Schools and colleges don't always ask who their students are when deciding which languages to teach and how to design curricula. Seeking to remedy that, UCLA's National Heritage Language Resource Center hosts a week-long training workshop for language instructors and K-12 administrators from across the country.
Representing about 10 target languages and a dozen U.S. states from Alaska to Florida, 25 educators came to the UCLA campus July 18–23 to think about the distinct and varied needs of students who began learning languages in their homes rather than their schools. Participants included not only schoolteachers and college lecturers, but also four K-12 school administrators.
"I'm getting know-how. I'm getting strategies. I'm getting the opportunity to collaborate," said Leonard Fitts, interim superintendent of schools in Camden, New Jersey.
The federally funded STARTALK initiative, which focuses on languages seen as critical to national security, cosponsored the UCLA workshop with the National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC), which is based on campus and directed by UCLA Professor Olga Kagan. CSU Long Beach Professor Maria Carreira acted as lead instructor.
At the opening session, Kagan distinguished between two broad strategies to apply to instruction in a language: a "foreign language" approach for people never exposed to the language, or a "heritage language" approach for students who arrive at school with at least some listening skills and cultural knowledge learned at home.
"There is this geography of heritage language learning that wouldn't apply to foreign languages," Kagan explained. Without looking closely at demographic data for a given locale, she says, it is simply not obvious what heritage languages might be taught there.
For example, the city of Camden, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, has a large Spanish-speaking community and "pockets" of spoken Russian and Japanese, while northern New Jersey is home to as many as two dozen language communities that could be served by specialized heritage language instruction, according to Fitts. New Jersey schools respond with small group instruction and advanced placement courses, within the limits of depleted budgets, he said. A goal for the future, he added, is bringing heritage language teaching to elementary schools.
As other workshop participants broke into language-specific groups on Monday, Fitts compared notes with school administrators including William Chang, coordinator of world languages and cultures for Los Angeles's public schools.
Chang said that a heritage teaching approach has caught on in parts of the LAUSD, notably in courses offered under the label "Spanish for Spanish Speakers."
"For Spanish speakers it's taking hold, with room for improvement, like any program," said Chang. Two high schools tailor Korean courses for Korean speakers, and STARTALK supports LAUSD summer heritage courses in Arabic, he said. He noted that Chinese is making strides in the district, "but more as a foreign language than as a heritage language."
What distinguishes the heritage approach is the attention it gives to the backgrounds of students, in other words, its recognition of the strengths they display when compared with monolingual English-speaking students.
In the Monday session on "differentiated" teaching, small groups of workshop participants summarized the profiles of students in various languages, based on their experiences. A group devoted to Arabic and Persian reported that students at all levels have good listening skills and cultural knowledge, and often speak their heritage language well. As a rule they have small working vocabularies, however, and very limited reading and writing skills.
"We're dealing with languages that are not [written in] the dominant alphabet," said Therisa Rogers, an Arabic teacher at Farmington High School, in the Detroit suburb.
The group also shared an impression that Arabic-speaking parents are story-tellers, but do not read aloud to their children in the home language as much as Persian speakers. That sort of detail can affect how heritage teachers approach reading in the classroom.
Similarly, two college-level instructors of the West African language of Yoruba, Moses Adegbola of UCLA and Adeolu Ademoyo of Cornell University, reported that their American- and Nigerian-born students seldom have spent time reading in the language, and encounter it in the United States through such sources as home videos and religious events.
The Chinese teachers at the workshop included two from elementary schools, one from a high school and two college-level instructors. They discussed issues involved in bringing together students who speak multiple Chinese languages and dialects to study Mandarin Chinese in the United States.
Chinese is the only language whose presence has grown in U.S. primary and secondary schools during more than a decade of cutbacks to language offerings, partly because the Chinese government has been willing to contribute money and teachers. At the same time, the number of heritage speakers is growing quickly. Between 1980 and 2007, there was almost a four-fold increase in the number of Chinese speakers in America, a higher rate of growth than for Spanish.
But the two trends – growth of Chinese in schools and in homes – don't necessarily translate into more heritage instruction for the Chinese-American students. That requires local commitments by schools and is one of the reasons that the NHLRC includes sessions on how to find and interpret demographic data in its training workshops.
"You need to look at local conditions," Kagan said. "For teachers, if they want to advocate for a heritage language class, they need the tools. Administrators need to look at this, and I'm not sure many of them do."
Scaling Bloom’s Taxonomy, picaresquely by
Belinda A. Sauret
“How many of you think that there are unjust laws in the world?” I ask.
Hands shoot up around the classroom. Some of these students have to think about the law often, considering whether their older sister is documented, whether mom will be stopped at a random traffic check and jailed under 287g of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Many youngsters have friends, neighbors or cousins who have those worries.
I don’t ask what kind of injustice comes to mind: they are too cautious to readily express quite that much opinion. Just the same, I offer some options. It used to be illegal for Chinese people to immigrate to the U.S. It used to be illegal to teach African Americans to read English. Their eyes open wide in wonder or narrow in suspicion and doubt. Still, I attempt to sound the depths of their feelings on another topic.
“Raise your hand if you think that poor people are poor because they just refuse to work.”
No hands go up at all, but many pairs of eyes scan the classroom to see just who would hold such a view.
Two points of agreement. That’s good. I can move on.
“If you believe that there is injustice in the world, and that some working people continue to be poor because of that injustice, then you have a lot in common with the author of the book that we’re about to read. The only problem is, I can’t tell you the author’s name because even though this book was first published in 1554, there’s still controversy about who actually wrote it. But I can tell you the name of the book, La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades.”
In the discussion that ensues about the first picaresque novel, we’ll ponder why someone would hide their name after all the work of writing a book, why books get banned, and why any book would continue to be published and read even four and a half centuries after it was first published. At the outset their answers are only guesses. For many students, especially those who have never read an entire novel before, picking up this book takes on the character of a minor quest, sometimes just to see what all the falderal is about, maybe to see if their guesses were right.
So, it becomes my quest too, teaching a funny, bawdy novel to get my students to use their own experiences to understand a long-dead author, his (or her) social criticism and how reading and writing can transform us all.
Loren Anderson’s version of Bloom’s taxonomy uses verbs to stack up the ever more sophisticated (and liberating) kinds of thought. To accomplish this I employ some of my own materials and a host of entertaining websites that offer excellent and, in some cases, interactive, materials. Certainly, not all students will want or be ready to participate in all the activities, but my hope is that the variety presented here will offer other teachers the opportunity to differentiate for the many levels of student abilities that are regularly found in Heritage language classrooms.
Remembering: Because I want students to really interact with the text, I make copies for them. I use the complete text of the novel found on the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. With their own copy, students can write in the margins, make notations about vocabulary, themes and characters.
Still, for some students who have never read a novel, understanding that the narrative is more than a collection of jokes or sight-gags is quite a hurdle. Harry Vélez Quiñones’ website offers a good checklist of characters and a breakdown of the subject discussed in each tratado or section of the Lazarillo. Additionally, an Internet site maintained by Juan Ramón Arana offers students texts of the more famous chapters, glossed with explanations of the new vocabulary and even self-check quizzes.
Understanding: Since not all the students among my heritage learners have achieved equal levels of proficiency in the Spanish language, and some as a matter of fact are English-dominant, I have students check their understanding in two ways. Students may match my modernized paraphrases of some of the more famous conversations between the Lazarillo and his masters, and then they can make Spanish-language paraphrases of their own of other important portions of the text. Students who need a little extra help in this activity can check out the dual-language version of the text.
Listening to a good actor read the text helps comprehension as well, so I have students listen to the audio version narrated by Francisco Rivela. His voice is husky and he makes us all laugh at the right moments.
Applying: My students have loved acting out some of the more famous scenes from Lazarillo, especially the longaniza and the wine jar. It’s fun to see just what the students will do with the scenes. To make them stretch a bit, I don’t allow more than one group to do the same scene. I’ve included the rubric that I use for grading this activity.
Since not every student will enjoy acting out the scenes, I also offer the option of sketching out the face of one of the characters as they imagine it. They must justify their sketches with quotations from the novel.
Analyzing: Although my students may recognize the general concepts of “princess” or “king,” they rarely have a clear conception of what aristocracy is, or of the privileges associated with a title of nobility. I have found it useful to have students find their own last names at the Heraldaria website. They can write about the meaning of their own coat-of-arms and then they can make a coat-of-arms for Lazarillo.
Evaluating: Since the first day of introduction to the novel includes a discussion of why this novel was criticized, I have students, taking on the persona of a bishop, write a letter to a church council explaining why the Lazarillo de Tormes should be banned.
Creating: “What if the Lazarillo were alive today?” I first gave this assignment with considerable trepidation. Making the leap from reading about a penniless imp in 16th century Spain to putting that same character in 21st century United States seemed like a lot to ask. The responses were uneven, but most students could make some worthy comparisons. Their here-and-now Lazarillos were born in the Río Grande, tricked into selling drugs or into digging onions for no wages. One student had her female pícara challenge the Statue of Liberty on the question of immigration. While not all the new Lazarillos were artistically successful, all the students who chose this assignment wrote well beyond the word-limit. I finally had to ask them to stop.
I was satisfied that they had begun to make a connection between real-life problems and the power of the pen to make sure that someone defends the otherwise powerless.
Note: Section 287g of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows appointed state and local law enforcement agencies to locate, process, and detain illegal immigrants.
The following pdf files are supplementary materials that can be used with the above lesson:
The International Baccalaureate Approach to Native Language Study
B. A. Sauret
Although a college astronomy professor first showed me the Flammerion wood engraving* as a metaphor for how drastically the study of astronomy changed during the Renaissance, the image conjures up other worldview-shattering experiences as well. A traveler in long cloak, cap and carrying a cane, seems to have ventured away from the town in the distance beside a lakeshore. The sun gazes benignly on the scene, watching from the dome of the sky, kept company by the stars. But this universe doesn’t occupy the entire frame. Outside the dome he finds another heaven with other celestial engines. In the moment the artist captured, the traveler has come to the edge of the dome, and has, according to the caption, just found the point where the sky and earth touch. But our traveler has done more than the caption gives him credit for; he hasn’t just found the seam between the two, he has discovered that there’s more on the other side. He has slid under the dome and gazes at a whole new expanse. He doesn’t react with fear, he stretches out his hand and has already begun to pull his walking stick through, thinking, no doubt, that he’ll need it as he walks on that new space.
I’ve taught languages for a long time, so it’s not too surprising that I see the walker as someone learning a whole new way of looking at the sky, finding out that his culture’s constellations aren’t the only things humans see when they look up. A language-learner, a daring thinker, a person who has seen a new country, all those things come to my mind. But a recent conversation with Andrew Flory of the International Baccalaureate Organization made me rethink how I look at and think about the Flammarion woodcut; more specifically, his remarks have made me reconsider the position the walker is in, absolutely in-between, neither here nor there, more knowledgeable than the others in the village, but still part of them.
After sixteen years teaching and directing schools in IB schools outside the United Kingdom, Flory works in the languages section of the diploma program managing with his colleagues a mixture of languages A1 and B. Language A1 is a student’s native or dominant language and language B is the second language in which the IB requires an intermediate (using the ACTFL scale) level of proficiency (CEFR B1 and B2*). Since IB policy on language is built around the notion that every student has the right to study at the highest level in his own language, some 44 languages are readily available for students to study as a Language A. In addition to this if a student ‘s mother tongue is not in these 44 they can request that an examiner to set and mark papers is found. Each year we have 25 to 30 “special request” languages A1 from Azeri to Zulu. That means that any student can undertake analysis of literature, in their native tongue, as part of the rigorous IB course of study. So foreign students living in the United States, for example, could take English as their second or B language, while using their mother tongue, whether Urdu, Swahili or Italian, as language A1. As part of the two-year diploma program for students in grades 11 and 12, all students in A1 courses take tests that are scored by external evaluation; papers on international literature and recorded oral commentary on literary works are also graded by evaluators outside the school.
Baccalaureate language Requirements
Language A1 (mother tongue)
Literary analysis and appreciation
Language B (second language)
Comprehension of texts and spoken language from authentic
sources on a wide variety of topics
Oral presentation on literary text
Interactive oral activities, such as group discussions, debates
or role playing.
Internally evaluated and a sample moderated by external
Impromptu oral commentary on literary text
Oral activities: interviews between teachers and students
Written essays in response to literary texts
Writing in response to reading. Student must demonstrate
ability to write for a variety of purposes and must show awareness of
cultural factors critical to communication.
A written comparative study of an element found in two or
more works of literature translated to the mother tongue.
Reading comprehension and written response to the text.
All this external evaluation requires graders, so Flory and
his colleagues find evaluators with training and expertise equivalent to that
of a university lecturer, not only for the 44 languages in which tests are
offered every year, but also for some 28-30 special request languages,
including Shona, Dari, and in the Middle years programme an Australian
aboriginal language, Ngarrindjeri, whose study required the permission of the
tribal elders. As part of this support for languages, IB encourages schools to
have books in the mother tongue in libraries, but since some students are
refugees and have oral language but no literacy, policy-makers at IB have been
asking themselves how to support those kids. After all, throughout the three
levels of IB programs, the value of bilingualism is recognized and encouraged.
But questions of equity, not discriminating against any language, also occupy
Flory points out that “lots of IB students have complex
language profiles, but want to do English, especially in Asia.” And among some
parents whose own language is Malay or Chinese, for example, there may be the
desire to put their children in an advantageous language position is strong.
But Flory points to mother tongue research that indicates that youngsters lose
a tremendous amount of previously gained ground if, instead of studying A1 in
their first, best, most-used, or native language, they are cut off from
academic development in that tongue. Since “mother tongue is central to
cognitive development” students may also complete an additional IB requirement,
the extended essay, in their mother tongue. Sensitivity to parents’ concerns
though, requires that Flory and IB representatives in diploma schools show
parents that “mother tongue study advantages students” and not the opposite.
In response to my question about whether U.S. schools in
particular might find such a requirement burdensome, Flory replied that school
compliance has not been a problem, since the policy has been in place since the
inception of IB and since only those communities that are in agreement with
IB’s goals of intercultural understanding seek to offer the diploma program.
“If you buy into what IB offers, you buy into intercultural competence,” he
In IB programs, teachers too recognize that language is
central to learning, but that no language is transparent or neutral in terms of
meaning. Professional development programs attempt to support schools in
maintaining the mother tongue because that first language is “central to
cognitive development” and because these truly bilingual students bring extra
insight to their classes. Indeed, Dan Shiffman, an IB English-language
literature teacher in Japan points just how intercultural these literature
studies can be. In the January 2009 issue of IB World he writes about his
bilingual A1 students and their class, “Japanese creeps into lessons in
interesting ways. Discussion of the treatment of gender roles in Henrik
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was broadened by students explaining the connotations of
various Japanese words for ‘wife’. Looking at a character with a split
personality, we compared the different Japanese and English terms for that. So
while the conversations are all in English, Japanese words often open things
After all, says Flory, what we’re after in IB is that
students come away with “additive, not subtractive bilingualism.”
There, that was what did it. That was the phrase that made
me rethink how I look at the Flammarion Woodcut. “Additive, not subtractive
bilingualism.” The traveler in between in the woodcut. What would happen in
the next frame, if there were one? Would the traveler go to the new side? If
he crossed and met other beings, would they share a new language with him
gladly, or do it only at the cost of his forgetting his own? Would the price of the new be reaching back into that
dome and erasing from his memory and his person everything that caused him to
reach through the sky in the first place? Not if he were at an IB school.
* CEFR=Common European Framework of Reference; Level
descriptions: B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete
and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of
specialization. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that
makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain
for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects
and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and Independent
disadvantages of various options. B1 Can understand the main points of clear
standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school,
leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling
in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on
topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and
events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations
for opinions and plans.
Discourses in Dying Languages: My Story With Yiddish A report on the talk by Miriam Isaacs at the National Museum of Language by Tom Braslavsky, National Capital Language Resource Center
On January 25, the National Museum of Language hosted University of Maryland Professor Miriam Isaacs. as part of the Marian M. Jenkins Memorial Speaker Series. A Visiting Assistant Professor of Yiddish in the Jewish Studies Program of the University's Meyerhoff Center for Jewish studies, Isaacs spoke about her family history and how she became interested in the Yiddish language. Born in a post-war refugee camp in Germany in 1946, Isaacs grew up in Montreal with parents who exclusively spoke Yiddish at home. Isaacs recounted a story of how one day, when she was 10, her father explained why it was important for her to know the language.
"He told me that that I was an intelligent girl and that I could learn English well anyhow," Isaacs said. "But if I didn’t speak Yiddish at home, I wouldn’t know where I came from."
Since that conversation, Isaacs said, she has had an interest in sustaining the Yiddish language and other fading languages of ethnic minorities. Isaacs gave a brief history of Yiddish in modern times, starting from the late 19th Century. She said that as the Enlightenment spread throughout Europe, Ashkenazi Jews (Jews living in Europe) underwent large and quick changes in lifestyle, transforming from a life focused on religion and community to one much more cosmopolitan.
"Jewish thinkers were foremost in understanding the implications of modernity, both good and bad," Isaacs said. "Included in their ranks were the first linguists and anthropologists."
With Modernity, Yiddish had been transformed from a vernacular into a sophisticated language of literature and theater. There were and still are Yiddish authors, Yiddish newspapers and Yiddish plays. Yiddish was also involved with significant political movements in Europe and the United States.
Isaacs expanded on the question of whether Yiddish is a "dying language". She said that its position as the primary language of most Jews was permanently damaged by the Holocaust, in which 5 million of the 6 million Jews killed were Yiddish speakers.
Isaacs also recounted the decades-long 20th century struggle between Yiddish and Hebrew, a struggle to define the linguistic identity of Jews. Hebrew speakers often considered Yiddish to be a remnant of the Diaspora – a language of persecution that did not deserve pride. Yiddish speakers, on the other hand, wanted to retain a part of the spoken and literary heritage of the Ashkenazi Jews in Europe.
Now, while Hebrew has become the native language for millions of Jews in Israel, Isaacs said that Yiddish is the primary language for only some tens of thousands of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Hasidim. However, the language is taught at some universities, and there exist a number of organizations that try to preserve Yiddish.
Isaacs also brought up the interesting fact of non-Jews learning and speaking Yiddish. On a Yiddish program in Lithuania that Isaacs attended last summer, about half of the students and teachers were not Jewish.
"While Yiddish has gone out of fashion for many Jews," Isaacs said, "quite a few non-Jews have begun to study it."
In Poland, Germany, Lithuania and other European countries, there are Yiddish-centered cultural institutions and university courses in the language. Isaacs said that one interpretation she has for this desire to study Yiddish is as a "gesture of good will."
"There’s an awareness that Yiddish was brutally destroyed in Europe, and that this is a way of showing in a very meaningful way a respect for the language," Isaacs said.
Isaacs also discussed how her involvement in the preservation of Yiddish has endeared her to the struggles of other people trying to preserve their languages. She described the pains of a native Lakota teacher who was interested in the revival of the Hebrew language.
"When I described the process," Isaacs said, "That it had taken dedicated effort for the better part of a century to bring Hebrew to where it is as a modern language, he became disheartened. Lakota, he told me, did not have that much time."
Isaacs said that too many schools were not interested in preserving the languages of their minority cultures, and merely tried to make everyone learn English. She saw a similar assimilationist attitude during a recent trip to Mexico. While there, Isaacs met a family of indigenous Zapotec speakers in Tenochtitlan. Isaacs said a man told her how his children were embarrassed to speak Zapotec, and that the parents have to send them to a Spanish-language school in another city, Oaxaca.
"What really struck me was the sense of shame on the part of the kids – that they’re embarrassed by their parents, and how frustrated the parents are that this is the reality that they have," Isaacs said.
In Mexico City, Isaacs visited a Spanish-language Jewish school that also teaches Hebrew and Yiddish. When the students at the school asked her why they should be learning Yiddish, Isaacs responded that having its own language gives a group a feeling of peoplehood and shared heritage.
"It occurred to me that when we speak a different language, it’s how you define ‘us’ and ‘them’. And when your own language becomes a ‘them’ language, then you’ve cut yourself off from prior generations – in attitude as well as in comprehensibility," Isaacs said. "People are perfectly capable of being multilingual… But in order to keep multilingualism going, one must give those languages a purpose." To see a podcast of this lecture, click here to go to theNational Museum of Language podcast.
Facing Our Changing Demographics
By Belinda Sauret November/December 2008
I have a running argument with a colleague about whether it’s better to teach native speakers or heritage language learners. To be sure, there are advantages to teaching a language to a novice learner: the instant gratification of going from zero knowledge to something learned on the very first day of the school year, the certainty an instructor can have that most students begin on pretty much the same level in a 101 class, the everything-is-new-and-exciting factor. A teacher has considerable advantages in front of desks peopled with new students, as story-teller and gate-keeper to lands and cultures that only she has seen.
Heritage learners inevitably change the dynamics in the classroom and transform the reception any lesson receives, regardless of an educator’s training or response to the new set of needs. Students may use regionalisms that the teacher has never heard, attempt to help other students with structures before these are studied in class, or use inappropriate vulgarities. Some native speaker students speak but can scarcely read their language or have limited academic vocabulary in any language.
Maybe then, the comments that I hear when I talk with colleagues about heritage speakers in their classrooms are not so surprising:
“They intimidate the other students because they think they know everything.”
“They make fun of the language in the book and say it’s not right.”
“They use only slang.”
“I’m not trained to teach reading.”
But if heritage learners present us with new problems, these are problems that we have no choice but to solve. Even a glance at a demographic map makes it clear that most foreign language teachers will likely teach in areas with a number of native speakers of the language. A report from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that one in five students in the public schools is Hispanic and that proportion is expected to grow through the next few decades. Naturally, the matter of what to do with heritage speakers is not limited to Spanish instruction: a page on the National Heritage Language Resource Center “Demographic Tools for Heritage Language Instructors” offers access to maps from the U.S. Census, the MLA Language Map and websites from state departments of education that show what languages other than English are spoken in various regions of the United States. Whether we teach French, Arabic or Chinese, we might well find ourselves grappling with different pedagogical needs than those of the L2 learners we were trained to work with.
And yet, for all the difficulties that arise with teaching heritage learners or even native speakers, I can’t help but feel, that as a profession, we can be pleased that these learners are offering us a chance we’ve waited for a long time: the opportunity to showcase the many advantages of learning another language, of being bilingual, of having a viewpoint formed in part by influences that do something other than just echo back our own cultural values. (If you need to be newly inspired about how valuable what you’re teaching is, check out “Find out what research shows about language learning!” through the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages).
The training the majority of us have received has, however, been directed toward the second language learner, and that fact continues to make teaching heritage and native speakers challenging on the good days, exhausting the majority of the time. While some textbooks attempt to shoehorn in activities for heritage learners amongst units devised originally for L2 learners, other things are needed:
--Diagnostic tests paired with activities to develop students’ skills in decoding the phonetic system and reading competently.
--Readily available online units that address students’ need to affirm their identity as active participants in this country as well as their country of origin.
--Texts that offer teachers materials and guidelines for developing useful academic skills in their other language, skills like debate, argumentation, analysis and synthesis of texts.
--Annotated literary texts that offer glosses in the native language rather than in English.
--Activities, whether in textbooks, ancillaries, or websites available online after the purchase of a text, that encourage students to see their experience of moving between two or more languages as the fascinating part of history that gave us virtually all the languages we speak today. In short, rather than chastise a kid for speaking a combination of languages, encourage that student to analyze what she is doing when she adds two words from different languages together, like what her forebears did when they linked Arabic to Latin, Arawak to Spanish or Tupi-Guaraní to Portuguese.
--Standards that address the particular needs of heritage learners and their desire to hold on to something that is rightfully their patrimony.
--Methods classes that take into account the reality that teachers face in the public schools.
--Frank discussions and rigorous research about what sort of grammar study benefits our heritage language learners.
--Activities that show speakers of Romance Languages how to leverage their knowledge into better scores like the SAT.
Naturally, teachers will and have been struggling to put together these materials themselves. Listservs like FLTeach.org and social networking sites like http://teachingsns.ning.com/ demonstrate that teachers are willing to compare notes, to share their successes, and, even though the support sometimes seems lacking, to teach heritage and native speakers the languages we all cherish. For all the limitations and challenges of native speaker classes, I would still rather have the interaction, the exchange and the work of teaching heritage speakers.
Speaking the language of success: Advertising how good your students are in their native or heritage language By Belinda Sauret, September/October 2008
“¿Cofo mofo esfe tafa?” the two girls ask me, giggling, their hands propping them up as they lean towards me over on my desk.
“¿Cómo?” I reply, looking up from a stack of dictations.
“¿Cofo mofo esfe tafa?”
Oh right, I finally recognize the word game, making a new syllable using the same vowel as the previous syllable, but replacing the consonant with “f”. I was never very good at this, or at Pig Latin, the English equivalent, either. Even spelling aloud to keep little children from understanding what they’re getting for Christmas leaves me digging in my purse to find pencil and paper.
“Don’t worry, miss, it’s just the mojadation,” another student tells me after I roll my eyes at student antics in the hall. “The mojadation,” she continues, “you know, like mojados,” (wetbacks). I should have known what she meant, I think, since it’s not the first time this girl has made clever combinations of words in Spanish with suffixes in English.
Watching a video of a colleague’s English class for second-language learners, I have to laugh out loud when I realize why a student suddenly seems to find one English-language vocabulary word, “mock” endlessly amusing. He’s paired the word “mock” with the Spanish word “moco” (snot) for his own verbal wordplay. And there he sits in class, seeming to repeat the vocabulary word, but always adding on the “o”.
The playfulness and flexibility with language that these students demonstrate is, of course, a natural result of their abilities in language, but I find myself unable to articulate to my colleagues the wit our students have demonstrated. I can’t help but wonder, too, how I will get this across to post-secondary admissions officers when the time comes for me to write letters of recommendation. “Student X shows great ability in Spanish Pig Latin, code-switching and puns” will probably not be the remark that gets these kids the big scholarship money.
And yet I know that these games are the light-hearted manifestation of some real linguistic skills. So, I draw students into using their language abilities in contests and classes: essay competitions, rigorous language courses, quiz bowls, and competitive tests give faculty and administrators an idea of the depth of the abilities these youngsters have in language, even before they can manifest these skills in English.
I have a simple motto for this effort: Make them proud. The ambiguity of the slogan is purposeful. Make who proud? Lots of people.
Make the kids proud to see that their abilities are real. When someone outside the school sends them medals or certificates or gives them AP or IB credit, that validation is invaluable.
Make the counselors proud. Some of our counselors hesitated to put students in AP or IB classes and thereby set the students up for failure, but they have eagerly changed their views after seeing that even kids from a low socio-economic level can succeed on these tests.
Make the principals proud. When the local school reporter prints an article with pictures of students who have earned the highest marks possible on an essay contest, administrators can point to the success of their school.
And at the district level, the superintendent made one of the benchmarks of progress for our district last year, an increase in student achievement on a variety of markers, one of them the AP test. My students who passed the AP Spanish language test and the AP Spanish literature test helped the administrator reach that county-level goal.
I use whatever competition is available, including a county-level literary competition, but here are some that are available across the country:
The National Spanish Exam, sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, provides practice versions online, and the exam itself is conducted through the www.nationalspanishexam.org website. State level winners receive very nice medals, and the organizers have been very conscientious about offering a variety of levels for heritage speakers as well as for second-language learners.
Like many chapters of the AATSP, Georgia’s offers a composition contest. Judges measure a student’s writing against a rubric rather than making this an outright competition, and for that reason, many students with real abilities can be recognized and rewarded. Administrators allowed us to put the names of the three highest scorers on the large sign in front of the school, and all the names of the successful participants appeared on the screen in the cafeteria during lunch.
The College Board’s Advanced Placement classes in Spanish Language and Spanish Literature give students a chance to try out college classwork without having to pay college tuition. Additionally, because most people perceive a certain cachet in the AP brand, they’re impressed even before I tell them that the Spanish Language test requires students to do far more than recognize extensive vocabulary and manage complex grammatical structures. They must also synthesize written and spoken texts in order to prepare an essay and an oral presentation. Naturally, those students who do well on the exam may also receive college credit when they do enroll in higher education, but the experience of taking a demanding subject exam may teach the student more than does the receipt of credit.
And now, since my school is a newly-minted International Baccalaureate World School, we are also able to offer a bilingual IB diploma to those students who successfully complete the program and take their A1 (literature studied in their mother tongue) class in Spanish. (www.ibo.org)
Starting this year, we’ll offer students the chance to participate in the Sociedad honoraria hispánica, and, with a little luck, students’ participation in a bilingual literacy program between the high school and one the local elementary high school will garner them some attention in the local press.
I can happily natter on to classes and colleagues about the value of bilingualism for future careers, for the economy, even for its apparent defense against Alzheimers, but since we all live fenced in by the limits of the present moment, of this day, of this school year, I focus first on how valuable being bilingual is right now. And yet, in this school as in most, the truly critical language of perceived success is English. This one fact means that I will finally use my students’ success in Spanish as proof that they will be able to succeed in English. We know that linguistic skills transfer across languages, so our students who can synthesize, compose and comprehend complex texts in one language will eventually employ these skills as they further their studies, in all likelihood, in English. Ultimately, my students’ academic success will be measured in English, even though the language that got them most of the way there may well have been Spanish.
Using the I-Search to promote Student Investigation Belinda A. Sauret, Ph.D.
What do these research topics have in common?
Pombal and the Jesuits: A decade of conflict
Gratuitous se in Mexican colloquial speech: A longitudinal study
Saramago in translation
They all fascinate me and reduce my students to glazed-over stupor. It's not always easy to find topics to interest and inspire students, and if I let them choose their own topics, I'm likely to read a lot of narrative.
As it turns out some of the best student writing that I’ve received has come in the form of personal accounts with titles like "How I felt when I left my friends in Guanajuato," "What it’s like to learn English," or "What I miss most about Monterrey," but I really can’t limit instruction to just narrative forms. Other modes are necessary but a bit more difficult to incorporate into class, especially when the textbooks we use are focused on all things literary.
However, last spring when a colleague presented a talk about the I-Search, I felt that I had found a method that would allow me to combine the motivational power of affect with some real student research, and even some expansion into a more academic mode of discourse. The I-search requires rigorous foot-noting and crediting of sources, with the advantage that each teacher’s requirements can be adjusted to demand more or less academic reading. The crux of the process is that students identify real questions that matter to them. Students express these in terms of problems to solve; the instructions direct them specifically to questions words like how, which or why.
The version that I’ve included shows the first few steps of my own I-search. It only seemed fair, since I was asking them to be forthcoming about their interests and concerns, that I do the same. I told them about my sister’s diabetes and how I was really in the dark about meals to prepare for her, what snacks to make available, in short, how to celebrate the holidays among the hypoglycemic. My students rewarded my small confession (although they asked first if my sister really has diabetes) with their own genuine concerns: "How can I help my mother grow roses? She never could in México, but here we might have a better chance." Another posed a legal question for himself: "How can you clear a criminal record in El Salvador in order to get a green card in the U.S?" And others had health concerns like my own: "How can I help my dad so he won’t faint in the kitchen from diabetes?"
I had the best results when I asked the students to turn in each step at a time, checking to be sure that my expectations were clear and that students were complying with them. In that way I was able to head off questions like "Why is Diego Maradona the best soccer player that has ever lived?" Even for that student the question was not altogether pressing and it certainly didn't meet the test of allowing a student to solve a problem.
My first forays in using the I-Search have been successful, but I believe that the next time I will encourage students to stay within a particular topic: science and health may well hold their attention; we could comply a list of Spanish-language websites and library resources that are appropriate. Topics like diabetes and a related topic such as the growing incidence of obesity would allow us to retain the interest in the immediate and personal, but would also encourage students to see some of these problems in terms of community.
One of the best things about the I-Search is the requirement that students react to the information that they read and compare it with their previous knowledge or with other sources. This directs students to draw their own conclusions about what sources are reliable and what sources are contradicted by other publications. Following is a brief list of student-approved resources.
Some useful online resources.
"(Spanish for Native Speakers) SNS curricula and practices should be configured to: 1) support Spanish-English biliteracy, 2) support and facilitate learning across the curriculum, 3) socialize Latino students and parents to the American system of education, and 4) marshal the resources of students’ home cultures to advance the educational and social needs of Latino youth."
In her article in the Heritage Language Journal, "Spanish-for-native-speaker Matters: Narrowing the Latino Achievement Gap through Spanish Language Instruction" (http://www.international.ucla.edu/languages/heritagelanguages/journal/article.asp?parentid=60202) Carreira cites the very high drop out rate among Hispanic youth, especially among those with few years of schooling in the U.S. She further posits what students familiar with the American school system already know, that taking classes in higher math is positively associated with "increased postsecondary opportunity."
It’s not that I’m not up for a challenge or even that I disagree with María Carreira. I’m willing to try to incorporate Social Science learning objectives or some of those from English language arts into my lessons, but, when it comes to math….when it comes to mathematics, I find myself looking dolefully at the display I pass every morning, the one that proclaims "Mathematics is the universal language!" I suppose it’s a lovely sentiment, but when see that declaration I can’t help feeling that I must be a little hard of hearing and have a speech impediment too, one that shows up, not in English, not in Spanish, but only in that "universal" language.
Still, even if there’s no denying that I stutter when I speak numbers, (certainly not the only time I stammer in front of a class), I have taken some initial steps in making my students more comfortable with the use of figures. The activities that follow are ones that I’ve used in an effort to give my students some useful experience in mathematics. Please note that I’m not teaching equations or proofs or the finding of square roots. However, these activities do encourage students to employ facts or ideas expressed in mathematical terms to understand a point, to make an argument convincing or, when I’m really lucky, to ask a truly good question.
Given my own training and interests I prefer to deal with mathematics from the point of view of accomplishments, discoveries, and cultural pride. This series of activities available on the RedEscolar website combines mathematics with a topic of interest to my Mexican and Central American students: pre-Columbian cultures. The second and third "etapas" of "Tlacuilos y pergaminos" combine history, archaeology and mathematics. These activities offer the chance to talk about the Maya number system, which counts numbers from bottom to top instead of from left to right, and to consider a few simple implications of the base 20 system. One activity prompted good discussion, even from students who didn’t think they were following what was going on. The authors had students put the names and the associated images of the days in standard, modern calendars. Some of them protested, "But where do we start?" and "But Monday doesn’t have the same name both times." This gave us a chance to talk about how ingrained are the ideas of base ten and of dividing the calendar into seven-day weeks and into months.
Tim Pelkofer’s very nicely thought-out lessons on using cartograms (a sort of modified map) help students demonstrate their understanding of the differences between the demographic statistics of nations in the Americas. Although I assign the first statistic, population, students choose the second data set since their choices reflect what’s on their minds. A Colombian student picked the proportion of GDP expended on the military, several girls charted fertility rates, and others looked at unemployment rates or numbers of doctors or nurses per 1000 inhabitants in their maps. Mr. Pelkofer lists a number of excellent resources, but since I prefer to offer my students data presented in Spanish and, preferably, from Spanish-language sources, they first search out their data on this site from Uruguay: http://www.guiadelmundo.org.uy/cd/index.html The mathematics portion of this comes in when students have to determine how to make quantities on a chart comprehensible in terms of colored blocks on graph paper. Some statistics require some selectivity or clever content organization. One student, for example, opted to compare the average number of calories consumed in different countries, but since the range in the Americas was from 3,770 in the U.S. to 2,090 in Haiti, she elected to present on the cartogram only the number of calories above 2,000. In that way, the distinction between the countries is far more dramatic. Haiti’s spot on the map then, with each square standing as 10 calories over 2000, took up nine squares, whereas the representation of the States used 177 squares. As you might suspect, this takes more than one sheet of graph paper since students must arrange the information so that the countries are shown bordering their geographic neighbors.
These cartograms can be very colorful and make a good classroom display as well as a good basis for classroom presentations and discussions. One of the best discussions arose around a statistic that my students simply refused to believe: one website claimed that Mexico has a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. "Then what are we doing here? Let’s go home," quipped one of my more recent arrivals.
My students have been working as tutors for students in a local elementary school. While my primary goal is to show both age groups that reading aloud together can be great fun, I’ve actually seen better and more attentive participation when we use Mario Ramos Rodríguez’ website of lively, online practice involving various academic skills. Because my two classes are working with fifth and second graders, the practice activities involve multiplication tables, but the website also includes explanations, practice exercises and sample tests on topics such as adding dissimilar fractions, finding square roots, the capital cities of Europe and even parts of the body.
"La Ola Latina: Como los hispanos elegirán al próximo presidente de los Estados Unidos" (The Latin Wave: How hispanics will elect the next president of the United States) by Jorge Ramos
Available for download at Audible.com
At least during the remainder of this election year, students will be interested in Ramos’ book, especially given that after the colon, Ramos includes "how Hispanics will elect the next president of the United States."
While statistics are certainly not the central point of Ramos’ accessible volume, the journalist does use a number of them to make his points about the consequences of the George W. Bush campaign paying close attention to the interests of Hispanics by speaking in Spanish on occasion and using advertisements that reflect Hispanic values. I ask students to note down the numbers Ramos uses as a means of having them focus on connected discourse. Students outline Ramos’ arguments, citing the numbers he used to make his points.
Naturally, I will never be a math teacher, but I believe that these activities can contribute to increasing students’ comfort level with searching out, using and even being skeptical about the use of numbers. And together, we may meet some of the goals Carreira views as necessary to improved opportunities.
I would like to invite readers to submit their own ideas for practicing mathematics in SNS classes. Please send your suggestions to Jamie Lepore Wright at meilian.jamieATgmailDOTcom.
Use of AP Chinese Language and Culture exam with heritage learners: Reports from the ‘first round’ By Jamie Lepore Wright, Editor
Here at Root Words we are currently running a series of articles on the use of AP language tests with heritage populations. Last month, our columnist Dr. Belinda Sauret described how the AP Spanish language test is being used for middle school students in some school districts in Texas
For this month’s article, I interviewed two individuals in the Chinese language teaching field who have been involved in the development and administration of the AP Chinese Language and Culture test. I was primarily interested in investigating how the question of heritage learners of Chinese has been addressed in the creation and implementation of this test, keeping in mind the four questions that Meg Malone, Senior Testing Associate with the Center for Applied Linguistics suggests that anyone ask her or himself when choosing a test to use with their students:
For what purpose was the test (or tests) developed?
On what population was the test validated?
What are the intended uses of the test, according to the test publisher?
What does the test publisher/developer have to say about this new use?
The AP Chinese Language and Culture test is one of the newest language tests developed by the College Board. The first cohort of students took the test in the spring of 2007. Students can choose to use either traditional or simplified characters to write their essay responses.
Jianhua Bai is Professor of Chinese at Kenyon College and Director of the Chinese School, Middlebury College. Professor Bai served as the chair of the AP Chinese Language and Culture Development Committee. The other individual interviewed for this article, who requested to remain anonymous, is a Chinese language teacher who is familiar with the administration of the AP Chinese Language and Culture test.
The test was initially developed for foreign language students. In her written response to my questions, Professor Bai explained that the main goals for the AP Chinese Language and Culture test and program are to enhance K-16 articulation of Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL), provide more support in terms of curriculum development, professional development, and instructional resources, and “encourage CFL learners to start their learning of Chinese is the early grades, which is essential for producing the urgently-needed professionals who can function professionally in CFL.”
Both Professor Bai and the anonymous teacher mentioned that many heritage students take the test. Professor Bai reported that “90%” of the students who sat for the first test in 2007 were heritage students and “As can be predicted statistics [from] the first round of AP exam results show that heritage learners do better than non-heritage learners.” Professor Bai referred me to the test website and a set of questions that help identify heritage learners (although the anonymous teacher was clear that scoring was not based on students’ background). On a recent visit to the College Board’s webpage for the test, I was unable to find these questions.
In answer to Question 2, according to Professor Bai, the test was validated on non-heritage college students who had studied Chinese for four semesters. Both he and the anonymous teacher agreed that this did not pose a problem for having heritage students take the test. Professor Bai mentioned the fact that the test is criterion-referenced, not norm-referenced. This means that the assessment of test-takers’ performance is based on their ability to perform a set of skills, and not related to how their performance compares to that of other test takers. Furthermore, as the anonymous teacher said, “I don’t see a problem with it [e.g., heritage students taking the test] as long as the College Board doesn’t have a problem [with it].” This person did say that he knew of Chinese heritage schools that were offering AP Chinese Language and Culture, but “not authorized by the College Board.”
In terms of grading and scoring the exam, the anonymous teacher asserted that it was unimportant whether a student was heritage or not, since scoring is based on external answers, and not on students’ background. This person’s primary concern was that the exam was administered fairly, “we only see the ID number, we have no idea whether a student is heritage or non-heritage … we don’t discriminate.” However, this person did say that “most of the time we can guess whether a student is native or not, but not always.”
Concerning student motivation, their comments echoed those in Dr. Sauret’s article, viewing the test as a way for students to demonstrate their proficiency, citing college credit as an incentive.
Given that about 90% of the first cohort to take the test were heritage, some outstanding questions remain:
How are these heritage students defined by the College Board, in reporting such statistics?
From a testing perspective, should these students be tested in a different way? (answers to Questions 3 and 4 from earlier would be helpful in determining this)
How are these students performing in college classes? In other words, to what extent has the goal of K-16 articulation been successful, with respect to heritage students?
As always, we welcome your comments and questions. In particular, if you and your school use an AP language test with heritage or native students or are considering this, please write to the editor, Jamie Lepore Wright, at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to see the online resources for the AP Chinese exam, go to this page.
Is Advanced Placement Spanish Language a suitable curriculum for Spanish for Native Speakers students in middle and high school? By Belinda Sauret
This question can be approached from a purely a grammatical point of view: while some study of grammar may help students tease apart the logic of a language that is not their own, for native speakers the grammar exercises found in second-language acquisition texts do not necessarily improve or eliminate non-standard usage. However, this AP test seems to reward competent use of grammatical structures rather than requiring that students name tenses or recognize the parts of speech.
An alternative perspective is the argument that the AP Spanish Language program teaches students several skills that encompass both heritage and the host culture languages: students must read accurately, listen with a purpose and synthesize texts well enough to write or give an oral presentation that is thoroughly thought out and logically structured.
Given the positive public opinion of Advanced Placement, good scores on AP tests may cast a positive light on the school system, and what’s more, strong scores may make my students look good to colleges, if I can talk my students into applying to college. Getting a student to become the first one in a family to go to college is a laudable achievement under the best of circumstances, but undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition in my state, so the hurdle is economic as well as academic. Once a student recognizes that more interesting and better remunerated work awaits after earning a four year degree, that young person can use AP to reduce college costs and the time spent to secure a B.A. or a B.S.
And yet, despite all those strong arguments, I hesitate to put any student into a situation where what awaits is just "un fracaso más" (one more failure) as a colleague at the AP Spanish Literature Workshop before the ACTFL conference in San Antonio expressed it.
What could really convince me that the AP Spanish Language test can benefit my students is the successful experience of others. In my search for an answer to my question, I found three emphatic answers. The first, a "yes" came without my even asking the question. In April, 2007, I participated in an online conference session given by Dr. Kim Potowski, director of the Spanish for Native Speakers program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Potowski mentioned encouraging teachers in the Chicago Public Schools to direct Hispanic students to take the AP Spanish Language tests. If those students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, they were also entitled to take the AP test for just $5.00, a tiny cost when the benefits of success are so high: at U of Illinois at Chicago a student earning a 3 is placed into Spanish 201, a writing class. Those who earn a 4 or a 5 start their sequence in Spanish 210, a literature course.
My second "yes" came from Mrs. Rosa de Llano, who directed the workshop for AP Spanish Literature teachers prior to the ACTFL conference in San Antonio. Her successful, decades-long program includes both the AP Spanish Language program and the AP Spanish Literature course and is made up almost exclusively of native or heritage speakers of Spanish. I found particularly impressive Ms. de Llano’s use of folk literature and music such as corridos as a way to connect local, familial use of the Spanish language to more international forms. I believe this is also a way to overcome the commonly held notion that the Spanish-speaking population in our area speaks merely a "dialect" of Spanish, not the "pure" or even "literary" variety of the language found in textbooks.
Far and away the most resounding "yes" came from María Treviño of the Texas Education Agency. Because most students and their parents make decisions about their academic futures before they even start high school, and because the high school drop out rate for Hispanic students is high, Treviño elected to take AP Spanish Language to middle school. Treviño’s program makes sure that students are suitable for the program: students rate themselves in a survey that asks about their mastery of Spanish and then they take a placement test as well. Students take the AP Spanish language course and the test. The results amazed me. Fully 95% of students earn a score of 3, 4 or 5, (shortly after the recent changes in the AP Spanish Language format, the Texas Education Agency saw a dramatic drop in scores to 78% of the total. After teachers adapted their methods to the new requirements, the scores returned to their earlier levels), but what makes Ms. Treviño beam even more are the survey results that show an impact on student lives well beyond earning college credit: Ms. Treviño directs our attention to survey data on HYPERLINK "http://www.teamiddleschoolspanish.org". (See the "Executive Summary" describing pass rates and surveys that address other improvements that correlate with students’ participation in this program).
Researchers found an increase in the number of other AP classes that students in this demographic take, an increase in self-esteem, and especially a rise in big goals, particularly in aspiring to advanced degrees. Treviño does say that the methodology used by teachers differs from that used for second language learners, but the AP objectives are so generic that she sees no contradiction in using a program originally designed for non-native speakers as a curriculum for native or heritage learners. The remarkable success of this program surely argues in favor of her logic.
The final and most convincing argument for me is that AP offers a widely-recognized means for Hispanic students to earn college credit, without paying tuition and without leaving home to attend college. Factoring those realities with some others, i.e., a high Hispanic dropout rate, sizeable poverty rates in this population and public institutions of higher learning that charge the undocumented among the Latino student population increased tuition rates (as high as 300% what others pay), I confess that I’m a bit awe-struck by what I see as a major leg-up, psychologically, economically and academically that good AP scores can offer these students.
In the final analysis though, the question might simply need reformulating: does "suitable" mean that a curriculum advances a student’s understanding, use and appreciation of his own language or should we take "suitable" to mean that the curriculum serves as a catalyst for student achievement in many academic areas? Could one program possibly accomplish both?
My school district has begun offering AP Spanish Language to native speaker students and is looking into expanding the program. We have, of course, benefited from the experience that others have shared with us. I’ll keep you posted once we have our own outcomes to report.
Editor’s Note:We ought to approach these results with caution, given that the AP language tests were not originally designed for this type of student (middle school). I think that while it is important to look at test results and other outcomes, it is not sufficient when we are attempting to answer the question of whether a test is suitable for a particular group. J. Lepore Wright
Heritage Learners - Can they compete, too? By Belinda A. Sauret, Ph.D.
"Esta sola es la ventaja del mandar, poder hacer más bien que todos."
The sole advantage of power is that you can do more good.
Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, 1647
The 17th century Jesuit’s words have applications even for Heritage Language classes. In the aphorism above he limits the benefits of power to just one: being able to do more good than anyone else. I suggest that this applies to my colleagues at the college level in the context of the National Standard of Communication: Presentation, or to anyone who directs competitions in languages for K-12 students.
I mentioned in my first contribution to this column how grateful I am to the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese for their National Spanish Exam. This online test allows my students in Spanish for Native Speakers to compete on the state and national level against other bilingual students. The state organization, GA-AATSP, also holds an essay contest that offers categories of competition for students who are not true beginners.
What fabulous support for classroom teachers! These contests allow students to see that it’s not just me in my classroom insisting that standard international spelling and grammar allow us to communicate more effectively, that accents inform readers about meaning rather than merely decorating a word, or that expanding vocabulary can strengthen a speaker’s, or a writer’s, impact.
At this point I can only hope that I haven’t overlooked another aphorism of Gracián’s that says something like "Only an ingrate says ‘thank-you’ and immediately asks for more."
Naturally, the standard Communication: Presentation involves more than writing. Other active verbs like perform, present, participate, produce, give, describe, and summarize, cozy up to nouns like debates, speeches, poetry, plays, weather forecasts, skits, and stories. I can do lots of these in class. My students have successfully presented skits, debated, and performed stories.
But a public performance is parallel to publication for writing. The work always seems to matter more if more people are receiving it: listening, reading, even judging. Two sorts of competition are available to foreign language teachers in my district. A local college offers an all-day event, and the foreign language teachers in our district hold a World Language Bowl. Because both these affairs were conceived as practice for students acquiring a second language, native speakers of the target languages aren’t included in the festivities. As a matter of fact, the organizers of both contests have clearly stated their preference that native speakers not compete. I’m quite certain that no animosity toward these students is to blame.
And yet, animosity or no, the result is still the same: the Spanish for Native Speakers students have no spoken contests, can develop no friendly rivalry with their counterparts from other schools, and don’t have the chance of bringing home a trophy to display in the awards case.
Surely we are losing an opportunity here. Since every good language teacher strives to offer students as much comprehensible input as possible, why not use a competition between native speakers as a chance to let beginners hear more advanced use of the language? Students with advanced skills can debate, participate in impromptu speeches, or give oral interpretations of great works of literature as other students follow along. Additionally, all these are skills within the Communication: Presentation standard, and they also fall nicely within the requirements of the Advanced Placement Spanish Language test. Students are, after all, required to read, listen, synthesize, and present aloud their conclusions about the texts they have been asked to examine. (In the next entry in this column we will look specifically at the AP Language classes as a potential curriculum for Native or Heritage speakers.)
The colleges hosting these competitions would have the perfect opportunity to observe the abilities of promising, dedicated and able students. What college or university does not hope to attract the best students? What better way to do this than to get them on campus for competitive events? My state never graduates enough foreign language teachers to fill the needs in the public schools, and yet, we seem bent on ignoring these potential foreign language teachers who are already bilingual and bicultural. The skills developed in these competitions could allow these students to show abilities suitable for other professions as well: law, law enforcement, medicine, business; all these areas are actively looking for bilingual and bicultural students who can contribute to these fields.
The power "to do more good" lies with faculty and administration at colleges and universities, who have the means to impact the state of the profession. I believe that much more good, for both the schools and the public, can be done by actively including heritage learners in competitive language events.
A collaborative project between AATSP, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and the National Foreign Language Center produced materials geared to heritage learners of Spanish. REACH, http://www.nflc.org/reach/, in an online resource for teachers. You can also download the brochure: "Why Start and Maintain an SNS Program?".
Teaching Heritage Learners: Root Words By Jamie Lepore Wright, Editor
This month our regular contributor Belinda Sauret offers a personal anecdote related to the theme of this month’s Language Resource: How to incorporate Communication: Interpretive into the heritage or native speaker classroom. Although Dr. Sauret’s anecdote is about Spanish, her suggestions can be applied to the teaching of other heritage languages as well.
If you have any suggestions for activities related to the standard, Communication: presentational, please email them to Jamie Wright at email@example.com
In related news, through a Title VI grant, the National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC) is conducting a national survey of heritage language learners. This survey, the first of its kind, aims to document the linguistic habits, goals, and attitudes of college-level heritage language students from all languages. The information obtained will inform the design of curricula, materials, and methodologies. A report on the 1150 responses collected during the 06-07 academic year is now available at
The project researchers are still looking for heritage language students to fill out the survey. If at all possible, students should fill out the survey during class in a computer lab under the supervision of an instructor. This should take no more than 15-20 minutes. The directions to the survey are as follows:
How do I meet the Standards with my students who can’t read, can’t spell, and yet think they’re fluent? by Belinda A. Sauret, Ph.D.
Did I just see what I wanted to see or was the woman in front of me mirroring all the notions that I had started out with in August, 2006, when I set out to found a Spanish for Native Speakers program at my high school?
"They don’t know how to spell anything," she sighed, referring to her SNS students.
"They say ‘rompido’ and ‘escribido.’ They don’t know the names of any of the verb tenses. They confuse Spanish phonetics with English. The textbook the district uses is awful."
I jumped in to help: "Use these audio books, have students act out scenes and conversations, draw, translate, outline …"
She raised her eyebrows high, very high over her pale blue eyes, "But I want to have a goal to accomplish."
"What sort of a goal?" I asked.
She squirmed, but actually, I did too. My question seemed a little unfair since I started out with such an ephemeral notion of my own goals.
So I told her about long class periods on the block schedule having my students assess grammar and uncover spelling errors. The pupils found the material neither inspiring nor accessible, and I couldn’t detect any improvement in their writing or their dictations. Finally, I was frustrated and they were dizzy at the futility of it all, so one of them pleaded, "Señora, couldn’t we just read a story?"
I relented, unwilling to take on a classroom mutiny. So we read, aloud and silently; we acted out scenes from novels, we interpreted with drawings, dressed as characters, and wrote, haltingly to be sure, about metaphor and simile. We read about immigration to Spain from Africa, we read haiku in Spanish, we read about how pre-Columbian groups made writing materials. We read and we wrote in journals and we talked about what we read. We read from journalistic, didactic, comic and melodramatic sources. And after reluctantly putting aside the less workable goals of perfecting spelling and grammar through direct instruction and drill, I came across a far better goal: to improve their technical skills such as spelling on the sly, while encouraging the development of their cultural identity, their knowledge and their reading comprehension. For a range of ideas on how to do this, I still turn to the 5C’s, specifically to the section entitled Communication: Interpretive.
My colleague knitted her eyebrows together. "Some of my students can't read."
As my colleague and I have both discovered, students in Native Speaker or Heritage Language classes resist pigeon-holing: some recent arrivals prefer the target language while other students have heard the target language all their lives but are nonetheless English-dominant. As a result, the language skills between the two languages may range from English dominant, to orally proficient but not literate in the heritage language to fully literate in the heritage language. Of the 5C’s, communication: interpretive might well offer the liveliest options for differentiating activities for the varied levels of experiences and abilities.
As we looked over some of the activities here, she remarked, "Some of these don't really require that much preparation, do they?"
And she's right. Here are some suggestions of communication: interpretive activities that you can use with your students, followed by an explanation:
Sequencing events of a narrative
Synthesis and presentation
Students can work in teams of mixed proficiency to translate native language works. The English-dominant students have the opportunity to make a contribution to the effort. While the target language-dominant kids might have a better initial comprehension of the work, the English-dominant kids can make sure that syntax actually sounds like English. The two groups will negotiate meaning to arrive at a new version that is true to the original yet sounds like it could have been written in English. Translation offers a natural opportunity to compare and contrast structures of individual words and of synthesis, to search out cognates and to deduce rules from those observations. A recent entry in the Spanish-language educational website, Redescolar (redescolar.ilce.edu.mx) selected poems by Pablo Neruda for reading and discussion. This can be carried out with visual aids that emphasize key images or literary tropes.
Sequencing events of a narrative
Using pictures, even stick drawings, offers a wide range of differentiated activities. Less proficient students might first match the pictures to the portions of the text that they depict. More fluent students could supply new captions, consistent with the text, that refer to the action. Others could also take the text and produce their own sketches to reflect what they have understood in the text.
These activities are simple to construct and can review certain critical points of phonetics or spelling while continuing the story at hand. I have introduced a new chapter in this way, leaving critical information blank and having students fill it in during the dictation. I have also focused on certain syllables that students spell inconsistently such as gue/güe or forms of the verb ir.
I like a three-part response system that I've adapted from work by Dennis Parker to make sure that students share ideas. Students respond to a simple question like "What advice would you give to Lazarillo?" During the first five minutes of the activity, they write down three ideas in their journals, then they take a couple of minutes to turn to a neighbor to share ideas. We follow this up by having one student volunteer record the list of answers on the board. In order to recognize all students' contributions (even those who are still too unnerved to speak aloud in front of the class), I ask after each new idea is posted, "Who else included that?" Inevitably lots of students will raise their hands happily. Finally, I have the students write a full response to the question. Because the point is to encourage expression in the target language, I correct form for this activity, but grade for participation and content. Response journals make for fascinating reading and serve as evidence of student progress.
While this activity does require everyone to speak aloud, it also differentiates nicely. More proficient students can write and perform their own skits. But even the less skilled or less confident can participate by taking a published legend, short story, one-act play or conversation from a larger work and performing it. The students can demonstrate their understanding by using suitable costuming, props, tone, and by following all the stage directions.
Redescolar (www.redescolar.ilce.edu.mx) offers students the chance to "publish" their work by writing to other students in response to readings. Students may also react to the comments made by youngsters in Spain, Ecuador, Mexico and other places where Spanish is spoken.
Synthesis and presentation
Articles from Spanish-language newspapers (you can easily access these on www.todalaprensa.com) on a single theme or on various related topics offer students the chance to work together. Maybe it’s a little ghoulish, but I recently grouped students into fours to read about a notorious crime. Each read an article from a target language paper about an aspect of the crime and then reported to the other group members about the article (The students themselves divided up the articles so that the less-skilled students were responsible for the shorter articles. They also helped each other with difficult passages.). Together, the group established a theory about the culprit and the motive and devised a brief presentation to defend their choice. This sort of synthesis, whether turned in on paper or presented orally before the class, is also consistent with the requirements of AP Language courses and figures prominently in the profile of the International Baccalaureate learner.
I’ll know in a couple of months whether I convinced my colleague to structure her classes around enjoyable reading using these interpretive activities. My hope is that when I see her at that next district meeting, she’ll tell me about the fascinating reading she and her students have been doing. I’ll interpret any such remark as our having successfully communicated.
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Founding a high school Spanish for Native Speakers program -Belinda A. Sauret, Ph.D., Oakwood, Georgia
Our September 2007 article was written by Belinda Sauret, a high school Spanish teacher in Oakwood, Georgia. Dr. Sauret writes of her experiences developing a Spanish for Native Speakers program at her high school last year, and particularly of the challenge of finding and selecting appropriate materials for her students and how she addressed this issue. Some of her best finds for materials are featured in her article.
Imagine that you are in this situation: As the school year starts you are looking forward to teaching the opening year of the Spanish for Native Speakers classes, the first in your school that is 36% Hispanic. When you go to the bookroom, you find no textbooks on the foreign language shelves other than those for beginners. The answer to the question you are formulating is already apparent in the assistant principal’s deeply furrowed brow as she approaches you: You have no textbooks, and the publishing house can’t say when they’ll be able to deliver. Oh, and, by the way, welcome back. Faced with this dilemma, there are options available to you, but each poses its own challenges. While you have spent more than a decade teaching Spanish for beginners and have scads of activities for helping students learn vocabulary and the basics of grammar, you realize that these activities won’t advance these students’ skills and knowledge one bit. You have access to the Mexican curriculum for grades one through eight, but these texts are too easy for some students and too familiar for others. You have taught Heritage language Spanish classes at the college level, and yet, since those students are all highly literate, and the college library has numerous volumes in Spanish, the experience isn’t quite applicable to this new situation either. You want your students to engage in silent sustained reading of texts that are interesting to them but find that the library at your high school has very little in Spanish, mainly translations of great English-language works such as The Scarlet Letter and Romeo and Juliet.
If your first week had been like mine was in August, 2006, how would you respond? Would you.....
A. Ask colleagues for help? B. Engage in a thorough pre-test procedure to test your new students’ skills in reading and writing? C. Modify a service learning project to incorporate your native speaker students? D. Search out as many Internet resources as you can? E. All the above.
A. A good response, and certainly teachers from other schools provided good recommendations for textbooks to select. Unfortunately, none of those books appeared on the district’s "approved books" list, so I was unable to put their experience to good use before the end of the current five-year textbook cycle.
B. Initial writing samples, as well as reading comprehension activities and read aloud assessments, made it possible for me to judge quickly the skill levels of my students. I am very grateful for the National Spanish Exam (NSE) activities that the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) maintains on its website, www.nationalspanishexam.org. I later entered my students in the AATSP-sponsored competition which includes categories for heritage language learners.
C. In the April 2006 issue of ACTFL’s The Language Educator, I described a service learning project that involved college-level Spanish learners practicing literacy skills with Latino elementary school students. That activity has proven engaging for these students as well. Students use the Mexican curriculum and add activities that they devise such as read-alouds with the younger students. This work strengthens literacy in Spanish in both age groups and introduces all the students to the fun of reading together.
D. I found a number of excellent Internet resources that are age- and ability-appropriate for my students and only had to clear a couple of hurdles in order to be able to use them. Since my district uses an Internet control system to block objectionable material, I had to check each website on a student computer before incorporating the material into my lesson plans. In some cases, I was able to download material onto the public drive that students can access.
Several websites offered extraordinary texts and activities:
RedEscolar www.redescolar.ilce.edu.mx: Every topic that my students could possibly be interested in, from soccer to science to the Zapotec calendar, shows up on this website, complete with lesson plans and hands-on activities. Once the teacher has registered the school and the class on the website, students can participate in a moderated forum about the topics they are studying. My students especially enjoyed writing to their counterparts in Mexico, Peru and other Spanish-speaking countries about the three selections from Eduardo Galeano. The designers of this excellent website drew from the Uruguayan author’s comments on soccer, fantasy, and poverty. While I have always used the materials that are designated from secondary students, the activities for younger children will, no doubt, be engaging too. The site also includes a virtual library of poems and short stories that students find appealing. Spending time combing through this website will certainly be rewarding for any Heritage Spanish teacher.
Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes www.cervantesvirtual.com: This website includes the full text of many literary works that are in the public domain, and in some cases, an audio recording of the content as well. Of the works on the website, students found the Lazarillo de Tormes (website 1 and website 2) very helpful as well and Pepita Jiménez to be accessible, entertaining and so full of imagery that they enjoyed dressing as the characters and acting out some of the scenes. There is even a search function ("concordancia") that I had my students use for research prior to writing a character study.
Real Academia Españolawww.rae.es and the dictionary that is linked to this website are invaluable. While my school does have sets of Spanish-English dictionaries, these offer translations rather than explanations of new terms, so a student who doesn’t understand the meaning of "per cápita" is not likely to understand the translated version of the expression which shows up as "per capita."
Mexicanismos en el Aula (PDF Document): "You say ‘resistol’ and I say ‘pegamento’" could be the title of this useful list of Mexican terms with their Castillian equivalents. The author, Antonio Caballero has included two matching activities that can set the groundwork for discussing how language changes and why differences in vocabulary and idioms arise among speakers of the same language. The Spanish Ministry of Education and Science offers a number of excellent activities in its "Materiales" section, linked from this page.
E. Naturally, I used all the above, even after the textbook arrived about a quarter of the way through the semester. As I examined the newly-arrived volumes, I realized that they did not address the real problems that plagued my students. The very slim book included only a few short stories and some vague selections about geography, medicine and historical figures. The passages, heavy on English-language cognates, seemed directed toward the background knowledge of English-language beginner students, rather than students whose families speak mainly or exclusively Spanish. I looked in vain for sections about the phonetic system in Spanish, practice of irregular past participles or irregular preterits, for comparisons of different varieties of Spanish, or for studies about the contributions of pre-Columbian cultures to world civilization. I reserve this text for the occasional make-up assignment.
Since we know that, statistically speaking, Latino students are likely to be in larger, under-resourced schools, I believe that my experience is not unique. Teachers founding new Spanish for Native Speakers programs might well encounter limitations similar to the ones that greeted me last year. Additionally, Hispanic families are less likely than others to go online at home. Giving these students a chance to practice using web resources and discovering that other Spanish-speakers produce impressive and well-designed web pages contributes to positive cultural identity and develops computer skills. Finally, one of the best things any of us can do for our students is to offer them a variety of reading in their native language, just as their teachers are likely to do in English, from which they can select those things that interest them most. Not having a textbook actually served as a catalyst to introduce my students to resources that will contribute to making them avid readers.
Helping Struggling Students Become Good Language Learners By Jill Robbins and Anna Uhl Chamot
Last summer (2006) we presented an NCLRC summer institute on how to help struggling language learners through learning strategies instruction. This article presents materials developed for that institute and elaborates on how language instruction can contribute to overall learning success.
Who is the Struggling Learner?
Every teacher can identify the students who seem never to be organized; who come to class without a pen or pencil, have weak social skills, and have difficulty in following verbal instructions. They may not qualify for special education services, but are often overwhelmed by complex tasks and need to have work broken into more manageable ‘chunks.’ What can a world language teacher do to help these students be more successful?
The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach
Through our experiences with teaching learning strategies to second and foreign language learners over the past 15 years, we have learned that when students are given the chance to think and talk about how they learn, they can develop more control over their learning. We talk about this understanding of learning as their development of metacognitive knowledge. The approach develop by O’Malley and Chamot (1994) to teach strategic and metacognitive knowledge is The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), an instructional model for second and foreign language learners based on cognitive theory and research.
The goals of CALLA are for students to learn essential academic content and language and to become independent and self-regulated learners through their increasing command over a variety of strategies for learning in school. CALLA values the prior knowledge and cultural experiences that students bring into the language class, and helps them to relate this knowledge to academic learning in a new language and culture.
Goals, Motivation, and Success
What makes independent learning most effective? Independent learners have a strong goal in mind. They understand WHY they are learning the language and are thus motivated to learn. One of the most important aspects of independent learning is that LEARNERS CHOOSE their own goal, rather than having it imposed on them by outside forces. If the goal is one chosen by the learner, the motivation is said to be intrinsic, or internally generated. Intrinsic motivation is more enduring and stronger than extrinsic motivation, which describes working for someone else’s pleasure, grades, or awards.
Success in language learning is another motivating factor. When learners see that they are making progress and are able to produce or communicate in their target language, they are motivated to study further. Structuring opportunities for success in the language is an important goal for teachers to keep in mind. As a teacher, we sometimes presented material to my students that was too advanced for them, because I found simpler materials boring. I found that I needed to scale back and make activities easier so my students could complete them and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Setting Goals: Short-term vs. Long-term
Students are often not realistic in setting goals for themselves – they may say, "I want to be able to talk like a native speakers of (target language)." This is a long-term goal that is achievable after years of study, depending on the age and aptitude of the learner. A more achievable short-term goal might be, "I want to be able to talk about my job in (target language)." Helping our students to make realistic, achievable goals will help them to become more effective and independent learners. An example of an achievable goal for Arabic, for example, is, "I want to be able to greet people politely by the end of this term."
At the beginning of the school year, ask your students to write their goals for learning their target language (TL). Make sure they write a date by which they plan to have achieved the goal. Next, ask students to list the resources they will need to access as they work toward those goals. Have students brainstorm in groups to get ideas about how they can practice using the TL outside of class. Suggest the online or free resources that you are aware of for additional opportunities to listen to or read the TL. Guide struggling learners to identify only one area which they would like to focus on for a shorter period of time. For example, "I want to learn the colors in my TL by the end of this week so I can talk about clothes." At the end of the period, be sure you come back to ask the student to self-evaluate success with meeting his or her specific goal.
Teaching Language Learning Strategies
Preparation and Presentation
Once students have set their goals, they need techniques to deal with the challenges they will face in learning new material. For reading, when vocabulary is often the greatest problem, students can choose from the strategies Inferencing, Accessing Information Resources, or Transfer / Use Cognates. To teach one of these strategies, you would begin by asking what the students already do when faced with unknown vocabulary, (this is what we call the preparation ) and then model and explain how to use one of the strategies (the presentation phase. You can model by pretending to be a student and thinking aloud while working on a language task. Although this requires a bit of dramatic ability, it’s not too difficult for most teachers, who often have well-developed acting abilities see examples of thinking aloud here.
Or in the teacher’s guide for Elementary Immsersion Learning Strategies. More can be found here on teaching the presentation phase.
After you have chosen and modeled the strategy for students to use with the task, the next step is to make sure students have the chance to try it. CALLA instruction requires hands-on, inquiry-based activities in an environment of cooperative learning and constructivist creation of meaning. In its actual implementation, this may result in a noisy, somewhat chaotic classroom where students are working independently or in groups, getting up to find materials and creating displays or dramas to demonstrate what they are learning. In order to make sure that students are applying the learning strategy when they need to, you will be circulating and questioning students about what is going on in their minds as they work on the task. Another technique we have found useful is to have a poster representing the strategy, or a stuffed animal nearby, that we can point to as students work. Our colleague Carol Nezzo pointed to her mascot, "El Ratón Que Usa Referencias" to remind students writing a food order in Spanish to refer to their vocabulary list for the words they couldn’t remember.
Unfortunately, the activity of evaluation is frequently shortchanged because class time runs out; the bell is ringing and students are packing their books. But it is important enough to return to when there is enough time to allow for reflection on learning. Struggling learners especially need to be guided to monitoring their own progress accurately and checking to see if a strategy was helpful to them. If there is no time for self-evaluation after practicing a strategy, how is the learner going to know whether or not to use that strategy in the future? Self-evaluation is not completion of a quiz or an assessment to be graded. Rather, it is discussion and monitoring of the learning that took place. Teachers have found several good ways to manage this: a learner journal, an exit card consisting of statements like "I can do X now," or "I still don’t understand Y." To evaluate strategies, you can ask students "Did using inferencing help you as you read today? Can you imagine using it for other classes?"
Going far beyond traditional homework, the expansion phase asks learners to take what they have learned outside of the classroom. Find a way to connect what they are learning to their lives and cultures. Ask them to teach some of what they learned to a sibling or a parent. Ask them to interview parents for more insights into historical events or cultural practices. Students are often surprised to learn how much their parents know
struggling learners may be stimulated to achieve more through a strong connection to their lives outside of school, because they often see school in a negative light, while they have friends and interests where they can succeed outside of school. Binding the two worlds together through projects growing out of language learning can be the key to helping your struggling students achieve their goals.
Let us know how teaching strategies is working for you. Drop us a line to tell us how your students use strategies and how you are teaching them.
Chamot, A. U. (2005). CALLA: An Update. In P. Richard-Amato & A. Snow (eds.), The Multicultural Classroom. White Plains: Longman.
Chamot, A. U., Barnhardt, S., El-Dinary, P. B., & Robbins, J. (1999). The learning strategies handbook.White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.
Chamot, A. U. (1995). Implementing the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach: CALLA in Arlington, Virginia. Bilingual Research Journal, 19, 3&4: 379-394.
Chamot, A. U., & O'Malley, J. M. (1994). The CALLA handbook: How to implement the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Chamot, A.U (In Press) The Calla Handbook: Implementing the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach, White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.
Stuffed Animals as Strategy Mascots:
Animals and toys used to represent strategies help to make abstract ideas concrete. They give the teacher something to point to in the classroom that symbolizes the students’ mental processes as they learn. The stuffed animals can also reduce anxiety about language learning and provide a tactile focus for students who can benefit from it. See the Monitoring Monkey book and video on the CALLA website as the grand-daddy of the animal mascots he was developed by Diann Garnett and Jason Sizemore in Allentown, PA.
Planning and Presenting a Culture Fair in Your School By Sheila Cockey
A culture fair is a fabulous opportunity to bring your students, the school, and the community together in a fun-filled environment where everybody learns about other cultures. The planning, preparation, and presentation of such an event provides you and your students with multiple opportunities to fulfill the 5 C’s of language learning (Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, Communities) in diverse and new ways.
The purpose of a fair is to provide the public, and your students, with an opportunity to learn about other cultures in a fun and interesting way. Putting on a culture fair means that the teachers do the organizing and the students do the executing of the event. The students create the content of the fair, work at the fair helping to set up and clean up, as well as staffing the various booths.
It is important to select an exciting theme around which the culture fair will revolve. Do this in consultation with the other teachers in your building who will be working with you to bring the culture fair to fruition. In order to involve as many students as possible, try to combine the study of language and culture with fine arts, history, literature, and science. The theme you select should be broad enough to allow for enough "entries" without repetition, but focused enough to give students a direction.
There is no doubt that a culture fair will take time away from your other instructional activities, even if it is done through a club; you need to make decisions about how much time it will be. Connect the projects to what is already going to take place in class; design student projects throughout the year to feed into the fair. Tying the fair to your curriculum strengthens the curriculum and provides alternate, non-traditional ways of approaching that curriculum.
If this is to be a fundraiser, be certain to make this clear to everybody from the outset. Choose your purpose carefully in order to enlist the broadest support possible, for example, combining a local food bank with an academic endeavor. Selecting more than two beneficiaries dilutes the proceeds and may become too complicated for the return.
Prepare a working calendar and set firm deadlines. Getting an early start is imperative and I suggest that you start on the preparation as soon as classes start in the fall, if not even sooner. It takes a full year to put on a truly successful culture fair. To maximize preparation time, schedule the fair to take place in the spring, at a time when it does not conflict with other major events in the school. Make sure that you reserve the date on the school calendar before classes start and that you have reserved all of the spaces you might need. It is always much easier to cancel some of those spaces later than it is to try to talk somebody else out of using them. Don’t forget to schedule rehearsal time. On your working calendar include things such as publicity, printing of flyers, preparation of tickets, making appropriate arrangements for booths, food, setting up before and cleaning up afterwards, and security. In addition, identify dates on the calendar for when particular interim steps of a project are to be completed, as well as for the final completion of the project.
Do some follow-up on the event with your students, your administration, and through publicity outlets with the community. Perhaps you can plan a student presentation for the school board at one of their meetings; school board members always want to hear about positive things the students are doing.
The benefits to doing a fair will start to be visible right away with the enthusiasm students demonstrate. A fair provides incredibly positive publicity for the foreign language program at your school. Other faculty members see how languages connect to their curriculum. Administrators have an opportunity to understand how foreign languages support and extend the course of study offered in the school. The community learns about other countries and increases their support for foreign languages in the curriculum. In your classes, you have an alternate, exciting way for involving students in their learning. Your hard work, long days, and sleepless nights will pay off in big ways.
To summarize, here is a list of things to consider and do if you are planning a language festival in your school.
Plan a year in advance.
Reserve the date and locations on the school calendar.
Reserve the dates and locations for rehearsals.
Enlist the help of your foreign language colleagues.
Choose a theme.
Coordinate the theme with your existing curriculum.
Decide which students will be involved (Clubs? Upper level classes? All classes?).
Determine the audience.
Decide what will be there for the public. (Food? Games? Floor Shows? Theater? Exhibits? Demonstrations? Home movies?)
Will there be a charge to attend? Who benefits from this charge?
Prepare a flow chart of responsibilities and deadlines.
Include rehearsals, set up and clean up in the responsibilities flow chart.
Enlist support from other teachers in other disciplines.
Reserve all AV/media equipment for practice, rehearsal, and presentation.
Plan for redundancy (have 2 CD players when you only need 1).
Prepare a schedule of what happens when and where during the fair.
Prepare a floor plan of displays, booths, and events.
Put the schedule and floor plan in a program for the public.
Invite local dignitaries and media.
Determine how to evaluate students for their participation in the planning and execution of the fair.
Do follow-up presentations for local civic organizations and the School Board.
Evaluate the process so the next one will be even better.
Publicize. Publicize. Publicize. All year long. Before and After.
Teaching to Diversity in the Foreign Language Classroom By Anne R. Biggins and Susannah M. Givens
Classrooms across America are becoming increasingly diverse and the foreign language classroom is no exception. Between 1992 and 2002 the total K-12 population grew by 12% in the United Stateswhile the enrollment of students with limited English proficiency(LEP) grew by 95% (NCELA, 2002). The U.S. Census recently reported that the Hispanic population is growing at such enormous rates that they are now the largest minority group in the United States (Clemetson, 2003; Fears & Cohn, 2003). These statistics provide only a snapshot of the diversity in today's classrooms. In order to get the bigger picture of diversity in the classroom, a broader view must be taken to examine the implications of cultural and linguistic diversity for instruction, student learning, and classroom interactions.
Students bring with them not only rich experiences and a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, but also a range of literacy levels and an array of learning needs. Some students require accommodations for documented learning disabilities while others benefit from differentiation of instruction to help them be successful learners. The foreign language classroom may also have a teacher whose background, expectations and teaching style differ from the backgrounds, expectations and learning profiles of the students.
Are teachers prepared to meet the challenges of working with diverse students? At a recent Summer Institute sponsored by the National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC), foreign language teachers were surveyed about their preparation. Most said they had not participated in any staff development training in the last three years that dealt with issues related to teaching special education and ESL students. Their responses were not surprising, as they were in alignment with the results of a survey of general education teachers published in 2002 by the National Council for Education Statistics (NCES). While 82% of these teachers had special education students in their classrooms, only 31% had received 8 or more clock hours of training in the previous 3 years that addressed strategies for working with these students (NCES). Over 41% of teachers surveyed said that they had students with limited English Proficiency in their classes, but only 12.5% of them had had recent training that prepared them to work with second language learners (NCES).
Participants of the NCLRC Institute identified the challenges that were of greatest concern to them with regard to teaching a diverse student population, and worked with George Washington University faculty members from the Bilingual Special Education program and NCLRC staff to identify promising instructional practices and strategies that they could use in their classrooms. Their concerns included:
The literacy level of the students
Social interaction styles which were viewed as "acting out" by the teachers
Reaching the student who was distracted or disinterested
Meeting the needs of special education students
For these teachers, classroom diversity extended far beyond ethnicity and language to encompass the various learning and behavioral differences among students and teachers. Each of these teachers concerns are addressed in the next sections, followed by strategies for teaching to the diversity of the foreign language classroom.
Many students who are bilingual enroll in foreign language courses expecting that their native language proficiency will enable them to do well. Their experiences and knowledge of the language give them insights and cultural perspectives that are valuable to class discussions. They are able to "engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions" as required in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (Standard 1.1) (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1999). Uneven reading and writing skills in their native language, however, hamper them from understanding and interpreting written language and presenting information to readers as required in Standards 1.2 and 1.3.
Other students have had little experience investigating the syntactical and morphological aspects of language. They are not comfortable with case, voice, tense, gender and other linguistic elements because they have not had experience exploring these aspects of their native language. This makes it very difficult for students who are at the secondary level and whom teachers expect to have the language and literacy skills that are crucial to success in all content areas. Most foreign language educators are prepared and trained to teach the target language to students who have an understanding of the syntax and morphology of their native language and the literacy skills needed to fluently read and comprehend text. These teachers are increasingly finding that they are not only teaching a foreign language but have also become literacy teachers at the most basic level of teaching students concepts of print and how to decode words.
Teachers expressed frustration about the amount of time students are absent from class due to a host of reasons. Participants reported that students frequently are asked to care for siblings who are sick so that the parents do not have to miss work. When students are absent on a regular basis, they miss out on important instructional time and language interactions, which makes the task of foreign language learning even more challenging.
Many teachers felt threatened by students' interactions with each other during class and perceived disrespect to the teacher. They worried about disruptive students and those who sleep, are distracted, or disinterested in class. When students do not come to school ready and motivated to learn, the job of the foreign language teacher becomes much more challenging as he or she struggles to gain and maintain the students' attention and generate enthusiasm for learning.
Special education students
Most teachers at the institute expressed willingness to work with special education students in their classes, but were unsure of what the students needed as described on their Individual Education Program (IEP), or lacked the time to collaborate with special educators. They were unsure of how to implement students' IEP goals and objectives, accommodations and modifications into their instruction. For students with language related disabilities, foreign language learning is more of a challenge that it is for the average student, and it is essential that the foreign language teacher knows how to support these students.
Support from administration
Institute participants also indicated that foreign language is rarely taken seriously in their schools and districts as a valid and worthwhile academic content area. Without much support from some administrations for the existence of foreign language curricula in the first place, it is difficult for many to receive the professional support from colleagues that could help them facilitate success for their most diverse and neediest students. Foreign language teachers are often left frustrated and wondering how they can single-handedly meet the needs of their most diverse students.
In an effort to address this query, presenters at the Summer Institute identified successful instructional practices and teaching strategies that could be applied to the foreign language classroom. Presenters reviewed ways to differentiate instruction in general as promoted by practitioners such as Tomlinson (1999; 2001); looked at information on inclusive classrooms from Mastropieri and Scruggs (2000); examined the needs of the culturally and linguistically diverse exceptional student as described by Baca and Cervantes (1998); and looked at teaching strategies for diverse learners presented by Cole (1995; 2001). In the end, their goal was to give teachers a framework for designing instruction that incorporated high expectations, engaged students in meaningful tasks and provided them with the scaffolding and supports they need to succeed. Teachers examined their own expectations, beliefs and practices in order to identify disconnects between successful practices and their approaches to instruction.
As participants in the institute examined lists of successful strategies for differentiation in general education, ESL and special education they discovered that there was a great deal of overlap in the suggestions. Common to the strategies were several themes that in the end reflected techniques that were "just good teaching." These strategies and techniques are presented in the following section.
Suggested Instructional Approaches
Understand that the teachers' and students' cultural backgrounds, perspectives, and expectations may differ, and look for ways to capitalize on those differences and align expectations.
Develop a classroom culture that has a goal (attaining a certain level of proficiency in a foreign language). With the students, develop a way to attain that goal that includes guidelines for behavior, participation, and attendance. Inform the parents of these expectations, have consequences when they are not met and carry through with the consequences. Make sure that the consequences are compatible with those of the school as a whole.
Do not assume that all speakers of the same language have the same culture.
Fluent native speakers may speak dialects or use non-standard vocabulary. Beware of negative attitudes that may develop among speakers of the same language if one speaker is perceived as inferior to another.
Be aware of the cultural taboos and sensitivities that may interfere with a culturally compatible learning environment.
If a foreign language teacher is a nonnative speaker of that language, native speakers in his/her classroom may not view him/her as able to relate emotionally to the native speaker.
Engage students in meaningful tasks.
Many behavioral and motivational stumbling blocks can be eliminated when students are actively participating in instruction that they perceive as meaningful and which provides a challenge for them. Providing a context (reason) for instruction, connecting new information to what they already know, and having an end product in mind will help students relate to the material.
Prioritize what students need to know so that their tasks are aligned with their skills and learning styles.
Find out about your students' interests and backgrounds, and design instruction around topics that are appealing to your students. A good way to find out about your students interests in strengths is through a multiple intelligences survey. One example of such a survey can be found at http://surfaquarium.com/MI/inventory.htm
Provide multi-modal instruction that considers the learning styles, literacy development and processing strengths and weaknesses of students.
Support oral instruction with vivid visual input and use realia (real objects) where possible.
Support written work by providing graphic organizers
Provide lecture outlines to students whose written language skills are not on a par with the rest of the class.
Provide plenty of wait time when asking students to respond orally in order to allow for extra processing time. This is especially important when the students are asked to respond in a foreign language.
Check with ESOL teachers for suggestions and information about the learning styles of individuals or groups of students.
Check with special education teachers to make sure that you are providing all of the accommodations and modifications in instruction and testing that are called for on your students' IEPs.
Give new material a context and move from the concrete to the abstract.
Providing the scope and sequence of instruction to the students (the big picture) will help the disorganized student keep track of information and materials
All events (such as going to an airport, or using the computer lab) contain a schema and routines that students must know in order to be successful. Make sure that your students understand all of the aspects of the events that occur in your classroom. These events include: asking for help and assistance, turning in homework, entering the classroom when they are late, participating orally in class discussion (e.g., do they have to raise their hands first?).
Employ a variety of language learning strategies such as Oxford (2001) (as cited in Hancock, 2002) describes that include cognitive, metacognitive, memory-related, compensatory, affective, and social strategies.
Use cooperative learning groups and other instructional arrangements that allow students to interact and practice.
Allow for peer coaching. A fluent speaker may benefit from working with a strong writer, and the strong writer may benefit from the pronunciation model of the fluent speaker.
Break up long lecture periods with opportunities for students to work in small groups or with partners on activities that support the topic.
Incorporate a variety of assessment techniques and allow students to demonstrate content knowledge in multiple ways.
Give students a choice when it comes to assignments. One student can demonstrate comprehension of the topic by drawing a comic strip in the same way as another can by writing several paragraphs or yet another can by presenting a dramatic interpretation.
Grade group projects.
Vary the types of quizzes and tests you give allowing for cloze material or multiple choice for the student whose reading/writing skills are weak.
Consider growth grading as part of your over-all assessment. Expectations for students' performance should always be high but an individual's progress should be measured from a starting point with the expectation that they will steadily approach the curriculum indicator. To some extent, students should participate in setting individual goals and assess their own progress.
Collaborate with other professionals.
Ask to be advised about meetings of other departments (ESL, special education) or grade level meetings so that you can attend periodically when your schedule allows and either plan with the group or ask for specific information.
Request that you be allowed (invited) to participate in cross-departmental inservice training opportunities.
If it is not already in place, request that the guidance department or special education teachers design a way of notifying you that you have special needs students in your classroom.
Ask for an explanation of the language (jargon) that you find on a student's IEP.
Involve parents in the educational process.
Communicate your students' progress to their parents on a regular basis. Be conscious of parents who may have limited English language or literacy skills and develop methods for communicating with them effectively.
Ask for feedback from the parents on students' behavior and learning, and ask them what you can do to help meet their child's needs.
Make parents aware of the behavior plans, the scope and sequence of the curriculum, and the rules and routines of the classroom.
Invite culturally diverse parents in to share their expertise as appropriate.
Diversity in the classroom presents itself in many ways. No two students are alike in terms of their strengths and needs. This increasing diversity is creating challenges for teachers seeking to meet the multifaceted needs of their students. The strategies and techniques presented in this article are by no means exhaustive but were developed in response to the concerns of foreign language teachers who attended the institute. They are just a starting point for teaching to the diversity in foreign language classrooms. We hope that you will find them useful and that this article has helped you to think about the diversity in your classroom, your uniqueness as a teacher, and strategies that will allow you to build on the diverse strengths, experiences, and backgrounds of your students.
Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century. Yonkers, New York: National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1999.
Baca, L. M. & Cervantes, H. T. (Eds.) (1998). The bilingual special education interface (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Clemetson, L. (2003, January 22). "Hispanics now largest minority, Census shows". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2003 from http://www.nytimes.com.
Cole, R. W. (Ed.). (1995). Educating everybody's children: Diverse teaching strategies for diverse learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Cole, R. W. (Ed.). (2001). More strategies for educating everybody's children. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Fears, D., & Cohn, D. (2003, January 22). "Hispanic population booming in U.S". The Washington Post, p. A03.
Hancock, Z. (2002). "Heritage Spanish speakers' language learning strategies" (ERIC Digest No. EDO-FL-02-06). Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. Retrieved October6, 2003 from CAL.
Mastropieri, M.A., & Scruggs, T.E. (2000). The inclusive classroom: Strategies for effective instruction, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2002). Schools and staffing survey, 1999-2000: Overview of the data for public, private, public charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs elementaryand secondary schools (NCES 2002-213). Washington, DC.
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA). (2002). The growing numbers of limited English proficient students.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Teaching Toward Advanced (Professional-level) L2 Performance By Benjamin Rifkin, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Margaret E. Malone, Donna Christian & Dora E. Johnson,CAL Feb. 2003
Highlights from the NCLRC 2003 Summer Institute
There is little doubt that the goal of advanced-level language abilities is now very much in the discussion in the foreign language profession, and not only since 9/11 brought to the fore security issues, many of which are directly tied to advanced-level competence in a variety of languages. For quite some time before that epochal event, globalization, understood as the movement of goods and ideas as well as the migration of significant population groups, had already created advanced-level learning needs and opportunities, in terms of acquisition (e.g., for professionals in a variety of occupational contexts), and in terms of language maintenance (e.g., for heritage learners). Yet, while those needs have become ever more pronounced, neither the goal of just what advanced-level ability in a second language actually means, much less the pedagogies in support of attaining such abilities, are at present sufficiently articulated.
To begin to address both concerns, the NCLRC conducted Teaching Toward Advanced (Professional-level) L2 Performance, a two-day workshop led by Heidi Byrnes, Georgetown University. A total of 23 teachers from public and private universities and colleges as well as diverse government language schools became engaged with issues for which first promising directions are available based on theoretical work as well as educational practices. Working out their details with regard to program direction, pedagogies, materials development, and outcomes assessment is the exciting challenge that lies ahead for the field.
The workshop's initial task was to specify the advanced L2 learner as a language user. While such an orientation may at first appear quite unremarkable, its implications are anything but ordinary. Indeed, a user-orientation provides the foundation for initially understanding what can easily become an abstract and, indeed, formidable goal with, at best, minimal influence on the conduct of foreign language educational practice. By contrast, a language user orientation, as contrasted with an orientation that continually looks toward a kind of abstract nativeness permits the following considerations:
First, advanced L2 learners are high-level users of the target language in their own right, distinct from the native speaker or the near-native speaker and, in fact, not particularly well described in terms of that idealized native speaker. While it is, of course, understood, that native speakers performing in particular communicative situations serve as models for the performance capacity that teachers and learners in the L2 classroom aim for, that is not the same thing as saying that the non-native speaker should be measured against an ideal in language performance that is enshrined in the construct "native speaker." Not only does such a decontextualized performer and such a decontextualized performance not exist in any case; those goals cannot and should not be sought, -- and not because L2 learners seemingly fall short of that ideal (e.g., in terms of accuracy, or fluency, or complexity of language use) in perpetuity, but because defining them in this fashion fails to capture the surplus of meaning (and at times even of form!) they bring into their own performance by virtue of the fact that they are incipient bilinguals. Lest that realization be misunderstood, such a proposal in no way reduces the complexity of the task for the learner or the obligations for the teacher: on the contrary, it heightens them - by proposing a goal that recognizes the special status of L2 learners and is able to make pedagogical recommendations because of its heightened awareness of what can be achieved when these learners are taught to appropriately situate L2 language in a coherent, multi-year, articulated program that explicitly targets such capacities of use.
Second, that advanced learner is a user of the L2 who can be described in terms of capacities that enable him/her to handle a range of human interaction, where language is an important ingredient for getting things done. The emphasis here is on the "where," on the environments of use, an emphasis that inherently points to the fact that language use is a social and cultural phenomenon and is not well described through an abstract language system nor in terms of a purely individualist or as we now often say, psycholinguistic, processing ability.
Instead, we come to describe the advanced leaner in terms of functional abilities, the "what, for what purposes, and how good" in all modalities, in a range of discursive practices that inherently and inextricably link cultural content and language.
The fourth consequence of our user and use orientation is just that: at the latest with the advanced learner the focus is on making meaning with language. On one side we can think of this as a linking of meaning and form which brings up a central characteristic that is further refined in the advanced learner, namely the ability to make situated choices; on the other side we can emphasize the linking of form and meaning, in which case we highlight that all comprehension is an act of interpretation within a context, at the time of communicative event itself and drawing on experiences across time.
Returning once more to the advanced learner as an incipient bilingual, we can then say that she is drawing on L1 and L2 abilities to create a capacity that one might describe as "multiple literacies," inasmuch as it crosses between the two literacies, back and forth, all along, not replacive but enrichingly expansive.
On such a basis it is then possible to explore further a profile of the advanced learner as learner. Here the construct of a socially situated literacy seems particularly promising in terms of two major notions, the notion of discourses as it is used by Gee and the two major forms of semiosis that Halliday emphasizes. As to the former, Gee makes the important distinction between the primary discourses of familiarity, the kind of interactive language use that is part of our heritage as we are socialized into our linguistic-cultural environment, and the secondary discourse of public life, the language of institutions, the law, of business and commerce, of religion, and particularly of education. Indeed, learning the language of schooling through the educational process is the very foundation on which we acquire the many secondary discourses that characterize contemporary societies. As to the latter, Halliday emphasizes that our initial way of giving meaning to the world is through what he refers to as "congruent" semiosis, describing our experiences primarily in terms of processes in the midst of which we place ourselves and act. But over time, -- and educational processes play a crucial role here -- we acquire what he refers to as a "synoptic" semiosis, an ability to stand back, as it were, and to create a world of objects, both real and conceptual. By construing a kind of "thinginess" of the world we literally become more "objective" as we are more object-oriented, through a process which he calls grammatical metaphor (turning into bounded nouns/objects something that was fluid experience), a capacity that is at the heart of how we construe the public life of contemporary societies. It is easy to relate these two notions to each other and to our way of understanding the major task of the advanced learner: namely to acquire both types of discourse and to acquire both forms of semiosis and to learn to apply them appropriately in terms of the expectations that society has in its most typified forms of language use, namely the range of genres of oral and written language use.
Taking matters a step further, we can say that all language learning, but particularly advanced language learning is, first, about acquiring a high level of awareness and capacity to deploy the necessary language means to perform a range of oral and textual genres as they have been developed by various discourse/professional groups in the L2 culture; and, second, learning how to make choices within these generic frameworks so as to be able to express individual meanings but within the publicly interpretable and validated framework of the typified language use that we call genre. For example, an American letter of application into an academic position has certain obligatory moves and certain optional moves. That combination inherently brings in an element of choice, -- but only so far, or else the genre might not be fulfilled, that is, the letter might turn into a self-promotional marketing blurb or an insufficiently specified interest in a job for which one has only minimal qualifications - an irrelevant submission.
Finally, such a genre orientation for capturing advanced abilities and the kind of learning that must be targeted, can also be used to derive from it what has arguably become the preferred pedagogical entity, namely that of task. Rather than thinking of task as almost synonymous with non-grammar focused activity, a notion of task that is genre-derived - e.g., exploring how a letter of application is actually organized and what linguistic means mark textual organization at the macro level and micro level - seamlessly makes the link between textual form and textual meaning that is so crucial for advanced learning and for its valid assessment.
The workshop explored these issues for their curricular as well as their pedagogical implications, with particular emphasis on the development of writing tasks and task-based assessment. Obviously, such a tightly packed agenda could do no more than provide a first introduction into how we might begin to conceptualize advanced learning. In turn, this summary could do no more than provide a glimpse of even those two very full days of conceptualizing the advanced learner.