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!

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 /), 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.

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.

ready for the new academic year


I am very fortunate to be one of a select few professors to pilot a personalized study on learning with the iPod Touch (an entire class set–w00t!). As I am an Italian professor, the Office of Information Technology at Montclair State University, has also provided my students with the mini microphone.

In addition to the apps above, I like the ability to create shortcuts on the iPod’s home page so there are direct links to different websites too (e.g., Learn10, Garzanti dictionary).

Does anyone have additional apps to suggest applicable to language learning? I was very fortunate to have attended the LARC Summer Institute session given by Claire Bradin Siskin on mobile assisted language learning apps. If there are other apps you have used and can share with me, it’d be so greatly appreciated.

Calico ’09 musings

I was fortunate enough to have a paper accepted at the 26th annual conference of Calico ’09,  my first Calico conference ever. It was an experience that surpassed any and all expectations (how often can we say that?!). Different aspects of the conference that made it so memorable include the venue, the presentations, the participants and the discussions that happened online and off.

Arizona State University is a large, modern campus abounding with art, architecture and green space. The fact that the talks were mainly in the lower level of Coor Hall (a glass ice cube with etched text fragments and letterforms) could easily be forgiven, given they were fully equipped to meet all our tech needs.

The presentations I attended were, for the most part, very interesting and engaging. There were 6 concurrent sessions, which made selecting a session quite difficult. Thankfully, there will be podcasts and presentations available on the site (organized by @msiskin) so anything I missed I can listen to at a later date. Getting a glimpse of the gamut of investigations conducted in technology (more specifically, Web 2.0 applications) and foreign/second language learning, was very inspiring. The range of research is incredible…but as @glordward mentioned in her session, we are such preliminary stages of research, focusing much of our research agenda on students’ evaluation of the implementation of various tech tools. Hopefully, in the very near future we will begin to see investigations that demonstrate concrete evidence in terms of benefits to language learning in terms of increased proficiency.

My presentation, 4:30 on the Friday afternoon, went well. I had a smaller turnout (read below to find relativity in this statement) but was well-tweeted on the back-channel thanks to @judifranz, @glordward and @eRomanMe. It was the Pageflakes project, about which I have previously posted, on which I collaborated with @kahnp and @hellermd98. Another little bonus was the idea of Twitter Crowd Status as a widget, thanks to the ingeniuty @sethdickens, which the audience seemed to like.

The participants in the various sessions I attended were equally as engaging as the presenters themselves. I met a number of intelligent, interesting and committed scholars and researchers who provided feedback and were involved in each session. Being able to connect with these people, network with them was rewarding. Even more rewarding would be future collaborations and/or discussions.

From this, I must highlight two different things that occurred during the conference that impacted me the most, both related to Twitter.

The Twitter back-channel
This is the first conference that I attended that had as much of an online discussion via Twitter as it did in the actual presentations. The dynamic presenters were so engaging that they created discussions both in the session and on twitter. Many people in our respective communities joined in on points raised during the presentations as we tweeted them. Read, for example, @eslchill’s post about his presentation being retweeted (i.e., shared with a different twitter following by a member of @eslchill’s community) by someone who wasn’t at the conference. It is a great success when you find approximately 22 pages in a search for the #calico09 hashtag. (Btw, the other hashtag used was #calico2009)

This was a great experience for me, the avid twitter aficionada, to participate actively with so many other great twitter conference goers. Additionally, I had received a DM re a position opening, and that given my interests, as indicated by my tweets at the conference, I might be interested in pursuing. LOL! If only this had happened pre-tenure, maybe I would have considered it 😉

An impromptu presentation on Twitter
My first day at the conference (the first day of sessions) brought about another personal success. There was a presentation to be given, entitled “24/7 Twitter” at 11:00 a.m. The classroom was full—standing room only (about 50+ people; great news for Twitterati). However, the presenter was a no-show. After a few moments, the chair of the session asked if there was anyone who wanted to say something about Twitter. The phenomenal Claire Siskin (@cbsiskin) spoke briefly to what an effective tool Twitter is and then I, in a moment of self-indulgence, commented that the 4th chapter of the monograph, which was given at registration, was based on my initial investigation on Twitter in the intermediate Italian class.

One thing led to another, then I heard myself saying: “Well, if you would like, I could give the presentation. I have my flash drive with me.” Yes, what a über geeky thing to say! The audience was very indulgent and I gave my impromptu talk about my work with Twitter and language learning. I must admit, this was one of my most rewarding, professional experiences.

Calico ’09 was an amazing conference and I look forward to the next year’s conference in Boston. From the conference program, I created this wordle to give you an idea as to the top 200 terms. Enjoy 🙂


Twitter in the Foreign Language Classroom – my investigation

Another update: paper has been removed as it is under revisions as  you read this. Will share once again in the near future…

update: if you would like to read the manuscript, it is password protected. Thanks for the head’s up Luke.

I’ll keep this post brief and to the point, as I should be concentrating on my upcoming Personnel Action Committee (PAC) class observation tomorrow. I am, however, deliberately trying not to think about it.

We’ve been asked to post our entire manuscript on the wiki (of which I spoke some time ago) even though it is currently being peer-refereed. Last night, in a fit of sleeplessness, I cut, paste and formatted “Micro-blogging on Twitter: Social networking in Intermediate Italian I“, and now it is up for public perusal, if you so desire.

Any comments would be appreciated, but I believe they have to be given here, as you do not have permission to join our wiki discussions. Also, anyone good with titles? This current one is missing something…

*Can’t view the site? use your openID to view the chapter*

Nota bene, “Contributions to are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License.”

counting, counting & more counting

I have just tried to update my vita with my accomplishments (?) from this past academic year. There is a specific layout which I am using (strongly suggested from my institution) that has me do a literal head count of my teaching, research and service. At my four year mark, I have accomplished the following:

  1. I have taught over 500 students in language classes capped generally at 25 students
  2. I have presented at 16 conferences
  3. I have been invited to review 2 books (but volunteered to review 3 more)
  4. I have written endlessly and still have two completed articles and a book proposal waiting to be accepted (2004 to date, refereed publications 6)
  5. I have served the university endlessly, on at least 13 different committees

I have to stop counting, my head hurts…
And the fun doesn’t stop here. I must prepare my narratives and organize my binders to provide supporting documentation to the university that my tenure application is worthy of consideration.

In addition to outlining what I have accomplished, I must demonstrate that I am continuing to conduct research: my fall semester will commence a pilot project that use of pageflakes as a course management tool (& I’m still keeping my fingers crossed … the grant for which Patty, Michael & I applied); the use of a wordpress blog (yes, I have another one) for a grammar & composition course; AND a teacher’s workshop symposium in which I will be presenting, partially organizing then publishing the proceedings. Oh, I forgot. I will be teaching 3 classes and sitting in on committees too. Wow, I’m exhausted just thinking about all of this.

Fortuitously, faculty at the university is accustomed to this grueling, rigorous and challenging self-promotion. To different degrees, the appointment process has us go through the motions annually. Really, it is not THAT bad.

For me, this year is the most demanding. If I am denied tenure, I must start the job search again. I won’t be advised of the university’s decision until late November so maybe I’ll be proactive and start perusing the classifieds early fall.

So, if on Sept. 5 you remember me for some reason (given it is my b-day too), keep your fingers crossed as I will be submitting my tenure application. Good karma never hurts 😉

on a new model for education

although I downloaded the article as soon as it appeared online, I just read Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance this past weekend. I had my usual lapsus calami and for the nth time this year, questioned what I do. Like Mike Wesch, I teach at a large public university. Also like Wesch, I teach, for the most part, required courses for which students put in a minimal effort. Unlike him, I do not have large classes, because they are capped at 25 (though they usually are closer to 30). Unlike him, the content being delivered is in a foreign language and one thing that I have discovered with each passing year is that if a student takes degree requirement courses reluctantly in English, many have an even stronger aversion to those offered in foreign languages. The excuses range the gamut: I’m not good at languages to why should I study languages? everyone speaks English.

I applaud Wesch for what he does in his classroom—he wants his intro to Cultural Anthropology students to co-construct knowledge about different topic areas, not only to explore them, but to live them through World Simulation. As I read the brief methodology he presents in the last paragraphs of his article, I chuckled to myself: not because I dismiss it but rather because I embrace it. I have been using such a technique, under the guise of foreign language level-appropriate communicative activities.

Since the 80s, foreign language educators have been trying to encourage students to simulate various scenarios that they would encounter if they were in an environment where the foreign language is used. Providing students with authentic input (this is where the Internet as a “medium” helps students get “the message”) and having them attempt to negotiate meaning and construct knowledge is at the base of each and every lesson. Ask any of my students if they are able to sit where they lay their backpack in my class, and the answer is no. They move around a lot, with partners or in groups, working on jigsaw activities, where each student is responsible for becoming and expert on his/her topic then moving on with other groups to share information and knowledge and learn from his/her classmates. They simulate, role-play, discuss, share and reach the objective of the activity, doing this for the most part in the foreign language. 

The fact that this methodology, these techniques are being implemented in courses other than language courses gives me hope. Why? Because it is not just “those crazy language people” who have unconventional ideas about the teaching and learning dyad.

Ay, there is the rub—the out-dated educational model. Students come to my class expecting a lecture … some even in English. Apparently, the grammar translation method to language learning is still alive and well in many classrooms and institutions in this entire continent. We, as a department as well as a united front with other FL departments, have pleaded with the university administration to allow us to address the issue of how foreign languages are learned in the freshman seminar offered to our students. To date, we have been unable to get time in that seminar.

This tells us that administrators too are unaware or wish to remain uneducated about acquisition theories and techniques and the role of technology in language teaching and learning pedagogy. Moreover, they fail to recognize that the “lecture” designation given to our courses is completely inaccurate, arbitrary and unsound.

So, how can we update this model of education? Do we start at the top and work our way down to the students, or do we start with our students and move up the hierarchy? What do you think?

teaching with twitter…the epilogue

Update: as a prelude to this presentation, I was interviewed by lead instructional designer Peter Campbell of Montclair on Twitter. Here is the link to three podcasts recently made available on the University website. I hope you may find some value in my words and my academic use of twitter. It was a truly memorable experience. Thanks again to all my friends and colleagues who have been instrumental in the twittosphere and beyond…

today I presented a faculty forum on teaching with Twitter. I had a good turnout (small group but they were interested) and a cheering section. At the end of the presentation, I went live to my fellow Twitterers to say hello and I want to thank all those who replied. The response was instantaneous–and the audience impressed. 

some of the things that people who didn’t attend may have missed included: 1) my stunning Italian linen dress 😉 ; 2) some notes and observations on twitter in education; and 3) good questions about twitter. Below, I give you some of the key ideas on twitter & teaching and I hope they might encourage you to think about it as a tool in whatever line of work you do.


I want to thank a group of followers for graciously providing me with screenshots for my presentation, which really provided a grasp of the various ways to tweet: Francesco, Luke, Milos, and Sharon, and, of course Michael, for retweeting and saving me, yet again.

Anyone interested in developing twitter as a FL classroom tool, in more defined ways, please contact me as I think it’s truly valuable.

P.S. Thanks also to AJ, who was tweeting about my presentation during my presentation! Didn’t see this until today.


Teaching with Twitter & Learning to Tweet

some shameless self-promotion…if you happen to be in the area, please do attend. I know, it is during your lunch break…so bring your lunch, I don’t mind 🙂

Teaching with Twitter & Learning to Tweet

What is Twitter?
The easiest reply to this question is to tell you what it is not–it is not e-mail, IM, blogging, Facebook, Google or regular SMS. It is a free social networking and micro-blogging service.
What is microblogging?
It is blogging within only 140 characters…if you can’t, it isn’t worth saying on Twitter. You can also microblog from other devices besides the computer or a web browser…how about a phone?
Then what purpose does it serve in academia? Twitter, as a tool in our classes, can have many roles that are pedagogically sound and effective. A general overview of how to include it as part of our syllabi, how to create classroom communities, and how to implement it as a teaching tool will be given. Also, preliminary findings of a study currently underway of its use in an intermediate foreign language class will be shared.

Watch Twitter in plain English: for a taste of what is to come. Date/Time: Thursday, April 17th, 12-1pm
Location: UN5008