Katie Klein, a first-year faculty member, just completed the master’s program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and she is eager to make an impact in the world language department. Her philosophy is “to make French relatable, approachable, and usable in real life.” Helping students understand that French is more than just Paris and baguettes, she has found French elements on the Peninsula that she is keen to introduce to her students.
Ms. Klein, along with her other world language teachers, uses a proficiency-based model, an approach that strays from the past with its rote memorization of vocabulary words and verb conjugations. She strives to help students slowly fall into a comfort zone with language, and to express themselves authentically. As she says, “Every day is an experiment!” She understands that confidence is a big part of success, and she helps create a class environment that is relaxed, curious, and embraces mistakes as part of the learning process.
She has arrived at Stevenson with big ideas. Her first collaboration was with the PK-4 students at the lower campus. She proposed a lower-division, upper-division partnership, empowering older students to teach their younger schoolmates 10-minute lessons in French. Helping the older students realize that teaching requires that they embrace “expert status and expert humility,” she created two-person teams that designed age-appropriate curricula. In the sessions, the teams showed younger students relatable themes, like animals, colors, and games, with the goal of presenting between five to eight vocabulary words in an engaging, enjoyable way. Even Dr. Griffiths joined the fun, enacting “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in surprisingly fluent French with the students.
There has been steady support for Ms. Klein’s efforts from all levels of the faculty. Even the dining hall created a decadent French dinner during National French Week last fall that would have impressed any connoisseur or gourmand. The desserts went quickly! On the heels of initial success, Ms. Klein is planning the same collaboration with the middle division this semester. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she is quick to point out why. “Learning a language is valuable and exciting because it offers you the opportunity to connect with so many people all over the world, and that opportunity is why we lean into the language.”