Making My Own Magic Universe

by Marcella Haddad on February 28, 2016

Helping a student with his journal.

I destroyed the classroom on purpose.

The official lesson plan said to overturn desks, dump out pencil cases, and move around chairs. When I’d finished with the destruction, I placed a note from an evil wizard in the center of the room. It told the students that their magic had been stolen, and they needed to complete three challenges to get it back.

Earlier that day, my students had gotten on a “train” (two rows of desks facing forward) on their way to Magic University. Putting on the black witch’s hat was part of the classroom materials supplied by ACLE (Associatione Culturale Linguistica Educationale), the organization I worked for. I became the headmistress of Magic University. They made wands and got sorted into houses. When they returned from their lunch break, they were greeted with a chaotic classroom—and their call to adventure.

Class picture.

ACLE runs English camps during the summer that focus on emotion-based learning. They send English teachers like me to different cities in Italy to inspire young learners with songs, games, and interactive activities such as process drama.

Process drama, like the Magic University curriculum, uses an imaginary world to transport students and encourage them to use their imagination while they’re learning a new language. I saw the success of this each time I taught Magic University lessons. The community the students formed with their houses, their determination to defeat the evil wizard, and their excitement for new challenges and spells fueled their motivation to learn English.

I decided that I wanted to apply this energy and love of learning to other language classrooms. During the summer I got the chance to write some of my own lesson plans that fit into the world of Magic University. Eventually, I want to write my own process drama curriculum. But when I returned to Arcadia, I realized that my English/Creative Writing major wouldn’t give me enough time to take education or linguistic classes.

Luckily, I remembered that my friend Nate had created his own major. Through him I got connected to Jamie Maltese, an undergraduate studies advisor who helped me through the process. Next I met with Aroline Hanson from the Linguistics department, and Sonia Rosen from Education. Together, we found classes that involved language learning, emotion-based teaching strategies, and new linguistic developments.

After I decided on my classes and got my advisors’ signatures, I wrote my proposal and petitioned for an individualized major. Just a few weeks later, I got the magical email — I was officially a Language Learning and Teaching major.

The most exciting part of going through the process of creating my own major was knowing that every class I was taking was chosen specifically, and would help me to better understand language learning. It’s an amazing opportunity to pursue a very specialized area of study, and I can’t wait to apply all that I learned in Italy, and everything I’ll learn at Arcadia, to my future classrooms.