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UW-Eau Claire language classes return to Eau Claire elementary school

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Halle Nicolet and Marli Felicijan, both senior Spanish education majors, are shown here leading a class of young students through a lesson about spending a day in Valencia, Spain. At the end of the seven classes, the elementary school students presented the topic in Spanish to visiting parents.

At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, we know that nothing prepares future teachers better than immersive opportunities for firsthand experience in local K-12 schools — inimitable practice for their own future classrooms.

This past spring semester, the languages department at UW-Eau Claire hosted after-school language classes at Lakeshore Elementary School in Eau Claire, a community outreach initiative dating back to 1963. 

Lakeshore students in grades one through four took seven weekly classes in either Spanish, French or German, all planned and taught by Blugold language education students in Education Studies 437: World Language Methods for Early and Middle Children. These 60-minute interactive sessions focused on fun activities, equipping the children with language skills acquired through meaningful cultural context. The program culminated in a parent visit session, allowing the children to share their new verbal and written language skills.

Dr. Paul Hoff and Dr. Anne Hlas, professors in the languages department, both have coordinated this community outreach program, with Hlas teaching this spring's class.

"I was a Blugold student in this program in the early '80s, a class my mother, Roma Hoff, taught at that time," Hoff says. "When the program began, classes were offered only on campus to children in Eau Claire and surrounding communities. For many years now, we have partnered with Lakeshore Elementary — it's very close to campus and we've built a strong relationship with the partnership coordinators at that school. 

"In addition to the teaching experience it offers Blugold students, this outreach provides children an important introduction to language learning and cultural exploration — exposure we hope will whet their appetites for language study down the road."    

For Hlas, feedback from the Blugold students affirms program goals of skill and confidence-building combined with global and cultural readiness in teacher preparation.

"They tell us that the Lakeshore experiences reinforce their desire to be teachers, give valuable practice in lesson planning and execution, and demonstrate for them firsthand the importance of flexibility and personal connection in their futures as classroom teachers," Hlas says. 

Hlas adds that the early childhood language classes are a collaborative effort, one that is mutually beneficial.

"Our community partners are able to offer enriching after-school experiences, and our university students are able to teach, reflect on student learning and analyze their instructional practices."   

Reflections from the Blugold students 

female student teacher raising her hand in front of a classroom
Marli Felicijan, senior Spanish education major from DeForest 

"I am truly grateful to have had an experience like the one I got at Lakeshore. I have had a lot of experience working with elementary school students, so this age group wasn’t new to me. However, I had no experience in teaching in a language other than English. This experience opened my eyes to the world of language teaching. I forgot what it was like to be a new language learner and how intimidating and difficult it can be to start out. Teaching these students gave me insight on how to be creative and gain the interest of young students while increasing their comprehension," Felicijan says.

"We are fortunate that our university offers a variety of out of-the-classroom experiences like this because it allows us to use what we have learned in our coursework out here in the ‘real world.’ It also helps us envision how our futures in these careers might look. All these opportunities prepare us as education majors to go much more confidently into the profession of teaching."

male teaching students at a board in front of elementary students, young kids all seated on the floor
Brendan Rohloff (left), senior music education major, Spanish education minor from Oshkosh

"The Lakeshore teaching experience was a glimpse of having the independence to run a classroom setting and experiment with different teaching styles and strategies. We would always reflect on our lessons after each class period, which helped us Blugold students learn from one another and create a network of resources that could be shared between classrooms," Rohloff says. 

"I feel more prepared and comfortable in the classroom and have gained professional experience which will help me in my future academic and professional endeavors."

Two student teachers playing music for elementary students in a classroom
Anna George (seated on floor), senior German education major from Sparta 

"Our placement through this class was an excellent complement to the groundwork courses in my degree, and it was very helpful for me to put what I had learned into practice in an environment where I still had the guidance of Dr. Hlas. I was more comfortable trying things out and less afraid of making mistakes than if I had been teaching an after-school program outside of the framework of this course," George says. 

Luca Ciletti (playing accordion), senior German education major from West St. Paul, Minnesota 

"It was also very interesting to see how the classes for my minor have intersecting strategies and methods that can be applied to courses and practicums in my major. Overall, it helped me feel better prepared to teach," Ciletti says.