Leveraging Language to Implement Common Core Standards

Leveraging Language to Implement Common Core Standards

Leveraging Language to Implement Common Core Standards

April 10, 2014

My “field” of inquiry is Weybridge Elementary School, a small rural K-6 school in Vermont located near the town of Middlebury. Five years ago we began a K-6 Spanish program. Two years ago we selected Middlebury Interactive Language’s online world language programs to supplement classroom instruction. Our goal is for all of our students to have access to top world language education and learn world languages at a formative age.

Since 2011, Weybridge has been a Middlebury Interactive “lab school,” where students learn all skill areas of the national learning standards at an advanced rate through a blended learning environment using Middlebury Interactive’s courses. During this time, we began simultaneously digging into the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and this year we are attempting full implementation.

One of our great interests as we venture forward is to successfully integrate all of the new standards, including those for science and social studies, as well as the National Standards for Foreign Language Education. Since an attribute of strong language programs is to embed language study across the content areas, looking for connections across standards has been an easy extension of established practice.

One way we have gone about this work is to keep the CCSS English Language Arts Capacities of the Literate Individual and CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practices central to our thinking, planning and instruction. Here are some of the connections we’ve leveraged in regard to world language education:

English Language Arts: Capacities of the Literate Individual

  1. Demonstrates independence - Indicator: Demonstrates command of standard English and acquires and uses a wide-range vocabulary.

    The strategies employed to teach Spanish vocabulary have informed our instruction of English academic vocabulary, for example, use of visuals, choral repetition, revisiting, histrionics and context. We pay particular attention to cognates across all content areas. (Related Standard for Mathematical Practice: A mathematically proficient student looks for and makes use of structure.)

  2. Builds strong content knowledge - Indicator: Listens attentively to gain both general and discipline-specific knowledge.

    It has been fascinating to observe the difference in students’ listening when they don’t understand the language being spoken as opposed to when they don’t get, for example, a concept in math they think everyone else is getting and they’re not. Struggling to understand Spanish, along with peers, is socially acceptable; listening closely for pronunciation, a recognizable word or two, admitting confusion are socially acceptable, even across social and academic achievement hierarchies.

    Not understanding a math concept quickly or as quickly as another person can often result in a shut-down or drift-away. These different levels of persistence have been interesting to explore with children, providing opportunities to think about ways to respond to confusion and to introduce the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets. (Related Standard for Mathematical Practice: A mathematically proficient student makes sense of problems and perseveres in solving them.)

  3. Values evidence - Indicator: When speaking, strives to make his/her reasoning clear to the listener.

    This is huge. As young students strive to communicate in Spanish, carefully attending to choice of words, pronunciation, word order, etc., while at the same time watching the listener for signs of understanding, they begin to grasp that communication is reciprocal: that they have a responsibility to their listener and vice versa.

Building on their experience of reciprocity in Spanish transfers to discourse in other disciplines. Speaking and listening with the intention of being understood and of understanding is at the heart of communication and moves students toward theory of mind and perspective taking. (Related Standards for Mathematical Practice: A mathematically proficient student attends to precision, challenges himself/herself to communicate precisely with others, and looks for and makes use of structure.).

Clearly this is just the beginning. There are many more points of integration to leverage within the Capacities and Practices, and, of course, there are the content standards, particularly for English Language Arts and Social Studies, that lend themselves to ample cross-fertilization with the study of a world language.

How have you utilized language courses to drive Common Core Standards? Share in the comments below.

Christina Johnston
Christina Johnston grew up in Washington and Alaska. She holds an M.ED. from Tufts University and moved to Vermont in 1969 to teach middle school language arts. For the past 21 years she has been the principal of Weybridge Elementary - an unheard of tenure in this day and age! A constant in Christina’s practice has been a willingness to incorporate resources such as Middlebury Interactive Languages, with an eye toward sustainability and coherence. She loves Vermont year round, even mud season, and walks every single day without fail.
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