ERIC Identifier: ED276301
Publication Date: 1985-09-00
Author: Kennedy, Dora F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Exploratory Foreign Language Courses in the Middle or Junior
High School. ERIC Digest.
Within the foreign language field, the term "exploratory" refers to
self-contained, nonsequential, interdisciplinary courses designed to introduce
students to a variety of languages and cultures. Such courses differ from
lengthy courses designed to teach a specific language (though exploratory
courses use specific languages for examples) (Kennedy and De Lorenzo, 1985).
These courses are taught in English except for the foreign language component,
and they are usually offered in middle and junior high schools. Exploratory
courses are found in most states, with interest in them increasing, especially
in the Middle West and in the East.
WHY EXPLORATORY COURSES AT THE MIDDLE SCHOOL LEVEL?
One of the major thrusts of the middle school concept, and of the junior high
school as originally conceived, is the provision of opportunities for children
in the early adolescent stage of development to explore a broad range of
academic and vocational fields. Advocates of exploratory programs feel that such
programs are in keeping with the developmental needs of this age group (Hawkins,
1981). The exploratory foreign language course has, therefore, become closely
identified with the middle school curriculum. Having been exposed to this type
of course, the middle school pupil is better equipped to make a reasoned
decision about future language study.
IS THE EXPLORATORY COURSE A NEW IDEA?
By no means. This type of course was first conceived in the late teens and
early 1920s during the emergence of the junior high school. It grew in
popularity until the post World War II era when the focus shifted to lengthy
sequential programs beginning in elementary school. However, a few exploratory
programs survived during the 1950s and 60s. In the early 1970s, the course
reemerged as a viable pre-high school foreign language experience with content
surprisingly similar to that of the early courses (Kennedy and De Lorenzo,
HOW DO THE COURSES LOOK?
Exploratory courses fall under three broad classifications based on the
nature of their content:
General Language. Content includes introduction to the phenomenon of
language, its history and the idea of its structure; language families;
comparisons among languages; a look at several languages, including artificial
languages such as Esperanto; and the concept of computer languages.
Language Potpourri (or "Trial Language Study"). Usually, several weeks are
spent on each of a few languages. Teaching covers mited survival skills together
with cultural material related to each language. Building readiness for more
formal study of a foreign language can also be part of this course. The
languages sampled are usually those offered in the school system.
Combination. The Kennedy/De Lorenzo survey revealed that most exploratory
courses contained elements of both general language and language potpourri in a
variety of organizational formats. In addition, several or all of the following
elements may be incorporated into the models: (1) Latin as one of the languages
explored, or infused (or both) throughout the course; (2) language heritage in
the United States, e.g., the French, Spanish, German, or native American
heritage; (3) career awareness, i.e., the role of foreign languages in the world
of work; (4) languages other than those taught in the school system incorporated
on a less formal basis as planned "experiences" during the course. Such
languages could include a language commonly spoken in the community or one of
the less commonly taught languages.
When instituting an exploratory course, the school system must decide which
of such models it will establish. Then a curriculum guide as well as a detailed
curriculum should be written. The guide should include policies and course
organization; goals, concepts, objectives; actual phrases and expressions to be
explored for each language (in dialog form); cultural material and projects;
sample tests, including an end-of-course test; homework suggestions and grading
policy; and basic daily lesson format.
The basic daily lesson format should include foreign language practice;
linking the foreign language with English skills and vocabulary building;
culture discussion, projects, and reports; review of the phrases practiced; and
the learning of songs. Homework should be given, and students graded as in any
Because of their flexible nature, exploratory courses can fit into the
scheduling pattern of most middle schools. Courses have been scheduled to span a
year, semester, or nine weeks, for example, meeting daily or on alternate days.
A course less than a semester long, however, leaves little time to address the
major components, particularly the specific language skills.
WHAT PREPARATION SHOULD TEACHERS HAVE?
Few institutions offer college level courses like the "World of Language"
course at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, courses specifically
designed to prepare students to teach exploratory courses. Consequently, foreign
language teachers, preferably those who have a background in more than one
foreign language, teach the exploratory course. If teachers in a school only
know one language, they can exchange classes at the end of a specified period of
time, such as at the end of the semester. Or, as experience in the Prince
George's County, Maryland, schools shows, some foreign language teachers may
quite easily acquire survival skills in a second foreign language, allowing
schools more flexibility in which languages will be included.
Regardless of the teachers' professional preparation, an orientation session
should be provided for all teachers who will teach the course for the first
time. The session should be designed to ensure that teachers understand the
concept of the course and that they follow a daily basic lesson format similar
to the one described above. In addition, teachers should be clear about the
difference between exploratory courses and Level I courses and should be sure
that students and parents are also clear about this. The exploratory course is
NOT a "watered down" Level 1 course, but rather an interdisciplinary course
involving language development and several languages and cultures. Additional
in-service sessions should be provided to help the teachers prepare their own
long-range plan based on the curriculum.
WHAT TYPES OF MATERIALS ARE USED?
Materials already in social studies and foreign language departments can be
adapted. Maps, texts about countries, filmstrips, films, travel guides, culture
pamphlets, and books containing survival phrases and expressions for several
languages are all appropriate, as are texts dealing with general language
concepts, Latin and Greek roots, and the like. Students can also create
materials during "hands-on" experience. Such materials can be used for teaching
other students. It is important, however, that at least one text be designated
as "basic" and assigned to each student. Additionally, students should be
required to keep a notebook exclusively for the course.
The following public school systems are frequently mentioned in the
literature as having long-standing successful programs, and they are willing to
share materials and guides. Contact the Foreign Language Division.
Topeka Public Schools (1970) 624 24th Street Topeka, KS 66611
Baltimore County Public Schools (1970) 6901 Charles Street Baltimore, MD
Prince George's County Public Schools (1973) Sasscer Administrative Bldg.
14201 School Lane Upper Marlboro, MD 20870
Fairfax County Public Schools (1974) The Administration Center 10700 Page
Avenue Fairfax, VA 22030 (800) 691-2502
Waukesha Public Schools (1979) 222 Maple Avenue Waukesha, WI 53186
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hawkins, E. MODERN LANGUAGES IN THE CURRICULUM. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1981.
Kennedy, D., and W.E. De Lorenzo. COMPLETE GUIDE TO EXPLORATORY FOREIGN
LANGUAGE PROGRAMS. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company, 1985.
Kennedy, D., and P. Barr-Harrison. FOREIGN LANGUAGES--MIDDLE SCHOOL.
EXPLORATORY FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Second Edition. Upper Marlboro, MD: Prince
George's County Public Schools, 1982. ED 240 846.
Milwaukee Public Schools. EXPLORING LANGUAGES AND CULTURES--AN EXPLORATORY
FOREIGN LANGUAGE COURSE. A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS. Milwaukee, WI: Author, 1982. ED
National Education Association. EDUCATION IN THE 80'S: CASSETTE ON
EXPLORATORY FOREIGN LANGUAGE. With American Council on Foreign Languages.
Washington, DC: Author.
Raven, P.T. FLEX: A FOREIGN LANGUAGE EXPERIENCE. 1983. ED 238 301.
Sims, W.D., and S.B. Hammond. AWARD WINNING FOREIGN LANGUAGE PROGRAMS.
Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company, 1981.
Stern, H.H. "Toward a Multidimensional Foreign Language Curriculum." In
FOREIGN LANGUAGES: KEY LINKS IN THE CHAIN OF LEARNING, ed. Robert J. Mead.
Middlebury, VT: Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1983.
ED 240 863.
Strasheim, L.A. "FLEX: The Acronym and the Entity." UNTERRICHTSPRAXIS 15(1)