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Webinar: Language Learning in the Common Core Era​

Q&A: Language Learning in the Common Core Era​ Webinar

A webinar held by Aline Germain-Rutherford, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages, and Christina Johnston, Principal, Weybridge Elementary School.

These questions and answers pertain to the webinar presentation, "Language Learning in the Common Core Era Webinar."

Dr. Germain, Switzerland (German speaking part predominantly) is very nationalistic. Language acquisition becomes problematic because the German-Swiss view standard German as a foreign language to be shunned. How can we inspire a greater acceptance?
Knowledge of and exposure to a wide diversity of languages and cultures is the best way to inspire greater acceptance. Technology allows for greater access to authentic documents (video, YouTube, social media websites, where students are in touch with students of other regions and countries), which allows for a greater awareness, in the minds of people, of the many different ways a language is used in different contexts. Developing activities which allow for this awareness, enable students to understand that a standard is only relative to its community, and help them get passed stereotypes.

Is it just the exposure to language or is it moreover the exposure to culture?
Middlebury Interactive holds a core tenant that a language cannot be learned outside of its cultural context. Language and culture cannot be dissociated. Meanings of words are derived from cultural realities, and cultural perspectives are expressed via language. Therefore, learning a language cannot be done in a cultural vacuum, or without having a deep knowledge and exposure to the culture of the target language. Furthermore, a linguistic community is composed of multiple cultures. It is important to study not just a single culture but the multiplicity of cultures where the target language is spoken.

The cognitive benefits of 2L learning are widely known (preaching to choir). What are some strategies for persuading the purse holders to act on such research findings?
We, as a language learning community, need to continue to talk about and publicize these benefits. There are a variety of pressures facing school administrators today and, unfortunately, world languages is a subject area that often is overlooked or cut. We must continue to emphasize the positive benefits of second language acquisition on the acquisition of other disciplines, and be equipped with the research to advocate to prioritize the study of world languages starting at a young age. As I said during the webinar, research clearly shows us that the benefits of language learning on the acquisition of literacy skills places a language course not as an add on to a curriculum, but as core to the curriculum. Presenting more research and examples of content based learning or (dual) immersion programs across the states can help persuade decision-makers to give a prominent place to languages in the curriculum.

Do you know of any studies done with bilingual children who have also been diagnosed as Ad(h)d? Are there any studies available on such or similar correlations?
The only research I am aware of, which can be, indirectly, related to our topic, is the one conducted by Vargas et al. published in 2002 : Responses to Art Attention-Training by English and Bilingual Spanish-Speaking Students With and Without ADHD. Studies in Art Education, 43(2), PP.158-174. Below if the Abstract and conclusion of this study:

"This study was designed to assess attention and the art preference ratings by Spanish-speaking (S-S) bilingual students and of English-speaking children with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To this purpose we presented slides of representational, semi-abstract, and abstract paintings by notable artists to 2nd through 5th grade children. A visual training program was then presented to focus attention to essential elements within the paintings. Attentional and performance responses to art differentiated between diagnostic and language groups. For example, S-S students, who were also ADHD, demonstrated more attention and performance problems before the experimental training condition and subsequently demonstrated greater gains relative to the control condition and to other groups. Educational implications were also demonstrated for S-S students supporting the effectiveness of art and possibly of other visual methods of instruction."

Is the common underlying proficiency related to the "talent" for acquiring language(s)? Is the "extension" related to motivation more than skill acquisition?
No. Cummins' Interdependence Hypothesis is not related to the notion of "talent" but on a greater metalinguistic awareness that is the result of having to "manipulate" constantly two different languages. The development of one language is enhanced by the development of a second language. Bialystok arrives at the same findings when she explains how the brain of monolinguals and of bilinguals develop different neural networks in their brain and, therefore, different ways of dealing with the decoding and retrieving of information. The experiment she did with monolingual and bilingual children who were presented non-meaningful sentences but grammatically correct, is a demonstration of how bilingual children develop earlier a higher degree of metalinguistic awareness:

"[…] When asked if a certain illogical sentence was grammatically correct: “Apples grow on noses.” The monolingual children couldn’t answer. They’d say, “That’s silly” and they’d stall. But the bilingual children would say, in their own words, “It’s silly, but it’s grammatically correct.” The bilinguals, we found, manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important.” (Bialystok, New York Times, May 30, 2011)

Motivation is certainly extremely important in any learning situation but cannot explain everything.

But what factor decides that "other" is positive or negative? Curiosity is devoid of bias, no?
I am not sure I understand this question very well, but I will try to answer it. If exposed to a diversity of cultural and linguistic perspectives and behaviors, and if engaged in activities to explore, compare, appreciate these different perspectives, students learn to reach far beyond stereotypes and develop an understanding and acceptance of differences. They develop a positive attitude towards the language and the communities speaking this language.

Do you believe the Common Core should supplant the document "Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century"?
No. I think these document are complementary. Both documents are useful to define learning objectives that relate to language proficiency, cultural knowledge and intercultural competency, as well as 21st Century skills (lifelong learning skills), and literacy skills. Both documents are in fact perfect to define content-based language courses.

How does immersion apply to dead languages such as Latin? Are the experiences based on modern life, medieval life, or classical life?
It seems easier, yes, to have immersion with languages that are still in use by the linguistic community of this culture, or region, because the language is used in the context of the reality of this language and culture. However, the Global simulation approach (from the French concept of Simulation Globale for Language learning), where students learn the language as they create a "simulated world" and scenarios in this world, and then as they interact in this "world", has been used to learn languages in a task-based and project-based approach, and could work quite well for Latin. The creation of a "world" (a village, the house of a Roman family, etc..) and scenarios that relate to characters and historical events of the Roman time, could create an immersive environment where students would use Latin as a language of communication to interact within "simulated" historical events or socio-cultural. Their use of the language is, therefore, situated in meaningful situations and would be culturally relevant. Such scenarios have been tempted by teachers using Second Life as a virtual place to create this world, where avatars created by students interact in this virtual "simulated" world. I add here several references that explain all the features of a Global Simulation approach, and how they are developed.

* Caré, J.-M. (1995). Inventer pour apprendre: Les simulations globales [Inventing to learn: Global simulations]. Die neueren Sprachen, 94(1), 69–87.)

** Yaiche, F. (1998). Construire et simuler avec les apprenants. [Constructing and simulating with students]. Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis, 51(4) 227–35.

*** Levine, G. (2004). Global Simulation: A Student-Centered, Task-Based Format for Intermediate Foreign Language Courses. Foreign Language Annals. Vol. 37 (1). pp.26-36.

So idiomatic understanding leads to interconnectedness? Visualization, curiosity and hence open-mindedness are skills to be fostered. What role does skills development play in the interconnectedness occurring in the brain?
Organization as an "internal process of rearranging and linking together schemes to form an interconnected cognitive system" is a one of the key concepts of Piaget's cognitive developmental theory. Language development, and second language acquisition in an immersive environment for young children happens because of the interconnectedness occurring in the brain. "Learning to talk is social, emotional, cognitive and physical", as Bertrand et al. (2007) said so clearly.

A question for Christina: What role do native speakers play in authenticity in the program?
Middlebury Interactive's digital language courses are utilize authentic materials, from videos with native speakers to well-known cultural fables, myths and legends well known. The use of native speakers and authentic material are critical components to the Middlebury Interactive's language pedagogy.

How are students transitioned into language learning classes in high school?
The Fluency courses that Middlebury Interactive Languages offers are targeted to High School students. The amount of authentic videos and task-based activities allows for an online immersive approach to develop language proficiency and cultural awareness and understanding.

Could Christina state again how often the Spanish teacher meets with each classroom and how often the kids have access to MIL? How many students are in her school and how many Spanish teachers does she have?
The classroom Spanish teacher at Weybridge meets with the students face-to-face two days a week and the students use the Middlebury Interactive course the other three days in a lab setting with a monitor, who is the school librarian. Students also have access to the courses at home.

Does the Spanish teacher do the instruction, or do students instruct themselves online?
In the case of Weybridge Elementary, the students are self instructed while in the actual courses but there are a number of graded activities that the teacher needs to correct. The teacher also can deliver the courses in a more blended model where the language teacher uses the course as the core curriculum for instruction.

Do you think children would benefit with only guided instruction online with non-Spanish speaking classroom teachers?
Yes. The course at the elementary school level has been developed to be delivered by a classroom teacher that does not necessarily speak the target language. Ideally, there would be an in-language component, either in a face-to-face or virtual setting, but we know there are not always the resources available to provide this access. The fact that the course materials comes from authentic sources and display authentic spoken, and written materials, provides the students enough input to be immerse in the language and culture. The classroom teacher, who is not native, has therefore a different role: he is not anymore the content provider (since the course provides that), but the learning facilitator, to help students interact and use/learn the language with project, tasks, activities that he/she can design or facilitate. Middlebury Interactive Languages Professional Department help these Learning facilitators (non-language teacher) to develop best practices to design such activities.

How early in a student's education plan should World Languages be incorporated?
Language study is beneficial and effective at any age, however, students who begin early and follow a continuous path for language learning have been shown to boost their academic performance in core subjects. The more years of language study, the greater the results.

What are the consequences of waiting until High School and only mandating two years of the same language?
Leaning a language needs continuity and time, specially if it is learned in a formal environment like a school. 2 years of language learning in a school is not sufficient to develop a level of proficiency where the student feels fluent in the language. Waiting until HS to learn a language is adding difficulty to the task, and can prevent students to develop full accuracy in pronunciation, for instance.

What resources (if any) are available via Middlebury in relation to culturally authentic language learning for free?
We currently do not offer any free material, although in the near future, we hope to release some of our authentic materials for teachers to use in the classroom to get a feel for our curriculum.

What is the name of the ACTFL publication that aligns the 5 c's with the Common Core ELA?
Alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with the Common Core State Standards: www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/

Other publication of interest on the topic: The Common Core Framework and World Languages: A Wake-up Call for All. By Audrey L. Heining-Boynton and

Mary Lynn Redmond. http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/TLE_pdf/TLE_Jan13_Article.pdf

Lead with NCSSFL: World Languages Support Common Core State Standards

ACTFL Conference 11/19/2011 Denver, Colorado presented by Michele Anciaux Aoki (WA), and Janis Jensen (NJ) http://k12.wa.us/WorldLanguages/pubdocs/CCSS_WL_Standards_HO.pdf

Have you investigated how WL learning, Common Core Standards and ACTFL standards also link to/support development of global competence (a concept developed by the Asia Society and adopted nationally by the U.S. Dept. of Ed)?
Yes, WL learning, CCS and ACTFL standards fully support the development of Global competence. This is why the design and content of the MIL language courses that we have developed, includes so much of sociocultural/historical/geographical/ content and activities, to help students develop not only language proficiency, but also Global competences, including intercultural competencies.

What are your views about concurrent learning of several different languages at the same time?
In Europe where language policies and the work done by the European Commission pushes for multilingualism, helping children and Youth develop listening comprehension skills in several languages at the same time has been explored at length and is a question of providing enough input in several languages. It seems also that learning 3 languages simultaneously is not so problematic for young children, (we can see many situations like these in Africa, for instance, where children are surrounded by several languages of different family members), a bit more difficult for older children, specially if the languages are very proximate (we often her examples of code-confusion between Spanish and portuguese when learned simultaneously).

How can we better help US students to see the relevance of WL in their future and careers?
We need to highlight success stories of people in careers where languages have had a positive impact. ACTFL is undertaking a great marketing campaign this year that has celebrities and other recognizable people in important positions to talk about how knowing a second or third language has had positive impact in their lives.

Will we have the hands-on opportunity to simulate a portion of what Middlebury Interactive Languages offers?
Yes. Please contact us to receive a course demonstration.

Does the need for a foundation greater than the need for the trial and error of multiple languages at once?
I think that for effective language learning both are necessary.