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.

the birth of a new legacy perhaps?

I remember reading an article in NYTimes on Jan 21/09 covering the “Nation’s Many Faces in Extended First Family.” As an appendix to this article was the great graphic below giving us a glimpse of this First Family, to demonstrate that this family has multicultural roots.


Inherent in a multicultural family arise many issues for a society, which traditionally has been so ingrained in homogeneity, both with respect to visibly noted differenced as well as socially practiced ideals. Issues of tribe, religion, language, to name only a few.

No, I am not a member of a visible minority, that is, I’d like to think being female does not put me in that category. I was raised in Canada and would like to think that multiculturalism is an accepted way of life. However, I still question whether that is possible. As my focus tends to be about language and the inexorable connection between language and culture, let me develop the Canadian problem. French is an official language of Canada, but how many Canadians actually speak French? Let’s just say, in the US where Spanish is not the official language (nor is English for that matter), a larger percentage of English speakers are inclined to learn Spanish than Canadians learn are to learn French (after obligatory school instruction).

Can we really look at ourselves within our milieu and  state that one culture does not predominate? Although we are getting better, I still think we have a long way to go…

I hope this First Family will pave the way for a truly multicultural society, free of race superiority and xenophobia.

The inauguration

obama_inauguration_speechtoday’s inauguration left me speechless. So when I saw this graphic faciliation on Twitter I knew I had to share this image with everyone. There are many aspects of his address about which I could go on, but I will just highlight what I found memorable:

We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Podcasts and FL Learning

I was invited to provide some thoughts on podcasting and language acquisition. Maybe some of the comments may be published in an article in a popular business magazine, but in the meantime, I thought I should share them on my blog.

Podcasts (both audio and video) in foreign language (FL) learning are invaluable both as a self-teaching tool and as a supplementary tool in the FL classroom. The podcasts available on the Internet enhance the type and amount of comprehensible input (a necessary component to language acquisition) as they range the gamut from elementary language lessons—(fill in the language)Pod.com or podclass.com—to authentic and culturally-rich materials from various media sites (newspapers, radio, television).

The advantages of podcasts that differ from previous content delivery via technology in the history of FL learning include the following:

  • Streaming audio/video or downloadable podcasts – having the option to hear/view the podcast streaming from the website or downloading the files to listen to/view on mobile devices
  • mobile learning/audio Internet on the go* (Stanley 2006) – files and listening/viewing devices are much more portable and sophisticated that podcasts are more readily integrated into daily habits (no more forgetting the audiocassette/CD in the car, at home, etc.).
  • content delivery occurs beyond contact time (teacher and student meeting times) – in a classroom environment, students have additional available resources to continue the language learning process beyond contact time that are also not restricted to a language laboratory setting.
  • ease with which new podcasts are updated on the various source sites, downloaded, accessible and immediate (in particular if RSS feeds are used) – there is no need to wait for updates via new book editions or delivery by postal service
  • contextual support for language teaching (McQuillian 2006) – research indicates that there are required, recommended and optional components for both oral and written language acquisition. Audio is required. Visual components are required or recommended (according to level of learner). Video podcasts (a.k.a. video blogging, vlogging or v-casts) enhance other modalities to accommodate learning styles in the language acquisition process.
  • Podcasts can also be a form of output. Users can easily create their own podcasts that can be a simple recitation of a podcast lesson to practice pronunciation to a creative original podcast developed from a language lesson. The ability to create and publish learner podcasts and then share it with the language teacher, class or target language community. Voice-recording is no longer the sole objective of audio technology in language acquisition. Podcasts are for listening, practicing, sharing and receiving feedback.

Some caveats:

  • Podcasts are only effective FL learning tools if they are properly integrated into a FL program. Like all tools, including technological ones, the success of such is tool can be measured if it is level-specific and oriented toward the learner. It would not be recommended that an elementary autodidactic learner begin by downloading podcasts available by news, radio or television programs. He would find more useful podcasts geared at beginning FL learning. Similarly, a teacher would want to integrate podcasts that are tied to curriculum goals and themes, which are level-specific.
  • Podcasts are not the sum total of a language program. By perusing the FL podcasts available on the Internet, you immediately notice that other materials are available for subscribing/paying users. They include transcripts, exercises and grammar rules, as did “teach-yourself” audio programs with textbooks and workbooks (remember Berlitz?).

Podcasts can be the foundation of an online, autodidactic FL program or can be used as a supplement in the FL classroom. Is there an advantage to teaching yourself or enrolling in a course? The former allows you to get your feet wet by introducing you to the language and certain aspects of culture. The latter, on the other hand, allows you to dive deep into the language and culture nexus.