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Our teaching framework

The goal of our lessons is language proficiency, the ability to use a language appropriately in real-world situations. Theoretical knowledge of the language is not a goal. Our lessons are based on the California World Language Standards for K-12.

This webpage gives a concise description of the language acquisition process and an overview of several metrics used to track the development of language proficiency.


Basic principles of foreign language learning

There is no one best theory to explain second language acquisition. Teaching methodologies driven by varying theoretical approaches can be effective in the classroom, depending on the material being presented, the goals of the lesson, and the target students.

What is known about second language acquisition is that language is learned communicatively, through the process of building meaning in a collaborative context. To make use of this understanding about language learning, keep the following points in mind:

  • Second language learners utilize their knowledge of their first language in learning their second.
  • Language learning is supported through meaningful interaction, which should therefore focus on the communicative functions of language.
  • Language learners require comprehensible 'input' that serves as a model of what they are to learn.
  • During teaching, this comprehensible input should be 'scaffolded' (i.e., used iteratively to support the interaction, and gradually withdrawn as students become adept), in order to provide an effective communicative environment that is salient to the learner.
  • Any focus on grammatical form should serve communicative needs.

For further information on language learning theory and its connection to teaching methodologies see these digests from the Center for Applied Linguistics:


Stages of proficiency: the language learning continuum

All users of a language fall somewhere along a continuum from no ability to the ability of an educated native speaker. The federal Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR), the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), and the College Board have developed definitions of several phases of proficiency on that continuum. The ACTFL Proficiency guidelines offer separate definitions of the phases for each of the 4 language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These definitions can be used as goals statements in developing a language program. Click one of these links to read the definitions in detail.


ACTFL standards

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has developed Standards for Foreign Language Learning, stated in terms of five strands: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. While these standards suggest types of curricular experiences, they do not constitute a curriculum in themselves. They are meant to be used in conjunction with state and local frameworks.

COMMUNICATION

Communicate in languages other than English

Standard 1.1 Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.
Standard 1.2 Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.
Standard 1.3 Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.
CULTURES

Gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures

Standard 2.1 Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied.
Standard 2.2 Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied.
CONNECTIONS

Connect with other disciplines and acquire information

Standard 3.1 Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language.
Standard 3.2 Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures.
COMPARISONS

Develop insight into the nature of language and culture

Standard 4.1 Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own.
Standard 4.2 Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.
COMMUNITIES

Participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world

Standard 5.1 Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting.
Standard 5.2 Students show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment.

The California Foreign Language Framework and World Language Content Standards

The California Framework, approved in 2001, specified 5 categories for defining measures of student proficiency.

  • Function: What can the student do with the language?
  • Contexts: In which situations can the student perform these functions?
  • Content: Which types of topics can the student communicate about?
  • Text-types: In which types of discourse does the student express him/herself?
  • Accuracy: How closely does the student's performance meet the criteria?

The same categories can be used at many levels, for example to state performance-based standards for an entire curriculum:

Learners comprehend and produce (function) spoken sentences (text types) dealing with topics related to self and the immediate environment (content) in informal settings (contexts).

or the objectives of an individual lesson plan:

Students will be able to fill out (function) a questionnaire (context, text type) about things that they like and dislike (content)

In January of 2009, the California State Board of Education approved World Language Content Standards that mesh the earlier California Framework with the ACTFL Standards. The new standards are not tied to specific grade levels, but describe levels of linguistic and cultural acquisition. The standards are presented in 5 new categories: Content, Communication, Cultures, Structures, and Settings.


The 5-step lesson plan

There are five steps to each lesson in the classroom.

  1. Setting the stage. A brief fun activity that motivates students and accesses earlier learning. Sample activities.
  2. Target language input. Using the target language, the teacher models the new material.
  3. Guided practice. The students practice a new function using teacher-prepared materials.
  4. Independent practice. The students generate communicative language in realistic situations.
  5. Evaluation and closure. The students show evidence of what they have learned.

To create a proficiency-based lesson plan

Use this form as a template for your lesson plans.

1. Decide on one or more OBJECTIVEs. Each should be a visible, verifiable action that the student will be able to perform at the end of the lesson. ("Students will learn…" is not visible and verifiable.) The objective should be appropriate to the students' current position on the Language Learning Continuum.

State the objective in terms of a Function, Context, Text Type, and Content.

2. Revisit the ACTFL Standards to stimulate ideas for lesson activities encompassing Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, or Communities, that will lead students to attain the stated objective.

3. Design the 5 STEPS of the lesson, making use of those activities.

Further reading

See our brief bibliography of key works on language pedagogy.

 


Guidelines from the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages


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