Sunday, November 8, 2015

Relationships: World Language Advocacy in Education

Bonjour! Hello!

After spending a few months settling in to my new school, I'm happy to sit down and write a quick post. As of last week, I stepped down as a moderator of the weekly Twitter #langchat, so I'm hoping that I'll use the extra time to blog more regularly while exploring new possibilities in world language teaching and learning. Please feel free to contact me if you have a mini or long-term project in mind. If you like to think outside of the box and have an idea that's just been taking up space in your head, let's chat!

So, the inspiration for this post came to me yesterday while in attendance at the annual fall workshop for members (and possible recruits) of the South Carolina chapter of the American Association of French Teachers. We were a small group, sadly, but we had rich discussions, mostly in the target language, before heading to the local French restaurant for some crêpes and/or croissants.  The workshop was geared more towards university French, but there were elementary, middle, high, and university educators all in attendance -- Bravo!

What was fantastic about our time together was the fact that we chatted about advocacy and, specifically, the need for better relationships between high school and college/university faculty. While our language teaching and learning methods don't always compliment each other, we were all on the same page regarding our desire to build and sustain world language programs in all of our schools. Of course, there are many examples of strong relationships between secondary and post-secondary institutions, but this is not the case in many areas of the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere in the world, and it's easy to know this fact if you talk to a few language professors.

What can we do right now to better advocate for world language programs of study? I argued that all of the efforts to tell folks about conferences, resources on social media, and any other opportunities do not always make a difference. The desire to make change MUST come from within, and this is applicable in so many situations, including educator professional learning. A driving force for change in one's personal or professional life can most certainly come from interactions with others. The bottom line: relationships matter. 

While we sometimes have community or school events to enjoy together, there is not always a strong relationship between professors and, specifically, high school educators. We're all busy, but it would be great if we could reach out to one another and propose a coffee meetup to discuss what we could do to not only entice high schoolers to study a language beyond the required number of years, but also to encourage them to continue their language study in college.  Email is great, but it doesn't have the same power as a one-on-one conversation in a nice coffee shop atmosphere. 

It is not forgotten that not all educators live near a college or university, so this can be a real challenge for face-to-face communication, but a coffee meetup via a videoconferencing tool could be the solution. What a great opportunity to find out how both (world language) departments could better establish partnerships for the benefit of the learners -- who are the reason for what we do -- as well as our programs that we work so hard to grow.

Here are some ideas for an initial meetup:

-Find out what types of college majors are offered that include a language component. Let's face it, only a small percentage of people are going to study literature or linguistics after high school. We need to get the information out that there are lots of pathways one could take if s/he enjoys languages. (One might think this info is widely shared already, but it just doesn't seem to be the norm.)          

-Find out if a university professor or adjunct faculty member could visit the local high school to share ways that a students could incorporate a world language in to his or her program of study. (I learned that there are more and more programs that are now offering degrees that include a world language (e.g. political science and French or dental hygiene and French. Who knew?? )) At any rate, we ALL need to know what kind of choices young people have these days. It's 2015. The world is changing, and language programs have to change, too.  

-Get a conversation going about what we actually offer in our classrooms. If we don't REALLY know what's happening at the high school or university, how can we help each other prepare our learners to choose a pathway that includes world languages? Conversations need to happen. And it wouldn't hurt to have those chats over coffee or tea in a nice ambiance. 

-Find out what opportunities are actually in place for study abroad. There has been talk of summer programs for language learners that would help lower the cost that goes along with a semester or junior year abroad. Do our learners know about these options? 

-As for elementary and middle or middle and high, world language educators also need to have a coffee meetup to discuss (and take action) to strengthen enrollment. 

This can all seem overwhelming, especially since our time is stretched thin, but the message I gleaned from our conversation yesterday was that we just need to get conversations started and take small steps to build partnerships. Our profession depends on it. I can say that my plate is super full at the moment due to the transition to a new school, but I am inspired to reach out to the language department at two nearby universities. As a matter of fact, if a university professor reached out to me and asked if I'd meet at the local coffee shop for a chat, I would be more than happy to take an hour out of my afternoon to do so. I'm hoping that the university professors I'll soon contact will feel the same way. (I'll update this post once I make some progress on that front.)

Are you inspired to reach out to one of your state's colleges or universities or to an elementary/middle school? Why or why not? Do you already have a solid partnership (beyond the once-a-year university language event for a certain number of upper level language learners) with a school in your area? If so, please share what you do in the comments.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Unit Understandings: Documenting the Learning

Welcome back!  After a whirlwind spring semester and summer full of big changes, it's time to get ready to embark on a new journey as the French teacher at a large (soon-to-be 1:1) public high school near Charlotte. Before I begin this next chapter in my career, I would like to share the template I created last year to help both my learners and me better document the learning, particularly cultural understandings, as we progressed through each unit.  So, here's a breakdown of the development and implementation of this task along with a look at its efficacy. A link to the resource to follow!


The main motivation for developing this template came from a desire to better document (deeper) learning. Since it seems that we're going to reach more learners if we give them guided notes or a template rather than just tell them to take notes, it made sense to create a template that can be easily updated and shared at the start of each unit. Our K-12 learners need to be taught how to organize their thoughts, so it makes great sense to give them an outline with which to work.


The following sections of the unit framework needed more attention by both my learners and me, so these were included in the design: essential and guiding questions, cultural knowledge, and personalized vocabulary. It can be challenging to come back to the essential and guiding questions over the course of a unit; in my case, it's because I forget about them. We also needed to better document cultural knowledge, especially since we don't have a textbook to just refer back to when studying for an assessment. As for the vocabulary, my intention was for learners to have a one-stop location for any vocabulary that they would need to express their interests and ideas.


Please note that this template was implemented in all French courses (1-4AP) in a 1:1 iPad independent upper school. It was converted into a PDF and placed in the DropBox folder for each class after I typed up the unit title along with the essential and guiding questions. Then, learners moved it to their Good Notes app (hopefully, in a unit folder) where they took notes as we moved through the unit. All notes were guided either by whole class discussion or small collaborative groups with whole class debriefing.

End-of-Year Thoughts

Overall, the template positively impacted the learning. In the initial year, the attention to essential and guiding questions over the course of the entire unit was inconsistent, leaving major room for improvement. The cultural knowledge section was completed rather consistently, so this one was the most successful. In fact, learners referred to the document when studying for an assessment. This section helped me evaluate unit themes and essential questions for future revisions. As for personalized vocabulary, I required learners to record new vocabulary when they were researching topics of personal interest, but this did not happen for every unit of study. I do not know if learners recorded any new vocabulary on their own, but I would assume that very few, if any, did do it.  

Moving forward, I plan to better allot time to complete the document and provide more opportunities for learners to demonstrate understanding of what we discussed. I will not be grading work done on this document since it is really just guided notes, therefore, the follow-up tasks will make this work essential.

The Resource

Click here to access the document and feel free to revise it as you see fit. If I make any revisions to it as we move through the school year, I'll update this post.


Please share what you do to document unit understandings in the comments below. I'd love to learn how other educators are helping their learners see the bigger picture.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Target Language Tunes: One Way to Effectively Use Music in the World Language Classroom

Update, 7/22/15 :  About a month after I first wrote this post in February, I modified the templates, but did not take the time to update my blog. Well, today was the day to make it happen! Click on the link under "Monday" to access the updated version of both templates.

What were the changes I made?  The entire task is in French now. (I left the earlier version of each template up on the site for educators who do not understand French.) There wasn't any reason to have any of it in English initially, in fact; I guess I did it because I created it on the fly and didn't have a lot of time to go over the directions when we first experienced Music Monday. Looking forward to continuing this musical task at my new school in a few weeks! Who knows. I might modify the template yet again. Please let me know what you would add/change. :)


Music moves.
Music uplifts.
Music inspires.
Music empowers.

Let's just say that I can't imagine my life without beautiful, rockin' tunes and opportunities to dance either at small or large venues in cities across the country. Yet, until recently, I rarely played French language music in the classroom or even used it as an interpretive tool for my learners. So, you might ask, "Why the heck not?!?!"  Well, there are a few reasons for this that include the lack of inspiration for lessons that incorporate music, the logistics of planning such a task, and the constant desire to make sure everything ties into the unit perfectly. I'm not one to spend time making a lesson that can only be used once or become outdated. Therefore, I create tasks that can be tweaked slightly, if need be, and used over and over again.

As we all know, Mondays can be rough as we try to wrap our brains around the pressures of the daily grind.  So, two weeks ago, I finally introduced what we are calling, "Lundi en musique!" which sounds so much better in English (Music Monday!) but what can you do. So, here's how it works:

-Sunday (or before if you're not a procrastinator): Go to a top hits website in the target language and pick a song from the top 40 list. If there aren't any great ones (because the list is dominated by American hits,) pick an artist you've already had in the spotlight and then quickly find a video/song on YouTube that you haven't already presented. French Educators: Check out or  or even Yahoo!'s Musique page .

-Monday: Write the title of the song and the artist's name on the white board. Play the song without the visual as learners are entering the classroom. Place the handout on each desk so that everyone is ready to begin when the tardy bell rings. (Click here to download both the novice and intermediate handouts.)  Once class begins, tell the students what day it is, the name of the song, and the artist. Of course, do all of this in the target language. Next, play the song without the music video. Learners begin completing the first section of the handout. Then, ask them to watch the music video and begin completing the second section of the handout. Let them know that they will have time to finish both sections after the video ends. At that point, let them know that they can move on to the last section if they are ready.  Finally, go over their answers when most of the class has completed the task.

The Handout:  This task allows me to do very little prep since it can be used for any song on any given day. It also only requires 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class on Mondays.  For the novice learners, the sections where they use French are developed for them in the form of a checklist and a fill-in for biographical information so that they can feel success while completing this task in a timely manner.  By guiding them in French like this, I'm hoping that these expressions will begin to sink in. We all know that idioms, such as, "I am ___ years old." in romance languages, for example, are tricky for Anglophones. As for the intermediate learners, they are tasked to write their opinion and some biographical information on their own as this type of communication should be feasible at this proficiency level.

Reflections and Tips:  My learners have experienced Lundi en musique! twice now. After seeing that I needed to tweak the handout after the first week, I made changes to the document the following Sunday. The second go-around was much better received AND I was pleased with the timing, learner interest level, use of the target language, and the feedback I received.

If you decide to try out this task, consider the following:

     -Choose your song wisely. If it's a depressing or super serious song, you might want to replace it with something that will get your learners minds and bodies moving.  The first song I chose was rather sad whereas my choice for the second week was upbeat, a little romantic, and dance-worthy. Needless to say, my learners enjoyed the second selection much more than the first.

     -Encourage even your novice learners to share their opinion of the song/artist along with the biographical information in the target language before switching to English for an interpretive discussion.

     -Inspire your learners to get excited about target language music. When I realized that a group of students were checking out the artist on Instagram last Monday, I knew that this task was going to appear regularly. I had several requests to play some of his other videos, too. Not only was the interest level of my learners high, but they were learning about current top-40 artists. Double win!

    -Explore target language cultures more often than you already do without sacrificing too much of the precious time needed to really dive into a unit. If you teach the AP French or Spanish Language and Culture exam, you already know that music falls under Beauty and Aesthetics, which is the title of one of the major thematic units. This task allows you to throw a little music into the mix, mark it off your list of possible sub-themes to squeeze in, and then concentrate on other topics.  By the end of this semester, in fact, I hope that my learners are going to be able to name more French and Francophone artists/songs then they've ever been able to before.

     -While most all of what we do in the classroom involves preparation for a final assessment on a particular thematic topic, this task doesn't need to be related to the current unit. I have already seen the benefits of exposing learners to current events without worrying whether it ties in. In the level 4/AP course, we begin almost every single day with a viewing of a one to two-minute segment from the one o'clock news on TF1, a major French television network. It is rare that the segment relates to the current unit of study, but learners are exposed to so much more culture than they would be if we respected the boundaries of the unit topic. It does take creativity to transition into the first unit-related task of the day, but it can be done, and it's well worth it!

      -These types of learning experiences are guaranteed to appeal to most of your learners and, ideally, inspire them to continue their world language studies beyond the requirement.

     -Moving forward, I'm going to make a form on which learners can write down their requests for Lundi en musique! We're also going to make a YouTube channel for each class so that we can play the well-received hits in the background while working. Many thanks to Monsieur Fritz (@spkmall), French educator in California, for inspiring me to organize playlists for free and with such ease!

     -I also hope to develop presentational tasks in which learners at all proficiency levels have opportunities to research an artist and prepare their own critique of the song and/or artist. After several Music Mondays, students should feel that they have an equipped toolbox to proceed.

Please take a moment to give me some feedback in the comments. What do you think of this task? Will you try it out? If so, please let me know how it goes. If you already actively use music in your world language classroom, I would love to know what you do.

Happy Listening!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

ACTFL 2014: Year End Professional Learning Recap

After preparing the ENTIRE Thanksgiving dinner for a few guests and preparing over 100 gingerbread man cookies for the annual holiday decorating party that took place at my home this year, As you can imagine, I was delighted to be able to just hang out with friends and family for a couple of weeks.

Just before that holiday whirlwind, I attended the American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages' annual convention. This year, it took place in gorgeous San Antonio, Texas. How fortunate was I to get full funding from my school for this four-day professional learning experience! Not only did I attend many inspiring sessions, but I co-presented on phototelling (Click here to access our presentation and resources:  Phototelling on the Go: Using Instagram to Engage Students in Learning ) and supported fellow #langchat team members during our session on the chat.  Many thanks to my administrators for providing me with this opportunity!

In recent years, I've gotten in the habit of just tweeting the big (or just cool) ideas that I hear at professional learning events. Fortunately, I printed all of my tweets related to the ACTFL convention upon my return to school the following Monday since I knew I'd be thawing a turkey and entertaining over the next couple of weeks. So, after about six weeks, I am able to revisit my printed tweets and handouts in order to share my learning with you. Hope you find some inspiration in these notes.

-Annie Griffiths, the keynote speaker, kicked off the convention with a brilliant talk on her life as a photographer. Favorites from the keynote: 1. "People are nice if you try (to speak a language." 2. "When you are out in the world, have a smile on your face... Teach our kids to be fearless (in exploration and language study.")  3. "Get out of your comfort zone."  4.  "Photography has power unlike no other art form. All educators can show the world in images to their learners." 5. "When you come in with solutions, you have to listen to the people."

-On motivation:  Greta Lungaard (@gretafromtexas) led this session on what seemed to be a recurring theme this year --  and, boy, is it one that challenges us all!  She shared with us that content might need to be more about what the learners want then what we want in the level one course. She also talked about the need to facilitate experiences in which learners take ownership of their learning.

-On attrition:  Greg Duncan, a world language consultant, also spoke about motivation, and highly recommended John Keller's Theory of Motivation for professional reading. In Maria Nuzzo's research on attrition (2006,) she found that world language learners want to be able to speak in their language course.

Session participants sighed when Duncan shared that 75% of world language learners drop their language course when the requirement has been met. This is the national average, according to his research. Duncan suggested that educators create a quick and easy survey to ask learners to complete in order to find out what will make them stay.

He ended the session with a little discussion on that pesky grammar that seems to be such a controversial topic in world language educator circles.  He sums it up well:  "Grammar is not necessarily hard. It's the quantity that's hard. We are a fire hose of grammar."  He told us that we need to ask ourselves some questions when planning learning experiences: Which grammar? When do we bring it in? How much?

-On interpretive tasks:  Ken Stewart and another Spanish educator colleague whose name has escaped me led this session which was of particular interest to me.  I must say, it was a wise decision to show up for this one as it was informative.
    -Translation is not an interpretive task.
    -We remember 10% of what we read. (from research published in Cognitive Science, 1989)
    -When preparing for an interpretive task, make it a reading AND listening or speaking task. It                helps with the 10% reading retention issue.
    -Ask students to underline and annotate. Reading is always a writing task.
    -Intonation matters.
     -Task idea: Compose a title or headline for a text.
     -For novice-low learners, ask them to write two truths and one lie regarding a text they read.
            Use their work to discuss the text. (We will be trying this one out in the spring!)
     -Make a Wordle to show the key words to learners. Give them time to write what they think                 the text will be about.
      -Consider creating a table with poems and countries listed for each level you're teaching. It is                a great visual to reference when planning.
-On voice and choice: The session title and presenter's name have escaped me, but I'll edit this post with that information once I find it.
    -Voice and choice means that it is MY story and  I choose how to tell it.
    -In order to make small changes that empower learners, you could let them determine the order that      tasks will be done during a given class period or unit.
    -With the amount of tech tools at our fingertips, learners have a lot of choice as to how they share.         Our learners are NOT digital natives. They need our guidance for purposeful use of technology           for learning.
    - Concerning proficiency levels, ask learners to explain what levels of proficiency would look like         for an activity they love. I need to do this one at some point.

Voilà ! Hope you found something interesting to try in your classroom.
Have a great week!