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Customizing Curriculum to Address Standards

Monica Daucourt, Dallas ISD

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to investigate if standards for foreign language learners can be met while at the same time addressing student motivation and interest in real-world topics and tasks so that they can be more successful in the classroom. More specifically, can curriculum be customized to student interest and still address the standards set by districts, the state, and the profession?

Research Questions

What real-world topics are of high interest to my students? What do they want to learn to do with the language? Can I design lessons that are pertinent to their lives and reflect both their interests and the standards for foreign language learners?

Data Collection and Findings

I used both classroom discussion and surveys to communicate with my students about their attitudes toward language learning and its relevance, their primary areas of interest, and their goals for language learning. I began with a guided discussion session in which the class brainstormed why one might study a foreign language, what are the benefits of learning another language, and how it is important in their world—both internationally and personally—with regard to professional opportunities.

I then administered a survey asking about students’ interests and expectations for the class. Students completed the questionnaire individually, then worked in cooperative groups of four to share, discuss, and compile their ideas. The group work was followed by more whole-class brainstorming and discussion as the groups reported and then came to a consensus on their top interests and priorities for the class. The discussion produced some ideas about ways to put the language they acquired to use. The first survey was followed by a discussion in which I talked with them about specific objectives for language learning related to oral and written comprehension and expression and cultural, political, and historical issues. We talked about why these objectives are important and how they might be applied. I felt the students had a true sense of ownership in this discussion. The second questionnaire asked students to list, in order of importance to them personally, some ways in which we might go about meeting the standards and their personal goals. They were to indicate resources and tasks that they would find of greatest interest.

The results on the first questionnaire were similar for all three classes (French I, French II, and French III-IV). In response to the first question, What do you think about most?, students overwhelmingly listed social/family relationships and the opposite sex. In response to a question about what they wanted most from their foreign language study, they indicated they wanted to increase their ability to converse socially in French. They were also interested in developing a more sophisticated understanding of another culture. Regarding the final question, How can your interests and expectations be useful?, students wanted to use the language to gain a competitive edge professionally, to increase their global awareness, for personal fulfillment, and for travel. The second questionnaire asked students about means of making language learning more authentic, more related to their interests and goals. They indicated they would like to use authentic texts from radio, television, magazines and newspapers, letters from pen pals and chat rooms, and popular music. They wanted skills to communicate with members of the target culture, to travel (understand tour guides, ask questions, understand responses), and to write letters to businesses and universities.

With input gathered from discussions and surveys, classroom activities were developed to help students meet the goals they had identified. For example, students increased their ability to communicate socially by creating sample personal ads in which they described themselves, their interests, and why they would like to meet other students (tennis partner, studying, movies, etc.). The ads were coded with an identification number and were posted for all classes to read. By the end of the unit, each student had produced responses to a number of personal ads and had replied to an equal number of correspondents. Rather than simply experiencing a unit on adjectives and adjective agreement, for example, students were motivated to use the vocabulary and structures they studied in order to meet their personal communication objectives. Students in the advanced class were similarly motivated as they acquired key marketing/educational vocabulary through correspondence with French businesses and universities. The new units proved very successful. In French II, for example, all students eagerly wrote their original personal ad and at least 5-10 responses to various ads done by their classmates. The business letters done by the upper level students were also very successful with 100% participation.

Plan of Action

I learned that it pays in enthusiasm and participation to modify my curriculum to meet needs that students perceive as authentic and of interest. I believe I must become a diagnostician to determine what my students experience at home, where their interests lie, who they are, and how I can help them contribute to society. I found students were more involved and more successful when they were engaged in something purposeful; this study affirms my ability to create lessons that match students’ interests and goals and which reflect standards for foreign language learners. In the future, I intend to involve all levels so that this will be a totally vertical activity.

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