A new collaboration between Grinnell students and the Grinnell Area Arts Council may help fill the gap.

“The decline of foreign language instruction in schools seemed like a problem for which we may have an exceptional local solution,” says Claire Moisan, instructor in the Grinnell College Writing Lab and founder of Babel Tower Language Academy. Babel Tower is an after-school and weekend language program employing Grinnell students to teach six foreign languages.

Grinnell students are particularly well-prepared to teach languages. The study of foreign languages continues to thrive at Grinnell, Moisan says. Thirteen percent of Grinnell graduates are language majors; 86 percent of Grinnell graduates completed at least one language course, and 49 percent completed as least three. Nearly 60 percent of Grinnell students study abroad for at least one semester.

“My goal was to create a program that would be as much about learning to teach as it is about teaching to learn,” says Moisan, whose initial academic training was in French. “Teaching is one of the best ways of solidifying language skills.”

Students are excited about the opportunity. “As a future educator, I have this phenomenal opportunity to try out my lesson plans, to see what works and doesn’t,” says Chinese teacher Heidi Chun ’10.

“This last semester reminded me how much fun learning about language and culture can be,” she adds. “I had the opportunity to review a large amount of material often not discussed at the college level and to slow down and enjoy preparing lessons on cultural topics.”

Moisan also collaborated with visiting instructor Yasuko Akiyama, who trained the student teachers in a two-credit course on foreign language teaching methodologies. “This course gives the student both training in the theory of how languages are taught, and practice teaching in a low stakes, creative environment,” says Akiyama.

“I am so excited about the collaboration between the College and the arts council,” says Moisan.“ It’s a win-win situation that enriches the lives of all involved — the college students who have the opportunity to impart their skills and knowledge of topics they are studying at Grinnell, and the local community children who have the opportunity to broaden their cultural, creative, and linguistic horizons.”

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2010.

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