Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
Students & Families Educators & Administrators Teaching, Learning & Testing Data & Accountability Finance & Funding About the Department Education Board  

Archived Information

World Languages
Curriculum Framework
Making Connections


A. Getting Started

This framework asks teachers, schools, and districts to take a bold step in setting the stage for future generations of Massachusetts high school graduates who will be able to read, write, and converse in at least one language in addition to English. Because it is a visionary description of the World Languages discipline, this chapter opens the way for creative planning and program design at the district level. Several questions emerge in the minds of planners:

  • Where do we start?
  • Which languages will be taught?
  • Will we be able to continue offering several languages at the high school?
  • How do we grow from a grade 8-12 program to a K-12+ program?
  • Where will we find qualified teachers?
  • What professional development will be helpful?
  • How will regional schools coordinate with various feeder school programs?
  • Where will World Languages fit in the vocational student's day? Or in the elementary or middle school student's day?
  • What are the different kinds of World Languages programs that begin in elementary school?
  • What help is out there?

These questions have no generic answers. Numerous study groups throughout the state have grappled with these issues, and all agree it would be impossible to describe "the perfect" K-12+ program, as if one solution would work for all districts. In keeping with Massachusetts' tradition of local design of school programs, this framework outlines some of the issues to be considered at the local level. They are discussed below in order to give districts a sense of the possible solutions they might consider. See the Resource section of this chapter for additional sources of information on K-12+ World Languages program implementation.

Where do we start?

An assistant superintendent for curriculum in metro-Boston describes how she intends to move her district toward the vision of a K-12 World Languages program in three words: "plan, plan, plan." Appropriate planning and piloting can set the stage for a successful program. Such planning should involve the entire community, school staff, school committee, and possible community resources.

Many framework study groups have already begun a planning process in their own districts. Here is one way to depict the planning process most of them recommend.

1. Create a Task Force Composed of Teachers, Parents, Students, Administrators, Community Members, to Research:

  • types of program options, how other programs work
  • needs and wants of community
  • staffing resources and options
  • ways to build from existing programs including bilingual, ESL, ELA
  • current expenditures, anticipated costs, gradual phase-in

2. Educate All Who Will Be Affected By the Plan:

School system personnel, parents, community members, school committee members. The more these groups understand the need for changing current programs, the more support the plan will have when implementation time comes.

3. Problem-Solve With All Interested Parties

The task force considers any and all creative possibilities, with superintendents, personnel directors, principals, teachers, community members (students and families), school councils, teachers (including those who may feel threatened by the plan), and possible community resources.

4. Propose a Plan and Implementation Scheme Which:

  • is long-term, carefully phased in
  • is specific to the community's needs and expectations
  • is aligned with national and state standards
  • is designed for all students
  • supports and enhances other disciplines
  • is performance and proficiency based: promotes respect of other cultures, high achievement, deeper understanding of language
  • includes criteria for evaluation of the program as it develops

Which languages will be taught?

Deciding which languages to offer in a school system, which ones to begin in the elementary grades, and which ones in middle or high school, takes thought and planning. It is important to involve the whole school and local community in these decisions. Consider the following questions.

Which languages are used by community members? What is the sense of the community as to choices of languages?

A World Languages program in a district whose language minority population (LMP) is predominantly Spanish might be designed very differently from one in a rural system where only a handful of students speak another language in the home.

A city whose LMP represents 17 languages will have different considerations from those of a community with strong Russian, Latin, and French programs already in place. In some communities there is great fluctuation in student populations due to the arrival of new immigrants or to the closing of a manufacturing plant, while in others, the population remains stable over time. On one side of a small city, many languages and cultures are represented in one elementary school while across town, another elementary school is relatively monolingual. As communities vary, so will their World Languages programs.

There may be resources in the community which would support the creation of a two-way bilingual program at the elementary level. Many districts are finding that this is a way to take advantage of languages spoken in the community and to coalesce previously disconnected groups of children within a school. It is also a way to capitalize on available resources such as staffing, materials, and programs already operating in the schools.

What are the future language needs of the community?

The "answers" to this question are not always immediately apparent. While some districts may feel Spanish is an obvious choice, given its frequent use in the U.S. and in the western hemisphere, other languages also offer similar opportunities for nearby use and future employability. Districts might consider creating K-12 programs in a less commonly taught language and find that their students are graduating with a usable skill such as interpreting in the language.

What languages are currently taught in the district? In nearby districts?

Creative use of current staff and of cross-district cooperation may be strategies worth considering when deciding what languages to offer in K-12 programs. Districts where an Asian language or Russian program already exists at the high school would want to consider expanding the program into earlier grades, especially since such languages are known to require more learning time than European languages. It may also be important to consider language capabilities when hiring new staff, so that staff growth parallels planned program growth. Local college and university resources are another factor to consider; a nearby college with an East Asian or a Middle Eastern Studies program, for example, could be an invaluable resource for a district considering offering Hebrew, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic.

Will we be able to continue offering several languages at the high school? How?

If students are to follow one language in continuous sequence and take assessments at grades 4, 8, and 10, many people fear that districts will move toward a one-language World Languages program, and lose the richness of offering several languages.

Linguistic diversity is essential to our future welfare in a culturally diverse world. It is therefore important that districts offer long and rich language programs in as many languages as possible.

If a district can offer only one language at the elementary level, it makes sense to maintain the languages currently offered at the secondary level for several reasons. Many students will elect to study a third or fourth language in the secondary grades, having experienced success in elementary school language programs. A student who transfers from another district or state where elementary schools offered other languages will need an opportunity to pursue the language she began in her first school. And regional schools with varied feeder patterns will want broad language offerings to respond to the wide variety of learners coming from the feeder schools.

Planners will want to consider any and all creative possibilities. Two such ideas are distance learning, or video program-based learning, and cross-district collaboration around shared World Languages programs. Others will undoubtedly emerge as districts grapple with these questions.

How do we grow from a grade 8-12 program to a K-12+ program?

Two models of growth are frequently used. In one, a program grows from its current status by adding one grade lower each year; that is, an 8-12 program would add grade 7 the first year, then grade 6 the next, and so on until the full program is in effect. The second model grows from the earliest grade upward; the first year it would begin in Kindergarten, then add first grade the next year, then second, and so on. Whatever starting place and growth plan is chosen, experience has shown that the key to successful program implementation is systematic planning which builds support within the entire school and district community.

Where will we find qualified teachers?

There is no doubt that growing World Languages programs will put a demand on universities to train more teachers, especially for the elementary grades. Until the supply catches up with the demand, districts can look for creative solutions to staffing dilemmas. A few such examples might be:

  • A secondary level World Languages teacher can work toward elementary certification while in his present job, using a new grade level assignment as an internship for his practicum.
  • Districts can make use of local university resources to create new elementary programs.
  • Teachers can teach a class or two outside their area of certification while working toward certification in other languages or grade levels.
  • Minorities who are underrepresented in the World Languages teaching field can be offered more opportunities to attend schools of education.

The main consideration for a teacher for World Languages at any grade level is a high level of proficiency in the language. An elementary classroom teacher who is fluent in the language and knowledgeable about the culture is a staffing resource to be treasured. The classroom teacher who lacks language fluency can support the itinerant language specialist by providing practice time each day in class and modeling the learning process along with the students.

What professional development will be helpful?

Study group participants across the state are asking for professional development in four key areas:

  • teaching all students
  • teaching for proficiency
  • designing K-12 programs
  • creating cultural and linguistic immersion in the classroom

Most teachers agree that ongoing study groups and collegial mentoring are effective ways to promote innovation and reflection on these topics.

How will regional schools articulate with various feeder school programs?

Regional and vocational schools will need to plan World Languages programs in concert with feeder schools, and vice versa. These schools have additional issues to consider beyond those of the single district high school, in terms of which languages to teach, and how to articulate programs from one school to the next. Feeder schools will have to discuss and coordinate language offerings, knowing what options are possible at the regional school. And regional schools will, in many instances, need to offer more than one language to accommodate all the students who have taken various languages at the feeder schools.

Where will World Languages fit in the vocational student's day? Or in the elementary or middle school student's day?

As districts phase in the types of K-12 programs envisioned in this framework, students will be arriving at secondary schools with eight or so years of study of another language. Vocational schools can help their students maintain the language skills attained in earlier grades and apply them in work situations. For example, learning the technical vocabulary of a trade in another language could be an invaluable skill for a vocational student, opening doors of opportunity anywhere in the world. Vocational school programs may employ a combination of classroom work and on-the-job use of the language to continue developing students' language skills during their vocational training.

Middle and elementary schools will need to restructure the day to incorporate World Languages. With content-based, immersion, and two-way bilingual programs, (defined below) World Languages programs do not compete with other disciplines. One language coordinator in a restructured middle school describes its program in this way:

The World Languages teacher is part of the interdisciplinary team in the same way that the Social Studies, Language Arts, Science and Math teachers are. The teams have two large blocks of time during the day: 90 minutes and 150 minutes. They structure the day as needed. Team teachers share the same students so that they are able to plan interdisciplinary units involving all disciplines. Additionally, two teachers can work on a project together, such as a math survey conducted in Spanish, where students use mathematical tools to analyze results. World Languages are truly part of the core curriculum.

What are the different kinds of World Languages programs that begin in elementary school?

Immersion: Immersion programs teach language by using only the target language as the medium of instruction for other subjects. In immersion programs, any of the usual curriculum activities from the other disciplines (Math, Science and Technology, Comprehensive Health, Arts, etc.) are presented in the target language. The amount of time spent in the target language varies across programs from "partial" (approximately 50%) to "total" immersion (100%), and students are exposed to the target language every day.

Two-Way Immersion or Two-Way Bilingual programs are similar to regular Immersion programs except that the student body includes both English-speakers and native speakers of the target language. All students learn subject matter through both their native language and the new one, and benefit from interaction with peers who are native speakers of the new language they are using. Approximately 50% of each school day is spent in each language.

FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School): In general, students in FLES programs meet three to five times a week for periods ranging from twenty minutes to an hour or more to learn the target language. Sometimes FLES programs are "content-enriched," in which case some content from other subject areas is taught in the target language and the World Language teacher is partially responsible for part of the general curriculum. FLES programs differ from Immersion programs in the amount of time spent teaching the subject content. Less time is spent in FLES programs than in Immersion.11

What help is out there?

Program planners will want to consult various resources and organizations as they plan for longer sequences of World Languages. Several are listed in the Selected Resources section of this chapter. Planners may also want to visit other communities who have begun implementing K-12+ programs, or to read about other countries' experiences in second language education. Districts will also benefit from working with local colleges to train both experienced and new teachers. Professional organizations such as the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) and the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NCTFL) can also help districts set up study groups, training workshops, and planning teams.

B. Instructional Materials

What instructional materials should we use in the proficiency-based, student-centered classroom?

In the proficiency-based, student-centered classroom, the traditional textbook joins a host of additional materials and resources teachers can use for learning and teaching. The textbook should not, however, be the only curricular support in the World Languages instructional program. Books, puppets, music, food, currency, clothing, flash cards, software, crafts, maps, posters, newspapers and magazines, games, cultural artifacts are just some of the authentic, hands-on materials teachers can use. All authentic, age-appropriate materials and literature, rooted in the culture(s) of study and used in context, have a place in the World Languages classroom.

What about grammar-based textbooks?

Textbooks can be important resources. Many of the activities, stories, cultural "tidbits," and grammatical explanations can aid teachers in instruction. In order to decide which activities to use, consult this checklist:

Checklist for evaluating textbooks, activities, and materials for World Languages:

  1. Do they contain student activities that are proficiency-based? Do they...
    • appeal to a variety of learning styles?
    • appeal to students' interests?
    • actively engage students in meaningful, interactive communication?
    • allow for open-ended and creative uses of language?
    • require thinking skills?
    • occur within a cultural context?
    • promote the use of language functions?
    • support the spiraling process of language acquisition?
    • have clear and concise grammar explanations, enabling students to work toward accuracy goals from the beginning of the instructional sequence?
    • integrate cultural information throughout the text? Is the information current? Does it reflect the diversity within that culture?
  2. Do all materials include visuals representing the variety of cultures being studied?
  3. Are interdisciplinary connections apparent in the materials?

Last Updated: January 1, 1996
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact DESE