Performance-Based Learning and 21st-Century Technology in Forsyth County World Language Classrooms
By Jordan Rowell
Most individuals - educators, businesswomen and men, everyday people - seem to acknowledge the importance of learning a world language. As any world language advocacy web site will tell you, the benefits are numerous: improved cognitive ability, better standardized test scores, greater net earnings over the course of a lifetime, etc.. And yet, because world languages are not commonly assessed in a standardized way in K-12 education, because French and Spanish and Mandarin are not “core subjects,” they tend to receive less attention than STEM, language arts, and social studies classes. Anecdotally, my own student teaching experience revealed most world language classrooms to have fewer technological resources in comparison to core subject classrooms. Interestingly, cursory analysis of DonorsChoose.org fully-funded projects indicates that world language teachers are also far less likely to request project funding than their colleagues who teach core subjects. Indeed, only eight of 441 fully funded technology project requests were made by world language teachers.
While foreign language technology grant proposals were few and far between, the technological resources that these teachers requested suggest that WSFCS's language instructors who have made requests use best practices - including performance-based learning and assessment - in their classrooms.
To wit, most proposals request technology that will allow students to extend or demonstrate their mastery of their chosen language by creating digital (and physical) artifacts of student proficiency. For example, teachers requested iPads and and HandyCam digital cameras to allow their students to record themselves performing skits or engaging their classmates in conversation in the target language of Spanish, thereby demonstrating their speaking proficiency. In some cases, teachers (and students) requested technologies that would complement their existing resources: a student-led project requested a classroom set of wireless mice to allow them to get the most out of a classroom set of Chromebooks, while another teacher requested a color photo printer to permit her students to produce high quality visual products like invitations to celebrations, travel brochures, or newspapers in the target language.
Three proposals supported the idea that foreign language classrooms may be passed over when even run-of-the-mill, standard issue classroom technology is allocated. Two proposals (made by the same teacher at two different schools) requested funding to purchase a new LCD projector, while a proposal by another teacher requested the funds to replace the very costly bulb in her classroom’s projector. Projector technology is a vital resource in exposing students to high quality authentic resources like film, television, music and music videos, photography and other realia from target cultures. All of the technologies requested help advance the objective student acquisition of 21st century skills, including media and technological literacy and mastery of world languages.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ (WSFCS) world language teachers who have successfully submitted technology proposals via DonorsChoose.org provide the profession with invaluable resources by demonstrating a strong grasp of best pedagogical practices in their discipline and by allowing their students to create artifacts of their own language proficiency.
World language technology proposals account for just under 2% of all fully-funded technology proposals for DonorsChoose.org in Forsyth County. Given that the State of North Carolina requires college-bound high school students to take two years of a world language, it seems clear to me that WSFCS world language teachers could benefit by expanding their presence on DonorsChoose.org. County-level provision of professional development about how best to use of DonorsChoose.org as an educational tool would likely boost visibility.