Middle School World Language Expansion

    Crecimiento, croissance, 发展, all mean growth in Spanish, French, and Mandarin, respectively. This word perfectly summarizes the Oyster River Cooperative School District World Language program.

    At the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year, the Oyster River Cooperative School District expanded the World Language program, consisting of Spanish, French, and Mandarin, down to the sixth grade. The expansion was implemented after a group of parents in the district approached the school board and requested the change. Collaboratively, the school board, the administrators, and the World Language teachers approved the proposal. However, the expansion requires major teaching changes, as well as course adjustments at both the middle school and the high school.

    Currently, in the ORCSD, if a student wants to take the same language throughout his/her high school career, the student can start with level two, continue to level three, then take level four, and go on to level five or Advanced Placement (AP), after completing level one during middle school.

    However, with the expansion, a student has the possibility of leaving the middle school with a level three understanding of the language. This poses the question, as the ORCSD Superintendent Dr. James Morse stated, “if we are now providing three years of language at the middle school level, what’s the impact of the program on kids going into the high school?”

    In response Morse’s question, the expansion majorly affects the high school World Language program. Barbara Milliken, an ORHS French teacher, noted that because of the expansion, “we, as a department, have to redo everything that we have ever done and redo the entire curriculum. It’s definitely a major change than from anything we have done [with the World Language program] in the past.”

    Leslie Ayers, an ORHS Spanish teacher, expressed similar sentiments regarding the change. She noted that the World Language Department is going to have to revisit everything that has been taught in the past and evaluate it to fit well with the new curriculum.

    In order to do this, the World Language Department is planning on meeting and refining the program this summer. The department plans to draft the first three years of the World Language curriculum in preparation for the middle schoolers who will be entering high school with a level three understanding of Spanish, French, or Mandarin.

    Milliken said that completing this would “ensure that the World Language teachers are doing the exact same thing in the three languages. This would also ensure that every teacher has the same expectations, and the same type of assessments so then as the students enter the high school, every teacher is on the same playing field.”

    However, the World Language courses will no longer be based on levels, such as level one, level two, level three, etc., but rather will be based on years, such as year one, year two, year three, etc. For each year of World Language, the material will focus on four to five themes. For example, year one will consist of lessons focused on the themes of clothing and weather, school, and using “we” as the subject of sentences.

    The ideal result of this would be that as a student continues to take the language over the seven years available for him/her, the student would be able to speak with more fluency, talk more accurately, and use the correct tenses more frequently while speaking.

    This new curriculum was driven by the goals of Ayers, as well as the entire World Language Department. Ayers mentioned that the objective was, “instead of having every level focus on tons of grammar, we, as a department, are trying to move away from that.”

    Along with the course adjustments, Ayers noted that, “as a department, this summer, we are going to be strengthening the World Language program at the middle school and the high school. We are going to try to make the entire department aware of our expectations, and where we want to get everyone by the end of their potential seven years of studying their language.”

    With these major alterations, Milliken wonders how the students will respond. She mentioned that she hopes the students enjoy the change, however if the students oppose the modifications, then the program must be adjusted.

    Despite the changes to the World Language program and the concern over how students will respond, there are several benefits to the expansion. Lead with Languages is a national campaign that was created to make language proficiency a national priority. This campaign outlines various important benefits of learning a language early, including the idea that children who learn a language at a young age use the same part of the brain to acquire the second language that they use to learn their first language.

  Ayers supported this fact by adding, “I know that there is a lot of research that explains that the earlier a student learns a language, the easier it is for them to reach full fluency later on.”

    Students also said that learning a language earlier would help them to better understand the language. Emma Hilary Gould (‘19), who is currently a spanish four student and went to school in Spain for a semester, mentioned that, “if kids start learning a language earlier, they would be more familiar and feel more comfortable speaking it. They also would not be as afraid of making mistakes and sounding foolish.”

    With the expansion, Gould’s point could be proven. The district is making adjustments in an effort to expand the options and experiences for Oyster River students to become fluent in another language.


Written by Abby Schmitt