Wearing masks and socially distanced, students watch on the big screen the award-winning documentary “Le Maroc vu du ciel”, as part of their unit about Voyages Virtuels à travers les arts.
During the Covid crisis, language teachers worked to expand our digital toolkit and find ways to connect our students with the world outside our Zoom rectangles. One way that language teachers make those connections is through virtual travel. Fantasy trips, virtual reality and other means of exploring the world digitally bring the outside world into our students’ lives while supporting growth in their language proficiency. One such project, a virtual trip to Morocco for students at the American International School of Zagreb, is both an example of innovative curriculum design and a model of collaboration across schools and continents. It involved not just connecting students to travel outside of their homes, but also connected educators to each other in fruitful and empowering ways.
Voyageons au Maroc
As first snowflakes fell on the town and as holidays were approaching, in pre-Covid times students would get excited about trips many were going to take over the break. But this year was different. So instead of singing and speaking about holidays, our French class decided to travel — travel virtually, travel through film, literature and arts. Students wanted to go to a warm destination they had not yet visited. For French class it had to be a French-speaking destination, so students selected Morocco.
The framework for the unit was designed collaboratively and we “localized' it for our needs and linked all aspects of the unit to the AERO World Language Standards (in italics). Our unit had 4 parts: Wondering, researching and learning about the destination; virtual visit from the air; diving deeper in the culture through music, literature and art; and summarizing by showing how we can travel without leaving homes to many other destinations. Before going for our virtual trip, students collaboratively researched different aspects of the destination, focusing mostly on the geographic terms (e.g., different types of landscapes). For the Interpretive Communication standards (reading and listening), students explored websites of tourist offices, blogs and vlogs of family travelers in French. We took a virtual tour from the bird’s eye perspective, through a wonderful documentary travelogue recommended by teachers of the Rabat American School. AISZ’s modern Black Box theater made the experience even more vivid. Students were immersed in the views, sounds and colors of the destination. Music and art teachers, as well as the school librarian (also an avid photographer who had visited Morocco the previous year) joined our class voyage.
We addressed the Connections Standard and took a deep dive into the Cultures standard through exploring art — music, ceramics, traditional and modern artists. Students explored Carnet de voyage d'Eugène Delacroix, Yves St. Laurent's famous Majorelle Gardens that now house the YSL museum, a music festival in Essaouira, the Jidal Street art festival, and more. Students made Comparisons between ancient, historical and modern, contemporary Morocco, between Moroccan and their own culture. Students practiced language through role-plays in which they shared their questions and impressions. With many aspects of the visit students learned and were able to answer the unit question, “How can we travel without leaving home?” With their summative tasks, students showed and shared with the school Community how they can travel in many ways, without leaving home. One of the virtual classroom visitors was the Ambassador of Morocco in Croatia, who shared some anecdotes and personal stories.
The AERO World Language Curriculum Project
This particular thematic unit was conceived and designed by a team of educators from three different countries: Croatia, Morocco and the US. The idea for this virtual visit was born in New York, and teachers from the Rabat American School and the American International School of Zagreb made it come to life. French students in Rabat recorded short videos showcasing their favorite places in the city and made the virtual trip alive and personalized.
But this wasn’t the first unit that international world language teachers across continents have collaborated on to build an international curriculum for language programs around the world. Through a project created by Dr. Christine Brown of the Office of Overseas Schools, and funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, international educators from 12 countries, from 16 international schools, met monthly to work on the Model K-12 Curriculum for World Languages. The AERO Tier 2 World Languages Curriculum is based on AERO World Language Standards and benchmarks devised 15 years ago under Brown’s leadership with an 11 member team of WL educators from DOS Assisted Schools. Teachers from the curriculum design project built model WL units which can be adapted for use in any international school or language program. Essential questions drawn from grade level content from different disciplines, as well as students’ interests in different stages of their cognitive development, serve as a foundation for the work. The units are all articulated and posted on the web-based link below as open source for any teachers to use.
Quarantine and digital learning have many obvious drawbacks. But one benefit of the virtual classroom is that it dissolves distances and facilitates connections in new and different ways. By leveraging virtual reality images and video, teleconferencing, realia and other media, language teachers can travel with students to places far and wide. And we can also design and develop innovative curricula together, despite different time zones, work schedules, and access to materials. We can all support each other’s work as we strive to create compelling learning experiences for our language students, wherever we are in the world.
Special thanks to Contributors: Kathy Morabet and the World Language Department at the Rabat American School, and to Dr. Christine Brown, Regional Education Officer, Office of Overseas Schools, The U.S. Department of State
Lori Langer Ramirez is the Director, K-12 World & Classical Languages, The Dalton School and an Educational Consultant for ESL/EAL & World Languages
Martina Mencer Salluzo works as French and English teacher at the American International School of Zagreb and teaches English for tourism at VERN University for Applied Sciences, Zagreb