Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Foreign Languages K–12

A Library of Classroom Practices



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Advanced Placement (AP)
Advanced Placement is a program sponsored by the College Board. The AP program gives students the opportunity to take college-level courses in a high school setting; passing the course exam may earn them college credit or advanced standing. AP courses follow guidelines developed and published by the College Board.
affective filter
The affective filter hypothesis (Dulay, Krashen, and Burt, 1982) describes the need for second-language learning to occur in an environment of low anxiety, to encourage the processing and learning of new information.

Dulay, Heidi, Stephen D. Krashen, and Mariana Burt. Language Two. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1982.
authentic materials
Authentic materials are resources that have been developed specifically for native speakers. These include print, audio, and visual materials.
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backward planning
In backward planning, also called backward design, the teacher plans a unit or lesson by first identifying the desired end task or product, then working in reverse to identify the prerequisite learning tasks and benchmark assessments.
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character dictation
A character language such as Chinese does not use an alphabet for sound/symbol correspondence, but rather integrates both meaning and pronunciation in its characters. Character dictation can be used to build character recognition and sound/symbol correspondence. The teacher or a student dictates characters to the class to build familiarity with individual characters' meaning and to practice creating sentences in various contexts.
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A form of a language used among people who live in the same geographical area or who share the same social identity. While language instruction traditionally emphasizes a “standard” form of a language, to more effectively communicate linguistically and culturally, instruction should also incorporate dialect elements within the curriculum to reflect the actual/authentic ways in which people communicate day-to-day.
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Foreign Language Exploratory Program (FLEX)
This elementary/middle school model introduces learners to one or more languages. The primary focus is an introduction to language learning, awareness of culture, appreciation of language/culture study, and motivation to further language study. Exposure to a single language may take place from one to several days a week over six to nine weeks. FLEX programs are topic oriented with a strong focus on vocabulary. They are not intended to be part of a sequence of instruction; after completing a FLEX program, students go on to a beginning language program. See also Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES).
Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES)
This elementary school model organizes instruction around a scope and sequence taught by a qualified foreign language teacher. Its goals include developing language proficiency with an emphasis on oral skills, as well as providing a gradual introduction to literacy, building cultural knowledge, and tying language learning to the content of the early grades' curriculum. FLES programs vary, especially in the number of meetings per week or minutes per session. See also Foreign Language Exploratory Program (FLEX).
formal assessment
During a formal assessment, all students in a class are evaluated in the same manner. Their examination involves the same content, format (for example, chapter test or oral report), and testing conditions (for example, length of time). Results are reported as a grade or a score and are used to determine individual students' abilities in a specific area of learning.
Fossilization refers to the linguistic phenomenon in which students internalize "incorrect" or "non-standard" forms of the language to the degree that they become habits of speech not easily corrected.
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heritage speaker
A heritage speaker is a student who is exposed to a language other than English at home. Heritage speakers can be categorized based on the prominence and development of the heritage language in the student's daily life. Some students have full oral fluency and literacy in the home language; others may have full oral fluency but their written literacy was not developed because they were schooled in English. Another group of students -- typically third- or fourth-generation -- can speak to a limited degree but cannot express themselves on a wide range of topics. Students from any of these categories may also have gaps in knowledge about their cultural heritage. Teachers who have heritage speakers of the target language in their class should assess which proficiencies need to be maintained and which need to be developed further. See also native speaker.
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immersion program
In this model, most commonly found in elementary schools, general academic content (the primary educational goal) is taught in the target language, and language proficiency is a parallel outcome. Individual districts design their programs such that English is introduced at a given grade level, with a gradually increasing percentage of time given to English language instruction. Partial immersion programs differ in the amount of time and number of courses taught in English and in the target language.
informal assessment
During an informal assessment, a teacher evaluates students' progress while they are participating in a learning activity, for example, a small-group discussion. Results are typically used to make decisions about what to do next, namely, whether the students are ready to move on or whether they need more practice with the material.
information gap
Information gap is a questioning technique in which learners respond to a question whose answer is unknown to the questioner. This contrasts with "display questions" that seek obvious responses. Example of an information gap question: What did you buy at the mall? Example of a display question: What color is your sweater?
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Used in one of the three Japanese writing systems, kanji are the characters drawn from the Chinese writing system. Approximately 2,000 kanji, many with multiple meanings, are needed to read materials written for adults in Japanese.
kindergarten benchmarks
Kindergarten benchmarks identify what young learners should achieve during kindergarten. They include awareness of body parts, letter and some word recognition, control of tools such as crayons and scissors, and more.
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learner-centered classroom
A classroom in which a teacher works with students to develop, implement, and evaluate learning goals based on students' interests and unique needs. In this way, students have a voice not only in what they learn but also in why, when, how, and with whom they learn it. In a learner-centered classroom, the teacher facilitates rather than instructs, allowing learners greater opportunity to collaborate with peers in the target language.
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native speaker
A native speaker considers the target language to be his or her first language. Teachers seek opportunities for students to communicate in person or through technology with native speakers. Students in foreign language classes who are first- or second-generation immigrants and who use the language extensively outside the classroom are also considered native speakers. These students typically maintain the cultural norms of their heritage in certain situations. See also heritage speaker.
negotiation of meaning
In this process, teachers and students try to convey information to one another and reach mutual comprehension through restating, clarifying, and confirming information. The teacher may help students get started or work through a stumbling block using linguistic and other approaches.
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performance assessment
During a performance assessment, students demonstrate their ability to use the target language in real-world activities, namely, things that native speakers might do. For example, students might create a newspaper, respond to a want ad, or conduct an interview to learn about a cultural topic. Teachers can evaluate the performance using a rubric and/or assign traditional grades.
performance level
The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners and the NCSSFL–ACTFL Can-Do Statements (derived from the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012) describe the language outcomes for students in standards-based language programs. The performance levels include Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced. Learners in the Novice range operate primarily with learned and practiced material. Learners in the Intermediate range use language to create with language on familiar topics. While operating primarily at the sentence level, they begin to expand and string sentences together as they build narrative skills. Learners in the Advanced range are able to sustain narration and description in past, present, and future tense and in a range of content areas. See also proficiency level.
proficiency level
Proficiency describes how well a person functions in a language. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages further defines proficiency with a set of guidelines for assessing communicative abilities. The guidelines cover how an individual performs across three criteria: function, content/context, and accuracy. When combined, these criteria determine the student's communicative ability to be Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, or Superior. See also performance level.
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Realia are materials that are highly visual, contextualized, and culturally authentic. Realia can include posters, advertisements, labels, schedules, tickets, placemats, and more.
Role-playing is an activity in which students dramatize characters or pretend that they are in new locations or situations. This activity challenges students by having them use language in new contexts.
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Spiraling is the process of teaching a theme or language rule to different levels of learners by creating multiple tasks that are increasingly complex. For example, a lesson on weather can be spiraled as follows: (1) Novice students can describe the weather in short formulaic sentences; (2) Intermediate students can talk about the weather and its effect on their activities, or gather information from broadcasts or newspapers; and (3) Pre-Advanced students can tell a story about a frightening weather-related event or follow a description of weather in a literary piece.
story map
A story map is a graphic organizer that leads students to discover specific elements from a written or oral text. It is built upon common elements such as characters and characteristics, place, plot, resolution, and moral or lesson, or a "who, what, when, where, how, and why" format.

visual depiction of story map
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thematic units
Thematic units are designed using content as the organizing principle. Vocabulary, structures, and cultural information are included as they relate to the themes in each unit. For an excellent example of theme-based units, see the Nebraska Foreign Language Education Web site in General Resources.
Total Physical Response (TPR)
Developed by Asher, Kusudo, and de la Torre (1974), TPR is an approach for teaching vocabulary that appeals to learners' kinesthetic-sensory system. First, the teacher introduces new vocabulary words and establishes their meaning through corresponding actions and gestures. Students mimic the teacher's actions as they learn the words, and eventually demonstrate comprehension through the actions and gestures. Ultimately, the language is extended to written forms, and students begin to respond verbally. Research evidence attests to the effectiveness of TPR for learning and retaining vocabulary. See also Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS).

Asher, J., J. Kusudo, and R. de la Torre. "Learning a Second Language Through Commands: The Second Field Test." Modern Language Journal 58 (1974): 24-32.
Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS)
This adaptation of TPR adds the element of storytelling and uses the story narrative or episodic structures to build meaningful comprehension. The technique begins with the teacher telling a story and using actions and gestures to introduce new vocabulary. As students listen to the story, they confirm their understanding by repeating the actions: First they perform the actions for specific events and then recreate the whole story. Once the story is understood, students take over the narrative task, either as a group or individually. See also Total Physical Response (TPR).
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Venn diagram
A Venn diagram is a type of graphic organizer consisting of two partially overlapping circles. A Venn diagram helps learners see the similarities and differences between two topics. Each circle represents one topic (for example, "U.S." and "Target Culture"). Common characteristics are recorded in the overlapping area between the circles. Information unique to each topic is recorded in the area outside the overlap. The Venn diagram is a strong visual support for concrete and abstract comparisons.

visual depiction of Venn diagram

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