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Are your heritage courses producing any results? How do you know?

So one of the up-and-coming stars of heritage language teaching, Adrienne Brandenburg, asked a very good question recently for heritage teachers, which I’m sure their administrators wonder also:

I’d like to answer that question with more questions:

How do the American Lit teachers on the third floor know that their instruction is working?  What does it look like when a British Lit teacher’s instruction is working?  What research is showing that English 101 is working?  Hm, “working”…

In the heritage classroom, we are less language-y and more language arts-y.  So how do language arts teachers prove the effectiveness of their classes?  I have two impressions based on interactions with my language arts colleagues:  (1) You can show some improved reading comprehension and knowledge of mechanics of grammar and writing through STAR testing, PSAE, PARCC, and other fun exams; but (2) progress is not always quantifiable, but we trust – oftentimes anecdotally – that being immersed in the reading of novels, discussions about them, writing research papers and essays, all does improve our students’ written, verbal, and cognitive skills.

Unless your school funds the National Spanish Exam, AAPPL, or the Stamp exams for your students every year, you really don’t have access to all the assessment resources you would need in order to show hard proof that your heritage class is working like our language arts colleagues do.  That being said, people constantly raise questions about how worthwhile those language arts oriented exams are anyway.

We do have a way to measure how effective our heritage classes are.  It’s called ACTFL’s 5 C’s, the World Readiness Standards.  “But wait- all that ACTFL stuff is for L2 learners!”  Generally speaking, I disagree, but the devil is in the details.  I’m actually going to present a conference session in February addressing this very issue (my first conference presentation ever – I’m insanely nervous), and I guess this blog post is turning into a sneak preview of where that’s going:

COMMUNICATION

  • Reading- Are your students being challenged to read texts in your heritage class that they wouldn’t encounter in an L2 classroom or outside of a classroom?
  • Speaking- Are you having conversations at the Advanced and Superior levels in your heritage class that they wouldn’t have at home or in the community?
  • Listening- Are you exposing your students to media and audio resources that contain topics at a higher level than they are able to speak and write at in order to move them up the proficiency pyramid?
  • Writing- Are you attempting to help your students spell better, revise their work, use more creative vocabulary, and write within genres that they would never have to if they weren’t in your class?

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I am going to say that most heritage teachers will give a resounding “yes” to the above.  Your class is worthwhile.  You are doing the work that the field (ACTFL) is telling you to do and doing things to improve your heritage students’ proficiency.  Check.

CULTURE

  • Is your students’ knowledge of their own history and culture expanding in your classroom?  Take a look at some of those questions towards the middle of my post here.
  • Is your students’ knowledge of the history and culture of the wider Spanish-speaking world (or worldwide Chinese community, or Vietnamese history and culture) growing?

I bet it is.  Your heritage class is worthwhile.  Check.

CONNECTIONS:

Are your students learning about science, technology, the environment, politics, and current events in Spanish?  We talk about drones every year.

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Double-points for learning about those things, and improving their language skills along the way.  You are doing the work.  Check.

COMPARISONS:

  • Do you have students compare English and the heritage language?
  • Do you ever compare American culture to the heritage culture(s)?  This is one of our best discussions every year.

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Don’t we do those things all the time?  You’re doing the work.  Check.

COMMUNITIES

  • Do your heritage students have pen pals in Spain, Uruguay, Costa Rica, or the Dominican Republic?

  • Do you ever do “Latino studies” in your class?
  • Do you have your heritage students interview family members or someone in the community about their experience immigrating to the U.S.?
  • Do you do something like one of these things above?  If so, check.

SEAL OF BILITERACY

Is it more likely that your heritage students will be able to be Intermediate-High or Advanced-Low speakers and writers by taking your class, thus increasing the probability of earning the Seal of Biliteracy in your state?  Then you’re giving something beneficial to your students and your district.  Check.

Has your state not approved the Seal of Biliteracy yet?  Why not, for crying out loud?

Heritage teachers will have just as hard (or easy) of a time proving the effectiveness of their courses just as much as language arts teachers will.  When I see my students leaving my heritage class knowing who Diego Rivera was, knowing more about the Aztecs, knowing why they all have a little bit of Arab blood, understanding the cycle of dictators in Latin America, identifying what “UNAM” is, having some rules to rely on for knowing where to put accents, and being able to explain the historical figures embedded in the murals and posters in my school’s immediate community, I have full confidence that my heritage courses are effective.

 

Una leyenda, y después ‘yerba mate’

Es muy sabido que el ser humano recuerda muy poco de lo que lee y de lo que escucha, pero lo que uno experimenta con los cinco sentidos se graba en la memoria y se queda allí por muchos años.  A continuación les explico cómo es que traigo un sabor de Sudamérica a mis estudiantes cada año en mi clase de Español Para Hispanohablantes.

#1 – Les pregunto a mis estudiantes si saben dónde está localizado Paraguay, y si saben algo de este país.  Les enseño dónde está localizado Paraguay y hablamos un poco del bilingüismo allí (español y guaraní), y de paso les recuerdo a mis alumnos que el español se encuentra en una situación de contacto con otros idiomas en muchos lugares alrededor del mundo, no solamente en Estados Unidos.

#2 – Leemos la leyenda “El regalo de la diosa luna” en el libro Leyendas  Latinoamericanas, un recurso indispensable para una clase de hablanDiosa lunates nativos en mi opinión.  El “regalo” en esta leyenda es el té yerba mate que se consume en los países del Cono Sur.

#3 – Mientras preparo la yerba mate, mis estudiantes miran el video (al final de esta página) que explica en qué consiste el proceso de preparar yerba mate.

#4 – Tomamos yerba mate y comemos galletas de María.

¿Cómo preparar la mate para la clase?  

Es fácil.

  1. Consigue estas cosas que seguramente ya tienes en casa:  dos cafeteras para calentar el agua, vasos, azúcar, cucharas para servir el azúcar, cucharas para menear el azúcar, y filtros de malla como se ven abajo.
  2. Y hay que conseguir algunas cosas que no tendrás si no practicas esta costumbre sudamericana:  un matero y una bombilla para demostrar cómo se toma en la América del Sur (pues no se la toman allí como lo hago con mis alumnos), y yerba mate.
  3. Calienta el agua en dos cafeteras antes de que sus estudiantes lleguen a la clase.
  4. Reparte los vasos a los estudiantes, e invítales a echar azúcar en sus vasos si así lo desean.  Lo recomiendo, es un té muy amargo.
  5. Llena dos filtros de malla con mucha yerba mate.
  6. Pon el filtro encima de un vaso, y vierte el agua para que recoja el sabor de la yerba.
  7. En algún momento, utiliza el matero y la bombilla que trajiste para demostrar cómo lo toman en Argentina, Paraguay, y Uruguay, según puedes ver en el video.

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Sus estudiantes seguramente disfrutarán de esta actividad que es útil para enseñar una costumbre tradicional del Cono Sur, y volverán a sus salones de clase en algún momento pidiendo que les sirvan el té durante el invierno.

What heritage teachers were doing on October 3rd

Learning about big ideas is great.  So is seeing and hearing what teachers did on Wednesday morning, so that’s what we’ve done here.  Fourteen awesome participants, from the East and West coast, from the north and from the south, all sent me what they did in their heritage classrooms on Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018– the only goal being to share their ideas with you, their colleagues (and future colleagues).  One teacher below teaches three different levels of Heritage Spanish on the same day, so she sent three lesson plans at different levels, which is very useful to see.

I won’t include a lot of commentary here because I believe the snapshots shared below speak for themselves (plus, I want the college students I’ll be teaching to try and make their own observations 🙄).  But suffice it say that ya’ll be kickin’ some heritage butt out there.  So without further ado, here’s what I received.  If you want to view in Google photos click here.

If you find this “One Day” post helpful, click “like” at the end!

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“But they already speak Spanish” – In defense of heritage language programs

Are heritage language classes worthwhile?  Don’t “those students already speak the language”?

I had a colleague tell me yesterday that some of her grad school classmates feel that their heritage language tracks are being threatened, because administrators are questioning whether or not they are learning anything by taking a language class in a language that they already speak.  We also commented how thankful we feel to not be in that place, and that we have a supportive administration.  Our program has shown growth over the last few years.

It’s a valid question.  So, what makes a heritage program worthwhile?  And what qualities should a good heritage program contain?

Before I answer that question directly, let me give you one tool that you can use in your response.  What does your school do with, let’s say, incoming freshmen who enter high school with an 11th grade reading level?  Do they eliminate the requirement to take the first two years of English or language arts?  They rarely do; they can still reap benefits and advance their language skills in their freshmen honors English class.  Likewise, heritage students who come through our doors may have proficiency in a certain language, but that doesn’t mean that we scratch their world language requirement, because there is always growth to be had on my fronts!

So, growth on many fronts.  Let’s answer the question now.

In two points, I believe that a heritage program is worthwhile if……

It is moving the students up the proficiency pyramid.

General (L2) world language programs start at the Novice level and (hopefully) produce Intermediate speakers.  Heritage programs will receive students somewhere in the Intermediate range and push them into the Advanced range, and probe them at the Superior level.  All high school students have gains to be had in proficiency in a non-English language, whether heritage or non-heritage students.  Sure, heritage students “already speak the language”, but I guarantee that 99.999% of them aren’t Advanced-High or Superior speakers.  There is always progress to be had, always floors to be added to the house, and always language skills to be acquired.

If you’re a Spanish teacher, look at a recent writing sample of a student of mine here at the beginning of the year.

SNS writing sample

There are gender errors, spelling errors, and a general lack of breadth of response that I would not attribute to lack of interest (great student here!), but lack of confidence in fleshing out thoughts in Spanish.  Why would we pass up an opportunity to leave the Spanish of our students at this level and not build it and enrich it?

It is expanding the breadth of cultural knowledge of your students.

I dislike the idea of “testing out of a language” if the possibility of participation in (or creation of) a heritage program exists.  Language classes are – or at least should be – about much more than learning words and grammatical structures.  Those things are a means to an end- and we can actually accomplish that “end” in heritage classes!  A heritage program should expand the width and breadth of knowledge of culture, society, history, literature, current events, and arts of your heritage students.  

Take José, a heritage student in 9th grade whose parents are from Mexico.

  • Does José know anything about why the population of Argentina is primarily white European?
  • Has José ever had a pen pal or Skype conversation with teenagers in Spain?
  • Does José know much about the Mayans, Aztecs, or Incas?
  • Does José know who Rafael Trujillo was?  
  • Does José know why there are so many words from Arabic in Spanish?
  • Has José ever listened to Natalia Lafourcade, Ruben Blades, and songs like “Latinoamérica”?

The answer to all the above is mostly “no”.  Heritage students could be pushed to take French or Mandarin to fulfill a language requirement – and that’s fantastic.  But let’s not believe that there isn’t plenty of room for expanding cultural, historical, social, and artistic horizons for our heritage students in their home language!  Let’s not scratch the language requirements for them.

I understand that school districts have to apportion their funds wisely and be careful to build sustainable programs.  But if you have a good number of heritage students who are interested in improving their language skills and expanding their cultural knowledge in their own home language, don’t add sections of Spanish 2 and 3.  Create separate classes for them to progress linguistically and culturally.

If you think this post was helpful, give it a like below!  I’d like honest feedback.

A one-day snapshot of heritage language teaching: October 3rd

As language educators, we understand that showing is better than telling.  In early October, I have the opportunity to give a crash course on heritage language teaching to student teachers at a local state university.  I have lots of my own content planned for my evening with them, but I would like to showcase a little bit of what all of you other amazing heritage language teachers are doing out there.

Remember that book series “A Day In The Life of ”?  A couple of days ago, I caught sight of the book “A Day In the Life of Japan” on my bookshelf, and an idea struck me.  The idea was this:  Pick one day soon, and ask heritage teachers to send me a brief summary, with an accompanying visual, of whatever they are doing in their heritage lang class on that day.  My plan would be to present everything together here on my website (possibly a Google Slides presentation – we’ll see I get!) and have it for my workshop for the student teachers.  But all of you would get to see it also right here on your favorite website, http://www.senordineroman.com.  We can all have a one-day snapshot of what heritage language teachers are all doing on that day and get ideas from one another!

Want to participate?  ¡Qué bueno!  Here are the details.

  • Send me a (1) brief summary (a short paragraph will do), and (2) a visual of whatever you do in your heritage lang classroom on Wednesday, October 3rd.
  • You can send it ahead of time, or send me a sum-up after you’re done teaching on that day.  Send to ccashman@chiarts.org.
  • You could put it on a Powerpoint slide like below in the sample pictures, or just send me the info in the body of an email and/or an attached photo or video (or YouTube link), and I can organize it.
  • You can include as much ID information as you feel comfortable with, knowing that it could be shared with a wide audience. See sample pictures below.

[ Sample submissions ] 

Like I said, this idea of mine is pretty fresh, so if any of you have any questions or advice, please let me know and I can refine the plan!

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you believe you’d like to be part of this – and also share it with your other heritage language teaching friends?  If you respond, then I’ll hit you up before, during, and after Oct 3rd to remind you about it and then get your sum-up.

Thanks for any of you who are willing to participate!