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Foreign language course teaches students of many ages

Foreign language course teaches students of many ages

This spring, students enrolled in “Teaching Foreign Language Grades 1-8” will get hands-on experience teaching elementary school students a foreign language.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our teacher candidates and for the local children,” said Anne Hlas, an associate professor of Spanish who is teaching the class this spring.

Hlas says the class is being offered so teaching students can gain practical experience in the classroom and learn valuable skills about educating young people.

The classes will be offered for elementary school students in grades first through fifth and will take place from 4:10 to 4:50 p.m. on Thursdays from March 29 through May 10 in Hibbard Hall.

Due to high demand, some college students enrolled in the course will also travel to area elementary schools to teach during the program, Hlas said. Elementary students can choose  between beginning French, beginning German and beginning Spanish.

The project got started about 25 years ago by Roma Hoff, a language professor whose son, Paul Hoff, now teaches language at Eau Claire. The course meets every spring, according to Hlas, who has taught the class four times. She and Hoff alternate years teaching the course.

Shanna Kropp, a senior elementary education and Spanish teaching major, participated in a version of the program last year. Her class, taught by Hoff, divided into pairs and traveled to area elementary schools during the course’s meeting time for about six weeks.

“For me, it was really nice to experience teaching Spanish, because it was the first experience I’ve ever had teaching it,” Kropp said, adding that she and her partner had to build their own lesson plans and come up with activities to fit in the time frame.

Kropp said the students picked up the language pretty quickly.

“For our last day, we had a party, and parents came in,” Kropp said. “It was really interesting to hear from them how much the kids would come home and try to teach them what they learned in Spanish.”

When the course wasn’t teaching the elementary students, the college students were learning about language acquisition and how students learn languages, Kropp said.

“This semester we’re really focusing on high-leverage teaching practices,” Hlas said, citing asking better questions of the students as one example. The course will also help the teacher candidates to provide better student assessments and make classes more comprehensible, Hlas said.

“I think that this program is wonderful, not only for the teacher candidates but also for the local children,” Hlas said. “That’s really what we’re about, trying to promote languages at an early level, to help them appreciate cultures, improve their understanding of their own language, (and have) greater sensitivity to languages.”

Students that learn a foreign language at a young age are also better listeners and have better memory skills, Hlas said.

Enrollment is limited to 15 students per class, with at least 25 already enrolled in the program to date. The course is free, but parents are encouraged to contribute one after-school treat for the students during the program.

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