Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

It's Not "Just a Matter of Time:" A Response to Rifkin / A Response to Glisan and Donato

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

It's Not "Just a Matter of Time:" A Response to Rifkin / A Response to Glisan and Donato

Article excerpt

Eileen W Glisan

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Richard Donato

University of Pittsburgh

In his article, "Oral Proficiency Learning Outcomes and Curricular Design" (FLA, 2003, 36[4], 582-588), Professor Rifkin raised important questions about the relationship between attainment of Advanced-level proficiency and the college undergraduate foreign language curriculum. This topic is timely given current national attention to program accountability (Wise, 2002) and recent attention to professional-level language proficiency (Leaver & Shekhtman, 2002). The expectations of state and national accrediting agencies for teacher certification and certification program approval require assessment and verification of what levels of language ability our students have attained as a result of their undergraduate language study (ACTFL, 2002). Although these expectations relate specifically to the performance of language majors enrolled in teacher preparation programs, they have implicated many foreign language departments. Because of the performance expectations for teacher certification candidates, language departments have been prompted, and in some cases required, to examine their assessment systems and the programmatic and proficiency outcomes of all of their majors. Thus, the topic of this article is both pertinent and thought-provoking. However, Professor Rifkin's discussion unfortunately failed to address the issue seriously and overlooked several important concerns. Since his argument was inappropriately framed around (a) the failure of the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Guidelines to influence instruction and (b) the insufficient number of hours of language exposure and instruction available in the college curriculum, Professor Rifkin has presented an inaccurate explanation of a serious professional concern. We believe that the discussion inappropriately equated the Oral Proficiency Guidelines to learning outcomes and curricular design and revealed a reductive and narrow view of the post secondary foreign language curriculum, classes, and course sequence. Based on his understanding, Professor Rifkin offered pedagogical recommendations that were not derived from empirical evidence and further reflect an incomplete understanding of current research in second language acquisition (SLA) and the complexities of classroom instruction. The purpose of our response is to bring to the forefront the real questions at the heart of the discussion on postsecondary programs and their ability to produce graduates who can speak at Advanced levels of proficiency. This is a discussion, we believe, whose time has come.

Within the limited scope of our response, we will address the most troubling claims made by Professor Rifkin as they relate to:

1. students' inability to reach Advanced levels of oral proficiency, which he attributes to an insufficient number of instructional hours available in the college curriculum and to a failure on the part of the Oral Proficiency Guidelines; and

2. the suggestions and recommendations he offers for teaching towards Advanced-level oral proficiency.

It is our hope that the readers of our response will gain a more accurate view of the multifaceted issues presented in Professor Rifkin's article, particularly as they relate to "time on task," appropriate ways that the Oral Proficiency Guidelines might apply to instruction, and research-based suggestions for helping students attain Advanced-level oral proficiency within the framework of the college curriculum. In addition, we hope that readers will understand the complex nature of this topic and the need for further research of the pertinent issues and continued professional dialogue.

The Postsecondary Curriculum, "Time," and Advanced-Level Proficiency

The foundation of Professor Rifkin's argument is the following claim: "Given all the data on learning outcomes, it is clear that to attain high levels of oral proficiency (Advanced or higher), students need more hours than those available through the liberal arts college curriculum" (2003, p. …

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