K12 curriculum roundup: More than words

Foreign language teachers build global competence and cultural fluency
By: | October 18, 2018

Today’s most progressive language instruction covers more than speech. Educators now work to build students’ fluency in the culture behind the words.

Global competency, also called “interculturality” has emerged as a priority in districts seeking to develop students’ understanding of both their own and other cultures, says Jacqueline Van Houten, world language instructional lead for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky.

“Kids have opportunities that they’ve never had before to communicate online or in person” Van Houten says.

SIDEBAR: Upcoming conferences

“You don’t have to be a CEO of a company to run into someone from a different culture. You’re probably working alongside people who are from other cultures.”

Assessing global competence

Learning about other people’s beliefs and behaviors—as students examine their own traditions and norms—establishes an “equity” mindset of embracing differences, says Van Houten, a task force chair for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

The need to communicate with someone who speaks a different language or has a different culture may emerge at any time. Knowing more than one language and culture equips students to know how, when and what to say, she says.

SIDEBAR: Use these core practices to grow globally competent students

“Global competency includes an understanding and a respect for people of different cultures around the world, including in your own community” says Lauren Rosen-Yeazel, director of the University of Wisconsin System’s Collaborative Language Program.

Rosen-Yeazel guides classroom teachers in developing language instruction that also requires students to “investigate and reflect on the practices, products and perspectives of other cultures” she says.

Though foreign language classes are ideal for helping students learn global competence, schools may need to retool curriculum to promote interculturality, Van Houten adds.

Districts should design assessments that integrate language and culture, and assess interculturality. Also, schools must provide ample opportunities for language learners to interact with native speakers and authentic resources, she says.

A new initiative in Jefferson County, the Backpack of Success Skills, requires language students to give public presentations that demonstrate communication skills and global and cultural competence.

A jury of native speakers, for example, judges fifth-graders’ Spanish language presentations on why they are ready to advance to the next grade level, Van Houten says.

Exchanging emails or conversing via online chat is another way students can connect with native speakers. “A lot of schools will do a half-hour video conference with a class in another country” Van Houten says.

Taking PD on the road

Learners with global competency are more capable of solving problems because they can engage in more effective and less biased dialogue. In times of political or social unrest, these competencies may help students act respectfully toward others despite varying language and cultural backgrounds, Rosen-Yeazel says.

Mobile devices, apps and other media, such as Google Cultural Institute’s Art Project, allow students to speak and write about the culture in the target language.

Language teachers can leverage the “flipped lesson” approach, which allows more time to explore materials that reinforce cross-cultural thinking, says Rosen-Yeazel, who will present on the topic at ACTFL’s 2018 annual convention in November.

When organizing professional development, administrators should hold meetings in places that highlight different foreign cultures, Van Houten says.

She has held meetings with world language department chairs at the Louisville Metro Government Office for Globalization, La Casita Community Center, the Sister Cities of Louisville offices, and the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs, which provides after-school and summer youth programs and social services to immigrants.

“I provide opportunities for chairs of those departments to gain knowledge they can take back to their teachers and to suggest learning opportunities and partnerships with community agencies” she adds. “It’s important to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along.”

Diverse voices: How educators add multicultural perspectives to social studies

Educators must look beyond the classroom and traditional textbooks if they want to infuse multicultural viewpoints and personal narratives into the social studies curriculum.

India Meissel, the department chair for history and social studies at Lakeland High School, part of Suffolk Public Schools in Virginia, has invited the chief of the state’s Nottoway Indian tribe and a local historian and collector of African-American memorabilia to discuss the region’s history.

“We teach U.S. history at a survey level—the traditional stuff” says Meissel, who is also the president of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), which holds its conference in November.

SIDEBAR: Wider perspectives

“It doesn’t get into multiculturalism as it should. U.S. history has always been written from the viewpoint of the ‘victors.'”

Thinking like historians

Meissel encourages educators to tap online resources (see sidebar, page 52) and consider field visits and guest lecturers who can provide diverse perspectives and tell stories.

School districts can also partner with postsecondary institutions, museums and other community organizations. Experts there can help schools restructure curriculum to include information on various cultures and traditions.

Four years ago, social studies educators in the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District in Michigan developed the Geographic Inquiry and New Temporal Sequencing curriculum (GIANTS), an inquiry-based learning model that promotes student research.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Resources for including diverse voices in history and social studies

Students learn to evaluate sources critically and draw accurate conclusions while examining the development of U.S. regions from cultural and sociological perspectives, says Rebecca Bush, a social studies consultant for the district.

Asking a question such as “Why did the South introduce slave labor to maintain a cash-crop economy and how did that impact the African-American population?” requires students to think like geographers and historians, she says.

Due to budget constraints and limited professional development, teachers can use technology to expand their knowledge. If they can’t attend after-school training, for example, Bush says, Ottawa teachers can log on to the GIANTS website and access archived recordings.

Resourceful teachers also leverage blogging and social media to collaborate with and learn from other educators, says Bush, who is also president of the Michigan Council for the Social Studies.

Correcting narratives

Traditional textbooks have often represented certain cultures inaccurately and insufficiently, says Sarah Shear, an assistant professor of social studies education at Penn State Altoona.

Social studies is “notorious” for leaving out the experiences of Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, and misrepresenting Native Americans and indigenous people, she says.

Shear conducted a national study of 20th century K12 history standards and found that the majority, 87 percent, failed to address the existence of indigenous populations.

“Essentially, indigenous people disappear from the U.S. story at the turn of the 21