World language teachers are age group chameleons, often teaching pre-k immersion all the way up to eighth grade exploratory classes. How do we properly craft our lessons and curriculum to effectively reach each age group? In this post, we’ll learn the second language acquisition research and classroom management strategies that will most equip you to teach the varying ages of elementary world language, from pre-k to late elementary language learners.
World language teachers move between age groups all the freakin’ time! I’m certified to teach K-12. Many other world language teachers have this same flexibility. So many programs go from k-8 learners. That’s a huge range! This post is especially for elementary world language teachers who teach a wide range and want to make their curriculum as effective as possible for each age group.
OUR INTENTION: how to better craft curriculum and lessons for specific age groups, based on the research about their beautiful brains, down to the year. Maximize your lessons, assessments, and curriculums so that you can make one lesson work for multiple ages if needed, or tell if lessons/ curriculums you find will work for you.
Also, to make better choices when selecting topics and themes for your lessons and curriculum. You’ll find out today that not all topics will be as effective, depending on your age group.
I want to empower you to make the best choices for your learners by knowing exactly how their beautiful brains work and how they want to learn.
The Research on Middle School World Language Learners
Everything that follows is sourced from this book: Teacher’s Handbook 4th Edition, Contextualized Language Instruction (Shrum & Glisan) **affiliate link
Most of the information below is from chapter 4, where the authors discuss learner profiles for elementary world language learners and how they differ from their older counterparts. Let’s start with some advantages:
The Early Adolescent World Language Learner (ages 11-14) middle school 6-8
- dramatic developmental changes
- reach a cognitive plateau for a time (their bods & social/emotional registers are a little busy) (think Tina belcher)
- steady-paced, SEVERAL lessons on the same topic
- ONE day, it will just click and you won’t be able to predict it
- have multiplying and RAPIDLY changing interests
- want to assert their independence and identity (great time to do self-discovery projects or ALL ABOUT ME)
- want to establish identities as members of a peer group (perfect to dive into interests REAL hard)
- self-image (AKA routines, clothing, habits, hangouts, what makes them who they are), 8 year olds don’t really care about that. They just think underwear is funny. They’d rather hear a story about captain underpants. Middle schoolers would cry tears of boredom and injustice if you did this.
- respond well to positive relationships and positive reinforcement (help them shape self identity)
- respond well to independent opportunities to learn about subjects that interest them AKA genius hour!
- respond well to content-based units with a culminating activity/assessment (they like seeing the full spectrum and end goal)
- 8-10 yr olds won’t respond as well to this structure, they like shorter units in general (from my brief experience in 6th grade, but elementary teachers, chime in here)
The Middle School Student in World Language
Anyone who’s taught middle school can tell you that you can fill an entire lake with the difference between 6th graders and 7-8th graders.
Here’s where the focus goes back inward, on self discovery through WINDOWS. A magic term from AC Quintero.
They secretly want to work in groups and work out how they relate to each other, but they will NOT do it on their own, they need a strong structure in order to make it happen. Content-based units work well with a culminating project or portfolio for assessments.
- Enjoy knowledge for its own sake and love to hear about new things
- Very curious learners
- Seek out the limits of the real world and want to go deeper – explore challenges and big themes like nobility, courage, genius, energy, creativity
- Want to know about real stories from real people
- Want to know the weird, oddities from their own culture as well as other ones
- Love to compare and contrast
- Are more concerned with getting their point across than being accurate (aka great potential for fluency)
- Want to explore beyond their safe world
- Need to feel grown up
- Still need structure
The Best Middle School World Language Curriculums
Middle school world language students are very aware of their physiological changes and do NOT like physical descriptions, daily routine discussions with reflexive verbs, comparisons with clothing sizes, and anything around appearance that can directly relate back to size or physical appearance.
Definition of self identity and fashion, romance, and self expression is an entirely different matter. How others dress and look is also another matter. Try not to do the whole YO unit around their own appearance and routines. If you do, good luck on your speaking quiz. They’ll intentionally bomb it.
They’re not in a cognitive position to even handle abstract grammar like verb conjugation. Your time is much better spent elsewhere.
Epstein and Toepfer (1978) “brain growth in children slows down progressively between 11-13.5, which may make them less able to acquire new cognitive skills and handle complex thinking processes than before. (Met, 1994)
Verkler (1994) “ language competency and attitudes toward language study of middle school and high school student– middle school students demonstrated higher levels of competency in all four modes (reading, writing, listening, speaking) than the high schoolers in the same course, and attitude much more positive.
They can memorize and retain stunning amounts of detail, have a strong sense of justice, and are actively searching for a sense of awe in the world.
Motivation: needs to relate to real life for them to care
Things to Watch Out For with Middle School World Language:
Prone to stereotypes as they try to figure out the limits of their understanding. Less accepting of differences and needs tons of exposure to real people who exhibit differences from other cultures to combat that.
Once they receive that cultural input, they’re easily rewired to positive openness and as long as they can understand how others think and feel. Surface level understandings of others will miss the mark. (Robinson, 1981)
Self assessment is harder, they’re hard on themselves and a little stuck in the cognitive plateau, very much aware of the “invisible audience” they do better in high school. But is this really that important to hit in middle school? We have bigger fish to fry. Let’s work on the challenges that matter more.