Language Students Exploring Ideas and Experience across the Curriculum

Content-enriched instruction: teaching math, science, and social studies in other languages. At Collins Middle School in Salem, Massachusetts, Spanish teacher Margaret Arnold works with science teacher Nancy Pelletier and special needs teacher Victoria Waterbury on a unit about infectious disease and its effects on human history. Along with their English-language instruction, eighth graders relatively new to Spanish learn the Spanish terms for diseases, symptoms, and treatments; collect data in Spanish on a disease they choose to research; do readings and keep journals in Spanish; write and illustrate a Spanish children’s book about their topic (as well as writing an English essay); and design a public health survey for a Spanish-speaking community. They use an inductive approach to understanding and analyzing the Spanish grammar and scientific vocabulary??a method that reinforces the science curriculum as it develops proficiency.

Whole-school involvement in learning the same second language. All students take Spanish at the Parker School in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and this fall the school sponsored “La Copa Parker,” a soccer tournament among advisory groups conducted entirely in Spanish. (The rules of the game were altered so that speaking in English meant forfeiting the ball.) For a week in January, the whole school studied Spanish in an “intensive accelerated” week of music, art, games, and drama; two native-speaking consultants led 120 students with the help of Spanish-speaking teachers from several disciplines. Teacher Dave Berkley tailored a unit on cultural stereotypes to the new school’s Essential Question, “What is community?”; students visit elderly Latino residents in a nearby care center; parents serve as in-class aides; and from bookcases to medicine cabinets, everyday objects in all school classrooms and offices are labeled with their Spanish names.

Accelerated language instruction using a long-block schedule. Foreign language teacher Bev Blackburn at Reynoldsburg (OH) High School worried at first about her school’s new double-blocked schedules, but now says it has only helped her students. “It gave me insight on how to be a coach,” she says. “To get more mastery, at the same time I had to pare down to what was most essential. But now I have time to touch all learning styles to get across a concept. And I don’t spend so much time reviewing. No one says, ?«I didn’t get it yesterday.'” If they choose, students can complete four years of language in two under the new schedule, then either move on to advanced levels or begin the study of another language. (Robert Canady, the author of Block Scheduling, suggests that every two or four years schools might offer an intensive full-semester schedule of a language, in which students could compress four years of study into one, or even conduct their study in another country.)

Coaching students to infer grammar rules on their own. At Whitfield School in St. Louis, Missouri, Veronique Vallerie-Lynch uses “guessing games” to get students to come up with the mechanisms of French grammar. “I ask students to look at the language as an analyst, the way they would look at a frog in a science lab??to collect data and eventually write a report,” she says. In pairs, students work through a progressive series of prompts, which lead them to discover a particular linguistic pattern in grammar (such as the use of future tense), write it down in their own words, and finally apply it to a new situation. “It may be time consuming for the teacher to write this type of exercise, but the reward is great in class,” says Vallerie-Lynch. “The most satisfying part for both teacher and students is to see them come up with their own explanations, in words they can relate to and understand. It places them on the same level as other subjects; they have the language to talk about the discipline even if they do not have the discipline’s skills.”

Using technology to learn other languages. In addition to the growing number of interactive software options for language tutoring, the Internet is an excellent curriculum resource. By e-mail, students can communicate in other languages with peers worldwide. On the Web one can also find interactive programs like Virtual Frog Dissection in various world languages; joint projects for schoolchildren such as the International Orillas Proverbs Project; and much more. Language teachers can subscribe to the discussion group “FLTeach” by e-mailing “subscribe FLTeach Donald Houghton Jr.” to

Fostering minority students’ language while developing skills in the majority language. A significant number of American students are at risk of losing skills in their first language because schools emphasize English at its expense. “Two-way immersion” programs, which foster academic skills in both languages by turn, are one way to address this. A program at Rhode Island School for the Deaf, for example, is working toward centering academic classes around linguistic skills in both American Sign Language and English (with an emphasis on reading and writing). Barbara Simon-Olsen’s students in transition between middle and high school research and present a weekly videotaped news program, soon to be captioned in English. The transition program aims, she says, “to identify the communication style that works best for each student’s learning needs, then to use it in coaching them to use their minds well.” Some high school students even study Latin to support their English and literacy skills.