Note: Given the interest in world language on my blog, I am posting the entire world language report issued in July 2008.
K-12 Foreign Language Committee Report July 2008
In the past decade, parents, community members, and teachers in Amherst have expressed a strong interest in beginning the study of foreign languages in the early grades. Elementary school language programs are growing nationally, statewide, and in our own schools. The exposure to other cultures and different ways of seeing the world will help our students develop a better understanding of themselves as members of a global community. In response to these initiatives, we believe that it is time to implement a foreign language program in all Amherst elementary schools.
Research indicates that the early study of a foreign language results in the following benefits:
• Academic achievement and cognitive gains for ALL students, including:
➢ Mental flexibility, divergent thinking, and higher-order thinking skills
➢ Development of student’s memory, creativity and listening skills
➢ Greater progress in the acquisition of English Language Arts, specifically in the areas of reading and writing
• Higher standardized test scores, especially in the verbal areas
• Positive attitudes toward diversity
• Insight into one’s own language and culture
• Sharpened awareness of one’s self, of other cultures, and of one’s relationship to those cultures
• Heightened self concepts and sense of achievement in school
• A “head start” in language requirements for high school and college and thus also increased career opportunities where knowing another language is an asset
We believe that, for all of these reasons, Amherst should start language instruction early, take it seriously, and fund it well.
1. K-6 FLES Program:
We believe that the best option for an Elementary School Foreign Language program is a K-6 FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) model, along the lines of the Chinese program we began at Wildwood in 2006-2007. A program beginning in Kindergarten and offering engaging curriculum based on the National Standards and integrated with the elementary classroom curriculum provides students with the best opportunity to develop proficiency in the target language and to continue study successfully through their years in secondary school. There is a wealth of research on the characteristics of a successful elementary foreign language program.
Elements of a successful foreign language program:
• All students begin the study of a foreign language in Kindergarten.
• All instruction is in the target language and oral proficiency based
• Content-based thematic units in the foreign language enhance, reinforce and articulate with the English language classroom curriculum
• Staffed by certified teachers who utilize developmentally appropriate methodologies and differentiated instruction
• Incorporation of the five C’s of the Massachusetts Frameworks and the National Standards: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities
• Ongoing authentic assessments embedded in engaging learning activities
• Include a component of exploration within the 6th grade language program that will increase students’ knowledge and enthusiasm for further language study in the secondary school.
A FLES program could begin as a small program at the early grades, with the plan that it would grow as the first students progress through school (6-7 years to full implementation). Alternatively, we could follow the model of our Wildwood program, beginning in grades K, 1 and 2 and having the program fully implemented in three years.
In considering what languages to offer, we are attuned to several factors:
• The success of the Chinese program at Wildwood and the availability of federal funding for further Chinese study
• The range of offerings in our secondary schools (Chinese, French, German, Latin, Russian, Spanish)
• The characteristics, desires and interests of the various elementary schools
• Meeting the needs of heritage speakers
We are aware of the possibility of a new configuration of the elementary schools, and have recommendations that would be practicable with any of the future arrangements. Further, the committee formally endorses a K-6 Spanish program in the Pelham Elementary School.
1A Chinese at Wildwood and Mark’s Meadow
Spanish at Crocker Farm and Fort River
This recommendation recognizes the success of the Chinese program and the desire of many in the community for Spanish instruction in our elementary schools. It also recognizes the possibility of schools being paired in a primary school / elementary school model.
1B Language Options
There are additional possibilities for languages other than Spanish and Chinese that could be considered in the elementary program.
We are aware that research shows that the group finalizing decisions (informed by a survey) concerning language choices for each school should include all those who have a stake in the implementation of the program – parents, foreign language teachers, classroom teachers and school administrators.
We were charged to consider three options. We feel strongly that the above option is far superior to the following two, which we rejected:
2. 4-6 FLES Program:
This is a scaled-down model which is not as effective. Students will develop some proficiency, but typically a program of this magnitude does not give students enough instruction for them to skip a year of language at the middle school level.
The one language that does work at this level is Latin. Not being a modern language, Latin has different goals and different methodology. Songs, skits and stories are still used to develop oral and reading proficiency, but in addition students spend a lot of time in the study of English word roots, and ancient mythology. The research shows that students enrolled in such a program achieve lasting benefits in language arts and other areas of the curriculum.
3. FLEX in Grade 6 or 5-6
FLEX (Foreign Language Exploration) programs offer exposure to a variety of foreign languages. They do not provide the benefits of increased proficiency that a full FLES program offers. The goal of a FLEX program is to introduce students to the concept of language study and to give a taste of it in a variety of languages. The benefits of a well designed FLEX program are increased enthusiasm for language study and more information for students to make an informed decision as they choose a language to begin in 7th grade.
A FLEX program would be an inexpensive option that would fit well if we were to have an elementary configuration with one 5-6 school. Students could study each of our six languages for one third of the year over the course of two years. FLEX language courses focus on basic proficiency and introducing the cultures where the language is used. They are multi-cultural, fun, and increase students’ knowledge and enthusiasm for further language study. A Grade 6 FLEX program could offer students a snippet of each language and offer the same benefits, though in a diminished form.
Respectfully submitted by members of the K-12 Foreign Language Committee:
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.