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Foreign language independent studies allow students to learn, flourish

Foreign language independent study is offered when the students have topped out of what classes are provided.  When a student wants to do something that’s not in the regular course catalog, or they are interested in a special topic, there is a form that their counselor can fill out for an independent study.
Foreign language independent study is offered when the students have topped out of what classes are provided. When a student wants to do something that’s not in the regular course catalog, or they are interested in a special topic, there is a form that their counselor can fill out for an independent study.

By Claire Yeamens ’17 | Page Editor

After completing AP Spanish V his junior year, Brendan Labadie ’16 wanted to avoid a gap year between high school and college and wanted to continue improving his Spanish-speaking skills.  Due to the lack of high school students taking a foreign language past this level, however, there aren’t enough students to fill an official class.

For students like Labadie, one option is to take classes at Wayne State University, but this can be difficult to make work with students’ schedules.  To solve this problem, some foreign language teachers opt to provide an independent study in which students have the opportunity to meet with the teacher and review activities and assignments.  

“The independent study process for Spanish is very nice because I’m using everything I have learned to now focus on communication skills,” Labadie said.  “There’s less focus on learning grammar and much more emphasis on useful vocabulary and cultural phrases that you would hear if you traveled to a Spanish-speaking country.”

Foreign language independent study is offered when the students have topped out of what classes are provided.  Labadie’s Spanish teacher, Cindy Morefield-Pinder, offers it for her Spanish students.  Independent study is also offered as needed in French, German, Italian, Latin and introductory Greek, as well as in other classes outside of the foreign language department.

“They don’t want to just learn on their own. They want to be active and vibrant, so it’s really a big conversation type of thing,” Morefield-Pinder said.  “For independent we’re talking all the time in Spanish, and they’re doing literature, reading, speaking, games and all the normal stuff in a class.  I just don’t give them as much homework because they’ve got enough on their plate, so they do just more active activities.”

The first level of Spanish and French are both offered at the seventh grade level, so if students in this class continue to progress through each level, they will complete the fifth level as a junior and thus not have a class to take the following year.  This year, there are 34 freshmen in Spanish III, which means they will run into this problem, according to Morefield-Pinder.

“This year I have nine that are in independent study, so it’s increasing every year and that’s where the need is starting to come,” Morefield-Pinder said.  “Eventually we’ll have more and more, and then hopefully there’ll be time to actually have an official level-six class, but right now we don’t have enough students to offer it, so we offer the independent study option.”

Since Latin is only offered as a class through the fourth level, Latin teacher David Smith provides the independent study option for students who want to continue with the language.  In addition to Latin V, Smith offers an independent study for Greek at the introductory level.  

“For the independent study, the student thinks about a particular topic that they’re interested in,” Smith said.  “For example, my current Latin V independent study student is very interested in medical science.  So she’s in the process of learning medical anatomy since all of the bones, muscles, tissues and diseases in the body have Latin names.  She’s spending the year basically studying Latin anatomy, so when she gets to medical school, she’ll be ahead of the game.”

The option for independent study depends on scheduling, according to Smith, because the student can meet during lunchtime, a prep period or tutorial, just whenever works for their schedule.  When a student wants to do something that’s not in the regular course catalog, or they are interested in a special topic, there is a form that their counselor can fill out for an independent study.

“During the semester I go through and I say, well by halfway through this semester, here’s our goal, so they have a list of things they want to have accomplished,” Smith said.  “Independent study gives the student an opportunity to do something they simply wouldn’t otherwise be able to do at that level.  We don’t have a regular Greek program, so by doing Greek independent study, they’re getting exposed to Greek as part of classical studies.  In the case of Latin V, since we don’t have a Latin V regular class, it gives a chance for people to keep going with their Latin beyond the level four.”

Morefield-Pinder has offered Spanish independent study for at least four or five years, ever since the middle schools have had enough interest to offer Spanish I at seventh grade.  This year she has nine students in the program, and had one last year and five the year before that.

“When I had five a couple of years ago during the same AP hour, they were at the back table, and they would do certain things that we did as a group with the AP, and then they would work together and do other things,” Morefield-Pinder said.  “But I would be actively teaching them as well, or I would try to find things within the class that they hadn’t seen before that wouldn’t ruin what I was doing with my AP kids.”

Labadie has been taking Spanish classes since sixth grade and initially wanted to learn the language because he loved the idea of traveling to a Spanish-speaking country and communicating on his own.  He wants to continue with Spanish after high school but doesn’t know how yet.

“In class, we do assignments mainly focused on writing and speaking. We usually start class by answering random ‘what if’ questions that make us use different vocabulary and be creative,” Labadie said.

According to Morefield-Pinder, in independent study she asks the students what they want to study, what they want to talk about and where they want to go with it.  The students will tell her, for example, that they aren’t as interested in the literature, that they’d like to learn more slang or do more biology.

“The kids obviously have an interest in it, or they wouldn’t have topped out of all the things that we offer here,” Morefield-Pinder said.  “So to me you’re having a small group of kids and you’re working with them one-on-one or nine-on-one to make that atmosphere because they love the stuff, and they’re good at it, or they wouldn’t do it.  It’s nice because you have this captive audience that really wants to learn more, and they are also open about what they want to learn.”

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