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FLES - How should we implement it?

Original post made by Tired Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 1, 2007

I would really like to know what other people think about FLES in our schools.

How should we implement a FLES program? Should it be incorporated into the school day, extending the day by 20 mins., a straight after school elective program, or what? Should it be run by the District with accredited traveling teachers, perhaps partially funded by PTA or whatever funds? Should children move classrooms to be with peers of similar skill level, regardless of grade level?

I think these questions are important because I know that language skills vary from child to child and if and when we start a FLES program we have the opportunity to be innovative and think outside the box. If we start a new program we can get the best up to date language learning methods without having to throw out old well established methods. The methods I learnt with didn't work for me, although many of my classmates did much better with them. The language labs of the 70s and 80s are now outdated and we can come up with much better methods. Lets look at what we want and be able to tell the Board such.

Comments (9)

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2007 at 4:05 pm

I was on the USEFL task force that studied immersion, FLES and other world language instruction methods in the early 1990's, which gave rise to Spanish Immersion being introduced in PAUSD.

Although there were some well intentioned attempts at the same time at a couple of sites to introduce FLES, they were not successful. My own thinking is that FLES requires some careful rework of an entire curriculum, it is not something that merely is added to the school day or put in place of something else. If you have studied the extensive research around this matter, you can start to gain an appreciation for my contention. This also was borne out in my experience on Site Council for a time at Walter Hays, where I saw how much of a struggle it was to see how FLES could work, when there already was a curriculum in the school that was very good and for the most part fully supported by families and faculty--not something to "mess with" without very good reason.

I have offered to participate in the World Language Task Force when it is established, and I hope I have the opportunity to do so. While I am passionate about world language instruction being part of the basic curriculum in this District, I do so now with no "dog in the hunt." My youngest is a Junior at PALY, so I am past the point where this has direct bearing on my own children's education.

If we assume that in the near future, the District policy is in place to make world language education a priority (it's not now, but for this string, let's assume that becomes the case) I would forecast a 2 year effort to put together a curriculum plan that incorporates FLES, and works with the rest of the curriculum that is important in the District and assures comparable or better outcomes for the students. The earliest we could expect to see FLES in PAUSD would be Fall 2009, maybe one year after that.

There are many well documented models that can be used to start evaluating how to engineer the curriculum for PAUSD, and I believe it will require 9 to 12 months to review the models and develop an approach that will apply in PAUSD. This would need to be followed by another year of site based planning, to assure implementation is well thought out and the transition from an existing school day structure to a different structure. There will be issues that apply for all schools, and there will be site specific issues as well, which require time to plan for and address.

So, I think it is premature to discuss any specifics around how to approach FLES. World language instruction must first be agreed to as a priority, and then a great deal of time and effort by a task force and our professional educators is needed, making sure that parents and other interested stakeholders are involved as the process develops.

These are my thoughts, not previously widely circulated, and I hope engender some additional discussion. The approach to developing an effective FLES program is an up front step, even my suggestions are high level and there could be another way to go about this that prevails. Getting into specifics is part of what the effort needs to do, and there is plenty of work ahead for those who participate in the effort formally.

Posted by Daunna
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 1, 2007 at 5:27 pm

As Paul says, FLES is a complicated matter. FLES is a huge umbrella, and without knowing the goals of a FLES program, we can talk all over the map about different things using a single word "FLES." FLESsy-programs can range from FLEX (FL EXposure) to something similar to partial immersion. Here's a fairly short article that describes content-based FLES, content-enriched and content-related FLES.

Web Link

We need to define "proficiency" and how much of it we want, and how much FLES would be required in elementary to articulate to something at the middle school. And what would we do in 6th grade to keep the elementary FL going until kids might choose to continue with an advanced class in 7th grade?

I'm not a fan of after-school FLES as a meaningful solution. Is it FLES for the rich? Will late school busses & tuition be provided for VTP kids, special ed kids?

I think FL should be part of core-curriculum.

When I think of the problems of articulation and what to do about the significant numbers of kids who transfer into the district at 3rd-4th-5th grades with no background in the chosen language, how do you include them without putting them in with 1st graders?

If the district does Spanish for all, how useful is that to native Spanish speakers? If the district does different languages at different schools, does that make a problem for middle school articulation?

Seems to me I heard of a school somewhere that did a FLEX-type program that reminds me a bit of our 6th grade wheel: they did a different language in each grade. What I like about this idea is that kids could sample the various languages available in PAUSD at the secondary level. They'd get an appreciation in a personal way that the world is made up of people who speak different languages, and they'd develop a curiosity and sense of affinity for the peoples of the world who speak each language & culture they're exposed to. They would be no complication of how to articulate at high school, no complication of what to do with kids who transfer into the district at 4th grade. Every year is a fresh start.

The methodology used will make a big difference in how well kids with special needs will be able to benefit. Models that mimic first-language acquisition will work for most kids with special needs--in other words, immersion-like models or Total Physical Response, which do not introduce literacy early and do expect kids to learn by reading/writing).

Or if we really want to embrace diversity and include most kids with special needs, we could try American Sign Language--it would be so peaceful and quiet!

Any FLES program that does not invest significant time (lots of teacher contact) will not produce much proficiency--and that could be prohibitively expensive. If we can't do serious proficiency, I think a mulitple-language FLEX approach could teach the kids to see themselves as language learners, stir their interest in the world around them, and develop positive atittudes toward FL and other cultures. I think we talk about celebrating diversity in PAUSD, but we could do a lot better at doing something meaningful.

FL is nice, but languages exist as part of cultures. Most of the cultural stuff I've seen in FL classes is more like history lessons, geography lessons, or lessons on the arts. I'm much more interested in all the behavior associated with each culture. Language is only a piece of communication, and how people behave either with or without words is cullturally-bound. If you don't know how to read the body language or know that slurping your soup is good manners, or belching after a meal is a compliment, or that some people will wonder what you are doing with that left hand held in your lap during a meal... well, language is only a piece of it. Just think how much fun kids could have learning to be polite or rude, and much much more in cross-cultural intereactions.

Posted by Euro parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2007 at 6:29 pm

Please don't bring in Ameican sign language into the debate. It is not a world language and it only gives kids a method of communicating behind teachers' backs without being found out (and parents and other kids).

American sign language is what it is, for Americans (and possibly french). The rest of the English speaking world uses International Sign Language which is very different, particularly the alphabet. It has no use whatsoever outside this country.

Posted by Daunna
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 1, 2007 at 7:15 pm

Any one language chosen will not be satisfactory to everybody, so why NOT choose ASL?Major universities, including U.C., accept ASL as a way to satisfy the world language requirement. Liniguists recognize it as a natural language with its own grammar, and there's a rich deaf culture that goes with it. I think ASL does belong in the discussion because it is a language that many kids with disabilities can learn, and if we are interested in equity (FL for everybody), then we need to have a conversation about how to include every kid.

Posted by Euro Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2007 at 7:39 pm

I thought the whole point of having the languages was to satisfy the need for raising kids who could communicate in the globabl economic world. As I said before, ASL does not do this. True, US universities may accept it, but universities in the rest of the world won't and I can't see any multinational business company valuing it either. This is just a way to get "language" into the picture without very much effort on the part of the student. Where is the ability to write an essay, study the literature or the culture of ASL? No, lets talk about real FOREIGN languages here.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2007 at 7:49 pm

ASL is used by a relatively small population and has no written language, so I'd say those are two strikes against it as a main FLES alternative--though it would be kind of neat if it were in high school, say.

Spanish seems the easiest choice--widely spoken in California, relatively easy for English speakers, closely connected to the other romance languages. Sigh, it does seem like there's been a missed FLES opportunity at Escondido.

Other possibilities--Mandarin, though that seems like a challenge without some sort of immersion component. French--good for college and the liberal arts, but no longer in the top 10 of spoken languages. Japanese--similar issues to Mandarin, but not as widely spoken. Russian? Arabic?

So, what if you had two half-hour segments in the grade schools of Spanish or Mandarin each week? Kids could leave the classroom for it and maybe have a choice of three languages. More proficient speakers could be moved up. Though, in the grade schools, if the emphasis is on spoken, mixing together kids of varying fluency could actually help not hinder language acquisition.

Posted by Voice Reporter
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 2, 2007 at 8:48 pm

There is a article, regarding FLES, on The article is at Web Link

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2007 at 1:20 am

Another strong Paly article. Good work guys.

Posted by Lisa Steinback
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 12, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Perhaps unbeknownst to Larry Yang (Letter in the Weekly, 2/9/07), district-wide foreign language plans are already in progress. On Jan 30 the Board approved the start of an implementation plan for a FLES-based program for elementary school. The results will be fed into the Strategic Planning Process in 2007-2008. The district's plan is that this FLES-based design would then be integrated with the secondary world language program so that a full K-12 program could be provided in all schools. This sounds to me like a great opportunity to continue the momentum of this issue across our district. We are all stakeholders in this process and any Palo Altan interested in foreign language should stay involved. In the twelve years since our district last took up this issue, technology has skyrocketed forward. Creative possibilites abound (e.g. check out the Rosetta Stone foreign language software available on Palo Alto library computers). Feel free to come up with your own suggestions. Join myself and other of the MI opponents who are already hard at work on this. We can supplement FLES classes with today's tools. Imagine telling our children to please put on their iPod so they can hear their Spanish lesson. It's very exciting!
I wonder if Larry knows about the impressive foreign language classes going on afterschool at the various elementary school campuses? At some schools, 25% of their students stay after school each week in order to learn about the language and culture of another country! At other schools, families attend summer trips with their child's language teacher to reinforce what they learned during the school year. It's evident that local school communities are working to fill this demand. On Jan 30, the district announced it will offer Mandarin Immersion to middle school students in summer school. That's a great start. Parents like myself hope this will be a catalyst for the district adding various language immersion offerings to elementary summer school as well. With students learning and listening to a second language during the school year and then having it reinforced during the summer, real progress can be made. Let's actively support our district in its efforts to provide foreign language enrichment. I think there are many parents like myself that dream of their child speaking a second language by the time they graduate high school. I truly believe it could be fantastic for all our children.

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