Monday, March 12, 2012

Embedding Advocacy Opportunities Into All That We Do

Embedding Advocacy Opportunities Into All That We Do: Lisa Lilley  On Twitter: @sralil  -- 

Lisa Lilley, the 2010 ACTFL TOY, spoke about ways to embed advocacy in what we do. She used the model big “C” and little “c” of culture to introduce a big “A” and little “a” of advocacy. The little “a” are the small things we can do. Some of the examples including displaying the “Discover Languages” logo in various places or sending out a classroom newsletter to parents. Big “A” ways included staying informed of the issues and keeping in touch with elected officials. Her ideas are well displayed in her handout which is called “Embedding Advocacy Opportunites Into All That We Do” and can be found on her website at this url: ( She also has additional resources on her website for foreign language teachers that are worth checking out.

Error as a ‘Positive’ Factor

Error as a ‘Positive’ Factor: John De Mado 
(all images below are the intellectual property of John De Mado and no copyright infringement is intended)

John De Mado spoke about the existence in language classes of not one, not two, but in fact three languages that any instructor a second or foreign language must deal with. The L1, the L2, and the student’s own interlanguage as he negotiated the movement from L1 to L2. 

He discouraged teachers from becoming editors of student interlanguage. Jokingly, he imitated the “gringo” accent of a typical American student learning Spanish (“tango” instead of “tengo” for example). While, as language teachers and language lovers, our natural tendency is to cringe or yell when we hear students say “grassy ass” instead of “gracias,” he begged us not to constantly edit our students. 

He asked us why we are afraid of letting students make errors. Overwhelmingly the answer given was fossilization. He shocked the audience of teachers by asserting that at the level that we teach there is no such thing. It was easy to hear the scoffs and see the rolling eyes. He repeated and insisted it was true! There was no evidence that our students were capable of fossilization because 1) they have such minimal language and 2) if they choose to pursue past level four or so, they won’t choose to fossilize. Choose to fossilize? Again, the audience scoffed but De Mado insisted that fossilization is a loss of facility and it is a choice to stop actively pursing and studying the language. It is a choice to discover and work toward correcting mistakes. 

Our students do not make mistakes, they make errors, he asserted. These are non-permanent. However, if we run students off they will never take ownership of the language and work to correct their errors. He asked how much we would spend to renovate an apartment that we didn’t own? Would we spend $10,000? $20,000? Of course not! It is not ours! So it is the same with language. As long as teachers are the editors and providers of language, it doesn’t belong to the student. They need put forth no effort to improve it. 

He suggested three strategies for facilitating language learning in a way that encourages students to own it. We need to create a safe space where risk-taking can happening. In the real world, students will need to take risks to use the language with native speakers. Second, we must leave room for intuition about language, as it would occur outside of the classroom. This means when a student pauses, we don’t give the answer, but give them time to work it out. Finally, we must let them be vulnerable. Help them understand that errors are a natural part of the process and that is how they learn.

He encouraged us to remove the word “mistake” from our professional vocabulary and always use the word “error” which basically carries the meaning of a learning opportunity. 
Another important strategy to make risk-taking, vulnerability, and intuition (RVI) successful in the classroom environment is to add it to the rubric and make it least worth as much as “accuracy” is. This way students take these behaviors seriously and you can encourage them to engage in the more readily because they are required. 

Returning to the metaphor of a language like a home, he asked what most people’s first homes look like. Most, he asserted, are “fixer uppers.” 

The role of grammar is to reduce error. It is largely non-communicative. It is identification, not communication. It doesn’t exist to create communication, it’s purpose is to avoid miscommunication. If students buy into the language in an upper level, then they can focus on grammar but at the beginning levels, the focus should be on communication with grammar serving only to support that communication. 
On a side note, if you ever get the chance to hear John De Mado speak, I highly recommend it. He is a high-energy and highly entertaining public speaker who really seems to know his stuff. Check out his website for some resources too.

Teaching Foreign Languages in the Elementary School: A Service Learning Initiative

Teaching Foreign Languages in the Elementary School: A Service Learning Initiative: E. Nicole Meyer

E. Nicole Meyer is a professor of French, Humanistic Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. In addition to her many duties, she coordinates and administrates a service learning project for undergraduate French students to teach elementary students some French. 

There are two sides to Meyer’s initiative, the undergraduates and the elementary school. The service provided to the elementary school is one in which those children volunteer to spend their recess, and in the coming semester after-school time, learning French. For the undergraduates, this is experience is a 1 or 2 credit internship style course. 

In order to set up a program like this Meyer emphasized the need to develop good relationships with elementary or preschool administrators. They will be key in making the program a success. It will be necessary to have a time and location for the sessions. Advertising and communication with parents will also be important. Scheduling for both the children and the undergraduates can be a challenge. 

From the university perspective, Meyer recommends that the undergraduate students be at least fifth semester language learners in order to have the necessary language ability. Before they are sent out they are then required to study second language acquisition theory. The students are required to develop a teaching portfolio of resources and lesson plans to pull from, complete with journal reflections and reports of their experiences once they begin in the classroom. Throughout the experience, the participants meet frequently to share resources and ideas. 

Content of the sessions include a basic introduction to the language, cultural exploration, and songs. Some activity ideas Meyers shared included: coloring books (Dover Books); using students’ backpacks for vocabulary; musical chairs with vocabulary or questions on post-it notes on each chair (in order to sit, students must answer the question); plastic easter eggs full of slips of papers with questions or vocabulary; cubes with clear sleeves on all sides with cards (cubes are pairs-one with verbs, one with subjects, for example); fake school store; matching games; giant paper (from a newspaper office) to draw big pictures on; and a TL party or celebration. 

This program is highly customizable depending on what needed to be accomplished. Wherever there is a need, a program like this would be invaluable. Grants and research could be done to support these types of programs. Some ideas I have about similar programs are ELL programs for young students and their parents in communities where there aren’t many resources of this nature already; a technology-enhanced career search support class for displaced worker or computer-skills for people who are missing basic skills to even meet requirements for entry into other programs supported by instructional technology students or education students with special interest or skill in technology; a community cultural enrichment program in which international students share their experiences with children or interested community members who’ve never had the opportunity to travel. The list could go on. It is important to develop a strong sense of the goal of such a program and develop a list of potential resources and need as a first step.