WorldView: A Language Blog

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Learning Unbound

By Patricia Thornton | Published: April 14, 2016

Every place and every activity in the Villages is a language-learning opportunity.

Time and Place. Classroom teachers understand the importance and luxury of these two learning variables. There is never enough time. And, classrooms are mostly spaces, not places. Try as we might to decorate and personalize, the typical classroom is sharp and angular. Sometimes windowless! Usually cold.

When I was dean at the Japanese Language Village, I also taught Japanese in a large urban district. I would return from the Village with just enough time to open my classroom door and try to turn my teaching space into a significant place. Time, I could do nothing about.

My classroom was a mix of the city—affluence and poverty, black, white, and Asian, gifted and struggling learners. Many had never been out of the city. I brought as much of the Language Villages into my classroom as possible; yet, every year, I wanted to pack up my students and take them to the Village so that they could learn in a time and place that is unbound.

Because of extended time and beautiful place, the Language Villages experience is the ideal setting for authentic and transformational learning. To effect that level of experience, the Villages’ approach to education is more one of being, from which the teaching follows. Everything is rooted in four foundational precepts that together form what we call the CLVway. They grow out of a recognition that the availability of time and the specialness of place calls for an extra-ordinary approach.

First, the Village is a Grand Simulation—a pleasing place defined by meaningful communication, respect for rights and responsibilities, and the engaging safety, warmth, and fun of a family. The grand simulation excites new ways of learning as villagers assume new identities and enjoy the freedom and courage that provokes.    

Learning in a community about the world community is empowering.

Second, the simulated Village naturally dictates an approach of Community-based Learning. The connections among villagers and staff promote the understanding that we all share civic and social and learning responsibilities.

Third, the Village setting presents real-life scenarios that cause learners to Live the Language and Culture, not merely study it. Villagers learn by doing in an intentionally playful atmosphere. Experiential learning is the heart of the program.

Fourth, our North Woods setting promotes healthful fun and Outdoor Learning unplugged from screens and headphones. The Language Villages builds intentional community in the midst of nature.


Village days and friendships stretch long.

At the Villages, time is our gift. It stretches before us in hours, melts into days, and morphs into weeks. The result is a highly relational learning community that is villager-centered and staff-guided.

Each Village also turns its space into a place that envelops and excites - a sensory learning adventure impossible to duplicate in the space of a school. The Village is the curriculum—welcoming, meaningful, and fun.

Classroom teaching in a large urban school was my most memorable job ever. Each day was a love affair with public education. Still, at the end of each day, most teachers through no fault of their own are left holding their lesson plans wishing for 10 minutes more in a place free of gratuitous noise and bells and PA systems. Time and Place. Learning unbound. That's the CLVway.


About the Author

Patricia Thornton is the former director of the Language Villages’ Summer Programs and currently serves as a clinical supervisor for world language teaching candidates at the University of Minnesota. She has delivered workshops on the topics of language and culture education nationally and internationally including for the American Schools in the Middle East, the University of Oregon, Indiana University, and the SHAPE School in Belgium. Thornton has also worked for years as a public school teacher and with collaborative teacher education at the University of Minnesota-College of Education and Human Development. The Language Villages has been a central part of her life from her first year on staff at Mori no Ike in 1988 to her current leadership position as one of two Village Mentors, a term used to denote an expert in language and cultural immersion.

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