Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Teaching the Way You were Taught

As I investigate possible topics for my eventual dissertation (right now, I am thinking of either the efficacy of the implementation of long-term professional development in a blended-learning environment OR how generational factors among teachers affect their self-efficacy in their classroom technology implementation, or lack thereof), one noteworthy detail which I am constantly coming across in research articles is that when we current teachers were students in school, most likely we ourselves never experienced learning using technology. Since we teachers tend to teach they way in which we ourselves were taught, for most teachers, implementing technology in a classroom is a nuisance and inconvenience, because we do not know how to use it effectively or even see what its purpose is.

I cannot help but see how a correlation exists among world language teachers. We primarily tend to teach the way in which we ourselves were taught. In and of itself, this is not bad or wrong, because how we ourselves were taught is what we know, as we learn by example. Because of the manner in which we were taught, that is probably why we were successful as language students, and in many ways, this led to our desire to become language teachers. The problem, however, lies in in that in replicating these methods in the classroom as teachers, only students who are like us will be successful.

Whenever I see folks get into lengthy debates online or in person about Comprehensible Input, many times I just want to say to those who disagree with it, "Have you truly experienced learning a language which you do not know using Comprehensible Input?" To me, I feel that experiencing CI like a student in your classroom will make a huge world of difference. However, I also add some parameters to this:
  1. Do not learn a language which is related to one which you already know, e.g., if you know Spanish, do not learn French or another Romance language, because they are too similar. You will not experience CI to its fullest, because there are too many language connections of which you are already familiar. 
  2. Learn the language over an extended amount of time. Yes, you can experience learning another language in a conference presentation, but in my opinion, that is not enough time. Yes, you can get a taste of language learning, but it is too limited in scope.
In the summer of 2017, I had the experience of learning Mandarin from Linda Li in a 20-hour Fluency Fast course held prior to IFLT. That experience completely changed me as a teacher! I have written three blog posts about my time learning Mandarin.
  1. Fluency Fast with Linda Li
  2. Comprehensible Input is Real
  3. Immersion Can Turn into Submersion
Consider taking a Fluency Fast class, and learning language in a whole new way! Then you can say that you are teaching the way in which you were truly taught!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cartoon Olympics

Here is a great pre-reading activity which I just recently learned from my colleague Bob Patrick, who created this. I added some tweaks to it, so below are our collaborative directions for this activity:

  1. Create a list of new vocabulary words which you wish to pre-teach
  2. Create drawable sentences using these words - in many cases, the more random the sentence the better! I have found that 8 sentences are a good number. Be sure to get in repetitions!
  3. Create PowerPoint/Google slides of these sentences - 1 sentence per slide.
  1. Have the words above listed on the board, and call attention to them establishing the meaning of each.
  2. Students work in groups of 4.
  3. 4 students from the class are the identified judges.  Each has a whiteboard, marker and eraser rag, and are seated together at one end of the room. Have those four chairs marked “iudex”.
  4. In each group, every student has a whiteboard, marker, and rag
  5. Number every student in a group as 1, 2, 3 or 4. If there are groups of three, one student will be both numbers 1 and 4. If there is a group of 5, two students will be number 4.
  6. Using the vocab above, project the first sentence on the screen - every student draws the best picture possible. Give students 1-2 minutes to establish meaning among the group and then around 2 minutes for each to draw a picture.
  7. After this, in their groups, students have 1 minute to help each other out with their pictures by suggesting addition to the pictures for clarification or suggesting changes
  8. Roll a die, and whatever number rolled is the student numbers who will submit their pictures to be judged. If I rolled a 5 or 6, then re-reroll die.
  9. At the front of the class on the board ledge or on chairs, groups will place their pictures for the class to see.
  10. Teacher clarifies the meaning of the sentence with the whole class.
  11. The four judges score on a scale of 1-5. Teacher gives paper to the judges to write down their score. Teacher keeps up with totals.
  12. Have the judges declare a "best in show" for the sentence, and show the picture to the class.
  13. Have students erase their whiteboards, and begin again.
  14. When all sentences have been done and scored, team with highest, next highest and third highest are declared the gold, silver and bronze medal winners of Cartoon Olympics. Have gold, silver and orange (or three different colors) stars to award to each member of the winning teams.
  15. If all sentences are not finished, this may extend to a second day.

  1. I was surprised at how engaged students were in this activity. The fact that students do not know if they will be selected to represent their team keeps students accountable to the activity.
  2. I have found that this is usually a 2-day activity, since around four sentences is how many can be done in a 50-minute period.
  3. The random roll of the die keeps the activity novel.
  4. I like how the groups collaborate among themselves to establish meaning of the sentence.
  5. The group consultation after students draw their picture is very important, because nobody in the group knows whose picture will be selected. This way, students will ensure that all aspects of the sentence are represented in each other's pictures.
  6. Students really do enjoy seeing each other's pictures as they are displayed at the front before the judging.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Simple Kind of Guy

For one of my graduate school classes this semester, we had to introduce ourselves to the class using Flipgrid (this is a great web resource!). One of the questions which we had to answer was "If you were to write an autobiography, what would be the title?" Personally, I do not think that I am that interesting of a person for me to write an autobiography. If my life were a sitcom, I would not even be the main character - I would be the next door neighbor who comes over once in awhile to drop off mail or to borrow a rake. Quite honestly, I am just a simple kind of guy - that is what I would have as the title of my autobiography! However, that is not to say that I am ashamed of being a simple kind of guy, because actually I am quite proud that I am not a very complicated kind of person. 

Here are some ways in which I am just a simple kind of guy:
  • Favorite ice cream flavor: Vanilla. 
  • Favorite color: Blue. Do not ask me which shade - blue is blue to me.
  • Favorite snack: Rice-Krispie treats, because it is just three ingredients: butter, marshmallows, and Rice Krispies.
  • Favorite superhero: Superman, because in terms of powers, he's got them all. He is neither moody nor emotionally complex like Batman - with Batman, I feel like I would be walking on eggshells around him. Also, if you were stuck on a deserted island, Superman could rescue you (unless there was Kryptonite) - what can Spiderman do for you?
  • Favorite potato chips: Original Pringles. I hate any potato chips with flavor on them, e.g., Takis, Doritos, sour cream and onion, etc. 
  • I am more of a beer person, instead of wine, but if I had my choice, I would prefer drinking a Coke.
  • I prefer to wear Birkenstocks instead of shoes solely because they are more comfortable to wear.
  • When I go out to eat with friends, I will usually suggest the same three restaurants.
  • As much I as enjoy being social at gatherings and interacting with people, I am equally happy eating a cookie by myself in the corner of the room.
  • I love the Three Stooges - slapstick humor at its best. Being hit with pies is funny to me.
  • My friend who is an interior designer says that I am all "straight lines and edges," which apparently is an interior designer term for people who rarely re-arrange their furniture and like simple spaces. I did not realize that there was an actual official term for people like me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Camps, Part 2

(The following is part 2 in a post series called "Camps")

I am fascinated by the friendship of George W. Bush and Michelle Obama. Here are two people from completely polar-opposite political leanings, different generations, different races, and different genders, but yet they are friends. In every picture I have seen of them together, you can tell that they truly enjoy each other's company. Were you as tickled as I was when George W. Bush slyly passed Michelle Obama a cough drop during John McCain's funeral?  In a recent interview with Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of George W. Bush), Michelle Obama remarked:
I would love if we as a country could get back to the place where we didn't demonize people who disagreed with us. Because that is essentially the difference between Republicans and Democrats - we're all Americans, we all care about our families and our kids, and we're trying to get ahead. We have different ideas about the best way to get there. But that doesn't make me evil, and that doesn't make [Bush] stupid. It is just a disagreement.
As I think about the many "camps" which have been set up among language teachers regarding the best methodology for teaching students, I cannot help but think that despite our pedagogical differences, essentially, we all have the same goal for our students: we wish for our students to learn/acquire another language, and we wish for them to be successful. Where we disagree, though, is what we think is the best way to get students there. The problem lies in the villainization and demonization of those with whom we disagree. 

I do not think that any teacher ever sets out intentionally for students to fail. We are all professionals who essentially want what we think is best for students. At the ACTFL general assembly, I cannot help but feel a sense of camaraderie with the thousands of world language teachers who are there in the assembly hall, even though we probably all have our own ideas about pedagogy. I also know that there is a definite boundary where I "end" and you "begin". You are the one who is front of your students, not I, so I have to let you do what you feel is best in the classroom. There comes a point where I have to accept that there is a disagreement, but that does not mean that we have to be enemies.

I have said this before, but do grammar-translation teachers think that I as a CI teacher am both openly and secretly judging them, because there are those in the CI camp who openly do? As I have said before, do not lump me in that group at all, as I stay FAR AWAY from those people! While I may disagree with the grammar-translation method, that is all it is: a disagreement. Let's still go out, and grab a drink! Please don't ever think that I consider myself "enlightened" and that I think that you are "ignorant," because we have differing views on language pedagogy.

We teachers are a passionate group, who are primarily composed of 4%ers who are very zealous about what we believe to be the "best/correct" methods for everything - fill in the blank with whatever the problem/cause is. Yes, I consider myself to be a CI-implementing teacher, because I feel like from my own past experiences as both a grammar-translation and a reading methodology teacher, CI is the method where I have seen all students of varying abilities acquire language the most quickly and the most deeply. In addition, there are inner motivations regarding CI which line up with my personal beliefs. There are TONS of teachers out there who disagree with my stand on CI, and I am perfectly fine with that, as long as they disagree with CI and not with me as a person - those are TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS! If someone disagrees with me on CI, let the disagreement be over that and not an ad hominem attack. As I have said before, teaching CI is WHAT I DO, but it is NOT WHO I AM. 

So when it comes to our teaching pedagogy, I have my story why I have arrived at the place where I am, and I am sure that you do too. Each of our stories have shaped us and our views. Let's share those with each other and understand each other first, before we start painting and labeling each other as the "enemy."