Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

It Takes a Department! A Study of the Culture of Proficiency in Three Successful Foreign Language Teacher Education Programs

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

It Takes a Department! A Study of the Culture of Proficiency in Three Successful Foreign Language Teacher Education Programs

Article excerpt

Introduction

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages/Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (ACTFL/CAEP) Program Standards for the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers state that "pre-service teachers will speak in the interpersonal mode of communication at a minimum level of 'Advanced Low' or 'Intermediate Fligh' (for Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) on the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) according to the target language being taught" (ACTFL/CAEP, 2013, n.p.). In fact, as a condition for achieving national recognition by CAEP, 80% of a program's participants must reach the required level of proficiency in the language for which they are seeking teacher certification. In other words, they should be able to "speak in spontaneous, connected discourse" to create a "type of classroom environment that is necessary for language acquisition to occur" (ACTFL/CAEP, 2013, n.p.).1 It has been argued (e.g., Fischer, 2013; Glisan, 2013; Moeller, 2013; Tedick, 2013) that prospective teachers who are unable to speak the target language minimally at the Advanced Low proficiency range in more commonly taught languages "cannot provide targetlanguage input in the classroom at a level necessary to develop students' interpretive skills or to guide students in interacting with others in interpersonal contexts" and "have difficulty serving effectively as a facilitator in helping students to negotiate meaning with one another and to function spontaneously in the target language" (ACTFL/CAEP, 2013, n.p.). For this reason, Advanced Low is widely viewed as the minimum acceptable oral proficiency level for prospective teachers of languages such as Spanish, French, and German, although in some states Intermediate High is accepted for certification and is the expected minimum level in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

However, in undergraduate language programs across the nation, achieving Advanced2 oral proficiency continues to be an elusive endeavor for many students. Much has been written in the professional literature, particularly in the context of foreign language teacher preparation, concerning the difficulty of attaining an Advanced-level rating at the conclusion of an undergraduate language program of study (e.g., Burke, 2013; Chambless, 2012; Darhower, 2014; Donato, 2009; Donato & Brooks, 2004; Glisan, 2013; Glisan, Swender, & Surface, 2013; Huhn, 2012; Magnan, Murphy, & Sahakyan, 2014; McAlpine & Dhonau, 2007; Tedick, 2013). Some within the profession have questioned whether Advanced Low proficiency should even be a requirement. Burke (2013), for example, expressed concern that such high-stakes testing is causing "agony, anxiety, and selfdoubt" (p. 532) among teacher candidates "as a result of taking the ACTFL [OPI and Writing Proficiency Test] more than once trying to obtain an acceptable score" (p. 532). Furthermore, Burke wondered whether requiring such "high-stakes testing" would indeed improve world language education and pondered "the ramifications certain top-down mandates will have on the language teaching profession in the future" (p. 531). Similarly, Aoki (2013) expressed concern "that our colleges are producing a new generation of language teachers who are intimidated by proficiency testing" (p. 540). Glisan (2013, p. 543) responded with "a call for language departments to change their focus from simple completion of required courses to demonstration of proficiencybased outcomes," while, in a discussion of more commonly taught languages, Fischer (2013) asked, "Why would we want our students to be taught by less than Advanced level speakers at any time?" (p. 548). Glisan et al. (2013) also asked whether our profession is satisfied that only a little more than half (54%) of teacher candidates are attaining the ACTFL/National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)3 oral proficiency standard.

There is abundant literature that describes the problem. …

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