To travel or not to travel is NOT the question; High and low tech tips for traveling with students

It’s never too early to start planning your student trip! Having recently returned from traveling to Costa Rica with students and then perusing Facebook to see so many world language colleagues pictured traveling with their students, I was inspired to ponder…

Student Trip Modern Art Museum MadridWhat motivates us as WL teachers to take these trips

What makes a trip successful?

How do we bring this wonderful experience to as many students as possible?

What will motivate students to go?

  • How do we ensure that the responsibilities and the effort to plan and organize are worth the outcomes?

According to this article on the value of teachers leading educational tours, students gain a greater understanding of the world by traveling to places where “lesson plans come to life.” Another advantage given is that teachers can promote a globally connected community (which supports Educator Effectiveness models and both the Danielson and TELL frameworks). Traveling with students demonstrates concretely our commitment to modeling and supporting language and cultural learning beyond the classroom.

This year I completed my 25th year of teaching, including lots of travel with and without students.  These experiences have helped me decide what’s most important as I make choices for me and my students. Here are several low and high tech suggestions:

  • Include a Homestay-Whether they are as short as two days or as long as a month, homestays are where the students clearly gain authentic interpersonal and sustained language interaction. It is often the scariest endeavor for students, but in the end it can be the most rewarding. What a great low tech way to gain proficiency: just talking and interacting with the host family!
  • Participate in a Volunteer Service Day-There are many benefits to volunteering with your students. Again, it is a wonderful low tech way to give back, to be immersed in culture, and to interact with the people of the region and/or country you’re visiting. Volunteering fosters in your students a deeper understanding of other people and backgrounds and helps them avoid hastily judging others.
  • Plan Engaging Activities (with structured free time)-On trips with students to Spain, we visited modern and classical art museums, sculpture gardens, and iconic architecture; all engaging low tech options where students thus interacted directly with the original works and artifacts we studied. Afterwards they had time to explore on their own to actually live the language.
  • Expose Students to Multiple Mediums of Language and Culture, then experience more language and culture, then relax! Take as much advantage as possible of the unique experiences and events provided by travel that students are unlikely to encounter at home. Here is your chance to unplug; very low tech!
  • Encourage Students to Document Experiences in several different ways: photos, sketches, journals, blogs, souvenirs, postcards (suggest that they use a combination of low tech and high tech options). Don’t forget to do it yourself, too! Here is a list of suggested tools and apps for documenting travel.
  • Check In with students personally and individually both during and after the trip; have low tech conversations face to face or set up high tech ways to communicate with them (Facebook, Instagram, Google voice, sites and/or email groups). You and your students will see each other in a different light outside the classroom as “real” humans.
  • Set up effective communication with parents-Upon returning home, students create scrapbooks (low tech) or share pics and create photobooks (high tech) of their experiences. Encourage them to teach their families what they learned. In post-trip meetings, students can share their products with one another, which is an excellent way to demonstrate clearly the different ways they gain cultural perspectives even after participating in the same experiences. (Before traveling, consider setting up a private Facebook or Instagram group where parents can see posts from the trip as it unfolds.)
  • Advertise and promote both before and after your trip to foster connections with the community and to recruit students and parents to consider travel (if possible, a good tactic is to get the word out to your potential future students in earlier levels or programs that feed into yours to get them excited about the prospect of travel). Having “lunch bunch” meetings (low tech) or virtual meetings possibly using Skype, Hangouts (high tech). Advertising and promoting can help students and parents plan for monetary obstacles by researching scholarships/grants and participating in fundraising.

Travel allows our student to move from merely simulating what they can do in the classroom to actually doing tasks in the real world, such as:

  • Ask for directions or information.
  • Order from a restaurant or café and shop in a supermarket.
  • Listen to a native speaker tour guide.
  • Shop and perhaps barter at a market.
  • Buy souvenirs.
  • Have conversations with native speaker tour directors, host family and other tour guides.
  • Chat with local students or host family children.
  • Attend a class at a local high school.
  • Participate in everyday activities with a host family.
  • Purchase tickets to museums, concerts, movies, etc.
  • Read maps, directions.
  • Attend performances.
  • View and/or read local newspapers or magazines.
  • Buy snacks from a street vendor.
  • Participate with locals by volunteering in a community service program.
  • Read billboards, street signs and other city, town and country signage.

(Adapted from tips and tricks on the Prometour website)

Many of the interpretive and interpersonal performance tasks above have been rehearsed in the language classroom and assessed by the teacher. Travel gives students the chance to assess themselves on the spot. Can they make themselves understood and can they respond appropriately? Actively communicating in these real-life situations can push students into higher proficiency levels especially if they are being understood by a “non-sympathetic” listener (i.e., someone who is unused to communicating with non-native speakers).

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, travel outside the U.S. just isn’t feasible. Virtual field trips (high tech) and actual trips closer to home (low tech) can be great alternatives. Each spring at my former school, my world language department organized a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago where our students participated in a guided tour followed by a scavenger hunt for artists, themes, styles, and historical references in works of art from the target cultures. We have also done this type of trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee Public Museum. This type of experience helps students develop new perspectives by engaging their senses with the actual size, color, texture, angles, and presence of these famous works and artifacts. It also enables students to make cultural and community connections close to home. Many students didn’t realize how close they live to iconic and famous works of art and artifacts. Another enriching low tech option is to take students on community tours to local grocery stores, community centers, authentic restaurants, concerts, or even plays (e.g., performed in English but originally written in the target language). Whether you travel virtually in the classroom or explore places close to home or further afield, it’s never too soon (or too late!) to get started with your planning.

I’ll leave you with this tongue-in-cheek article and this piece of advice: Take the time to travel; you and your students may never stop!

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