This year’s SCOLT Nominee for ACTFL Teacher of the Year is Laura Roché Youngworth. After spending many years as a French teacher and department chair at Beaumont Middle School in Lexington, KY, Laura is now the World Language Specialist for Fayette County Public Schools. Laura is also the co-host of the Language Talk: KWLA podcast series.
This is the first of five posts featuring the regional nominees for ACTFL Teacher of the Year. To celebrate Laura, please leave a comment on the post with a word of encouragement, a connection that you share, or something that stood out to you while reading her responses to my 10 getting-to-know-you questions!
Why did you decide to become a language teacher?
My decision to become a world language teacher was a surprise! My intent was to be a high school English teacher and, during my senior year, my advisor recommended I bump my French minor to a major to “make me more marketable”. What she didn’t tell me at the time was I would have to student-teach in both English and French- quelle surprise! However, by the second day of student-teaching in French, I was hooked and I dreaded moving on to my English placement. Teaching a world language is exciting. The students often come with no or minimal knowledge and you get the joy of guiding their language learning and seeing them move from Novice-Low, to Mid, to High and so on. I truly felt I could make a difference in a child’s life by helping them see the world in wonderment, to appreciate another’s culture, and to care enough to communicate with someone in their first language if I became a French teacher!
What is your favorite memory as a language learner?
In high school, I participated in the Kentucky Foreign Language Festival in the play category. Our group spent weeks practicing after school and rehearsing our performance and our hard work was rewarded with a 1st place win at the Regional and State level. I think what made that experience even more special was my parents came to see our state performance and, for the first time in high school, I was able to show them what I could do academically!
What is your favorite word in your target language?
Without a doubt, my favorite word in French is “Vietnamien”. It requires the mouth to move so quickly and in opposing ways, it just makes me smile every time I say it… and I definitely make certain to say it as often as possible in level one French!
What do you love about teaching?
I absolutely love how teaching is an outlet for creativity. With each group of students, we can change our curriculum and instructional activities to meet their needs and engage their minds. The road map is always the same- the route up the proficiency levels, but how we get our students there is ever changing. After 24 years, I am still building and reworking my units which keeps things exciting and new.
Describe the best professional development that you have experienced.
Without a doubt, the best Professional Development I have ever attended was the 4 day ACTFL OPI training with the amazing Cindy Martin! My understanding of each proficiency level and the distinguishing characteristics of Low, Mid, and High, has impacted my instructional practices more than any other training I have ever experienced. I can’t recommend enough to all language educators to attend a MOPI or 4 day training- it truly is game changing!!
Share one of your favorite memories from class.
I have so many wonderful memories that singling one out is close to impossible. I think though the most relishing part of teaching French is the impact one can have on a child’s future and, overall, my favorite memories are related to students staying in contact after graduation with news of how French is still in their lives. I have a filing cabinet covered with former students’ postcards chronicling their travels, emails of how students are joining Médecins Sans Frontières or attained a job on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea due to their French experience in high school. Teachers don’t become teachers for the accolades… however, knowing what you have poured your heart-and-soul into has impacted a child in a positive, life-changing way is the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher and my strongest memories!
Who has made a great impact on your teaching?
My world language colleagues- I have been blessed to teach alongside some of the most devoted and forward thinking educators in Kentucky! They not only provide a sound-board and sympathetic ear but also share ideas and push me to not settle for the status quo. As a result, I have never felt hindered being the only French teacher at a school, rather blessed to be with other world language educators.
What is an area of teaching in which you would like to grow or improve?
In Kentucky, world languages are becoming a part of every school’s accountability system through the Global Competency/World Languages Program Review (however, legislation is currently being discussed to eliminate the accountability component). This Program Review is extremely comprehensive and reflects Best Practices in world languages and one of those characteristics is student self-assessment. This concept was not something I had formally incorporated within my instructional practices and finding a meaningful way to do this took a great amount of thought. However, our world language department decided to include a student self-assessment on our assessments and, for me, this includes not only what the student can do with the language but also what they can do interculturally. This has not only forced me to look very closely at my learning targets and how they are aligned with our State and ACTFL World Language Standards but also to make certain my assessments are aligned with my expectations. It’s been an interesting process and has encouraged quite a bit of self-reflection and goal setting.
Why should your language teaching colleagues in the US consider joining ACTFL?
On our recent Language Talk: KWLA podcast, I posed a similar question to my guests and what I have found is joining a professional organization is unique for each person. Maybe one joins for the networking- connecting with a large-body of individuals with similar interests or maybe for the resources one has access to- whether it be through conferences, publications, or social media. But, maybe one joins for advocacy- to provide financial support for those who will lobby and push for the needs of your profession or maybe one joins in order to one day be involved in world languages outside of the classroom- by becoming a board member or chair of a SIG. For me, being a member of ACTFL is two-fold. First, ACTFL does a phenomenal job of keeping all of us informed on the most current pedagogies, resources, and legislation impacting world languages and, second, it gives me comfort that I am providing financial support to the largest national group advocating for all students to learn a world language!
And finally, since this is for The Comprehensible Classroom…What is one strategy that you use to provide comprehensible input to your students?
In addition to visuals, I rely heavily on acting out what I am saying. This helps students (like myself) who are visual learners to engage more in the learning process while also providing a means for students to check their comprehension. The unintended result of this is that students, especially at the Novice level, are glued to what I am doing in the class and classroom management is therefore not an issue… all are engaged. Comprehensible input is a key element for language learning; but, equally important, is output. I strongly embrace input/output theories and believe that without that output opportunity, students’ input does not grow. With this said, my favorite strategy would be those that Kagan promotes. These strategies provide a tool box of ways to pair up students so they can use their language to communicate with others in more meaningful and engaging ways.