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Global Education, Language Learning

Three Ways Global Themes Strengthen Secondary Language Programs

If you’re like many savvy administrators around the country, you’ve chosen dual language to increase student achievement, prepare students to compete in the global workforce, develop global leadership skills, and build community investment in your schools.

As your program grows, you have new challenges to address. How can you support students’ academic language development and keep them engaged? How do you give them the skills they need for high school, college, and career success?

These challenges resonated with Dr. Robin Finberg, chief learning officer at Alamance-Burlington School System in North Carolina. She was looking for a curriculum to support the dual language students who had been in the program since kindergarten.

“One of the things we were very concerned about was student interest and engagement,” she says.

At Participate Learning, our approach to ensuring engagement in our language programs has been through a focus on project-based learning and incorporation of global themes so that learning is relevant to students and the world around them. This global perspective, which is at the core of our dual language middle school program, Conexiones, plays an important role in advancing and deepening students’ language skills.

Whether you have an established dual language program or are looking to build one, we encourage you to embrace a global perspective which will:

  • Make language learning relevant to students and increase their engagement
  • Deepen students’ language skills by incorporating critical thinking skills in language learning
  • Empower students to be changemakers

Conexiones themes chart

Global themes make language learning relevant.

A teacher in Robin’s district, Jorge Andrade, has experienced firsthand how a global studies curriculum can promote student engagement.

Jorge teaches Conexiones at Western Alamance Middle School. His students develop projects inspired by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These projects allow Jorge’s students to address issues in their own communities while learning from others around the world who are grappling with the same challenges.

What does this look like in real life? Jorge explains, “[Students] usually have video conferences with people around the world. They discuss…how a certain issue is handled in their country, how they handle that same issue in their community. And they both create a new solution and [understand] that we all are together in this, that we can contribute from our very different cultures to solutions that are common to all of us.”

Global studies keeps students engaged by giving them real-world, relevant learning experiences. At the same time, students continue to develop their academic language skills.

Johanna Carrión, who teaches Conexiones at Iredell Middle School, says that when students are in a global studies class, their language skills seem relevant to their future. Johanna explains, “Current events that we teach in middle school in Spanish help them realize how important the language is for their careers.”

Global themes help students master more complex language skills.

Developing students as critical thinkers will help them master more complex language skills by teaching them to gather and analyze information from multiple sources, argue, summarize, and communicate to their peers and others.

Martha Camacho, who teaches the Conexiones global studies curriculum at AC Reynolds Middle School, designed a learning experience for her middle schoolers to illustrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Spanish-speaking world. Four students from different countries (Spain, El Salvador, Colombia, and Mexico/U.S.) shared different aspects of their culture. At the same time, they taught fellow students that depending on where you’re from, if you’re looking for a drinking straw for your Coke, you may ask for a pajita, a pajilla, a pitillo, or a popote, depending on which country you’re from.

Martha’s lesson demonstrates that when students are allowed to interact with native-speaking peers from other countries, their language skills increase, and they are developing global competencies as well—in this case, flexibility, appropriate communication, and intercultural knowledge, to name a few.

Adriana Rueda, who teaches global studies in a Conexiones classroom at the International School at Gregory, adds, “Through the connections that we [make] with other schools around the world, they have the chance to witness and practice real language.”

Global themes empower language students to be changemakers.

Students are empowered when they have opportunities to use their second language skills in relevant ways. A global studies curriculum allows them to develop as global citizens and gives them the tools they need to become changemakers in their communities and beyond.

Engaging literature can serve as a bridge that connects language development to global themes and the SDGs. Novels like Cajas de Cartón by Francisco Jiménez focus issues like immigration and equitable educational access through a social justice lens.

This multifaceted approach to global studies encourages critical thinking when students connect the themes of a novel to the SDGs. At the same time, students connect with empathy to the main character, Francisco, and his family in Jiménez’s autobiographical novel. They are able to recognize these issues in their own communities, and perhaps, in their own lives.

This is the kind of approach that Michael Williams, principal at Harold E. Winkler Middle School, was seeking when he opted for the Conexiones global curriculum.

“What I liked is that it was built on those principles of social justice, which is really where you prompt that critical thinking. …And it left the teacher with enough autonomy to make the decisions about what she thought was good for kids in her room.”

When asked about how he sees his eighth-graders after they have engaged in global studies throughout middle school, Jorge says, “They are not the same. I see more empathetic kids, kids that are very accepting to other cultures, to other languages—not only to Spanish, but to any other language.”

Jorge continues, “Your students are doing something different from everybody else; they are promoting a change that can contribute to our world.”

And isn’t that what we’re all hoping to achieve for our students?

At Participate Learning, we are committed to ensuring equitable access to quality programming for students that supports their academic success and development as global leaders. To learn more about Conexiones and how to prepare students to lead and thrive in the global marketplace, check out our webpage or contact us.