Going 1:1 in Foreign Language

How Best to Introduce Students to Foreign Languages in Middle School

How best should a school introduce Foreign Languages in Middle School? This is debatable. I hope to have some solid information with which to build a new innovative program at Prince of Peace; using one of the current disruptive innovations in technology, online learning.

Disruptive innovation in education can be described as a method of delivering instruction that is fundamentally different from traditional teacher-led classes. The innovation should be easy of use and solve an existing problem, including the problem of having no other option. The new model should also cost less than the existing model, although I believe other criteria may hold greater weight under some circumstances, such as when the original delivery system doesn’t product the wanted outcome at the current cost of a traditional classroom teacher and materials.

The new learning model can be used in whole or part with existing delivery methods, but would be expected to significantly change how the course is delivered, and how students perform.  For example, a teach might use the new method in place of part of her teaching, or in lieu of it.

As I develop this proposal, I will first seek evidence that the change is necessary and would create greater benefit for our future middle school students.  Should it be deemed worth while, I will be present this proposal “A Three Year Foreign Language Experience through Online Learning” to the school principal and curriculum director for consideration.

Why Change?

Learning to recognize, read, speak and understand the culture of another languages has been a necessary part of society as long as America has existed. We are a country of immigrants, and regardless of one’s opinion about which language should be paramount in the US, the fact remains that the world is getting smaller by the minute and it’s time to adapt by including a strong, effective foreign language curriculum at school. The US does not expect that students master two languages by the end of high school, as it is the case in some other countries. This is my personal opinion after having hosted students from Germany and Spain, whose sole purpose for being in the US was to obtain the necessary language skills (English) to graduate in their home countries. Although it is not required in all high schools, some colleges do require a minimum level of foreign language experience for entry. In either case, the middle school years offer a time to develop an interest in learning a foreign language in high school. For this reason, it is important to determine which learning delivery systems and languages hold the interest of middle school students and provide the best preparation for high school language courses.

If the vast majority of our students in middle school are performing in the top 25 percentile in foreign language (currently Spanish only) as they are in other courses, I would not suggest trying other methods for teaching, as this accomplishment suggests the current teaching method is yielding positive results. As I develop this proposal, I hope to included an assessment of the last three years of student performance as the baseline on which to build the case that other methods for learning languages may be more beneficial, at least to some, in our student population, including those who feel they could learn more, or more effectively, using a different format.  The actual need for a different foreign language learning platform is only a presumption at this time.

The following summary provides a glimpse as to how online learning might be used to teach an introduction to foreign languages in our middle school.

Content & Standards


Students will be introduced to several foreign languages through online programs during 6th grade. For language choices will be provided, all of which are available at the likely high schools they will attend. One language will be introduced each quarter in the order the student prefers, however, because the course is mandatory, students will be expected to narrow their choice in 7th grade to two languages, of which, one must be taken in 8th grade. This will lead to three consecutive years of exposure to a language that will be offered in high school.

All courses will provided the same degree of vocabulary, grammar, usage, and cultural awareness as would be taught in the traditional teacher-let course at Prince of Peace. Each course will provide regular assessments at the same intervals as each other.

A single, online content provided will be used for all courses. Curriculum will adhere to the Alabama state standards as required for teacher led foreign language courses.

Alabama Learning Exchange Course of Study provides the list of state standards for languages other than English to be used in grades 6-8. This information can be found on the following website: http://alex.state.al.us/standardAll.php?subject=LOE&grade=6&ccode=ML&summary=4.  Although technology will be used as the primary deliver system for administering the course, it is not assumed that the technology standards for Alabama (6-8) be associated with the course.


1.) Use formal and informal expressions to communicate in the target language.

2.) Interpret target language gestures, intonation, and visual clues.

3.) Identify the main idea of nonfiction texts, including target language newspaper and magazine advertisements.

4.) Create presentations in the target language.

5.) Explain cultural practices of a target culture.

6.) Identify trends found in various aspects of a target language culture.

7.) Identify major historic, scientific, and artistic target culture contributions or events.

8.) Relate vocabulary of the target language to vocabulary of other subject areas.

9.) Use spoken and written language to reflect knowledge of grammatical differences between English and the target language.

10.) Identify critical sound distinctions of the target language and of English that must be mastered to communicate meaning.

11.) Compare verbal and nonverbal behavior of the target culture to the culture of the United States.

12.) Create presentations about the target culture for various audiences.

Course Delivery System

How the Course will be Delivered

Students in 6th though 8th grade will use an online foreign language program available through an internet browser. The course will provide two years of content to be mastered over a three years period, for those students who attend the school all three years of middle school. Year 1 content will be delivered and assessed entirely online. Content in years two and three will also be delivered online but will include a component of instructor interaction either through onsite or online teacher/ learning coaches. A provider has not yet been chosen for content.

Course Completion and Off-site Course Work

Students will be provided computers or Chromebooks on which to take the course at school. Student taking the online foreign language course in 6th grade will not be assigned  course work outside of class.  Course assignments in grades 7 and 8, such as homework and assessment preparation will be the responsibility of the students to complete off campus using personal computer resources, or though arrangements made directly with the student and his or her family.

Students assigned work outside the online forum will complete the work in a time recommended by the course itself. Students will be expected to work at their own pace, with the expectation that course assignments will be completed on time, and that students who are unable to complete course work according the the likely schedule provided by the vendor, may and are expected to continuing working at their own pace off campus. Student success will be monitored weekly by the course coach/teacher, as it would be in any middle school class.

Campus Location for Administering the Course

All students will gather in the same place to take the course, using headphones as necessary while participating online. Regardless of the language content a student has chosen, each student will be accountable for completing all coursework by the end of each quarter, but may work at their own pace to do so. As with all courses at Prince of Peace, students success is monitored weekly through their progress.

Adult Supervision during Course Times

The course will be monitored by a learning coach or teacher during all three years of the course and will be present at all times while students are participating in the online course. His or her role will be different in 6th, 7th and 8th grades.

In 6th grade:

The learning coach will monitor the students’ access, assist with technology troubleshooting and navigation online throughout the course. The learning coach will be fully aware of the course content format, although not necessarily be a native speaker of any of the languages offered in the course. The coach will also field questions, deal with issues and concerns that may arise as a result of learning online. Because no assignments will be given for work outside of school, the coach will not be responsible for grading. He or she will manage the expected timeline for completing sections and preparing for assessments as students work at their own pace, and assess student progress should they seem to be behind the course objective. The learning coach will also gather and enter student assessments into the school grading system on a weekly basis, and be an advocate for each student in the class. Details about how the course aligns with school reporting standards would be established if the proposed course is accepted by the school principal.

In 7th and 8th grade: All of the above with the following changes:

The learning coach may be responsible for grading student work that is assigned outside of the course content as determined by the school curriculum director and principal. Assignments will not contain language specific grading criteria and will be assessed on completion criteria specific to each assignment.


“A Three Year Foreign Language Experience through Online Learning” is designed to be implemented over three years. In years one, the program will begin for 6th grade students only. Year two of the program will affect rising 7th graders and incoming 6th graders. Year three will including rising 8th graders, rising 7th graders and incoming 6th graders.

Measurement of Disruptive Innovation Learning Outcomes

Following each completed year students and staff will assess the program on specific criteria developed by the school’s leadership team. The evaluation will include input from teachers, students, technology staff, and parents. The results will determine if the program should continue as planned, be modified, or be canceled.

Criteria categories will include:

  • reaching learning objectives
  • course content
  • delivery system
  • cost
  • ease of use
  • student opinions

 Barriers to Success

Several barriers exist that could immediately derail a disruptive innovation project. Many factors and conditions must be present to ensure success or they will become barriers. First, a reason must exist for changing the current foreign language program. All decision makers must recognize that change is necessary, and be open minded to a new learning format.

Next, those involved must be willing to accept a different role for the teacher; this includes the teacher. The learning coach must understand their role to support the pace and means by which students learn. Parent, too must be willing to see the role of the teacher as neutral, rather than one who has influence over their child’s learning in the classroom. Student will also have to recognize their success is not the result of good or bad instruction, but their ability to learn as the materials are presented. They must choose to stay on task, strive to achieve learning objectives and goals, and take responsibility for their learning habits.

Finally, the technology must be stable and curriculum cost effective to support the course format. Devices must be available, and infrastructure must be in place to support the online course at any location on campus.

Next Steps

  1. Identify the overall achievements of students in the Spanish course during the past three years to determine the need for a change using disruptive innovation.
  2. Research trends in education that express best practices for teaching languages in middle school, that include surveys about student interest and motivation to learn the language.
  3. Research alternative foreign language teaching methods and their outcomes in middle school as well as in high school.
  4. Conduct a feasibility study and cost analysis for the proposed disruptive innovation chosen.
  5. Survey current and past stakeholders to determine interest in language choice and type of delivery system.








2 thoughts on “Going 1:1 in Foreign Language

  1. Judy,

    I think it’s a marvelous idea to have created a separate page for your plan. It looks so detailed already! I hope you don’t mind if I take some of the headings and breakdowns that you use. I like how you note the barriers to success and the next steps in the process.

    Keep up the great work!



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