Saturday, November 30, 2013

The impact at the Brooklyn School of Languages: the Director of Studies feeds back

Brooklyn School of Languages (BSL) is interested in pursuing an innovative method of language teaching.  While most educational institutions have at least partially adopted communicative methods, BSL has entirely embraced this form of instruction.  We have also integrated Content-Based Learning (CBL) into our semi-intensive English language program.  The idea behind CBL is to focus on the materials presented and topics addressed as opposed to the technical aspects of language acquisition. The result is our cutting edge enrichment program, a series of afternoon classes structured around a specific topic which changes weekly. 

As a result of this vision, our English as a Second Language (ESL) students have toured gourmet kitchens with a chef, taken pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge with a professional photographer, and, most recently, learned about the fusion of sound and movement from a world-renowned tap dancer, Christopher Erk. 

In my role as Director of Studies here at BSL, I am in charge of developing the curriculum, and I take this very seriously.  Over the past six months the enrichment program has grown and flourished thanks to dedicated, talented teachers and enthusiastic students eager to increase their knowledge of unfamiliar subjects.  When I created a class focusing on the world of New York theatre, I knew we needed to incorporate dance into the experience.  I immediately thought of my old high school classmate, a generous performer that I knew would use his energy and experience to connect with the students on many levels.

From the moment Chris arrived at the school he commanded the students’ attention.  Initially, he shared some personal experiences of his childhood, learning to dance, becoming great at it, and eventually leaving school to do it professionally.  His passion for dance and performance was obvious, and his audience, ranging from 18 to 45 years old and speaking five different languages, sensed this immediately.  Chris spoke a lot about aspirations, his own as well as the language learners’, and regardless of English levels, everyone understood all that he said.

Eventually the group moved into a larger space and Christopher arranged them in a circle.  Then he put on his tap shoes.  Classrooms and offices emptied as the entire school tried to catch a glimpse.  After this demonstration, the students were ready to try it on their own.  No special equipment, or even rhythm, was necessary.  Chris urged each individual to explore his or her own expression through movement and sound.  Dance, for him, is a means of communication.  For a group of ESL learners living in New York City, this is very relevant.  

Afterwards, Chris brought the students back together and asked them to relive the experience.  None of them had ever tap-danced before.  One student referred to Chris’ tap shoes as “his instrument” and confessed he had no idea what tap-dancing was before the workshop.  Later, another student compared the different styles of tap Chris had demonstrated to different accents in language.  This was an extremely positive and eye-opening experience for our students.


Dennis R. Chase
Director of Studies
Brooklyn School of Languages



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