Best teaching practices for world languages

Over the last few years, I’ve searched for documents that outline best practices for world language teachers in hopes of finding that secret formula, that magic bullet that will transform me into the best language teacher I can be.

As I studied the documents, I did not find a surefire way to transform my teaching, but I did find some guidance.  I feel that I do well in some areas described in the documents, while I definitely need to improve in others.  There were some things that required me to think differently about the way I view language teaching.  Common themes in what I read were (1) using the target language almost exclusively, (2) creating meaningful contexts for communication, (3) not making grammar the focus, and (4) using performance assessment.  I didn’t necessary agree with everything single thing I read in every document, but for the most part, I felt they were an accurate reflection of what language teaching should look like.

I started thinking about best practices today because of an issue that has come to my attention.  It appears to me that world language students in the United States are exposed to a wide gamut of teaching methods that represent a broad spectrum of differing philosophical beliefs regarding language teaching and learning.   This can cause difficulties for language students as they transfer from school or school, or even from one teacher to another within a single school.

The current trend in education is the use of common assessments, even common lesson plans and pacing calendars so that all teachers of the same subject basically teach the same thing at the same time.  I am concerned about this trend because it restricts the freedom of teachers to make certain decisions about what happens in their classrooms.  I also find it particularly troubling in that it is assumed that the proper learner outcomes and assessments are already in place, which may not be the case.

So how can teachers provide continuity across a language program while at the same time preserving teacher individuality?  Perhaps the answer lies in the best language teaching practices.  If a language program adopted a core of best teaching practices and teachers in the program abided by them, there would be a certain level of commonality (i.e. recognized best language teaching practices in every language classroom) that could ease the transition for students moving from one teacher to the next.  Yet at the same time, teachers would have the freedom to develop their own lessons as they saw fit.

Here are the links to the documents that I read regarding best language teaching practices:

Kentucky Administrator’s Walk-Through Tool for World Language

STARTALK Principles for Effective Teaching and Learning

Learning Walk—World Language Checklist

NADSFL Characteristics of Effective Foreign Language Instruction

“Starting with the End in Mind” guidelines for observing foreign language instruction

TELL Project: Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning


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