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Developing Global Competence in the World Language Classroom

Developing Global Competence in the World Language Classroom

By: Marcela Velikovsky and Vicky Masson
2018 “Smithsonian Virtual Teacher Curricula Creation Fellows” with the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, and Participants at the National Portrait Gallery "Learning to Look" Summer Institute.

“People, Place, and Time: How Art Reflects Culture”

Being Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA) Fellows was an enriching experience and a journey full of surprises and opportunities that has led to a long-term relationship. 

As part of our fellowship, we created three interdisciplinary collections for our World Language classrooms to develop students’ global competence, and participated in a webinar highlighting these classroom activities, strategies, and experiences: “Global Competence Activities for World Language Classrooms.”

The three collections share the common theme, “People, Place, and Time: How Art Reflects Culture,” for it was the perfect thread for what we envisioned. In our mind, the products, practices, and perspectives of a culture show how our place and history (past) influence who we are (present) and who we want to be (future). Art illustrates how culture shapes the way we see the world, others, and ourselves. 

These collections integrate museum resources into world languages across the curriculum to help students expand their interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes of communication while making connections with other disciplines and developing global competence. 

What is global competence, and how do students develop global competence in the World Language classroom?

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA):

Global competence is the capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and worldviews of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.

We try to move our students beyond their inner circle and familiar contexts to understand people from different cultures who have different perspectives, so they are prepared to communicate and interact in the world. 

From Resource to Collection

Finding one authentic resource in the Smithsonian Learning Lab and asking many questions about it was all it took for us to develop an interdisciplinary collection . . . and then, two more!

These are the three resources that we used for our collections:

Each collection is like a folder in which you keep and organize in one place resources you need for a class or unit. Our collections include a teacher’s guide, extension activities, learning objectives, thinking routines, standards, links to outside sources, and authentic resources in the target language (Spanish). 

Because we are Spanish teachers, our collections reflect Latinx art, history, and culture. However, the ideas and strategies we used can be applied to any language and even to other disciplines or cross-curricular projects.

Global Thinking Routines and Sustainable Development Goals

To spark students’ deeper inquiry and help them reflect on their own thinking, we use Project Zero Global Thinking Routines. GTRs are thinking structures designed to nurture global dispositions “meant to be used frequently, across content, and over time” (GTR p.5) to facilitate the development of learners’ global competence. Simply put, the Global Thinking Routines help students “foster understanding and appreciation of today’s complex globalized world” (PZ). We use different GTRs depending on our goals.

To connect with real-world global issues, we also made connections to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to raise awareness, and promote global competence, curiosity, and empathy through analysis of art and “reading” of portraiture.

Guiding Questions

The following questions helped guide our thoughts and might also help other teachers in creating collections.

  • For what topic/content/context would we use these resources? 
  • What are the students’ outcomes?
  • Which GTR would best apply?
  • What other Thinking Routines would apply?
  • Which of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals could be connected to the art? Which targets?
  • What performance tasks would we create to use the language we teach? How would we incorporate the three modes of communication (Interpretive, Interpersonal, Presentational) in our lesson/unit?
  • What products, practices, and perspectives would we like to highlight about the culture? 
  • What functions, language structures, and vocabulary would we reuse/teach? What text type are we expecting our students to produce? How might we get our students to the next level based on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency levels?
  • What additional resources would we include in our collection? Why?
  • How would we assess students?

Developing Global Competence: Night of the Dead

When creating the collection based on the lithograph Night of the Dead, after activating prior knowledge and in order to help students avoid stereotypes or prejudice about cultures, we decided to show only fragments of the artwork by “cutting” the resource into three sections. We used a simple Thinking Routine (See, Think, Wonder…) to help students notice details and not only describe what they see, but also what they wonder, to ignite the flame of curiosity.

For this particular resource, we used the GTR “Step in-Step Out-Step Back.” This routine helps students “take someone else’s perspective and reflect on their own.” First, students “step in” the picture and express what they think the people in the artwork might feel, think, and value. Then we ask them to “step out” to learn more about the topic by having interpretive listening and interpretive reading activities, expanding and deepening their knowledge on the topic. Then we have them “step back” to help our students understand others´ perspectives and reflect on what they learned, specifically, how learning about this topic has transformed the way they see a cultural practice.

Developing Global Competence: Caja de Memoria Viva II

In the case of Caja de Memoria Viva II, a three-dimensional installation in which Adrian Roman portrays a black Puerto Rican woman who migrated to the United States in the 1940s, we used the GTR called “The3Ys.” This routine is used “to discern the significance of a topic in the global, local, and personal context.” To accomplish this, students need to understand the cultural and social contexts of the artwork. In this routine we take into account the topics the artist explores: migration, race, identity, the importance of memories, and dignity. This GTR seeks answers to the following questions:

  • Why might learning about migration, race, identity, the importance of memories, and dignity matter to me?
  • Why might it matter to people around me (family, friends, city, nation)?
  • Why might it matter to the world?

Developing Global Competence: Mendez v. Westminster (1947)

For this collection, we used the GTR “Circles of Action” to “foster a disposition to participate” and as the SDGs are a call to action, this GTR fits perfectly. The collection begins with a stamp in the National Postal Museum collections that relates to the Mendez v. Westminster case to end segregation in the schools in California after World War II. The Mendez v. Westminster case happened seven years earlier than the more-famous Brown v. Board of Education.

When students analyze the stamp and learn about the legal case we want them to think:

What can I do to contribute . . .

  • in my inner circle (of friends, family, the people I know)?
  • in my community (my school, my neighborhood)?
  • in the world (beyond my immediate environment)?

Student Engagement

Throughout the year we have used these collections with our students who were not only interested in the material but also cognitively engaged! When students develop global competence--deep, relevant, long-lasting learning (GTR p. 4) --and discuss and understand the complexity of our globalized world, it cannot get any better than that! 

The use of the Smithsonian Learning Lab allows us to discover digital resources and design student-centered tasks, to create and customize interactive collections and share them with the world. Smithsonian resources also support instruction in the World Language classroom and help us develop students’ global competence.

41c Mendez v. Westminster single

Image: 41c Mendez v. Westminster single (detail)
National Postal Museum 


Global Competence Definition: