Magazine article District Administration

Language Learning Seeks Depth: Students Expected to Think Critically and Interact Meaningfully

Magazine article District Administration

Language Learning Seeks Depth: Students Expected to Think Critically and Interact Meaningfully

Article excerpt

Preparing students for an increasingly global workforce means teaching them not only how to speak a second language, but how to think critically in that language and have a deep understanding of the culture and geography that are embedded in it.

Increases in rigor and depth are a focus of this year's American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) conference, which will be held Nov. 20 to 22 in San Diego.

"I think people are beginning to see the need for world language proficiency at a higher level than has been produced," says ACTFL President Jacqueline Van Houten, also a world languages specialist at Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky.

The conference will feature hundreds of presentations and workshops over several days, including many focused on updates to ACTFL's World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. The revisions, first released in 2013, have driven subtle but important shifts in classroom practices.

Changing standards

The language standards set goals in five areas: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons and communities.

Prior to the update, students were expected to "engage in conversation, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions" in a foreign language. Now, the standards call for students to "interact and negotiate meaning" as well as share information, feelings and opinions.

In the past, when a few students were asked to talk about their day in a foreign language, their classmates could sit and listen politely, says Paul Sandrock, director of education at ACTFL and a conference presenter. Now, students should be asked to decide, for example, who had a busier day, which requires debate and making value judgments.

Students should now learn not only to understand and interpret language, but to analyze it--using higher-level thinking skills to discuss and debate meaning rather than focusing simply on the ability to translate content word for word. …

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