ERIC Identifier: ED308061
Publication Date: 1989-04-00
Author: Strasheim, Lorraine A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Proficiency-Oriented Foreign Language in the Small High School.
Very little has been written about the problems of foreign language
instruction in small high schools, and even less about possible solutions.
Practitioners and policymakers need help with this issue. This Digest considers
national concerns, state initiatives, enrollment patterns, the dilemma of
multi-level instruction, technological alternatives, and resources of state
Into the 1990s foreign language
instruction will present a strong challenge to administrators and teachers in
small high schools. Most of the reform reports of the 1980s pointed out that a
critical task ahead would be to improve instruction in foreign languages.
The challenge is particularly strong because the focus of such reports lies
in language PROFICIENCY, not just in knowledge about languages and cultures in
general (see, for example, Strasheim, 1987). Foreign languages are not viewed as
a "frill." For example, according to the authors of A NATION AT RISK, foreign
language proficiency is vital to the national interest in business, foreign
affairs, the military, and education.
Most of the responses by state education
agencies to the national concerns about language proficiency affect small high
schools in two ways. Either they call for adding foreign languages to curricula
in which they have NEVER been offered, or they require more extended sequences
of study (Draper, 1984).
States like Nebraska and Indiana have established special diplomas for
"rigorous" courses of study, which usually include three or four years of a
foreign language. Some states have set foreign language requirements of one or
two years as prerequisite to high school graduation. And a large number of
states have developed proficiency-based curriculum guides, which they have
disseminated to teachers and administrators (Draper, 1984).
In short, the national concerns have been swiftly translated into policy at
the state level. Much will need to be done to help these small high schools meet
the worthy expectations that the new policies imply.
Most students do not take foreign
languages, according to a recent survey (Oxford & Rhodes, 1988). Current
enrollments also show that about half the foreign-language enrollments are in
Spanish and about one-third are in French (Oxford & Rhodes, 1988; Foreign
Language Enrollments, 1984). There are far fewer numbers of students studying
German, and even fewer studying Latin (see, for example, LaFleur, 1985).
Chinese, Japanese, and Russian--now thought to be good choices for students--all
have VERY low enrollments. The availability of staff parallels the enrollment
patterns. What is to be done in the small high school? Perhaps the most critical
concern is the multi-level class, discussed next.
THE DILEMMA OF MULTI-LEVEL CLASSES
scheduling of two or more levels of a foreign language into a single class
period--are very common in small high schools. Teachers find multi-level classes
difficult for three reasons: planning problems, classroom management challenges,
and instructional needs (Strasheim, 1983).
First, multi-level teachers are confronted with multiple "preparations"
within a single class. Such planning is an additional burden to these teachers,
most of whom must prepare for classes in unrelated disciplines.
Second, multi-level teachers cannot concentrate on the lesson in progress.
Instead, they must keep a watchful eye on the other students in the room to
monitor seatwork. Discipline problems have the potential of reducing already
short contact time.
Finally, the instructional needs of multi-level classes are most serious.
Foreign language teachers know that oral experiences are critical to the
development of proficiency. Yet students in classes with two levels have only
one-half the contact time they might get in their other high school courses! And
students do not view languages as "easy" courses: they need all the contact they
can get. It is almost impossible to engage the students in one level in oral
practice while the teacher is conducting another lesson (with the other level)
in the same room. As a result, teachers tend to stress reading and writing at
the expense of listening and speaking, a technique--they are well aware--that
does not cultivate language proficiency with optimal effectiveness.
When three or even four levels are combined in a single multi-level class,
teachers face an exceptionally difficult task. There are, in fact, some small
high schools in which the ENTIRE foreign language sequence is taught in a single
class in a SINGLE period (Lafayette, 1980).
SCHEDULING THE MULTI-LEVEL CLASS
judgment should govern how multi-level classes are set up and how they are
scheduled. Teachers know best how they can handle this difficult situation, but
administrators can help in several ways by recognizing the following principles
-- Multi-level classes, especially those due to a need for
the teacher's services in another discipline, sometimes
become too large to manage. A good enrollment cap for
multi-level classes is 20 students.
-- Students in the first and second years require far more
direction than those in upper levels. Good practice keeps
lower-levels in SEPARATE classes. If lower levels must be
scheduled into a multi-level class, they should be
scheduled with an upper level, not with each other.
-- The most effective multi-level classes are those that
combine levels three and four. In this context the
teacher can "rotate" the content of two years of
instruction, teaching the students as one class, but
differentiating assignments in alternate years.
-- The period in which lunch is served is usually longer than
the others in the school day. Scheduling the multi-level
class at this time can give the teacher greater
-- Different languages should be taught in separate classes,
not in one. Students trying to work independently become
distracted by hearing a different language.
-- If the same teacher is teaching two languages, each
language should be scheduled back-to-back. Language
teachers, who are not usually native speakers, become
mentally exhausted switching from one language to another.
-- Sometimes schools schedule small-enrollment levels into an
unrelated discipline taught by the teacher. This is a
very ineffective strategy. Low enrollment (for example,
two or three students in a level) is a sign that
technologically-delivered instruction is needed.
Many state education
agencies and universities are trying to help small schools offer foreign
languages through interactive video courses delivered via satellite or microwave
transmission. The Nebraska Department of Education, through the Satellite
Educational Resources Consortium (SERC), is offering Introductory Japanese to
high schools in 18 states in a pilot program. Introductory Japanese, which is
based on a curriculum developed at Earlham College, will be offered by SERC as
Japanese I in the fall of 1989 (Nebraska Educational Television, 1989). Other
examples abound (see for example, Barker, 1987). Teachers and administrators in
small high schools can check with the foreign language consultants in state
education agencies, who are excellent resources for learning more about
technologically-delivered foreign language offerings.
One note of caution needs to be sounded with respect to
technologically-delivered instruction. Teacher-to-student and
student-with-language interaction are as critical in technologically-delivered
instruction as they are in every type of foreign language class. Available
offerings should be carefully examined as to class size (see, for example,
Levinson, 1984). Class size should be no more than 35, for when it rises to 100
or more--as is the tendency--meaningful interaction can cease, and the
potentially active learner soon becomes a passive spectator and, ultimately, a
STATE DEPARTMENT RESOURCES
State education agencies are
rich resources. Their foreign-language consultants can (1) provide information
on program development options; (2) supply proficiency-based curriculum guides;
(3) provide or identify consultant services; (4) direct staff development
meetings and workshops; (5) recommend instructional materials and training
opportunities for teachers; (6) link teachers with professional organizations
and their activities in the state; and (7) respond to questions and problems as
If consultants cannot supply information already prepared, they will usually
help find it. If the response from your own state department proves
unsatisfactory, call the department in a neighboring state for possible
resources. Be persistent!
THE TEACHER IS VITAL
The committed teacher is the vital key
to both program development and program effectiveness. Foreign language teachers
in small high schools should be strongly encouraged to attend one professional
conference or workshop a semester and be given released time to do so. These
teachers need the spiritual uplift, the new ideas, the exposure to inexpensive
materials, and, most of all, the chance to meet and talk with colleagues in
Barker, B. (1987). INTERACTIVE DISTANCE LEARNING TECHNOLOGIES FOR RURAL AND SMALL SCHOOLS: A RESOURCE
GUIDE (ERIC Mini-Review). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 286 698).
Draper, J. (1984). State initiatives in foreign languages and international studies. THE NORTHEAST CONFERENCE ON THE TEACHING OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES NEWSLETTER, 10, 42-49.
Foreign language enrollments in public secondary schools. (1984). FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS, 17(6), 611-623.
Lafayette, R. (1980). Differentiation of language instruction. In F. Grittner (Ed.), LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE (Seventy-Ninth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II) (pp. 67-87). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
LaFleur, R. (1985). Latin in the United States: Twenty years after the fall. FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS, 18(4), 341-347.
Levinson, C. (1984). THE SCHOOL PROBLEM-SOLVER'S GUIDE TO DISTANCE EDUCATION. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 253 380).
Nebraska Educational Television Commission. (1989). SERC HANDBOOK FOR COORDINATORS AND FACILITATORS. Lincoln, NB: Nebraska Educational Television Commission.
Oxford, R., & Rhodes, N. (1988). Foreign languages in elementary and secondary schools: Results of a national survey. FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS, 21(1), 51-69.
Strasheim, L. (1987). Proficiency in the "real world" of the professional classroom teacher. In D. Birckbichler (Ed.), EDUCATIONAL PROFICIENCY, POLICY, AND PROFESSIONALISM
IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE EDUCATION (Selected Papers from the 1987 Central States Conference). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 285 418).
Strasheim, L. (1983). COPING WITH MULTI-LEVEL CLASSES EFFECTIVELY AND CREATIVELY. Paper presented at the American Classical League Conference, Fredericksburg, VA. (ERICDocument Reproduction Service No. ED 232 454).