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Effort Aims to Tie Foreign Language Study to Common Standards

National guidelines for the study of foreign languages are being revised to make explicit the links to the common-core standards, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages announced this week.

The news came just days before the council hosts its annual conference, with the theme "Empowering Language Educators Through Collaboration." The Nov. 18-20 convention is in Denver this year.

The council has already issued a draft document on its website showing how the existing national standards for foreign languages, issued in 1996, align with the common standards in English/language arts and mathematics. In addition, the organization is planning to develop a new set of what Executive Director Marty Abbott calls "scenarios" linked to the standards that are in keeping with the common standards.

(Abbott last month was named the new executive director of ACTFL. Since 2004, she was the group's director of education.)

The scenarios, Abbott explained in an interview, are essentially "snapshots of what's going on in a language classroom that reflect the standards. ... In 1996, when we released the first document, there were scenarios. Now we want to update them to reflect what's going on in today's classrooms."

In a press release, Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers praised the effort to revise the standards documents by ACTFL, in partnership with the Standards Collaborative Board (a coalition of a variety of groups involved with language teaching), which led the initial creation of the standards, the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages, and the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages.

"The [common standards] make clear that literacy is the responsibility of all disciplines," said Wilhoit. "I applaud the efforts of ACTFL and its partnering world-languages organizations to identify explicit practices in learning languages that make a direct contribution to the development of literacy for all students.

In March, ACTFL unveiled a 21st Century Skills Map, which it developed with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. This document showcases learning activities that incorporate such skills as collaboration, responsibility, media literacy, and technology for students.

Also, readers may be interested to know that ACTFL has just published a new report: "A Decade of Foreign Language Standards: Impact, Influence, and Future Directions." In a nutshell, that report makes the case that the national standards have indeed had significant impact in multiple areas of the profession, from classroom teaching to professional development.

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