Methods for Teaching Foreign Languages: Creating a Community of Learners in the Classroom

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9780130879103: Methods for Teaching Foreign Languages: Creating a Community of Learners in the Classroom
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Exclusive in its socio-cultural approach to language learning, this comprehensive book builds on the National Communication Standards for foreign language learning. Its goal is to equip readers with the necessary knowledge and skills to establish and maintain effective classroom communities of foreign language learners. Communication; Communicative Development; Creating Communities of Learners in the Classroom; Classroom Discourse; Planning Instruction and Assessment; The Interpersonal Mode; The Interpretive Mode; The Presentational Mode; Professional Development. For junior high and high school teachers of modern foreign languages.

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Methods for Teaching Foreign Languages: Creating a Community of Learners in the Classroom provides a comprehensive approach to designing curriculum, instruction, and assessment for foreign language programs in middle schools and high schools. Based on a sociocultural understanding of language and development, the book attempts to bridge pedagogical theory and practice, and thus provides a principled basis for making curricular, instructional, and assessment decisions about classroom foreign language learning.

The text first presents a conceptual framework built on theoretical insights and recent empirical findings from a wide range of studies on communication and communicative development in both first and second languages. It then uses this framework to lay out an approach to designing foreign language pedagogy organized around the new National Foreign Language Standards.

The text is intended for preservice and in-service teachers of modern foreign languages who aspire to teach or already teach in middle and high school language programs, and who are unfamiliar with a sociocultural approach to teaching and learning. Its purpose is to help these teachers develop the knowledge and skills needed to create and sustain classroom communities of successful foreign language learners.

Readers will be guided through discussions on such essential concepts as communication, communicative development, communicative competence, and multicompetence. They will also be guided through the processes of designing curriculum based on the national foreign language standards, creating instructional activities that are linked to their curricular goals, and devising effective tools for assessing student learning. Finally, throughout most of the text, they will be guided in the design of projects for researching issues that are of particular concern to them in their teaching contexts.


The book consists of nine chapters. Chapter 1 presents an overview of a sociocultural perspective on communication and language. Chapter 2 discusses current understandings of communicative development and the implications for the middle and high school foreign language classroom. Chapter 3 reviews research on practices that have been shown to lead to the establishment of effectual communities of learners. It also includes a discussion on the importance of teacher research. Chapter 4 addresses the role of classroom discourse in learning in general, and, more specifically, in foreign language learning. Chapter 5 presents guidelines for planning instruction and designing effective assessment tools.

Discussions in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 draw together the diverse concepts and ideas presented in Chapters 1 through 5 and apply them to the design of effective instruction and assessment around the three modes of the Communication Standards: Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational. Each chapter reviews the relevant research on one of the three modes and presents a framework for crafting effective pedagogy. Finally, Chapter 9 discusses the nature of professional development and provides ideas for becoming an active member of the foreign language education profession and for sustaining lifelong learning.


Each chapter begins with a set of Preview Questions intended to get the reader thinking about the topical content. The questions are followed by a list of Key Words and Concepts that are presented in the chapter. Key words and concepts appear in boldface type when first mentioned.

The body of each chapter opens with an Overview of the chapter's content and organization. Each chapter concludes with a Summary of the ideas and concepts presented in the chapter, and a list of Discussion Questions and Activities that can be used for in-class discussions or assigned as project work to be completed outside of the regular class. In addition, beginning with Chapter 3, guides for two Teacher Research Projects based on the chapter's content follow the Discussion Questions and Activities. Following the research project guides is a list of Additional Readings and a list of Internet Resources that are pertinent to the topics discussed in the chapter.


The text is intended for use in undergraduate and graduate programs that prepare students of modern languages other than English to teach in middle and high school language programs in the United States. The decision to focus on this particular audience was based on a number of considerations. First, while it is recognized that some middle and high school programs may teach a few less commonly taught languages such as Japanese and Chinese, three Indo-European languages—French, German, and Spanish—are the predominant teaching languages in most programs. Consequently, the majority of students who enter teacher preparation programs across the United States come for their certification to teach one or more of these languages in grades K-12. Thus, this text addresses their needs as teachers of modern foreign languages. While those who teach less commonly taught or classical languages may find some of the information contained in this text useful, they will also require additional texts that address their unique needs.

Second, although second and foreign language learning share considerable theoretical similarities, there is at least one main practical difference: the learners' needs and motivations for learning the additional language. In most literature, the term second language learner commonly refers to students who are learning English as an additional language in school programs in the United States, and who need English in order to succeed academically.

Consequently, their reasons for learning English, and the kinds of instructional environments they are likely to be in, are considerably different from those of English-speaking students who study another language. Learners of English are likely to be in classrooms in which most of the instruction occurs in a language with which they are unfamiliar and with many students with whom they cannot converse or have little in common. Moreover, their language needs are likely to be centered on the communicative components needed to master the core academic subjects of math, science, English language arts, and social studies.

On the other hand, foreign language learners' interests may range from the minimal need to meet program requirements to the desire to become fluent in the language so that they can travel to places where the language is used as the primary code. However, since they do not need target language skills to succeed in other academic subjects, nor to be successful outside the classroom, their needs are not urgent.

Moreover, exposure to and opportunities for target language interaction are far more restricted for foreign language learners than they are for second language learners. Many foreign language learners have few opportunities to use the target language with target language speakers outside the classroom. This makes the environments created in their classrooms of critical importance to their communicative development in the target language.

In contrast, most second language learners must use the language not only for school learning, but also for everyday real-life situations. Most second language learners, then, are immersed in the target language and culture both inside and outside school, and thus have greater opportunities for using the target language in different contexts, with different interlocutors, and for a wide range of purposes. These differences create student populations with very different needs.

Consequently, the conditions fostering effective communities of learners in second and foreign language classrooms will differ, in many cases, considerably. For this reason, students who are preparing to be second and foreign language teachers need different kinds of texts. As noted previously, this text is geared specifically to those who aspire to teach or are teaching a modern language other than English to middle and high school learners. Those who want to teach English as a second language require different texts, which are addressed to their specific pedagogical needs. Fortunately, there are many high-quality texts for this group already on the market.

The third reason for focusing on teachers of middle and high school students is because of their especially important role as foreign language teachers. For many learners of foreign languages, at least in the United States, their only exposure to another language is in the foreign language classroom. For many students, their first and, sometimes, only exposure occurs in a middle or high school program. As we know, the beginning years of language learning are of crucial importance to learners' communicative development in the target language. What the students learn in the beginning years of instruction, both in terms of what counts as language and as the process of learning, sets the foundation upon which their subsequent communicative development is based.

In other words, the learning environments created in middle and high school classrooms—and the teachers who help to create them—are of great consequence to students' development as language learners and users, and more generally to the maintenance of successful foreign language programs. Given the crucial importance of preparing teachers who can create effectual communities of learners in these classrooms, teachers of middle and high school students deserve a text that is addressed specifically to their needs. Those who are preparing to teach children in elementary foreign language programs or, on the other end of the academic spectrum—young adults in university programs—may find some of the information in this text useful and pertinent to their needs. However, it is likely that they will need additional texts that address their unique learning environments and the distinguishing characteristics of their learners.

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