World languages curriculum stirring excitement

by Jim Boyle


There are more than 2,200 senior high school students taking world languages across the Elk River Area School District this year, and that number is expected to grow considerably once a new world language curriculum adoption takes root.

“The students will be very excited about the technology and resources they will have,” said Mary Alberts, a curriculum specialist for the school district, who presented the findings and recommendations from a two-year world language curriculum review process at the May 9 school board meeting.

The board will vote on adopting the curriculum at its next regular meeting.

German language

Alberts had help from Chinese teacher Anne Webskowski, Spanish teacher Brian Harapat, German teacher Monte Bloom and French teacher Sandra Wiebusch. These four educators and Alberts described a system of textbooks, interactive on-line sound booth voice recording, videos, DVDs and authentic materials to bring learning foreign languages alive. They raved about the ability to differentiate the instruction and connecting high school students with people around the world in ways they would be able to relate better than old textbooks did.

The district wants to buy Holt McDougal World Languages materials for three of the four languages it teaches (Spanish, French and German).

Holt McDougal says it can meet the changing needs of educators and students with an expanded range of textbooks, instructional technology, assessments and other support materials.

French language

The new material will replace materials that are more than a decade old.

The district is recommending Zhen Bang! and Integrated Chinese-Cheng and Tsui for its Chinese instruction. Webskowski says EMC is the most current and offers six units on geography/history, pronunciation, functions, Chinese characters, vocabulary, language patterns and culture windows for students to peer into.

“World language has changed dramatically from the days when I was in school and we learned how to count and say things,” Alberts said.

World languages focuses on more than just the communication aspect of foreign language. World language teachers focus on the five C’s nowadays. They are: communication, culture, connections, comparisons and communities.

The way foreign language will be taught to students will increasingly compare and contrast various cultures.

Chinese language

“Language influences culture,” Alberts told the School Board. “Learning a language helps one understand how other people think and provides a general understanding of our world and the many people and cultures that inhabit it.”

For instance, Chinese instruction will include curriculum comparing tea culture in China with the coffee culture in America.

Like coffee, tea is more than a thirst quencher at tea houses half-way around the world.

Students will be asked to look at photos and read conversations between people. They will be asked to interpret authentic documents like post cards.

Wiebusch put it this way: “The kids are not just learning to how to count or write. Kids can interpret and present in a variety of materials.”

Some of the most exciting learning might be comparing various cultures.

“It’s important to compare communities,” Wiebusch said. “In one class I have five kids from different cultures. We ask them to tell us about their culture.”

Eight world language teachers served on the curriculum review committee. The others are Spanish teacher Jon Palachewski, Spanish teacher Julie Ende, Katie Hardtke, and French/German teacher Twyla Sha. There are 15 world language teachers across the district.

Spanish language

The committee has recommended instructors to have wireless mics to help deliver the instruction. Students will be able to work on learning languages at home while on a computer. They will get textbooks and workbooks, too.

“It’s going to create some excitement,” Alberts said. “I can foresee more students signing up.”


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