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Adapting to New Standards for Teaching World Languages

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “A Different Perspective: Seeing the World-Readiness Standards as Innovation” by Greta Lundgaard and Brandon Locke in The Language Educator, January/February 2016 (Vol. 11, #1, p. 32-36).
In this article in The Language Educator, curriculum directors Greta Lundgaard (Plano, Texas) and Brandon Locke (Anchorage, Alaska) say that the 1996 Standards for Foreign Language Learning and their “Five C’s” made a positive difference to world language instruction across the U.S. But over time, say Lundgaard and Locke, the standards became “comfortable and routine.”
The 2015 publication of the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages has been a jolt for many foreign-language teachers with its emphasis on college and career preparation, critical thinking, creativity, and the collaborative interplay between language, culture, and communication. To overcome teachers’ natural resistance to change, there will have to be “solid modeling,” says Sheryl Castro of Catalina Foothills, Arizona. “They will want examples of what the World-Readiness Standards look like and sound like in the classroom. They will need time and feedback as they make adjustments to their assessments and daily teaching and learning practices.”
Lundgaard and Locke suggest three guidelines to create a “greenhouse” that will
help nurture the transition to the new standards: (a) communicate and share everything;
(b) celebrate breakthroughs, large and small; and (c) consistently involve the entire community of learners. They suggest focusing on several significant changes in the new standards:
• The definition of communication – The 1996 standards said: “Students communicate in languages other than English.” The 2015 standards require that students: “Communicate effectively in more than one language in order to function in a variety of situations for multiple purposes.” The professional development challenge is addressing the concept of functional language in different settings – interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational.
• The emphasis on analysis – The 1996 standards described the presentational mode thus: “Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers in a variety of topics.” The 2015 standards say: “Learners present information, concepts, and ideas to inform, explain, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics using appropriate media and adapting to various audiences of listeners, readers, or viewers.” The new standards ask students to notice, reflect, and analyze communication in real-world situations, which is more cognitively demanding. It’s the emphasis on analysis that poses the biggest shift from the previous standards’ emphasis on the more passive modes of understanding and interpretation.
• The definitions of connections, comparisons, and communities – The 2015 standards put more emphasis than their predecessors on developing students’ cultural competence – “a skill that is now, more than ever, of critical importance,” say Lundgaard and Locke. The ability to communicate and understand across cultures offers economic as well as intellectual advantages to students. Curiosity, empathy, compassion, and flexibility will serve graduates well, and it’s an important part of the mission of world-language teachers to develop these traits in their students. Technology is a key classroom tool in helping teachers and students escape their parochial limitations. On this point, the new standards say, “learners often do not recognize and understand the cultural roots of many of the behaviors and beliefs in their own society until they see how these are manifested in another culture.”
Interestingly, the instructional approach recommended by the World-Readiness Standards demands less of teachers in terms of being an expert on specific aspects of the target culture and students’ home cultures – historically a source of anxiety for teachers. The new standards suggest that students should act as “cultural sleuths,” investigating, explaining, and reflecting on the target culture’s perspectives, practices, and products. Orchestrating this process should be more comfortable for teachers – and more productive for students.
“No longer can we view ourselves simply as elective teachers teaching luxury classes,” conclude the authors. “We must embrace the innovation and change embedded within the World-Readiness Standards and recognize the critical importance of our profession.”

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