[Editor's note: The following blog post was written by Kim Talbot, chairwoman of the Foreign Language Department for Melrose Public Schools.]
The recent focus on National Standards, the National ELA and Math Curriculum, and the Mass Common Core has reignited a public interest in standards and curriculum. The Foreign Language teaching community across the nation has been quietly and uniformly aligned national performance standards for nearly two decades. Originally published in 1996, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proposed a series of national standards around FL focusing on the “5 Cs”: communication, comparisons, connections, cultures and communities. Massachusetts adopted these national standards in 1999 and they have guided foreign language teachers ever since.
Though widely accepted, these standards are not without their challenges. The national debate centers on the incorporation of the “Communities” standard in foreign language classrooms. Dubbed the “Lost C” by world language educators, encouraging students to connect with Target Language communities has occupied a great deal of space in the national conversation. In fact, in the November edition of “The Language Educator” several articles are dedicated to this problem. The “Lost C” is so difficult to realize because it is actually a mindset.
In Melrose this mindset is alive and well: in fact it drives our programming. Our students’ language extends well past the boundaries of the classroom as we seek to implement not only the Communities standard, but the spirit behind it. We encourage our students to become “life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment” and to “use the language both within and beyond the school setting.” Students in all languages and levels have the opportunity to connect with members of the Target Language community.
Italian students at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School have had the opportunity to discover the Italian community of Boston through a walking tour of the North End. During this tour, the flavors of the Italian American culture and cuisine are celebrated.
In the past two years, Middle School French students have interacted with Canadian Kinball players who have brought the game across the border. Playing this Canadian-conceived, three-team game in French requires teamwork, and language and culture skills that transfer back into the classroom.
Middle School German and some Melrose High School (MHS) French students communicate with E-pals. This program allows teachers across the world to pair their classrooms in carefully monitored exchanges of ideas and information.
For the past two years, students in French 4 Honors and 5 Honors/AP have engaged in written communication with their French Epals who attend a lycée just outside of Paris. Approximately one to two times per month, students send messages to their penpals in the target language, while the French students write back in English. Occasionally, both groups of students write in their native languages. Students discuss personal topics as well as content related to what they are studying in class. Last year, both groups of students created videos, in the target language, about their school, and this year, we hope to have chats via Skype. The Epals project is a great way for students to practice their language skills, read in the target language and exchange cultural information and allows students to build communities in settings otherwise inaccessible to them during the regular school day.
Of course, the Communities Melrose is most known for cultivating are those that grow from our robust exchange programs. Currently, MHS students of German, Italian, and Spanish have the opportunity to create meaningful friendships with Target Language peers living abroad. Following a frenzy of late spring and summer emails, Melrose hosts our international guests for several weeks during the fall. During this time, our students practice their language and negotiation skills as they and their partners navigate friendship and culture. In the spring, Melrose students reunite with their language partners and spend several weeks assimilating into a new Community. When they return, their newfound sense of globalization is contagious as they share with their classmates the life-changing experiences they have had and the friendships they fostered.
The Melrose Community, through their unwavering support of the Foreign Language Program, is the reason why the “Lost C” is actually the foundational standard of a Melrose Public School students’ foreign language experience.