Holistic Learning in Foreign Language Classes

Source: Google Images licensed for reuse

The world of education is changing. Students are experiencing learning through social media, movies, YouTube channels, and online programs, just to mention a few. Our greatest challenge as educators is to find a way to capitalize on this new wave of learning by bringing it into the classroom. Learners naturally seek information based on their interests. They engage with information (and others) because the experience is fulfilling, challenging, and fun.

This point reconfirmed recently while having lunch with a group of teenagers.  Our unlikely discussion of world politics proved to me that students already possess the curiosity to learn and most now have information readily available.  Our simple discussion about soccer became a debate about the pros and cons of Olympic venues in small towns throughout Brazil, its effects on poverty and immigration, communist nations, and enslaved workers.

In less than 30 minutes, these kids shared and learned what would have taken traditional Social Studies teachers years to teach. Each teen used his cell phone, social media stream, online news, and sports apps to expose the racket of corruption – all because of a question about soccer.  Modern learners rely on each other for information, support, and opposition and are gaining real knowledge at a speed far too fast to adapt in a paper textbook.  Yes, the world of education is changing because the world outside of education has. I believe the right combination of tools and opportunity in schools will change the culture of education.

Source: http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=849
Source: http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=849

Dr. Harapnuik  brings the components of the “new learning environment” into one place with his CSLE diagram (Harapnuik 2015). The model describes an environment where students can thrive as learners as they do outside of school.  In the book,  A New Culture of Learning Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Thomas and Brown toss around plenty of reasons why students prefer learning through play, inquiry, and in groups, giving teachers even more reason for pushing our education systems into a new era (Thomas 2014).

Like Harapnuik, they offer reasons to bring to the classroom gaming, social networking, maker spaces and many more tools that help develop collectives, powerful cooperative learning groups.  From their examples, any teacher can see learning occurs when the conditions are right. These examples support the theory that where passion, interest and play are present, students learn because they seek knowledge.  The new learning environment is holistic, taking into consideration all the elements that allow learning to happen, including ways to assess the growth (Bates 2015).

The challenge I face is “how” to create a new culture of learning. Which combinations will actually generate the environment best suited for independent learning?  Some courses I teach -a term I use loosely, better described as facilitate – work beautifully using these models. Students elect to take these courses, so they begin with interest which grows with the freedom to learn without worry of a failing (many of these classes are pass/fail).  The courses are entirely student-centered. As a technology leader in my school, I am comfortable taking a back seat to the initiatives of students and find success in their pure learning. Every student has gained knowledge. I am sure of it.

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My next project is not in my wheelhouse; it is  foreign language. I believe if I can successfully recreate the environments from my technology, coding and critical thinking classes, my proposed foreign language course will transform how students learn languages at our school.  I have devised a proposal to create a second language-learning environment devoid of a traditional teacher.  Its success will be the evidence necessary to redesign all foreign language courses we currently offer, add some additional language choices, and with time, become the new model for blended classroom teaching at all grade levels.

I plan to make use of several key components from both the model above, and the book mentioned earlier.  From the CLSE model the class will include blended learning using chromebooks and online curriculum with the assistance of a class facilitator (not trained in the language). Students will use other language support sites, apps and interact with each other and native speakers through Voicethread and other virtual conversation tools. We will play online games being hosted in other languages and learn about the lives of teens in these countries based on our students’ interests.  In the words of authors, Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez , “[I] embrace the concept of iteration, of continually reviewing and reworking a solution until it becomes the perfect fit for your particular needs” (Barnes 2015). That is my game plan.

Fortunately, I have support from our administration and fellow teachers. They, too want to see our school take on new teaching methods that help students connect with content in meaningful ways. Some naysayers always exist, but in the end, no one can argue with success.


Bates, T. (2016, June)  Building Effective Learning Environments [https://youtu.be/3xD_sLNGurA] Retrieved from Youtube.com

Barnes, M., Gonzalez, J. (2015) Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. [e-book]. Retrieved from http://hacklearning.org/

Harapnuik, D. (2016, June). Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE). [https://youtu.be/eZ-c7rz7eT4]. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=849

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. [E Book]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

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