what’s new

a hiatus from this blog doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t been writing, it just means I’ve focused my attention elsewhere. Launched just a few months ago is my column that is explained here, as highlighted by my institution’s news channelVNY 16271-media-620x423.jpg. Hope you enjoy!

 

Annunci

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!

How We Skyped in the FL Classroom

Time to share what a wonderful experience this semester’s e-twinning project with Seth Dickens at Martino Martini has been, and in particular the final culminating technological project, the Skype calls.

Over the semester, as mentioned in a previous post, Seth and I introduced our students to Twitter to give them an opportunity to interact and engage in conversations related to topics covered in our courses this semester. Initial tweets were very encouraging and many students exchanged opinions and perceptions about a range of themes from passions to politics (in Italy aren’t they one in the same? 😉 ) and some usual daily chatter.

Seth and I arranged to conclude the project with a video conference followed by one-to-one Skype sessions for our students…how could we not provide them an opportunity to “see” one another after months of tweeting? Seth’s excellent post is a thorough and well thought out overview of the organization and what went well and not so well for us. I whole-heartedly agree with his take on technology and overzealous teachers giving too much to focus on for the task and not enough time to feel free to chat in the L2. 😉

The group hug

Affectionately termed this by AJ Kelton, MSU’s Director of Emerging Instructional Technology, this opening activity gave us an opportunity to not only see the others but also  visualize their lab and get a sense of how they work (technologically speaking). Seth, having everyone group around in front of the webcam was a great idea (my students were already seated in front of their computers so it was hard to take see them all at once).

During the group hug, the large image projected on the SmartBoard was not very clear so beyond the sound issue Seth mentioned, sometimes details were lost…ah, if only we had the best of everything 😉

From a presentation perspective, I think I should have requested my students prepare some relevant information…funny how when you ask people to say something, they become quickly aware that they are in the “spotlight” and then freeze & we need an ice-breaker. Maybe next time, we could have them prepare five bits of relevant and interesting information (name, Skype name, years at MSU, specialization, and…I don’t know, the best thing they ever ate!)

By the way, I have a really unsteady hand and I was holding the webcam, trying to make sure I included all students…what I also included was the ceiling, the main computer at the front of the lab, AJ’s webcam for the Ustream, etc. Next time, we’ll have to place it somewhere so I don’t mess that part up  😦

skype

The one-on-one chats

When I was at Calico in March, I attended @judifranz’s session and adapted her idea/process for Skype chats. The break out into personal chats was something of which I would not have immediately thought so I am very grateful to her for this idea.
I thought this went extremely well for our students. Many students were very engaged in their conversation and I think at this point the nervous excitement just turned to excitement. They chatted for more time than planned or anticipated, which for me was a great treat. Also, their ability to chat and share websites and friend each other on other social network sites was truly awesome. I remember walking around the room with my Flip recorder and thinking to myself that they, most of them being digital natives, have once again impressed with what they can do with technology, esp. if it serves an immediate need (as they did on Twitter in SP08, on Pageflakes in FA09 and now on Skype in SP09).

Only two disappointments from my students’ perspective: 1) some issues with sound on our end made voice chatting impossible so they were required to text chat; and 2) not being able to use video. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of webcams at Martino Martini, my students could not see them. Some of my students, however, did allow for video and they were “seen” during the one-on-one sessions too.

The end of the semester…the beginning of a continued e-learning relationship

As many of you already know, I was tenured in November, so now I can turn my attention to working and researching not according to mandates dictated by some archaic notions of what is expected by university professors (remember publish or perish?) but rather more in line with 21st century learners, personal learning networks/personal web, and the role of technology in foreign language education.

Collaborating, organizing and achieving what Seth and I have with this e-twinning project would have been considered quite insignificant on my tenure application, but is really quite significant in terms of learning and creating connections where none have existed in the past. So I hope Seth and I will continue with this in the fall (so many more exciting projects to develop) and maybe the spring too (what do you think Seth?) 🙂

P.S. A special thanks to Michael and Robyn for their endless assistance before and during the Skype event. I am so lucky to work with such wonderful, gifted and just darn nice people (esp the techie ones!). Grazie infinite *big hug* 🙂

Arriverderci AP Italian?

Just 4 years into it…and now this!

In the fall, I had published an article on Italian teacher training in Foreign Language Annals (the journal for the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages). Shortly before its publication, the editor had asked me to comment on the then recent decision of the College Board to no longer support the financial costs of administering the Italian Advanced placement exam. Here is my comment:

Worth noting are the results of the inaugural year of the Advanced Placement Italian Language and Cultural Exam, particularly with respect to New Jersey. Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown was recognized as an Exemplary AP Italian Language and Culture Program for small-size schools that “lead the nation in helping the widest segment of their total school population receive an exam grade of 3 or higher . . .” (The College Board, 2007, p. 52).

Notwithstanding the national results for the inaugural year, the College Board has announced the imperiled position of the AP Italian exam. Practitioners, politicians and ambassadors, and community supporters alike have mobilized in support of the exam (as evidenced by messages from the president of the American Association for Teachers of Italian, various letters of support, a recent meeting of the Ambassador of Italy to the United States with the College Board, etc.). It is the hope of this author that the ongoing negotiations with the College Board will soon yield positive results for the future of the AP Italian exam.

Here we are, just months later, the AP exam has been discontinued, with this ray of hope from the College Board:

[w]hile AP Italian will not be offered in 2009-10, if at some future date the funding partnerships needed to support an AP Italian program arise, the Board of Trustees will consider renewing work to develop and offer the AP Italian course and exam.

Between the two announcements, the Italian community came together and worked very hard to try to raise the $1.5 million (originally $4.5 but reduced in negotiations) required. This community raised a good chunk of the money, but everything was contingent upon the Italian government’s contribution of more monies. Unfortunately, the Italian government did not come through.

In an email sent today to the AATI, the president of the teacher’s association made the following comment:

By not having an AP in Italian, the Italian language acquires in certain quarters of society a de facto second-class status.

My personal take on this situation

I first read about the College Board decision on Jan. 8 in an article in the NY Times. Once the initial shock wore off, I did two things: tweeted it and then wrote an email to the president of the AATI. In his reply to me, he referred me to two other news articles: The Washington Post and the LA Times.

Having read the latter article, I was a tad annoyed that the presentation of stats compared Italian AP examinees and Italian high school programs nationally and in the state of California to Spanish. Uh, hello?! Did the journalist not reflect on the status of foreign languages in the US and realize that Spanish is not just another foreign language but rather a language of the US (since it does not have an official language)? I also emailed him and tried to explain to him that his presentation of the statistics was not an equitable comparison for Italian. I used the adage “comparing apples and oranges” and that Italian has always been and should be compared to French and German, the other foreign languages that maintain a foreign language status in the US, unlike Spanish, which is a second language for all intents and purposes. Well, his reply to my request for a follow-up paragraph accurately representing the reality of the Italian AP exam within the context of foreign languages was rather dismissive. So I will, for the sake of making some noise, post it here. In 2008:

  • Italian AP had 1,529 examinees and increased by 18% since 2007.
  • French language AP had 20,675 and German 5,259.
  • Both, however, experienced a decrease since 2007 (-5% and -3% respectively).

Yes, economically speaking, the exam is not financially feasible…but we are growing, not at the initial projected rate, but let’s face it, we aren’t Spanish!

What options are available?

First and foremost, the idea of taking the test via computer vs. pencil and paper. Terminally Incoherent’s blog post about electronic test taking gives some examples as to benefits and pitfalls of these types of tests. Financial justification by the College Board cannot be the only reason to go this route.

Next, find more money. We are in the midst of the worst recession since pre-WWII across the globe. Can we really be expected to find more money? Unfortunately, Italian has been considered the “stepchild” of modern foreign languages, given the limited number of speakers of it world wide (according to Wikipedia, Italian ranks 20th in terms of native speakers, and it is an official language in: Italy; Vatican City and San Marino, both geographically located within Italy; Switzerland; Croatia; Slovenia). So to whom can we turn for financial rescue? Obviously, Berlusconi’s government is unable to fulfill previous promises given Italy’s economic turmoil. Italian Americans? Many of them who have already generously promised monies must be applauded. They recognize the value of maintaining language in tandem with culture (funny how many people label themselves Italian American but cannot speak the language and for the most part, don’t encourage their children, grandchildren to study the language/cultural formally).

Another possible strategy? Find ways to lower the cost of grading the exam. I have never been involved in grading it (but I have been invited to be a reader this summer), but I can appreciate the entire grading process. Language learning isn’t just right/wrong answers, it is negotiation of meaning, free writing, persuasion, narration. There is also an oral component that needs to be evaluated. Finally, the 0-4 grading scheme is revisited every year in light of the test-takers.

What else can be done? I’m not sure.

I hope that we can reinstate the AP exam in the future.

Using the right tech tool for teaching…how did you decide?

I have deliberated this post to death, wanting to ensure that I made a positive contribution to the discussion of social network sites (SNS). As an educator, my use of SNS is always from a professional perspective (yeah, right), wanting to investigate different tools for language learning and teaching. 😉

During one of the umpteenth revisions to my chapter on Twitter and teaching Italian, I came across a series of articles on identity, community and SNS. danah boyd, sorry Dr. danah boyd, has been very instrumental in much of the research on community and SNS and from her and co-author Nicole Ellison, I give you the history of SNS. If you haven’t seen this, it is the intro to a volume available online.
boydellisonfig1

Can you pinpoint your introduction to SNS ?

I must admit that I am a late adopter of SNS, joining this wave of new technology at the personal level only in late 2006. I deliberated very briefly introducing Facebook to the classroom, but there was too much happening on Facebook and I think it was more a personal reluctance bring it to my language students…I couldn’t focus on a single community with its multiple apps (really so many fun things happening—invites, “poking” and updates). I do know some teachers who have incorporated Facebook to their classroom as a learning management system. If you are an educator but are not yet a member of http://www.classroom20.com/ I would strongly urge you to join and read the forums available there for Facebook (and other SNS) and share your own thoughts.

Next, I joined Twitter…and I discovered I could tweet with people around the world. Immediately I knew that I had to integrate Twitter into my Italian language curriculum. How could it not be successful?

ONE: an overarching question: What are you doing?
TWO: a limited message size: 140 characters.
THREE: people would read my tweet if they saw it…it is really hard to ignore tweets if you are using Twitter when others’ tweets appear.

Then, finally, FOUR: I could communicate with people I don’t know. OK, there’s a FIVE: just because I wanted to communicate directly with someone doesn’t mean that twitterer will reciprocate (but that didn’t discourage me, eventually some did answer me and I have made many virtual connections!).

Bringing Twitter to students has not been an easy task—initially, students are a bit reluctant to join this community because, after all, they are “being graded on it” and perhaps it should be an “extra-credit” component. They also think it is too much work for a language requirement course (“I just need to get my credits to graduate”).

However, for the most part, college students generally like it once they are comfortable with what it accomplishes in terms of connections and the building of a community outside the classroom. And they tweet—one student this semester tweeted 400% more than expected (245 vs. 52 tweets required) over the 13 weeks of the course. This student has also made connections with Italian twitterers in Italy (beyond the 4 introduced to her in the class community) and it seems like she’ll be tweeting in the future.

What’s next? Well, my head is spinning…there are so many Web 2.0 tools (just look at http://www.go2web20.net/) that I really have to think through what I’d like to accomplish next and how best to achieve my goals. I’m going to be looking at some other investigations conducted by language colleagues and use that as a model.
So I ask you to share with me:

  1. What was the first SNS you used personally? in your classroom?
  2. What would you like to investigate that you haven’t yet?

Your comments would be invaluable not only to me but to many others. I would be more than happy to share what I have done with anyone who asks and hope you would do the same.

celebrating via Twitter

elyllaurea.jpgAn Italian twitterer, Elyl, successfully defended her dissertation at approximately 5:00 p.m., her time. And, the beauty of it all is that before the dissertation, we all cheered her on and after, we happily celebrated with her, from Italy & other countries, from across the ocean too.

Today, Elyl posted a thank you on her blog to all her Twitter following and said (translation mine):  

If ever anyone should ask you “What’s the purpose of Twitter?” … tell him to take a look at the links [the Tweets she received]
Seven months ago, I hardly knew any of the people linked; yesterday they were all with me, beside me, supporting me and rejoicing with me on this my happiest of days…

italian festival @ montclair

festivale.jpgItaly’s malaise (see my previous post) may not be cured by the Italian Festival of the Arts and Humanities, but it will bring a series of stimulating, alluring, satisfying and entertaining events to the University in the Spring 2008 semester.

Maybe you may find something (everything is free, except for the production of Hey Girl, which is part of the $15 Peak Performance program) in which you are interested—food, film, fine art & architecture & more—and if there is something you may wish to know more about, leave me a comment and I’ll try to provide you with more info or people to contact about it.

P.S. Although the involvement of our actual department was quite minimal, for reasons unbeknownst  to me, there are some symposia that have been coordinated by our faculty.

Something new for me

Through friends and their blogs, this novice blogger has discovered many things…and unearthed some unknown talents while so doing. Much earlier this year, a friend posted a quiz on American geography. After taking the challenge (which truly was a challenge because I am not American :P), I started to investigate the script of the quiz itself. Languages in general fascinate me, so automatically the structure of the language used to program the game also intrigued me. So after playing with the actual language used to program the game, I gave in to my wonder and curiosity and decided to “create” my own. OK, I’ll admit it is not very original (I just used the template provided and modified the responses, time and tweaked it a bit), I actually got the “interactive script” used in the original American quiz to work for my quiz.

And here is the end result: Le 20 regioni d’Italia / The 20 Italian Regions. I use it to stimulate my students to memorize the regions. Does it work? Well, for those who actually do it…yes. I would love to be able to record scores so I can actually “know” what my students are doing, however, that is a challenge I have not yet managed to work through.

If you are so inclined, try it out and tell me what you think :/