The Wilton School District uniquely offers instruction in two world languages to students, starting them from the age of eight years old! Beginning in 3rd Grade, Cider Mill School students can choose to learn either French or Spanish. Most school districts in Fairfield County don’t start this early with language acquisition, and if they do, they usually offer only one language choice.
The commitment to multiple languages at such an early age is exciting, says Kimberly Cameron, Cider Mill’s French teacher and World Language Instructional Leader for grades 3-5. It’s part of the Wilton District’s goal to cultivate globally aware students.
But now that students have transitioned to online learning since the COVID-19 outbreak closed schools, Cameron said the program has adapted to help students continue to learn a second language even in the current distance learning environment.
GOOD Morning Wilton: Before distance learning began in March, how did the beginning language program work in Cider Mill School?
Kimberly Cameron: Cider Mill students receive 40 minutes of language instruction every other day. The lessons are designed to be interactive and fun so that the students are learning without even realizing it. It is exciting to watch the rapid growth of the third graders. They start their first class with no background knowledge. In two weeks, they are having conversations!
GMW: Does the program offer an immersive language experience?
Cameron: Our goal is to teach classes 90% in the target language. We use creative, interactive instructional strategies that keep students focused and having fun. The students are singing, chanting, repeating, and playing. They don’t even realize what they are absorbing. It is thrilling to see their language acquisition grow with each class. And they are so eager to speak in the target language!
GMW: What about now with distance learning? How are you able to provide this same environment?
Cameron: Obviously, learning is different right now. But the World Language Department quickly learned how to leverage diverse platforms to bring our languages to life. We have successfully found new ways to engage our students and it is exciting to see. We offer students both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities, using Zoom conferences, and technologies such as Padlet, Quizlet, Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, Screencastify, and Bookcreator. Students hear our voices and their classmates’ voices, and they respond in the target language with their own. There is a wonderful exchange.
For example, the third graders in Spanish are posting pictures of their geography projects on Padlet, recording their voices for their classmates to hear. The fifth graders in French recorded skits this week on Padlet and shared them with their classmates. They are even making French desserts and proudly posting their culinary creations for all to see. It’s a different twist on classroom involvement, but the students are enjoying it!
Yes, French and Spanish learning has taken on a new form, but one that is still very engaging and bringing unique benefits to our children. Many parents are even having fun learning the language alongside their children–an added benefit!
GMW: Why do you think learning a second language is so important?
Cameron: I believe it is one of the most vital tools we can offer students. Once children graduate and start looking for their first job, companies will be seeking candidates who are globally and culturally aware. They will be keen to hire employees who can communicate in another language. This will give our children a major advantage in the world. Acquiring a second language doesn’t happen overnight. The earlier we start teaching our students a second language, the more proficient they will be. And offering two languages from the third grade is a very strong start!
GMW: You just started teaching at Cider Mill last year. How do you like being the new French teacher?
Cameron: It is incredibly rewarding. I try to bring a lot of energy to my classes. But my students return the energy. It is contagious! The students who choose to learn French feel an inherent connection to the language. What they don’t realize is the important place this language plays in our world. Other than English, French is the only language spoken on every continent. There are some 30 countries globally that consider French their main language. These students will be rewarded to find many job opportunities when they are ready.
GMW: Is there a difference between the French and Spanish classes?
Cameron: No, there are three dedicated Spanish teachers at Cider Mill (Señoras Dellinger, Contreras, and Bujdud) and one French teacher–we are the language ladies! The Spanish classes use the same strategies and provide the same level of immersion and animation. We have a very connected World Language team. Our curriculums are similar and dynamic. We focus on themes that offer real-world learning opportunities. The result? Wilton students are thriving and on their way to becoming bilingual!