The Opportunity for Collaboration.
By Freddie A. Bowles
San Antonio, Texas (November 16, 2007)
Fayetteville, Arkansas (December 4, 2007)
Travel offers the astute adventurer a coffer full of stories and observations. You leave the sanctity of home and hearth with hope and faith for a safe journey and a mission to be accomplished.
An Esoteric Mission Devoted
to Foreign Language Education.
At the same time, if you have traveled oft and far, you leave with a bit of wariness and a jaded perspective. In the education profession, especially if you are a language teacher, going hither and yon from coast to coast and continent to continent becomes part of the yearly itinerary.
Many of my travels have led to familiar places with common themes: teacher education, teaching English as foreign or second language, research in teacher education — but this was my first time to attend the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). An organization of 9,000-plus educators, ACTFL promotes and supports the teaching of common and less commonly taught foreign languages across the vast land of the United States.
In Honor of the Patron Saint.
So, for this conference, a thrill of anticipation and excitement brought me for the second time to the city named by early Spanish explorers in honor of St. Anthony, the patron saint of travelers, the poor, and lost items. The intrepid explorers from Spain discovered the river on St. Anthony's feast day, June 13, and named the river "San Antonio" in his honor.
A traveler too, I decided to spend my nights next door to the Alamo, originally the Mission San Antonio de Valero, established in 1718 by Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares. I stayed in the historic Menger Hotel, first opened in 1859.
My mission, however, involved not exploration, but the study of a more mundane and highly specific aspect of contemporary culture, namely, the accreditation of foreign language education programs. An esoteric subject? Probably -- maybe just as mysterious as the Catholic missionaries must have appeared to the original inhabitants of the area, the Payaya, who named the river "Yanaguana," or refreshing waters.
A Bit of Refreshing . . . .
And Proof We're Doing Our Job.
I needed a bit of refreshing. The fall school semester had dragged into its third month with its usual psychic baggage in tow. I sought a clear drink of information about my role as the foreign language educator responsible for providing proof to the accrediting agency that our program was doing its job — the job of training pre-service teachers according to the standards established by ACTFL, the host of this conference.
I almost drowned under the deluge of tips, strategies, caveats, and warnings. My mundane mission morphed into a megalithic monstrosity. I fell rapidly into information overload.
I had already gleaned a bit of background information and some prior knowledge about the ideal foreign language program components back home in Arkansas. I had repeatedly read over the eight ACTFL standards. I knew that a collaborative effort by the Foreign Language and Curriculum and Instruction Departments would be essential. I knew that our future teachers should have a high level of oral proficiency in the language of choice, and that they should have both an internship experience and a methods course for teaching foreign languages.
Between the Cakewalk and Quicksand.
What I was unprepared for was the realization that getting the proof and the evidence for the accreditation report was not going to be a cakewalk. In fact, it just might be the opposite, a trek through a pool of quicksand.
All professions profess to have standards. Medical doctors and nurses take state board examinations. Lawyers undergo the bar examinations. River boat pilots must pass the Rules of the Road exam to earn their papers. Teachers? We take the Praxis tests. In addition to our coursework and internship, teachers in Arkansas must pass the battery of tests known as the Praxis series to earn licensure.
Another layer of accreditation exists above the teacher licensure level for universities and colleges. In order for the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions (and other such institutions of higher learning) to offer teacher education programs for licensure, the college must pass the "NCATE" exam.
For Better or Worse,
It's a Serious Matter.
The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has established standards for teacher education programs to follow. If programs do not meet these standards, the college may be put on probation. At worst, the college will not receive approval and the State of Arkansas will not issue licenses to graduates of their programs. It's a serious matter.
All fifty states have partnerships with NCATE; twenty-nine states require NCATE approval for their higher education institutions to offer teacher education programs. For better or for worse, Arkansas counts itself as one of the twenty nine.
I teach in the secondary education program (SEED) of a fifth-year Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. Our students are admitted into the MAT after completing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in one or more of several content areas: English, Foreign Language, Math, Science, or Social Studies. They must also complete three pre-requisite courses, obtain a GPA of 3.0 or better in the last sixty hours of their undergraduate program, and sit for an interview with the SEED faculty.
Practical Experience and Pedagogy.
The goal of the MAT program is to give teacher candidates practical experience in the classroom (student teaching — the internship) and the pedagogical background to teach effectively in their particular content areas. During the semester, teacher candidates spend four days in the secondary classroom with a mentor teacher and one day on campus with us, their faculty, for the master level pedagogy classes.
Our students begin their content studies in the arts and sciences as undergraduates and end in the social sciences as graduates with a Masters degree, so at least two colleges are responsible for producing highly effective teachers. However, only the College of Education and Health Professionals (COEHP) comes under the scrutiny of NCATE (the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) the accrediting agency. COEHP is also responsible for assuring that students complete all the requirements for licensure by the state. Therefore, Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, the college responsible for candidates content knowledge, has no obvious vested interest in NCATE accreditation.
Unaware and Often Disinterested.
Faculty in the arts and sciences are mostly unaware of accrediting standards, state or national, and are often disinterested in collaborating with education colleges to comply with the standards. This raises issues of compliance because teacher candidates gain their content knowledge in arts and sciences.
What does this mean? Some of us who haven't collaborated in the past need to work together now to take care of this accreditation business for the benefit of the university. The alternative is failure. Personally, it means I have the unique opportunity to work with my peers in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, specifically the faculty of the Foreign Language Department, in a unified effort to earn NCATE approval. That pleases me, too, for another reason. Like most of our teacher candidates, I am also a graduate of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
Eight Standards of Content
Are Set to Guide the Process.
How does this happen? Before the NCATE visit to our campus, each content area of the MAT program must prepare a report to send to its Specialized Professional Association (SPA). For Foreign Language, the SPA is the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), which has established eight standards for preparing foreign language teachers:
1. The development of candidates' foreign language proficiency in all areas of communication, with special emphasis on developing oral proficiency in all language courses. Upper-level courses should be taught in the foreign language.
2. An ongoing assessment of candidates' oral proficiency and provision of diagnostic feedback to candidates concerning their progress in meeting required levels of proficiency.
3. Language, linguistics, culture, and literature components.
4. A methods course that deals specifically with the teaching of foreign languages, and that is taught by a qualified faculty member whose expertise is foreign language education and who is knowledgeable about current instructional approaches and issues.
5. Field experiences prior to student teaching that include experiences in foreign language classrooms.
6. Field experiences, including student teaching, that are supervised by a qualified foreign language educator who is knowledgeable about current instructional approaches and issues in the field of foreign language education.
7. Opportunities for candidates to experience technology-enhanced instruction and to use technology in their own teaching.
8. Opportunities for candidates to participate in a structured study abroad program and/or intensive immersion experience in a target language community.
As I understand it, half of these standards are the responsibility of the Foreign Language Department and half are the responsibility of the Curriculum and Instruction Department.
How do we do this successfully? We must work together to prepare our future foreign language teachers by establishing a common language of discourse so that all faculty understand the terminology of accreditation. The common language of discourse must answer several questions. Here are a few to consider.
What exactly is a standard?
What is the required level of oral proficiency?
What linguistic knowledge do our candidates need for teaching P-12 students?
What methodology is most effective for teaching at the secondary level?
A Common Language of Discourse.
After we establish a common language of discourse, we can focus on understanding the precise requirements and look for evidence that our courses satisfy ACTFL/NCATE standards.
The next step in satisfying accreditation requirements is to create common assessments across languages to provide evidence that the standards are taught.
Research into program collaboration for NCATE visits (Colville-Hall, Fonseca-Greber, & Cavour, 2007; Hopkin, 2005) recognizes that arts and sciences faculty place little value on teacher education because of their own research interests and the perception, fueled by promotion and tenure requirements, that research in the social sciences (education, for example) has little validity for faculty evaluations. Administrators in the social sciences often assign limited value to the time commitment that faculty devote to data collection, analysis, and reporting to the content-appropriate Specialized Professional Association (SPA). Arts and sciences faculty may also regard any suggestion for curriculum changes as an infringement upon their academic freedom to teach and design their own courses.
A Known Formula for Success.
At universities that have already begun to collaborate, each of these concerns is addressed in ways that work successfully for both faculty and students. Administrators in arts and sciences acknowledge the value of research in the social sciences by awarding points to publication results. Faculty privilege to design and teach their own courses is respected; education specialists, linguists, and literature faculty collaborate on finding pieces of evidence within the syllabi for "re"creation rather than reaction. Faculty are granted release time during NCATE's three-year process of data collection, analysis, and reporting.
Over 650 institutions of higher learning in the United States, including the University of Arkansas, use NCATE standards for national recognition of their colleges of education. The challenge for most colleges of education is to convince their colleagues in the arts and sciences of the importance and value of accreditation.
Here in the mountains at the flagship University, the chair of the Foreign Language Department and the chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Department work intensely on disseminating information to faculty about the NCATE revisions and the standards set by each content area's Specialized Professional Association.
Administrators and researchers at the Arkansas Department of Education contend that our state has a critical shortage of foreign language teachers — and I concur. It is incumbent upon the leadership at the number one university in the state to commit their energy and resources to the education of all future teachers, including teachers of foreign languages.
Colville-Hall, S., Fonseca-Greber, B., & Cavour, I. (2007). Preparing for the ACTFL/NCATE program report: Three case studies. In A. J. Moeller & J. Theiler (Eds.) 2007 report of the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (pp. 39-53). Eau Claire, WI: Crown Prints.
Hopkin, D. (2005). Aligning academe: Achieving success in Texas. In After Student Standards: Alignment (pp. 161-175). Amherst, MA: National Evaluation Systems, Inc.