Standards Opinion

Where World Languages and the Common Core Intersect

By Anthony Jackson — September 18, 2012 4 min read
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Today, my colleague Heather Singmaster takes a look at how teaching world languages can help meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

by Heather Singmaster

“I have two long antennae,” the student at the front of the class said, in Chinese.

“Are you a snail?” asked another student, also in Chinese.

“No! I have three body parts and six thin legs.”

“An ant?” quipped another.

“No, I have two colorful wings.”

“A butterfly!” the class shouted.

This is an example of an activity you will see in today’s elementary classroom in English, or Chinese, or Spanish, or many other languages. Students, who are learning about the lifecycle in science class, will choose an animal and play a version of 20 questions. By describing the animal and eventually creating a digital storybook about it, they learn descriptive words in context, communicate with a partner, and learn technology skills.

You may think that’s a great way for students to learn a language. What you may not realize is it also bolsters the literacy skills outlined in the Common Core State Standards.

We have posted before about strategies to add a global aspect to CCSS implementation. One thing that is being stressed in CCSS implementation is that the English Language Arts standards can be taught through many subject areas, not just through language arts classes. The standards outline what literacy looks like in history, social studies, and science. Although it’s not specified, language classes are also a good opportunity to teach for the CCSS, bolster literacy, and give students a needed global perspective.

I recently had the opportunity to see Paul Sandrock of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and Margaret Reed Millar of the Council of Chief State School Officers give a presentation on the intersections between the CCSS and World Languages.

Language study is an inherently global pursuit (or should be!). The national standards for world languages—finished long before the CCSS—emphasize the 5 C’s: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. These align very well with our definition of global competence as well as to some of the skills emphasized by the CCSS—communication (through speech, writing, or reading), connections (to other pieces of writing and speakers), and comparisons (with various texts and cultures). In fact, ACTFL and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills state, “The language teaching community has reached strong consensus regarding the goals of a language program: to develop students’ language proficiency around modes of communicative competence reflecting real-life communication.” Real life communication is emphasized in both the Common Core and the definition of global competence.

ACTFL shows the links between the National Standards for Language Learning (NSLL) and the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Mathematics. This crosswalk also describes what literacy support looks like with classroom examples at the novice, intermediate, and advanced levels. The CCSS in ELA contains four strands: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These are all core skills in language learning. They are also listed in the NSLL under the elements of interpersonal, interpretive, presentational, and proficiency levels. For instance, in the ELA CCSS for Reading, you can find this standard: “Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize key supporting details and ideas.” The corresponding standard in the NSLL would fall under Interpretive: “Examine, compare, and reflect on products, practices, and/or perspectives of the target culture(s).”

You can see that by supporting the development of literacy through attention to the Common Core State Standards, language teachers are helping students develop 21st century skills in media literacy, applications of technology, and collaboration.

ACTFL, together with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, also created the World Languages Skills Map. The Introduction outlines the difference in language teaching now versus twenty years ago—something that Paul Sandrock also highlighted in his presentation on the NSLL. Twenty years ago when I was learning Spanish, the focus was on grammar, syntax, the teachers, and the textbook. Today, teachers need to be facilitators who help students learn the language through thematic units and authentic resources.

Students will need language skills more than ever to help them work with others around the world. An emphasis of language teaching should be on culture and real-world tasks, like communicating with native speakers and publishing their work with multiple audiences. The map then shares interdisciplinary themes that can be used in the classroom to this end. Each of the 5 C’s is closely examined, giving examples of what students at the novice, intermediate ,and advanced level should be able to do.

Thanks to the tools developed by ACTFL and P21, today’s world language teacher has a clear vision of what the 21st century world language classroom should be.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.