By Madelynn Coldiron
A world language program is not Spanish I and II, with the occasional Fiesta Friday. Or French I and II with a fondu party, for that matter.
“If you’re going to develop global competency, then you definitely need to have a program as opposed to a class,” said Randy Barrette, past president of the Kentucky World Language Association and a Spanish and World Culture teacher at Menifee County High School.
Kentucky’s foreign language teachers, as well as those in other content areas, will be figuring that out this year, as world language is added to three previously established program review areas. The newest program review is being rolled out in high schools this year, with accountability kicking in with the 2015-16 school year. Elementary and middle schools are getting an extra year to prepare, since many do not offer a foreign language, much less a world language program. The state education department is offering a limited number of grants to help schools at those levels to prepare.
PHOTO: Randy Barrette, Spanish and World Culture teacher at Menifee County High School mimes pouring coffee to help students answer questions during Spanish class.
Phil Shepherd, the department’s Academic Core branch manager, said like the other program review areas, world language is to be interwoven with other content areas. He said proficiency in world languages includes being able to speak and use a language and also “the cultural aspects that are connected with it. So the standards are written so that both of those aspects of the language are part of a quality program.”
A successful world language program has to be a schoolwide, districtwide effort that does not rely solely on foreign language teachers, Barrette said.
Shepherd said elementary and middle schools will face the toughest challenge with this program review area. High school world language offerings currently vary depending on size of the school and the program.
“But very typically, you’re going to see Spanish, French and German, and then some expand beyond that,” he said.
Jacque van Houten, former world languages specialist for the state education department who now works for Jefferson County Schools, said both number and diversity of language offerings in Kentucky schools have gone down dramatically in the past 15 years.
“Many Kentucky schools that used to offer three to five languages, now offer one or two,” she said in an email.
Shepherd said schools that offer only one foreign language will not be penalized on that account. “It’s not about quantitative measurement – it’s about the quality,” he said.
Among the indicators on which world language program reviews will be judged are the extent to which:
• The school provides opportunities for all students, including English language learners, to learn at least one world language and to experience a range of global cultures, issues and connections.
• Students are provided ways to experience and communicate in the three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal and presentational.
• The target language is used as the language of instruction.
• The school provides regular opportunities for students to interact with native or near-native speakers and access authentic materials.
• The school promotes language-learning opportunities outside of school and encourages students to use the language outside of class.
• The world language/global competency curriculum is integrated across disciplines.
• The school curriculum incorporates global competency.
Shepherd said he can’t say whether the beefing up and/or creating of world language programs will be a financial drain on school districts. There are community-based options that schools may be able to tie into, he said, such as recruiting local native speakers to work with certified teachers on programs.
Barrette uses the video link Skype to enable his students to talk with their counterparts in other countries, a low-cost option that he said is a broader resource than a couple of presentations by a community member.
But Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Steve Butcher said, “There’s no question in my mind it’s going to be costly for districts,” to develop world language programs, calling it an unfunded mandate.
The challenge is on two fronts, Butcher said: paying for additional foreign language teachers and finding them.
“In looking at my scenario, we’ve got eight elementary schools, two high schools and two middle schools. Now how would I be able to find the people that would actually work in those schools that would have that skill set? I think that’s going to be a big piece that everybody is going to have to figure out,” he said. “Just to teach every kid another language is going to be quite monumental.”
Districts in urban areas may not have trouble finding teachers with the needed skill set, Butcher said, “but in rural Kentucky I’m not sure you’re going to find that number of people you need.”
Districts might incur other expenses in purchasing commercial foreign-language programs and materials, he said, adding he’s been contacted by vendors whose products are “pretty pricey.”
The needs stretch beyond additional personnel and program materials. Barrette said better teacher training also is needed. In Kentucky, he pointed out, “There is no minimum requirement that a teacher must pass in terms of language ability to get a certificate.”
And, he added, to have a well-rounded world language and global competency program, school boards need to support study abroad opportunities for their students.
“When you are abroad, especially for high school kids, you’re put in a situation where you can use the language. That makes it authentic and real,” said Barrette, who has taken his students on 10 trips to other countries. “For a lot of them, it’s sort of a life-changing event. And it’s hard to replicate in the classroom.”
It will take time for schools to build a world language program, van Houten said, “because we have ignored the issue for so long. Schools will have to begin to realize the importance of knowing another languages and find ways to internationalize their schools.”
The state Board of Education in June adopted a “Global Education Position Statement” to reinforce the importance of educating students in global competence and world languages. That statement points to efforts already underway, in addition to the new program review, including:
• Five dual-language immersion programs statewide.
• Seventeen percent of Kentucky’s K-12 students study a foreign language.
• Confucius Institutes at Western Kentucky University and University of Kentucky support Chinese language programs in K-12 schools.
• Partnerships with several countries – China, Spain and France – bring international teachers to Kentucky schools.
• Spanish Visiting Teacher Program to place teachers in Kentucky schools for up to three years.
• State grants to schools for dual-language immersion programs and for elementary school world language programs that integrate the arts.
• More than 200 language teachers across the state received training in 2012-13 from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Unbridled Global Preparedness
The Kentucky Board of Education’s five-year strategic objectives for globally prepared
1. Ensure that Kentucky’s K-12 educators have robust, integrated and innovative professional learning and support for global education.
2. Provide cutting-edge foreign language learning.
3. Transform schools through innovative models of international education that support students in developing the attitudes, skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a global economy.
4. Provide pathways for district, school, teacher and student global competency designations.
5. Partner with local businesses, governments and communities to advocate and support global education.
The state Department of Education has developed suggestions and optional models for building language programs. ZThis document can be found at www.education.ky.gov/curriculum/wlang.