Foreign Language Committee Narrative _2_

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Foreign Language Committee Narrative _2_ Powered By Docstoc
					       Narrative Summary of World Language Committee
                                                                           February 2011

The World Language Committee was formed in September 2010 at the behest of the Board of
Education to evaluate and research the current world language program in the 5th and 6th grades, and to
report on the costs and benefits of an elementary world language program prior to 5th grade.

The committee was comprised of Dr. Matusiak, superintendent, MaryAnn Doyle, interim
superintendent for curriculum and instruction, building principals Raina Kor, David Sotille, and Mary
Maguire Flynn, world language chair Deanna Tessler and 5th grade world language teacher Colette
Dupre, Spanish teacher Ally Tempest, board member Robyn Kerner, teachers from Dows Lane and
Main Street school, and eight parent representatives.

Nina Garrett, the Yale professor and an expert in foreign language learning best practices, addressed
the committee for a full session at the outset. The committee met 6 times and minutes are publicly

As part of the committee's work, a statement about the Irvington school district's philosophy on world
language learning was written. Additionally, a sub-committee, comprised of Deanna Tessler, Colette
Dupre, and three parents, Jesse Ewing, Sheryl Rosenberg and Esther Samra, with the oversight of
MaryAnn Doyle, met and formulated many of the documents that attend this narrative summary. They
include, in addition to the philosophy statement, a program overview, a curriculum design narrative,
grade level scope and sequence for Level 1 (grades 5-8), Measuring Success, Grade 5 program
enhancements, and K-4 program options .

                5th & 6th Grade World Language Program
Currently, the 5th grade world language program is a hybrid FLES* program, meaning that it combines
an exploratory program (oral rather than written language instruction) and an early start program.
Students meet once a week for a full period as part of a “special” rotation. They study Spanish and
French each for 20 weeks, simultaneously beginning the vertical sequence of Level 1 language study.
For the school year 2010-2011, an additional 20 minute “push-in” provides more instruction,
specifically related to the social studies curriculum. This was made possible by reduced enrollment in
the current 5th grade class.

While the current configuration of the 5th grade program falls below the recommended 90 minutes per
week for a fully-fledged FLES program, the program, because it is a hybrid, is nevertheless able to
fulfill several significant goals. They include an early introduction to two languages, an appreciation of
different cultures and their impact on ours, and, perhaps most significantly, the building of early
enthusiasm for world language learning. The latter goal is particularly important as a stated mission of
the district is to encourage students to study one or more world languages through graduation. Studying
a foreign language through senior year enables more of our students to take AP language courses,
which are the benchmark for a rigorous high school curriculum, and which prepare our students to be
more competitive in the college admissions process.

Early exposure to world languages, and a concomitant interest in language will, according to many
experts, including Nina Garrett, help achieve this important goal. Preliminary data, tracking the first
cohort of students who began world languages in the 5th grade (class of 2011) shows an increase in the
number of students who are studying a world language through advanced levels (Honors and AP
classes) and who are taking more than one language. Indeed, Ms. Garrett expressed her support for our
current 5th grade program and stated that we should keep it intact.

The Board asked that the committee look at some possible modifications to the current program, in
order to make it even stronger. The committee looked at the possibility of increasing classroom
instruction time, but concluded that expanding the program in this way would interfere too
substantively with the teaching of core subjects. The current configuration of world language as a
“special” works logistically and seamlessly into the classroom day. In addition, school-wide
cultural/language events and a lunchtime world language club, introduced this academic year (2010-
2011) will continue. The current 20 minute weekly “push-in” will be evaluated for its effectiveness by
MSS principal and Colette Dupre going forward. A more specific overview of the 5th grade world
language program and its goals can be seen in the appendix.

The Board also asked the committee to look at the current 6th grade program, and to make
recommendations, if applicable. In 6th grade, students have chosen either French or Spanish as their
target language through middle school. In 8th grade they take a proficiency exam. That exam,
previously written and administered by the state, will now be one that our district prepares and
administers. Thus, our district has a welcome opportunity to make the exam even more rigorous,
tailored to our curriculum and its goals. 6th graders have a full period (42 minute) class in world
language every other day, meeting the 90 minute minimum for effective language learning. They are
introduced to written language and reading, continue their development in speaking and listening and
have homework. Quizzes and tests provide a continuous form of assessment, which culminates in a
final exam.

The general committee discussed some alternatives to the current configuration of the 6th grade
program, keeping in mind that the effectiveness of any program increases with additional contact time,
on a daily basis. The committee discussed the current schedule for the middle school and the possibility
of making world language a daily, full period class. Several substantive changes would have to be
made in order for this to happen, including the loss of study skills class. The impact would also be felt
on students who have an IEP and who are not required to take a world language in 6th grade .The
committee did not come to a consensus about pursuing this idea, but rather laid out the ramifications
for doing so.

Aside from more instructional time, one proposed modification to the program would include the
introduction of a digital listening lab giving students the opportunity to listen to a foreign language
spoken by native speakers, listening to stories in the target language, researching good quality software,
and the possibility of using some of that technology in the home.
                                     K-4 World Language
The Board also asked the committee to look at the costs and benefits of an elementary world language
program beginning before the 5th grade. Prior committees, specifically the 2003 and 2008 world
language committees, made recommendations that embraced world languages before the 5th grade.
These included the 2003 recommendation to offer both French and Spanish K-5, which was passed by
the Board. The current 5th grade program was the only feature of that recommendation to be
implemented. In 2008, Greer Fischer, former superintendent for curriculum and instruction, made her
own recommendation that Spanish be taught K-4 (K-1 ten minutes every other day; grades 2-5 twenty
minutes every other day). The total estimated cost for this program was considered to be 1.5 teaching
positions. The 2008 recommendation was not implemented by the school district.

The 2010-11 committee discussed K-4 options at length and created some alternatives to consider, now
and into the future (see appendix ). Costs were calculated in terms of teaching positions, including
salary and benefits. Alternatives include teaching both French and Spanish K-4 from 60 minutes per
week to 150 minutes a week, at a cost of, at a maximum, 4.25 teachers to 1.7 teachers. Teaching
Spanish only, Latin instruction, which would provide the grammatical underpinnings for the two
romance languages that students will choose between and which would also teach English grammar
fundamentals, at K-4, 45 minutes a week, would cost 1.25 teachers, to K-4 basic language introduction,
taught by the classroom teacher, which would explore linguistics and cultural exploration, but which,
while not necessitating additional staff, would require professional development. A last option would
be an after-school language program externally funded. All of these options were compiled by the
committee in order for the present and future boards to make a more informed decision, based on
recommended minimum classroom instruction time, and the overall goals of the district.

As a result of the current economic climate, the committee did not recommend to the board that they
consider the implementation of a world language program before 5th grade at the present time.
However, the committee, to do due diligence, worked on the series of alternatives, each with a rationale
and a cost. This should be useful when the district has an opportunity to consider implementing an
elementary world language program in the future.

                      High School World Language Program
Although the Board did not specifically request that the committee evaluate or make recommendations
to our high school world language program, there was some discussion about it. The committee
discussed our present-day offerings in world languages, and some possible future scenarios. Because
the general committee felt strongly that a stated working goal of the district should be to encourage our
students to take a world language throughout their high school years, it was suggested that our
guidance counselors encourage world language learning and explain the consequences of dropping a
language after sophomore year. Language expert Nina Garrett reported that the loss of one year of
language learning necessitates two additional years of instruction. This fact argues strongly for
continued language study throughout all years of high school. If more of our students continue the
sequence in foreign language through junior and senior year, the district might have enough students to
offer two separate sections of French (honors and non-honors) in Junior year, and would be able to
offer AP classes senior year, on a regular basis, in Spanish, French and Latin
As a result of the research presented to the committee by Nina Garrett, it was felt that the benefits of
continuing language, from a proficiency standpoint and a college admissions standpoint, were both
worthwhile investments.
Currently, the high school offers French, Spanish, Latin, and Ancient Greek. Some discussion was had
about the addition of Mandarin at the high school level, and the 2008 Greer Fischer recommendation
was for the high school, in collaboration with neighboring districts, to implement such a program.
However, Nina Garrett cautioned us strongly that Mandarin, being one of the four most difficult
languages in the world to learn, can bring unforeseen challenges. Some of these include the lack of
skilled Mandarin teachers, the inherent difficulty and abundant time needed to learn and master this
language, and the large costs, unless students took an online course, or went outside the district. As the
committee was not constituted to make formal recommendations regarding the high school world
language curriculum, the possibility of adding Mandarin was tabled.

A second possible addition to the high school curriculum was online learning. If suitable and effective
software existed, it could be used either as a supplement or as an add-on to the current world language
offerings. This also has budgetary implications that were not explored. A discussion was had regarding
students who wanted to learn a language that our district does not currently offer. Our guidance
department currently allows for students to learn a world language outside the district for credit if the
course fulfills certain requirements. It was suggested that students might take advantage of neighboring
community and four-year colleges which offer other world languages, and that our guidance
department should have the necessary information to adequately advise them.

As a result of discussing our world language program at the high school level, the committee suggested
that evaluating our language curriculum K-12 in the future, rather than in a segmented fashion, would
be of more benefit.

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