Coventry Village School

Connecting Communities with Place-Based Language Education

French language courses provide students with the opportunity to connect with relatives and neighborhood community like never before

April 3, 2014

That is a really wonderful reason to teach a language; you are preserving heritage and a connection to the past; it connects our second, third, fourth generation descendants of French Canadians to their current families and their own heritage” (M. Baughman, 2014).

The human language is a complex system that heavily relies on social conventions and culture. Place-based education is increasingly important, as illustrated below through an example of how language is bringing together generations of families in a neighborhood community.

We spoke with Principal Matthew Baughman of Coventry Village School, teacher Melissa (Missy) Souliere and Carly, a third-grade student at Coventry, to discover how implementing language classes in their school has aided students in connecting with their francophone neighborhood community. Click the videos below to hear in their own words the importance of word language acquisition for building relationships and community, and finding relevance in their learning of the French language:

These individuals’ stories relate strongly to a pedagogical approach that puts students at the center of their community, a community that they will explore and learn to understand via a series of real-life tasks and projects.

Place-based education might be characterized as the pedagogy of community, the reintegration of the individual into her homeground and the restoration of the essential links between a person and her place.[…]

[It] challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? What sustains this community? It often employs a process of re-storying, whereby students are asked to respond creatively to stories of their homeground so that, in time, they are able to position themselves, imaginatively or actually, within the continuum of nature and culture in that place. They become part of the community, rather than a passive observer of it.” (Laurie Lane-Zucker in Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities by David Sobel, 2004)

There are many examples across the states of placed-based projects where students gain experiential knowledge in science, social studies and the arts, while developing a strong connection with their community. The Casa Grade High School project in Arizona, where students investigated the history and culture of the Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham people by interviewing elders and analyzing historical documents to create an art exhibit and garden of native plants, is just one of many examples. The Quebec Oven project in Morrisville, Vermont, where students studied the Franco-Canadienne heritage culture of their region while building a bread oven with members of the community, is another example.

This pedagogical approach often results in increased student engagement and improved academic achievement, as well as a higher level of job satisfaction for teachers and stronger links and partnerships between the community and the schools (Delia Clark, Connecting Public Lands, Schools, and Communities through Place-based Learning and Civic Engagement, 2012).

It seems that this unique pedagogical approach positively benefits all stakeholders, and could be a natural fit for language learning, especially in communities with a high level of ethnic diversity and heritage cultures and languages.

Here are three basic questions that can help start such a program:

  • What is the language and cultural heritage background of my community?
  • Who represents that community that students could interact with?
  • What would be the relevant projects to connect the students with their community?

What placed-based and/or community-based projects have you been involved in, and what impact has it had on your students’ learning experience and the community? Share in the comments below.

Aline Germain-Rutherford
Aline is the Associate Vice President of the Language Schools and Graduate programs of Middlebury College, Vermont. She is also the Director of the Middlebury College French School and was the former Director of the Canadian Centre for Studies and Research on Bilingualism and Language Planning (CCERBAL) of the University of Ottawa.
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