I got this copy of an article from a colleague, not a group member, who was lamenting the current state of well intentioned ignorance/denial some WL departments in the U.S. are still in about the current changes in best practices in WL instruction:
Being Clear About What Foreign-Language Achievement Looks Like
In this article in The Language Educator, Nicole Sherf (Salem State University) and Tiesa Graf (South Hadley High School, Massachusetts) gnash their teeth at the number of times cocktail-party acquaintances have said they took multiple years of a foreign language in high school and can’t remember a thing. What happened? Is there anything teachers can do to change this depressing scenario?
The key, say Sherf and Graf, is for foreign-language departments to use robust standards, align expectations, focus on proficiency at every level of instruction, and use nationally normed assessments (such as AAPPL, OPI, OPIc) to measure progress. “As a profession, we need to get away from district-determined leveling of students and describe what students can do with the language in practical, communicative terms,” they say. “What really matters now is how the student can use language within a variety of contexts.”
The new NCSSFL-ACTFL “Can-Do Statements” www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/necssfl-actfl-can-do-statements have multiple uses in foreign-language courses:
– At the beginning of a unit, students know what they will be able to do by the end.
– Students can use the statements to self-assess as the unit progresses.
– The can-do statements give administrators a window into foreign-language content.
– Parents can see what their children can actually do with the language they are learning.
– The department can use them as advocacy tools.
Sherf and Graf also recommend websites with up-to-date national standards and assessments:
“The more departments explore, review, and implement lingo from national resources,” say Sherf and Graf, “the more we can use our common voice to strengthen our departments.”
But won’t shared goals and assessments rob teachers of creativity and independence? Not so, say the authors. Teachers still have plenty of room to be creative and original, and coordination benefits everyone – especially students. For an example of a department’s mission, goals, and assessments, see www.holliston.k12.ma.us/curriculum/flcr.htm.
In Wellesley, Massachusetts, foreign-language teachers have developed common final exams based on national proficiency standards and meet regularly to “co-score” students’ work and align grading expectations and practices. “Learning communities were formed to investigate whether they were teaching certain concepts as effectively as their colleagues,” say Sherf and Graf, “and they began meeting weekly to develop a number of periodic assessments as ways to ensure that teachers and students were focusing on agreed-upon ‘power standards’ in each course, had common expectations for student performance, and had a formal forum to share ideas with each other.”
How can foreign-language departments do all this in schools that are less supportive? In such environments, “Detractors abound in the form of reluctant or negative department participants, unsupportive administrators, and lack of resources,” say the authors. Time and a willingness to collaborate are the essential ingredients for success. Carol Woodbury, superintendent in Dennis-Yarmouth, Massachusetts, said it best: “Persistence and resilience are the two key ingredients professional learning communities must have when they are operating in the face of adversity. It is not necessary to have a large group to make progress. Even two people can collaborate. If we keep modeling what we hope will become the norm and bring people into the fold as they show interest, great things can happen.”
Sherf and Graf sum up: “Encouraging collaboration, exploring online resources, developing common assessments, examining student work, and using a calibration protocol are important tools that improve programming and student results.” In future cocktail-party conversations, they hope people will say that they took several years of foreign language in high school and use the language in their work, when they travel abroad, when they read online, and when they communicate with heritage speakers in their community, work in politics, and volunteer at a local hospital. “I am a lifelong language learner!” they say.
“Does Your Department Speak the Same Lingo? Standardizing Practices to Strengthen Departmental Growth and Student Performance” by Nicole Sherf and Tiesa Graf in The Language Educator, April 2014 (Vol. 9, #3, p. 40-43), www.actfl.org