ERIC Identifier: ED333714
Publication Date: 1991-06-00
Author: Short, Deborah J. - Willetts, Karen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington
Implementing Middle School Foreign Language Programs.
Once a school district has selected appropriate program models for foreign
language study, a number of implementation and instructional issues must
be considered, including scheduling, staffing, and curricula. What follows
is a discussion of these issues, as well as useful information to aid in
the implementation of a middle school foreign language program. For additional
information on planning middle school programs, see Willetts & Short,
Scheduling can be a difficult issue for an administrator who must balance
state requirements and student interests in an effective school-day design.
When planning to offer foreign language instruction to all students each
year, administrators are presented with the task of slotting sequential
foreign language courses into the already over-crowded daily schedule.
Some schools are attempting to solve this problem through block or modular
scheduling and are advocating interdisciplinary team organization (see
"Instructional Issues"). In one survey, flexible scheduling within blocks
for teams was being used in 20%-31% of the middle schools surveyed (Alexander
& McEwin, 1989). Descriptions of other innovative schedules are noted
in Alexander & McEwin's report.
For schools with a foreign language teacher who teaches two different
languages, the schedule should be planned so classes of each language are
grouped together. For example, all Spanish classes may be offered in the
morning, and all French classes in the afternoon. This type of scheduling
facilitates the teacher's planning and organization. It is recommended
that teachers be provided with one preparation period for each language
Staffing. Middle school foreign language teachers should know the linguistic
and cultural aspects of the language they are teaching, be trained in foreign
language teaching methods, and be able to adapt instruction to the needs
and interests of middle school students. They should be able to direct
activities in a firm and understanding manner; be committed to the role
and importance of language learning; be able to match appropriate activities
to middle school foreign language objectives; and be aware of student ability
ranges and learning rates at the middle school level.
Teacher Recruitment. Certified high school foreign language teachers
and bilingual elementary teachers can be recruited and retrained for the
middle school through in-service or continuing education courses. Administrators
should also review the backgrounds of current staff members to uncover
potential candidates for new courses, and look for teachers from the local
community, including certified retirees or native speakers who have language
teacher training and experience. Teacher preparation programs at local
or state colleges and universities may also be a good source of qualified
foreign language teachers.
Teacher Certification. Although it is preferable that administrators,
teachers, and counselors in the middle grades be trained and certified
to teach in the middle school, this is not always possible. The middle
school is only beginning to emerge as an independent structure from the
elementary or high school, and teacher preparation programs remain largely
bilateral, offering only elementary or secondary certificates. Ideally,
a middle school foreign language teacher would have K-12 certification,
or a middle grade endorsement on an elementary or secondary certificate.
Several states permit teachers to begin teaching a foreign language while
pursuing a course of study for the proper certification (Herrera, 1988).
It is best for middle school teachers to be certified in each foreign
language they are teaching. A teacher of multi-language exploratory courses
could begin teaching with a minor in one or more foreign languages, while
completing coursework towards certification in each language. It is advisable
to recruit teachers with a background in several languages to facilitate
the implementation of a program that offers more than one language.
Staff Development. Opportunities should be provided for middle school
foreign language teachers to improve their skills. Summer institutes and
in-service training programs should be organized where teachers can select,
plan, schedule, conduct, and evaluate various activities that will enhance
their own language teaching skills. Teachers should have opportunities
to work on curriculum development activities that integrate aspects of
elementary and secondary curricula into the middle school plan. This experience
can facilitate the articulation of foreign language instruction across
Curriculum Development. The middle school foreign language curriculum
should include objectives, content, activities, and evaluative techniques
appropriate to the type of programs (e.g., exploratory, sequential) offered,
and should reflect characteristics of the middle school curriculum such
as balance, articulation, and flexibility. The range of interests, abilities,
attitudes, and maturity levels of middle school students should be considered.
(See Maryland State Department of Education, 1989).
Restructured middle schools are not only reforming curricula, but are
also modifying their instructional organization. It is recommended that
middle grade educators establish related interdisciplinary curricular topics.
District curriculum leaders should work collaboratively with school staff
to identify and develop areas and topics for interdisciplinary teaching.
The curriculum should enable students to see the connections within and
across various subjects.
Team Teaching. A popular alternative to the traditional self-contained
classroom is the establishment of interdisciplinary teams. The interdisciplinary
approach arranges teachers from different subject areas into teams that
are responsible for a group of students. The objective of the team approach
is to provide a supportive environment for adolescent middle school students
that allows teachers to guide and tailor instruction with regard to student
needs and abilities. Typically, the team includes a core of teachers from
four disciplines: mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts.
It is strongly recommended that the foreign language teacher become part
of the team. Foreign language staff should have a resource or planning
period to interact with the other team teachers.
The team often plans thematic instruction that each teacher can reinforce
and expand on in his or her given subject area. Foreign language study,
particularly because of its interdisciplinary nature (culture, geography,
history, language arts, etc.), lends itself well to an interdisciplinary
approach. As discussed below (see "Content-Based Lessons"), the foreign
language curriculum can have content-based units or lessons that permit
subjects such as art, music, and social studies to be naturally woven into
the language curriculum. (See Curtain & Martinez, 1989, for sample
A subset of the team approach is a paired teaching strategy, in which
two teachers are assigned to teach a course that combines two subject areas.
This flexible strategy can be a scheduling alternative for districts that
wish to implement a foreign language program, yet do not have enough time
slots initially available.
Content-Based Lessons. One means of combining language instruction with
other areas of the curriculum is to use the target language to present
lessons in subjects such as science, math, and social studies. For example,
the foreign language teacher may conduct a simple science experiment with
the students who hypothesize about the process, observe and record the
activity, and draw conclusions about the result in the target language.
For beginning students, the foreign language teacher may write math word
problems in the target language or have students find countries, cities,
and other geographical features on a map and learn about places and cultures
in social studies-based foreign language lessons.
Communicative Approach. In this approach to foreign language instruction,
students use the target language in class a great deal through communicative
activities such as games, role-playing, and problem-solving tasks. Other
characteristics of this approach include the use of authentic materials
and small group or paired activities. Adolescent students should be able
to explore and learn language through a variety of ways, including activities
such as drama and music, discussion and debate, experimentation and discovery,
partnerships and peer tutoring, and multi-media and multi-sensory activities.
Early adolescents have special physical, intellectual, emotional, and social
needs, so it is important to make learning a participatory activity. Providing
students with opportunities to work in pairs or groups with problem-solving
situations assists in the development of their self-confidence, cooperation,
and achievement. When students work in small groups, they are more apt
to participate--especially those students who are shy or less proficient
than others in the class--because they talk and share ideas among their
peers. By using small group learning techniques, including cooperative
learning strategies, foreign language teachers promote greater communication
among their students in the target language as groups set out to fulfill
learning tasks, complete assignments, check on comprehension, prepare reports,
etc. Small group activities are especially recommended for augmenting oral
language among students.
Cooperative learning is a highly effective strategy for small group
work that provides for diversity and individuality in learning styles,
and aids students in the socialization process. Cooperative learning is
also useful for teachers who teach students of varying proficiency levels
in their classes. If teachers arrange students heterogeneously, the more
proficient students can assist the less proficient ones in the group. Peer
tutoring and peer response groups capitalize upon the strong desire of
young adolescents to participate with peers. It is necessary for the teachers,
however, to design tasks that require active participation of all group
Authentic materials and realia. Many research studies have shown that
students learn a second language best through context (Krashen and Terrell,
1983). One interesting way to provide a foreign language context for students
is through the use of realia and authentic materials from the target country
(Berwald, 1987). Realia such as posters, foods, and common objects from
the foreign country can give students a more authentic language learning
experience. Authentic articles in newspapers and magazines are ideal sources
of topical vocabulary, current events, and rhetorical style. Geltrich-Ludgate
and Tovar (1987) list over seventy examples of realia and recommend uses
for each item.
Technology and media aids can also be used to surround students with
the authentic foreign language and culture. Video, especially, lends itself
to the transmission of cultural information and allows students to observe
the language of gestures and other non-verbal communication. Satellite
now brings live programming from foreign countries into the classroom,
and computers with modems permit telecommunications among students around
the globe (Krause, 1990). The familiar penpal activity can become even
more motivating and satisfying when students send messages to each other
via electronic mail or videotape. In today's high tech society, possibilities
for cultural experiences and foreign language learning using authentic
materials and media are expanding rapidly.
Renewed concern about middle level education in the United States has
contributed to the number of school districts seeking to implement foreign
language programs at the middle school level. Implementing a foreign language
program requires careful planning, and teachers and administrators must
consider the specific learning needs of students at this level. Foreign
language study can be an enriching experience. It is important to provide
students with programs that are challenging, enjoyable, and suited to their
specific educational needs.
Additional information on implementing middle school foreign language
programs can be found in "A Planning and Resource Guide for Foreign Languages
in Maryland Middle Schools," available in 1991 from the Maryland State
Department of Education.
Alexander, W.M., & McEwin, C.K. (1989). "Schools in the middle:
Status and progress." Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
Berwald, J. P. (1987). "Teaching foreign languages with realia and other
authentic materials. ERIC Digest." Washington, DC: ERIC/CLL.
Curtain, H.A.,& Martinez, L.S. (1989). "Integrating the elementary
school curriculum into the foreign language class: Hints for the FLES teacher."
Los Angeles, CA: CLEAR.
Geltrich-Ludgate, B., & Tovar, D. (1987). Authentic text types and
corresponding strategies: A list for the foreign language instructor. "Die
Herrera, J. (1988). "A collaborative partnership to improve foreign
language teaching in middle and secondary schools through innovative recruiting
and training." (FinalReport). Colorado Department of Education.
Krashen, S., & Terrell, T. (1983). "The natural approach: Language
acquisition in the classroom." Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers.
Krause, J. (1990). "Telecommunications in foreign language instruction.
A resource list. ERIC Digest." Washington, DC: ERIC/CLL.
Maryland State Department of Education. (1989). "Foreign language: A
Maryland curricular framework." Baltimore, MD: Maryland State Department
Willetts, K., & Short, D.J. (1990). "Planning middle school foreign
language programs. ERIC Digest." Washington, DC: ERIC /CLL.