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 🙂

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

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!

Evolving Pedagogies for Teaching Italian

Months ago, I was invited to talk about what is new in the teaching of Italian. Wanting to balance theory with practice, presenting to and engaging with my audience, I fashioned this presentation to reflect both the need to talk theory and determine how Italian fares with what we “theoretically” should be doing and what we really are doing in the classroom.

I’m happy to state that my audience was fantastic, knowledgeable and willing to participate with my numerous requests, above and beyond my expectations. Thanks ITANJ for this wonderful opportunity!

two nations/two sounds = 1 voice

Imitation is flattery…

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed atrail toward freedom.
Yes we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes we can.
It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.
Yes we can to justice and equality.
Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can repair this world.
Yes we can.
We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the wayof the power of millions of voices calling for change.
We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics…
they will only grow louder and more dissonant
We’ve been asked to pause for a reality check.
We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America, there has neverbeen anything false about hope.
Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea
Yes. We. Can.


L’Italia sembra aver perso la certezza che domani sarà meglio di oggi.
Vogliamo voltare pagina.
Vogliamo avere voglia di futuro.
È il tempo del coraggio e del cambiamento, della decisionee della responsabilità.
Non pensiamo al destino di questo o quel leader,non pensiamo a questo o a quel partito, ma al destino dell’Italia.
Al nostro Paese, alla sua struggente bellezza, alla sua storia grande e
tormentata, alle difficoltà del suo presente e alle straordinarie potenzialità del suo futuro.
Il futuro è l’unico tempo in cui possiamo andare.
Andiamoci insieme, basta credere in ciò chel’Italia può essere.
Dobbiamo fare una scelta tra passato e futuro.
È una scelta facile, per chi ha coraggio.
Guardiamo negli occhi l’Italia e diciamole che comincia untempo nuovo.
Lo possiamo dire perché abbiamo deciso di correre liberi.
finalmente di non mediare parole, di non attenuare cambiamenti possibili, non rinunciare a ciò che crediamo giusto.
Sembra invece che ovunque si voglia bloccare quella meraviglia che è il nuovo.
Il nuovo che sorge dal talento, dalla scienza, dall’energia delle donne e degli uomini.
Noi ci crediamo, abbiamo fiducia nel futuro e vogliamo regalarci una speranza.
Vogliamo immaginare qualcosa che nonc’è e lavorare e faticare per realizzarlo.
Si può fare.
Tocca a noi.
Tocca a milioni di italiani.
Tocca ai giovani che nelle grandi sfide del passato ancoranon c’erano.
Possiamo essere la generazione di italiani alla quale domani i nostri figli e i nostri nipoti guarderanno con orgoglio, dicendo: “hanno fatto ciò che dovevano, l’hanno fatto pensando a noi”
Si può fare.
Facciamo un Paese grande e lieve.
Un’Italia moderna, serena, veloce, giusta.
Il futuro, è l’unico tempo in cui possiamo andare.
Andiamoci insieme, bastacredere in ciò che l’Italia può essere.
Si può fare.
Si può fare.
Si può fare.

*parole dal sito

teaching Italian as a second language – on speaking

Dopo tanto tempo…after so long

On Sept. 26 we had our first in a series of three annual conferences on Teaching Italian. The symposium/workshop was a success despite the rain, the number of chefs in the kitchen, issues with staff and other help, and the revolving door of personnel working on the organizational aspect of the conference. My co-organizer, Andrea Dini, was brillant in putting all this together, from start to finish.

Italian teachers of New Jersey were given an opportunity to revisit the speaking skill, and encouraged to think of how to get their students to speak more in Italian. The morning sessions comprised of 5 speakers who presented various aspects on speaking in a “from theory to practice” format. What the research says is important because it provides us with the foundation of what works. However, making this theory applicable to the classroom environment is always an undertaking for the newest faculty to the most seasoned teacher. The examples provided in the morning talks were elaborated in afternoon workshop sessions where the research was made real through the development of materials for the classroom.

In the example of yours truly, my morning talk “Revisiting the In-class Presentation: Making the Most of the Presentational Mode of Communication” addressed what research reveals about in-class presentations. Not surprisingly, presentations in general present the mode of communication at which students generally excel because they can have sufficient time to prepare in advance. My revisiting this was not to provide advice as to how to increase the presenter’s level of proficiency (although this would in fact be a derivative), but rather when in a class of 25-30 high schools, how does it become more than presenter-teacher participation? Well, in my afternoon workshop, I elaborated the phases of the presentational mode of communication and how to get the students involved at different phases and how to keep them engaged in their classmates’ presentations. It was truly a hands-on opportunity for teachers to modify and manipulate some best practices and activities and adapt them to their environment. For anyone who is interested, I could provide you with my project ideas and PowerPoint presentation.

In addition to the great line-up of talent, the content was also exceptional. We had Janice Aski of the Ohio State University, Elissa Tognozzi of UCLA, Irene Marchegiani of SUNY and Gabriella Colussi Arthur of York University (Canada).

In addition to the great turnout, engaged teachers, and positive feedback, we also had the fantastic good fortune of donations from Ferrero USA. Here are just two pictures of the deliciously fatty good treats they donated 😉

scholarly writing via wiki?

I am involved in another first in my professional career: writing a scholarly chapter via wiki. The volume is dedicated to computer-assisted language learning in the age of Web 2.0 and I have been selected (well, not a sure thing yet, until the chapter is completed and peer-refereed) to contribute a piece on the Web 2.0 apps I use to teach Italian.

Now, I am a very self-conscious person in general, and when it comes to my writing, the process for me is very long because I write, edit, rewrite, reedit, then rewrite again…well, I think you get the message.

My dilemma, of course, is just part of who I am: this is an unfinished opus that will be read by a number of people, including those not involved in the project because wikis by nature are open platforms and accessible to all who come across the site. This too bothers me because I am concerned with intellectual property. What happens if someone who is interested in technology and is in a similar/related field runs off with my work in progress and makes it theirs, and can do so using the creative commons licenses as justification? I was so miffed already to see that an article will be appearing on the topic of my chapter and the groundwork already laid out for educational networking by many scholars who use this Web 2.0 app.

To add a bit of salt to my overly sensitive wound of publicly exposing my work in progress, there are certain expectations made of the contributors to actively read and comment/leave suggestions on a minimum of two contributions to the volume. So in addition to writing, we are also peer-reviewing, to a certain degree.

Why did I agree to contribute my chapter given these comments? Academia is currently in a state of flux with respect to Web 2.0 in scholarship (see almost any issue of Wired Campus). To be on the forefront of what may be the next wave of scholarly writing may give me some insight and put me at the forefront of this new generation (at least in my area of specialization). Also, being able to see what my fellow contributors are doing and being in a position to discuss with them, if we deem it necessary, our respective work may in fact enlighten our research and writing in the end. The opportunity to network academically on this common project may just be beneficial in the long run.

At this point of the project, I have a love-hate relationship with wikis. I’ll update you by summer’s end to let you know my final verdict.

is social media really an “us” vs. “them”?

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for some time but hadn’t found my courage voice for it. It was born from a comment of a student evaluation from a fall course that stated that not only were my “clothes inappropriate” but I also “had Facebook”. The comment on my wardrobe is completely off (my outfits are always professional and tasteful) but then again the idea of fashion has always been a generational thing … has technology now become the next great generational divide?

Of late, there has been a resurgence of talk about parents on Facebook and MySpace and what kind of parents has his/her own account. Over the weekend, at a BBQ in the rain, this became part of what started as a small exchange between 3 moms (myself included) to a group conversation with many parents. In a previous post on texting, the generation gap is obvious…new technologies sometimes elude people who are not interested in learning (isn’t that always the case though?). So one of the first questions that arose was “How old do you have to be to have a Facebook account?”. One of the mom’s replied “under 40”. The parents all laughed and said “that counts us out”.  Of course, it is an easy out…we don’t fit the age criterion so we are safe. Then a friend turned to me and said “Wait, you’re not 40. Do you have one?” And that started an engaging conversation about technology, media literacy vs. literacy, and what all this means.

As I have mentioned in the past, each exploration of new applications, platforms, networks, etc. was purely academic in nature. Unfortunately, it has become much more than work. I have become a partisan of social media for many reasons: it is informative, educational, entertaining, enlightening and allows me to meet not just my neighbours, colleagues, and friends but expand my geographical limitations by allowing me to converse and “friend” people from the far corners of the earth.

In my humble opinion, the idea that certain sites become “theirs” (students, teens, kids) and others “ours” (educators, adults, parents) is speculative. There are too many social dichotomies that become reinforced (and perhaps validated?) when we fall into the trap of dividing technological culture according to our biases, fears and misunderstandings. This mutual exclusivity of sites and apps for certain age groups demonstrates an unwillingness of users to see beyond their own nose. Perhaps this is one key difference between “us” and “them”… are we adults more “global” in our use of technology? Are they more “solipsistic”? lol! I fell into the trap, didn’t I?

These sites can provide different services and serve different needs for a multitude of users and I think it is up to each user to accept and open her/his mind to the unending possibilities that things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Plurk, etc. can provide without wanting exclusive rights to it.

Is this just another phase in the evolution of generational gaps or is it something more? What do you think?

“election day” italia

today and tomorrow represent two anxious days of voting in Italy. comparing the two main candidates, leaders of the PD (democratic party) and PDL (recently formed people of liberty) respectively, La Stampa compares these leading candidates in a manner that shows perhaps there are some ‘differences’ between the two. How would you interpret these signs?


Veltroni images on left, Berlusconi on right