Language department updates academic standards, practices


Madison Nguyen, Features Editor

The bell rings as language classes begin. Students crowd into the computer lab and begin preparing for their upcoming listening assessment. In other classrooms, they begin class with a writing assessment or simply interact with their fellow language learners.

Since 2016, World Language Instructional Lead Liz Matchett has been working with many other teachers and administrators across the state of California to improve the framework of the California language department standard. If approved, the standards will be published and implemented into all California high schools sometime in 2021.

The California Department of Education (CDE) published the standards in Jan. 2019, but the framework is still in the process of being approved by the state. While the standards outline what students have to learn, such as grammar and vocabulary, the framework also explains how students should learn. According to Matchett, the framework consists of learning languages through interpretive, interpersonal and presentational communication. Grammar and vocabulary will be the base of student learning and used as a tool for communication. “The idea is that if you got dropped into another country, no one is going to run up to you and give you a worksheet that says, ‘Fill out these words’ becsause it’s not a real-world activity,” Matchett said. “The standards and the framework continually say, ‘What are real-world tasks that students will eventually have to do in the language?’ and that is what and how we should be teaching in the language classrooms.”

While the lengthy process requires approval by many administrators, the framework was finished on Aug. 2 and is being incorporated at Gunn. While the framework, if passed, will shape how language is taught in California for the next ten years, new standards have already been implemented into Gunn’s world language classrooms since last school year. Thus, there will be a shift in CDE standards, but this won’t have a large im- pact on how language is already taught at Gunn due to the fact that these standards and practices are already being used. Historically, there has been a large emphasis on grammar rules and vocabulary, but the CDE is now shifting the focus to how these rules can be applied to everyday conversations. “Some places in California only teach grammar and vocabulary, and that’s all they test,” she said. “We need to be testing what students can actually do with a language, what kind of communication they can have.”

Because of this, Matchett places an emphasis on how teachers phrase their learning objectives. “Instead of a teacher saying ‘Today, we’re going to learn the subjunctive,’ they should say, ‘Today, we’re going to learn how to get recommenda- tions, here are some contexts to why we would give recommendations to people,’” she said.

An issue world language teachers face is that some students don’t see the importance of language classes. However, Matchett emphasizes that learning a language allows for a better understanding of culture and connection with more people something that will grow and prosper with the new updated standard and framework. “Learning a language isn’t something that is just sitting by itself,” she said. “Sometimes, people think about why you need to know a language. It’s because the world keeps becoming a smaller place the more global we become.”