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What is the world languages discipline?
The world languages discipline is much broader than just learning a second or third language. Learning a world language involves experiencing and knowing about the cultures of those who use it, in addition to knowing how to listen to, speak, read, and write the language. This framework emphasizes the integration of culture with the teaching of language skills. In the past, textbooks have tended to isolate cultural information in sidebar sections, as if culture could be taught in incremental tidbits. Through language, students should experience and learn about new ways of thinking and doing, believing and communicating. Authentic representations of culture should be at the center, not the periphery, of the world languages discipline. Authentic representations from the target culture(s), including dance, art, music, story telling, spiritual expression, history, print matter (comics, magazines, ads, children's books, novels), video material (newscasts, commercials, sports, sitcoms), and computer software and games, should be integrated throughout our programs.
In the world language class, we cannot separate the language from the cultures in which it is used. Including the cultural component is important in all skill areas. If we can connect language and communication skills with culture and diversity in our classrooms, as Betsy Andrew's does in the classroom scene at the opening of this chapter, we create a more powerful learning experience for our students.
What components of "culture" should we teach?
What is culture? In all that we teach, this is the central question. Culture encompasses daily objects, games, work, clothing, housing, family patterns, behavioral routines, religious traditions, artistic and literary expression, and a host of other indicators. This definition includes the symbols of the dominant culture of the language, such as the most renowned figures and masterpieces in the culture's history, arts, letters and sciences, and the widely recognized architectural landmarks, as long as these do not define "the Culture" in a monolithic sense. It is in the area of culture that we most need to become learners along with our students, exploring our questions together with them: What is culture? Whose culture is this? How can I interact with this culture as a learner of this language?
How can we teach about another culture in an Alaska classroom?
Language is a tool of communication used by groups of people with a shared history and set of traditions, that is, a shared culture. As we acquire our first language in the home, we acquire our culture simultaneously. Culture is so integrally woven with language what we may not even notice we have learned it; our first culture represents "the way the world works" to us.
For example, even since he was a toddler, Philip treated parents' friends informally, calling them by their first names. Because it contradicts what he knows from his first culture, Philip might object when we present new sociolinguistic constructs in Spanish:
Teacher: "You have to be careful which form of address you use for the person you're speaking to. It would be considered very rude to use the familiar form of you" with a person who is your elder."
Philip: "That's so weird! Why don't they just use the same word "you" for everybody, like we do?"
As Philip learns more about the new languages and culture, his attitude changes. He becomes more accepting of the differences he finds there: "Hey, you can tell what kind of relationship two people have just by which way they say 'you'!" And perhaps more importantly, form the vantage point of this new culture he is able to step outside his own experience and reflect more deeply upon his own culture: "I wish we had words like don and doņa in English. Our language needs to a way to show more respect to the elderly."
The challenge of the world language teacher is to find ways for students to live and feel the target cultures in the classroom setting. One way we can make this happen is by extending our classroom beyond its four walls. We can invite community members in or take students out to meet and talk with them; we can use computer technology or the mail to contact youths in other cultures; we can collect authentic print and visual materials for use in our classrooms. As these experiences take us into unfamiliar territory, we become learners alongside our students. On a daily basis, we should take time to reflect on cultural characteristics an how they are apparent in the language we use or the situations we role play. The more we experience and learn in this way, the more comfortable we become with culture as central to the content of our discipline.
A ninth grader in Anchorage was making remarkable progress in German class. He went from failing two quarters in eighth grade to being one of the best students in his ninth grade class. When Frau Sanders asked him what had made the difference for him, he replied, "That's easy. In your class I can say what I want to say. I'm not forced to talk baby Deutch about stupid things from the textbook."
What does it mean to put the "learner at the center" of the class?
The ninth grader in the classroom snapshot had the experience of talking about things that mattered to him. Before, he felt limited to the "stupid" topics offered him by his textbook. Now, with the teacher materials and class collaboration, he could apply what he learned about the language to converse in the language, on topics which held his interest. The simple act of choosing his own topics opened the way for him to apply all that he had, in fact, learned (although his grades implied he hadn't learned much) and to use it for purposeful communication. Together, he and his teacher found a way to put him at the center of his class, to let him take responsibility for his own learning.
When we speak of the "learning-centered classroom" we envision a place where learners eagerly pursue this responsibility, and where teachers guide, encourage, and coach them in this process. It is often described as a community of learners, because students are both learners and teachers in this environment, and teachers are also learners. Lifelong learning is both the model for this class and its goal.
What does a learning-centered world languages class look like?
The first thing a visitor would notice in a learning-centered world languages classroom is that the students are using the language. They are interacting with each other and the teacher, and communicating about things which interest them. Students are actively involved in and taking responsibility for their own learning. At the elementary level, they might be graphing the number of moose killed by cars and by wolves this winter. In middle school, a student describes an article of clothing he saw in a magazine from the target culture. In high school, students are involved in a debate about whether or not the village should be dry.
There is movement in a learning-centered world languages class. Students are practicing giving and following directions. They cook and sample dishes from the target culture. They push the desks and chairs to the back of the room in order to make space to learn a dance or play a game. Blindfolded, they pull articles of clothing from a bag trying to guess what they are and in what season they should be worn. Movement is important in a student-centered world languages class because it helps students acquire language through kinesthetic integration.
Students are thinking for themselves in the learning-centered world languages class. They use what they've learned to figure out how to get their point across in a letter, in a conversation, or a demonstration. They extend and use prior knowledge in a meaningful way, another way learning in this class becomes their own.
Students are unabashedly making mistakes, reflecting on those mistakes when communication breaks down, and trying again. They stumble over words, sometimes mispronouncing them or choosing the wrong one. Making mistakes is a natural part of the process of trying to get a message across in a new language. Here, again, we see students taking responsibility for their own learning.
The teacher structures, facilitates, and guides the students in these processes. The students are actively involved in using the language in this class because the teacher has structured the time and the space to encourage this to happen. The teacher has planned for the movement and active participation of the students well in advance, and during class time circulates among the students, facilitating and guiding their communication with each other. Students are thinking for themselves because the teacher has posed open-ended questions and problem-solving tasks which require them to think and work together. They are not self-conscious about their mistakes because the teacher has guided the group in the crafting of a class culture where mistakes are accepted as a natural of learning.
The environment of this learning-centered class is fertile ground for the development of habits of mind, or ways of thinking and behaving, which make a person an effective language learner.
What "habit of mind" do learners develop and employ in a learning-centered world languages classroom?
A teacher models effective habits of mind for language learning and makes them explicit in the classroom. Some teachers find it useful to post a few core habits of mind on the walls of the classroom and point them out whenever anyone makes a good use of one. Learners can help each other recognize effective uses of these mental habits in the classroom, so that all members develop awareness of the thinking processes behind the behaviors. When effective habits of mind are an explicit part of our classroom curriculum, we illuminate our thinking process for one another and strengthen the learning process.
One evening a New England teacher of Latin and Greek was watching a PBS American Playhouse production of "The Gospel at Colonus," a modern version of a Greek play which was adapted as a gospel meeting in an African-American church. While the plot was classical, the musical style was gospel music of the modern, Southern black churches. This world language teacher was struck by the connections made to the original experience of theater in the celebrations. The video presentation symbolized so clearly the connections among theater, classical study, music and the arts that she went to school the next day and talked to teachers from other departments (English, music, art, speech, ancient history, vocational, media, video production). They shared her excitement and began to map out a plan to combine their knowledge and areas of interest in a meaningful way to create an interdisciplinary performance. Soon after, students and community members joined in on the planning. Some students were interested in the music, some in making masks and costumes for the performance, some in performing (singing and acting), building sets, videotaping, doing choreography, organizing, directing. Parents videotaped the rehearsals or used other skills to aid in the production. All the community was invited to see the performance which successfully brought together several disciplines in a meaningful and enjoyable way.
How do world languages connect with other disciplines?
"Language is not a subject, but a means to learn," says a teacher when asked to explain how world languages connects with the arts, English language arts, healthy life skills, mathematics, science, technology, history, geography, and civics. Whether we give directions on how to measure an angle, or describe an illustration in a picture book, or narrate a classroom demonstration of spontaneous combustion, we use language as a means to teach and learn. And if we use the language of study to perform such language functions, the world languages discipline becomes a connector among the disciplines.
To teachers of world languages, connecting across disciplines means literally opening doors to sharing the responsibility for certain portions of a school's curriculum in any content area. We can use language as a means to obtain, enrich, or expand content from any other discipline while simultaneously building language skills in our specific target language. In addition, the cultural context underlying all world language teaching and learning experiences is yet another possible deep connection to other disciplines.
World languages educators refer to two approaches for making interdisciplinary connections: through content-based programs and content-enriched programs.
In content-based world languages programs, the target language is the only vehicle for teaching the content from other areas of a school's curriculum, using learning objectives and activities from those other areas. Immersion programs are content-based programs. For example, a math unit on measurement might be taught entirely in the world language. In the elementary years, when children can best learn the language in its functional contexts, they are well suited to this content-based approach to language learning.
More often, the world language is used to reinforce and build new knowledge from other content areas, as in a content-enriched program. A content-enriched program uses the world language to amplify and supplement instruction from other disciplines. For example, in an elementary school, when children are learning about community service professions in social studies, a Gwich'in teacher decides to introduce community helper names in Gwich'in. She wants her students to learn the Gwich'in names for community helpers and to be able to construct a sentence with this vocabulary, for example, "I want to be a Ko' Haa Nich' itsyahdhat (firefighter).
What are the benefits of connecting world languages with the other disciplines?
Proficiency-based world languages programs emphasize the importance of meaningful and purposeful language use. What can be more meaningful and purposeful than to use our second language in a school setting for tasks that are a natural part of school life, tasks that emerge from the content area of other disciplines? If students are receiving lessons in algebra or folk dancing or world civilizations right down the hall from the world language classrooms, then we should take advantage of those lessons as opportunities to provide meaningful language use in our own classrooms. The benefits of a content-based or enriched approach are twofold: this approach develops our students' skills in the second language and enriches and enhances their knowledge of the content of other disciplines.
Furthermore, an effective content-based or -enriched approach promotes usage of higher thinking skills (such as evaluation, synthesis, and analysis) by connecting what our students are studying in their other classes with the skills they're acquiring in the world language class. For example, a high school German teacher finds out that his eleventh grade students are doing a project on an environmental issue in their science class. An effective content-enriched approach does not mean that this teacher asks his students to memorize a vocabulary list or translate these environmental concerns into German. Instead, the teacher seeks an opportunity to practice German reading skills, learn new vocabulary and grammatical constructs, and encourage his students to use their minds. He finds an article in a German magazine discussing the environmental issue. As his students read the article, they further develop reading skills in German while analyzing, synthesizing, and comparing the information in the article with what they learned doing their science project. The student' German language skills develop, and they gain new information when they consider the environmental dilemma posed in their science class, form a different perspective.
Here, as in a multitude of other content-enriched activities, world languages' connection with the other disciplines becomes evident. When we start thinking about what we teach using this content-enriched approach, the world languages discipline is no longer seen as separate from the rest of what happens in our schools. Connections are made. Classroom doors are opened. All teachers need to work together to find out what the content goals of each discipline are and how we can best meet these goals together.
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