ERIC Identifier: ED425657
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Leloup, Jean - Ponterio, Robert
Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Meeting the National Standards: Now What Do I Do? ERIC Digest.
Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century
(hereafter referred to as Standards) was published in 1996. The statement of
philosophy from which Standards was generated embodies the goals and beliefs of
the foreign language (FL) profession. "Language and communication are at the
heart of the human experience. The United States must educate students who are
equipped linguistically and culturally to communicate successfully in a
pluralistic American society and abroad. This imperative envisions a future in
which ALL students will develop and maintain proficiency in English and at least
one other language." (Standards, 1996, p. 7)
Standards is one of the most far reaching and encompassing documents of the
foreign language (FL) profession, yet most foreign language educators are either
unaware of it or unclear as to its intent, import, and impact. This digest aims
to explain the standards document in general, dispel some misconceptions about
it, and discuss its relevance for the classroom FL teacher.
WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS, ANYWAY?
Standards is a
discipline-specific document that is an out-growth of the long-term national
strategy proposed by the President and state governors at their 1989 education
summit in Charlottesville, Virginia and delineated in the booklet, America 2000:
An Educational Strategy (U.S. Dept. of Education, 1991). The strategy was
designed to accomplish six national educational goals that have far-reaching
consequences for all schools at all levels and for all subject areas. (The
entire thrust of this meeting and its resultant document have since been
referred to as either "America 2000" or "Goals 2000." The FL profession has
definitely made progress: Foreign language instruction is finally being
recognized as a vital part of the national goals and included as a core subject
area. Indeed, one of the principal mandates of Goals 2000 is "to improve
language instruction at all levels and to facilitate sequential learning."
To realize the goals of America 2000, academic disciplines were expected to
delineate national standards for instruction and learning. In 1993, a
collaborative effort of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign
Languages, the American Association of Teachers of French, The American
Association of Teachers of German, and the American Association of Teachers of
Spanish and Portuguese resulted in federal funding, and the National Standards
in Foreign Language Education Project was born. A task force of 11 FL teachers,
representing the gamut of FL professionals from literature instructors to public
classroom teachers to second language acquisition researchers, was born.
Hundreds of additional FL professionals had a chance to provide input and
suggestions throughout the many drafts of the Standards (Brown & Phillips,
1997; Standards, 1996).
The FL standards are essentially content standards that define what students
should know and be able to do in FL instruction in a K-12 sequence. Granted,
most public school systems in the United States do not have a K-12 FL
instructional sequence at this time, but the standards provide a way to focus on
a common vision to reach that very goal. In this sense, the standards document
is a political one, delineating the goals of the profession and making a case
for institutional and instructional change in the way FL programs are conceived
on the local, regional, and national levels. It also serves as a means for
public relations between FL professionals and administrators, parents, and
students by stating content goals at distinct intervals (Grades 4, 8, and 12)
for all FL learners.
The standards are not, however, a curriculum guide. They are not meant to
dictate local curricula or even assessment. Indeed, evaluation and assessment
are to be defined locally: at district, school, and even individual course
levels. The assessment becomes, then, the cadre of performance standards by
which students are evaluated. Nor are the standards tied to any particular
instructional method. To do so would be to limit their applicability,
flexibility, and universality. They are instead a statement of what FL education
should prepare students to do. Given certain overriding goals of FL education,
the standards articulate the essential skills and knowledge language learners
need in order to achieve said goals.
ORGANIZATION OF THE STANDARDS
The standards are organized
around five main goals: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and
communities. Eleven standards in total, distributed among these goal categories,
are the content standards that ostensibly give FL students "the powerful key to
successful communication: knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom" (Standards, 1996, p. 11). Each standard is accompanied by sample progress
indicators for Grades 4, 8, and 12, which reflect student progress in meeting a
particular standard but are not standards in and of themselves. The premises of
the indicators are that they can be realistically achieved at some level of
performance by all students, they can be arrived at through a myriad of
instructional modes, and they are measurable or assessable in a variety of ways.
The indicators are meant to be interpreted by FL teachers and curriculum
developers who will transform them into classroom lessons and activities. The
sample progress indicators can also be used to assist in establishing acceptable
performance levels for FL learners at the local level.
A final feature of the standards document is an extensive listing of FL
lessons that target specific content standards. These examples are called
learning scenarios and are included for a number of purposes. First, they
provide examples of how classroom practice relates to the standards. Second,
they are meant to allow divergent thinking and stimulate creativity in lesson
and curriculum design. Third, they are both learner centered and standards
driven. Last, they clearly illustrate the interrelationship of the standards and
their goals. Many different languages are represented in the scenarios. Future
companion documents to the national standards are planned with language-specific
examples and themes.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
Despite all the attention that
the move toward subject-area standards in American education has been receiving
in the media due to a certain level of politicalization surrounding them, what
matters most to the individual teacher is how the standards may change their
classroom. As they are written, the standards can help the teacher communicate
with students, parents, and administrators about what is happening in the
classroom and why. The inclusion of FLs in the Goals 2000 mandate helps the
teacher demonstrate that FLs are a core subject for all students, not to be
considered peripheral in the curriculum. Concomitantly, the clear
differentiation of national content standards from state and local curriculum
frameworks and performance standards, the flexibility built into the standards
document itself, and the voluntary nature of the standards implementation can
help allay any fear of losing community control of the education process
(Standards, 1996, 24-25). Although the standards represent expectations of
progress that all students will make toward achieving performance goals, the
possible levels of proficiency attainable for each goal will still represent a
broad range allowing students to excel beyond any minimal expectations. In day
to day teaching, the standards are particularly useful in curriculum design,
lesson planning, and assessment.
"Curriculum Design." The primary message conveyed by the five
Cs--communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, communities--is that that
each of these goal areas is important and has a place in the FL curriculum.
Thanks to the profession's longstanding focus on the role of communication and
context in language learning and the recognition of the functional and
sociolinguistic aspects of language, the goals of the standards are not new to
most teachers. The national standards are not a curriculum, but their specific
organization can help us analyze our curriculum by looking closely at what we
are doing to see to what extent we are already implementing the standards in our
classes. Many efforts in this area have been undertaken by teachers around the
country (e.g., in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky) and reported at national and
regional FL meetings (Clementi & Sandrock, 1997; Welch, 1997). An efficient
and common approach involves beginning with a listing of all activities now used
in achieving the current curricular goals and using a table to check off
standards that are addressed by these. The result of analysis provides a clear
graphical display of standards being met and areas that may be underrepresented
in the curriculum, and leads to the development of a better balance in the
future. This is not to say that all of the goals are equal or that all of the
standards should receive equal weight. Those decisions are up to the teacher,
but a better awareness of how much attention is focused on each goal should help
in making those decisions.
"Lesson Plans." With curricular goals and specific progress indicators in
mind, instructional and assessment strategies may be designed to do more to meet
the standards criteria in weaker areas of the curriculum. Although examples of
activities aligned with the standards are available in learning scenarios
published with the standards, the sharing of such materials is one of the best
ways teachers can help each other adapt to these criteria. Many groups are
working on sharing learning scenarios, but the more we can help each other, the
better our chances will be to arrive at a broad implementation of
The following example is suggested as an illustration of weaving
interdisciplinary lessons, the use of technology, and community resources
together to create an exciting and comprehensive project that addresses all of
the national standards. Aconcagua Project calls for students to "climb" this
famous peak in South America. The project originates in the language class (here
obviously Spanish) but spills over into several other disciplines with careful
planning and collaboration on the part of the instructors involved. To complete
this assignment, the students need to plan the entire expedition from start to
finish in order to ensure its success. They will work in groups individually,
sharing their information at designated intervals (Standards 1.1 and 1.3). They
will collect data from a variety of sources, both traditional and technology
based (Standard 1.2). The Aconcagua Official Home Page
(http://www.aconcagua.com.ar/aconca.html) will be very helpful for securing much
information on the Internet.
Planning the trip will entail everything from getting to the country
(airfares, routes) and meals and lodging before the climb, to the entrance fee
to the park and mountain, conditions of the climb (both geophysical and
physiological), costs incurred by the expedition on-site, selection of the
optimal ascent route, and so on. While much of the discussion and planning will
take place in the language class, much of the data collection and planning can
be reinforced by studying parallel concepts in other disciplines (Standards 3.1
and 3.2). Below are some examples of activities that can be implemented in other
Science (Standard 3.1): Students study atmospheric conditions (e.g.,
humidity, temperatures) as one ascends the mountain; this information will also
be helpful in planning what apparel to take on the trip.
Geography (Standards 3.1 and 3.2): Students will need a wide variety of
information including maps, latitude and longitude points, geographical location
of the country and the peak, and so forth.
Math (Standard 3.1): Many mathematical concepts and functions can be
reinforced while gathering necessary information for the expedition:
temperatures, heights, pressures, measurement; reading graphs on statistics for
climbing (age, sex, etc.).
Spanish (Standards 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 1.3, 4.1, 4.2): vocabulary on weather,
numbers, food, nutrition, climbing equipment; planning the final ascent will
entail making comparisons of routes to ascend and descend (here students can
debate, compare, and contrast, making decisions based on best information
Clearly, the standards have much to say to us as
a profession. They were drafted as a guide to inform classroom instruction. They
are also a yardstick by which to measure classroom practice and performance. The
standards were generated from the basic premise that language and culture are
the foundations of communication in the world of today and the 21st century.
They are an in-house product in the sense that hundreds of FL teachers were
involved in developing and testing them to ensure that Standards is a workable
and practical document that will meet the needs of the classroom teacher. As we
move forward as a profession, the standards can be the unifying thread that
connects our curricula, our teaching, and our students' learning. By aligning
our instruction with the standards and by sharing our ideas, activities, and
learning scenarios with other colleagues, we will strengthen the position of FLs
in the national educational agenda, and we will empower our language students to
be lifelong learners and users.
Standards for Foreign Language Learning
in Languages Other Than English
1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express
feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.
1.2: Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety
1.3: Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of
listeners or readers on a variety of topics.
Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures
2.1: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the
practices and perspectives of the culture studied.
2.2: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the
products and perspectives of the culture studied.
with Other Disciplines and Acquire Information
3.1: Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through
the foreign language.
3.2: Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that
are only available through the foreign language and its cultures.
Insight into the Nature of Language and Culture
4.1: Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through
comparisons of the language studied and their own.
4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through
comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.
in Multilingual Communities at Home & Around the World
5.1: Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting.
5.2: Students show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language
for personal enjoyment and enrichment.
Brown, C., & Phillips, J. K. (1997, April).
"National standards familiarization workshop." Presented at the annual meeting
of the Northeast conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, New York.
Clementi, D., & Sandrock, P. (1996, November). "Standards can make a
difference. Presentation at the annual meeting of the American Council on the
Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Standards for foreign language learning: Preparing for the 21st century.'
(1996). Lawrence, KS: Allen Press.
United States Dept. of Education. (April, 1991). America 2000: An educational
strategy. Washington, DC: Author.
Welch, T. (1996, November). "National standards: Been there, done that, let's
do more!!!" Presentation at the annual meeting of the American Council on the
Teaching of Foreign Languages.
This Digest is condensed from an article published in A. Vogely (Ed.),
Celebrating Languages: Opening All Minds! (pp. 43-50). NYSAFLT Annual Meeting