Italian in 4 year colleges – how we look nationally

Copy of Map of the United States

Regularly, the MLA collects data for their investigation of languages other than English in the U.S. Their most recent report, released Feb 11/15, reflects the trends of which we are all too aware in the Humanities…smaller numbers studying that which should be backbone of every college educated individual. Nationally, our picture shows a loss of student enrollments (11.3% since the previous MLA report, 2009) vs. aggregate language enrollments decline of 6.7%

P.S. My institution, Montclair State, has seen increased enrollments, and now ranks #1 in the state of NJ, and #5 nationally🙂

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best practices brings me out of a long haitus

lurking around many social media sites, i’ve sat passively for many many months listening and reading. Now I find myself compelled to share because one of the greatest lessons I’ve taken from my hiatus is that we share because the medium allows this quite easily. Yet much of what is shared forgets that there are best practices that help engage students, achieve objectives and develop learning (a constructivist approach).

I propose therefore a need for all media, print and internet, electronic and social, to embrace once again best practices . For language learning, let’s integrate authentic materials, realia but let’s not rely on translation or rote memorization activities. Let’s engage our students to think critically and take ownership of their learning. With all forms of authentic materials, general strategies to planning good lesson are only 3! Start with

  1. prepration (pre-reading; pre-listening; pre-viewing); then
  2. presentation (reading, listening, viewing and post-reading, -listening, -viewing) ;and finally
  3. expansion (beyond post-reading, listening, viewing)

Why use these 3 components? So that learning does not happen in a vacuum. Teach culture (practices, products, perspectives) while focusing on vocabulary building and language structures. Language and culture are inexorably linked so teach that way!

On January 21, the Ministero per lo Sviluppo Economico released an effective promotional video entitled Italy: The Extraordinary Commonplace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaXqHU32bm4

Traditionally, a video like this is shown to students, then teachers [triy to] solicit comments or feedback from students (think about the concept of pulling teeth!).

Instead, using best practices, teachers can skillfully guide students to learning from the video:  let’s prepare them BEFORE watching the video using their personal knowledge and experiences; let’s show them the video and have them observe certain details (the goals of the lesson) and have them apply the new knowledge acquired from the video; and finally let’s have them complete an expansion activity that has them engage in a level-appropriate activity that reflects a certain cognitive level of learning (remember Bloom’s taxonomy).

Here’s my lesson (PDF) for an intermediate level of Italian using this video. For one section of this course, it was a face-to-face activity; modified, it was also an online asynchronous assignment (a snow-day activity). Feel free to share your thoughts here or elsewhere (my social media pals🙂 )

P.S. Please respect the creative commons license!

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why shouldn’t we play in the university classroom?

Students took their midterm exam on October 25. Meteorological phenomena stopped northern New Jersey in its tracks for a week: power outages, commuter interruptions, and gas shortages all played factors in our institution’s decision to keep the University closed until November 5th. Despite the wonderful ways in which technology kept us connected throughout the worst parts of the superstorm (read this great post wp.me/p2hiSW-ib /), I couldn’t impose technology on my students to keep them practicing Italian. Even if 75% of students had access to the Internet and various other technologies, trying to continue “business as usual” (via online tools) was not an option. Anyone who experienced the impact of the storm understands this.

So 14 days later, how does a language professor proceed? Which of my students, given the events they had just experienced, would be able to recall talking about past events in Italian, recalling the conjugations of the tense, the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, and irregular past participles? I tapped into some creative juices and I decided to that playing would be a good way to reintroduce them to the classroom and the language after an unexpected absence.

The game: Tombola (Bingo equivalent)

The main board (il tombellone): I provided students with a list of 40 activities  (which I would use as caller) that they may have done during the aftereffects of the superstorm. The question to them was “Since the university was closed, what did you do?” There were a list of daily activities, including getting up, getting dressed, showering, sending text messages, chatting, sleeping, as well as looking for gas, grocery shopping, online shopping, relaxing, being bored, etc.

Students were given a blank board, resembling an Italian cartella rather than the Bingo game card.  Image

Students were then asked to fill in 5 of the 8 spaces per row, and shade in 3 per row (like free spaces). They were allowed to use any of the 40 activities in any order. The only requirement was they phrase it in the present perfect. I modeled a few of them… “Io ho bevuto molto vino” and “Io non mi sono depilata perché sono stata a casa”. In addition to getting a few laughs, I modeled both transitive and intransitive verbs. It started the recollection process for many of them. As they completed their game card, they helped each other recall vocabulary and verb conjugations.

Once they had completed their first task, I had shared with them the rules on how to win. I asked what they knew about winning in Bingo. Students told me (in Italian) that it was getting a line horizontally, vertically or diagonally, and also the whole card. I wrote the words terno, quaterna, cinquina on the board. I asked them how many spaces they needed to get in a row to win. They recognized the number base in each of the words, and so once it was clear, the game began.

I called out each activity; I had each activity on a slip of paper and pulled them out randomly from my bag one at a time. I formed a question (Chi ha dormito molto? Who slept a lot?) and students marked their card and some even raised their hand if they did the activity. If they shouted terno, quaterna, cinquina, they were required to read out their activities to the entire class and I would confirm the win (or in a few instances, tell them they hadn’t won!). We played until all 12 prizes had been won. When we were close to the end of our activity, students were anxiously calling out the activity they needed for a win.

This entire activity took about 35 minutes (of a 75 minute class) from start to finish: 2 minutes to introduce the activity; 10 minutes to write out their 15 activities on their game card; 3 minutes to explain how to win; then 20 minutes to play and verify their win.

Students were excited, engaged, and had great fun. Their disposition had changed dramatically from the start of class to the end of it. They walked in with heads hanging low as a result of the superstorm and snowstorm (which was the day before, on Nov. 7). For a little while, they were able to forget about it by reviewing, practicing and playing in Italian. Playing Tombola helped also transition into the next part of the lesson, which introduced new material via an Italian song.

This isn’t part of the regular curriculum…perhaps games should find a more regular place in our teaching, even at the university level.

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30 seconds

I’ve been in a running rut, though I continue to run regularly during the week (every morning I don’t teach an early class and sometimes on weekends). I would run for the sake of running, thinking I’d had good runs, but the reality was that they weren’t. I run for exercise, but lately I’d plateaued and couldn’t, for the life of me, challenge myself. I actually wasn’t even pushing myself to run harder, longer, better…I would just run.

Then yesterday I read the blog of @girlcanrun, http://www.girlcanrun.com, about how the half MUST go on. She concluded her post with

My body was born to run. Running is 90% mental. My legs will go forever. And I WANT this.
so I asked myself, “When was the last time you felt like this about running, enza?” Not in a long while… for me, the resilience of the body is something I will never deny. I’ve put my body through a lot and ran even with my baker’s cyst and survived (not advisable but it’s who I am). What I have been struggling with, since my first race on the labour day weekend of 2011, is the mental component. I haven’t been able to run effectively because these are the thoughts that go through my mind as I run:
  • I’ve got so much grading to get through; I must get home
  • I’m overworked and my research is suffering. When the f**k will I finish the articles?
  • How can we continue to have the same stupid fight repeatedly
  • People are idiots! Yet they are more successful/happy/rich than I
  • Damn jiggly thighs! My ass still looks so big
  • Doesn’t matter how much I run, the scale isn’t showing it. Time for liposuction, but Dr.D, MD&JD, says I don’t need it. Should i get another opinion?

My demons…pathetic, isn’t it? The rational, logical side of me knows that I need to shut this down. The perfectionist in me reminds me that I’m far from perfect so it isn’t going to happen…

Then I came across a tweet/link (I can’t really remember which) about taking 30 seconds while you run. For 30 seconds ignore everything and look around you. Awaken the visual. The next 30 seconds, listen carefully to what’s around you. Awaken the audio. The next 30 seconds, concentrate on your pace and gait. Focus on feeling the run. Then finally, focus on your breathing (something I’m regularly monitoring). Okay, so 2 minutes of your run NOT thinking about anything BUT the “here and now”.

I did it this morning for the first time and it made a world of difference–my anxieties disappeared after a few repetitions of the 2 minutes. I had a truly therapeutic, rewarding run. Thank you @girlcanrun, the tweet from a few days ago, and someone whose running and triathlon prep has been really remarkable, @twerick http://nadarpedalearycorrer.blogspot.com/2011/11/un-ano-corriendo.html (in Spanish).

My new mantra…take 30 seconds!

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mobile language learning apps

I have decided to delve into MALL (mobile assisted language learning)  to better understand language learning apps, the philosophy behind the app and to explore current and future trends in language learning. Yesterday, I came across a timely infographic that asks if we are wired for mobile learning (it is from 02/11, but I have been out of the loop a while😦 ). One of the first questions that came to mind upon reviewing the data is whether we are wired for mobile teaching. Clearly, for the most part, we teachers do not meet the criteria of “digital natives” (according to Wikipedia, “people who grew up with the technology that became prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century, and continues to evolve today.”), or if we do, it is quite a challenge to bridge technology with education that we are always working on how to get it right. But I digress a bit now…

Current trends are moving towards mobile apps on smartphones and tablet devices. Apps, in my opinion, are quite panacean; anything we want or feel we need to do can be simply remedied by an app… “there is an app for that.” So I want to learn a foreign language, and I can’t justify investing in Rosetta Stone nor do I have the time to take a formal course (there are multitudinous, but this goes beyond the scope of this post!), so let’s shop the app store. Searching for apps as, if you will, a layperson (i.e., not as language professor) is surely overwhelming. So many apps (this morning’s quick search of “language learning” numbers  728 iPad apps and 1135 iPhone apps!), that it would take an army of research assistants far endless weeks to investigate them properly (and as we all know in academia, assistants and time, together with money to pay for the apps, is something we don’t have).

So, I would like to ask you, professionals and laity, which apps have you downloaded, which would you recommend, and which would you dismiss. I’m interested in all apps: the good, the bad and the ugly (you’re not too surprised that I make a cultural reference with Ennio Morricone, are you? ;))

Thanks in advance for sharing and helping me better understand mobile assisted language learning.

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Invitation to speak about Twitter at York U (Canada)

Imagine walking into a mid-size, clean, welcoming seminar room for a morning presentation. It does not seem imposing, but you discover once you begin to set up that this room is equipped with tools that you haven’t ever encountered. Quite impressed I was with just the concave wall upon which my  presentation was projected, reminding me that sometimes things can become larger than life, and that it is not all that bad. I was mesmerized as Ron Owston, Director of the Institute for Research on Learning Technolgies at York University, increased the size of my opening slide to Goliath proportions. Here I am pictured with Ron, and Roberta Sinyor of the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, literally before my talk.

I actually gave two talks but the first, the powerpoint of which I share here, was the one of which I am particularly proud. It gave me an opportunity to revisit much about Twitter, including the *new* Twitter, new research and where I am with Twitter as an academic and avid twitterer. Discussing Twitter in higher education is always a rewarding experience because there are always some good discussions which ensue, especially those comments that begin with “I want to play devil’s advocate”😉

Clearly, the research on Twitter in higher ed I share in this presentation is not comprehensive. I am grateful to dana boyd for sharing research on Twitter and Microblogging on her site. Here you can find more articles, conference talks, etc.

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