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 email@example.com.
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!
It’s indoor season in Austin, Texas right now due to the insanely hot temperatures it reaches in the summertime here. There’s no better time of the year in Texas than to sit in an air conditioned room with other heritage language teachers for… a heritage language teachers’ conference. I wanted to pass along some of my main takeaways from this years’ heritage language teachers conference sponsored by the Center for Open Educational Resources for Language Learning (COERLL) at the University of Texas at Austin. The main focus this year is starting up a heritage language program.
STARTING A HERITAGE LANGUAGE PROGRAM
Teachers all across the United States are being asked to “start a heritage program” and are wondering where to start. Today’s workshop was for that issue. First of all, here is a link to the very thorough Powerpoint that professor Gabriela Zapata shared with us today, entitled “Heritage Language Program Development: Administrative and Pedagogical Aspects”. I’m also going to boil it down below, focusing on what I felt were the main ingredients, and also including my own personal takeaways and reflections that I got.
#1 – Use backwards design to build your heritage program. This is something we are accustomed to as educators, and it is no different when starting a heritage program. Identify your desired results, and even craft a mission statement for your program. With that, you can explain your goals to stakeholders and get people excited about the general direction you are giving it.
Personal takeaway: I never designed a mission statement for the heritage track I developed at my school. Going to do that!
Personal input and experience with this: Being acquainted with ACTFL proficiency levels is important for doing this, despite the notion out there that proficiency levels and assessments like OPI are ideal for non-native speakers. Not true. For next school year, I actually established a benchline proficiency level of “Intermediate-Mid” for students entering my SNS 1 classroom. I can honestly say that this year’s placement testing procedure in May allowed me to place some incoming freshmen into the general language track that, in previous years, I probably would have enrolled in my heritage classroom – and then they would have struggled.
#2 – Establish curricular priorities. What do you want your students to do with the language? Do you want them to be prepared for Spanish in a blue-collared work environment in the United States, or do you think that students should be prepared to communicate with the wider Spanish-speaking world outside of the United States? Will your goals be differentiated for different students? That will influence your curriculum.
Different perspective: La Profesora Zapata encouraged us to center our curriculum around the predominant home culture of our students, for the purpose of grounding them in their identity and building them up in it. I have to ponder on this, because I feel that I took a different approach in building the curriculum for the heritage track at our school. Although definitely including elements of what she is saying, I started from the standpoint that my students are familiar with – and prideful of – their own culture, and so my objective has been to expose them to the wider array of Spanish-speaking cultures that they aren’t familiar with. I think the decision revolves around how secure or insecure the heritage students in your community feel about their identity. That seems to vary from place to place in the United States.
#3 – Gather resources. We spent a lot of time going through some possible resources. Textbooks are out of vogue, and they deserve to be. There is a link below (screenshots included) that is a good guide for choosing resources for heritage programs.
You’ve got to visit that SpinTX Video archive. It’s amazing.
The website above, https://heritagespanish.coerll.utexas.edu/, is indispensable for finding resources for heritage classes. That “Resources” tab has a lot of stuff. And please do notice that there are heritage course syllabi posted on that link. Wow – what more could you ask for!
Like I said, go through her Powerpoint to get the whole story of everything Profesora Zapata recommends, but these were the biggest elements I took away.
Second day of the conference is tomorrow morning. If you found this worthwhile, give it a “like” here on WordPress. I may post again with more insights collected!
Teaching heritage language classes is becoming more and more common in the U.S., particularly in school districts with high Latino populations. Talk to any World Language teacher you find, and chances are they will tell you that their school is “starting a heritage track”, or has done so “within the last few years”. And we all get emails on our listserv with those teachers who write something along the lines of “I’m going to be starting a heritage class next year at my school! I’m really excited, but nervous. I’d love some help and some collaboration, so hit me up with your ideas!”
I’d like to help by offering what I believe is the most important element for that teacher and that classroom. The answer? A teacher who is committed to improving his or her own proficiency in the target language.
Let’s bring ACTFL proficiency levels into the conversation here.
*A teacher with Advanced-Low proficiency cannot provide most heritage students with the level of input they need to progress in their proficiency.*
In the state that I live, the ACTFL proficiency level required to work as a K-12 World Language educator is Advanced-Low. Here are a few select descriptors from the Advanced-Low proficiency list from ACTFL:
participate in most informal and some formal conversations on topics related to school, home, and leisure activities
narrate and describe in the major time frames of past, present, and future in paragraph-length discourse with some control of aspect
Responses produced by Advanced Low speakers are typically not longer than a single paragraph
dominant language may be evident in the use of false cognates, literal translations, or the oral paragraph structure of that language
irregular flow, and containing noticeable self-correction
vocabulary of Advanced Low speakers often lacks specificity
Does this sound like the type of input that will move forward a heritage speaker? Will heritage speakers be helped by “false cognates”, “irregular flow”, and “literal translations” – basically, more of what they already produce?
How can a speaker (a teacher) that can produce “typically not longer than a single paragraph” lead a discussion about the value or offensive nature of Confederate statues? How beneficial will a conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of independence for Catalonia be if lead with only “some control of aspect”?
Most of my heritage students are well into the Intermediate range with their use of language, with a few who may already be into the Advanced range. Their listening ability, without doubt, will be at or above the Advanced level – and therefore they need to be listening and using language beyond that, which in OPI parlance is called “probing” – and “i + 1″ in SLA studies.
The Advanced-Low Spanish teacher can handle his 5th hour Spanish 3 class just fine. Those students are in the process of comprehending Intermediate-level input in the target language. The level of language that is used in that class – both the content studied, and general classroom commands and discourse – will most often be below Advanced-Low. It will be hard for that same teacher, however, to move a group of heritage students forward.
One of the philosophical pieces of my heritage language teaching, as opposed to my general language classrooms, is that my heritage students are already receiving a great deal of Intermediate- and Advanced-level input outside of the classroom. What they need most linguistically is written and spoken input above those levels, and then a setting in which they are pushed to produce output at a level just above where they are at. Therefore it follows that an effective heritage classroom teacher will need to be comfortable at the Advanced level, and possess the capacity to produce some language at the Superior level in order to conduct academic discussions and provide rich input.
For that reason, heritage teachers should be north of that minimum Advanced-Low requirement. I recommend a minimum of Advanced-Mid proficiency for any teacher of a heritage classroom. The higher, the better. So start moving higher!
The better your Spanish proficiency, the more trust you will gain from your heritage students.
According to The Atlantic, over 81% of teachers in the U.S. are White. It is highly likely that a teacher standing in front of a group of Latino heritage speakers will not be a native/heritage speaker themselves. The power dynamic of a White teacher standing in front of a group of Latino/Hispanic students with the job of “teaching them Spanish” can be a delicate one.
I believe that improving one’s Spanish proficiency can help overcome uncertainty or mistrust that may exist. Sure, being knowledgeable about their culture, their interests, and starting class with “Wasn’t that case on Caso Cerrado last night crazy?” are all fundamental for establishing a relationship with your students. Hearing their teacher speak highly proficient Spanish will also make them more receptive and build up their belief that they will learn from you.
A few months ago, I saw an entry from a teacher in the ACTFL community forum who stated that she felt like she didn’t have a lot to offer her heritage students (who were mixed into the general language classroom) in terms of fluency and proficiency building, so they get that through reading. I asked myself if fluency building happens primarily through the resources students read and listen to, or through the conversation and dialog that is had about the resources we give them? My gut feeling is that it’s the discussion, the back-and-forth dialog about the content under study,
that builds the fluency of heritage students. It’s requiring output from them, and pushing them to negotiate meaning and deal with topics from the Advanced and Superior levels that puts hair on their chest (as my dad says). We as teachers have to be ready to interact with them at that level.
The road to superior
So what to do? I am of the opinion that every heritage teacher should take steps to push themselves to the ‘Superior’ level of the ACTFL proficiency scale. What does that look like, though?
In my previous post, I insisted that the most awesome thing that an awesome heritage teacher can do is work at speaking awesome Spanish. In ACTFL parlance = Superior. But what is Superior proficiency, and how do you work towards it?
In June 2016, I was a guinea pig for an OPI workshop. I was already interested in pursuing OPI certification by that point, and so I was looking for any way to rub shoulders with folks who were in the process. I wasn’t sure if I had Superior level proficiency or not in order to pursue full OPI certification, or if it would be better to do MOPI certification.
An OPI workshop candidate was called up front to do an interview with me. I was facing the candidate, and to my back, the trainer was typing notes and comments on a Word doc that my trainee tester could see. I was easily able to…
talk about what I do for a living (Intermediate)
explain what some of my interests are (Intermediate)
talk about my daily routine and my family (Intermediate)
tell a story from middle school about forgetting lines in a skit in front of the whole school (Advanced)
describe my middle school gym (Advanced)
explain what I like about teaching (Advanced)
narrate how I decided to become a teacher (Advanced)
Then the OPI trainer stopped the trainee who was testing me and said “We clearly have plenty of evidence of ability at the Advanced level. So what do we do now?” And the OPI trainees said “Start with Superior probes”.
And that’s when I fell flat on my face.
“How do you think that art and music impact society?” (Superior)
“Only about 50% of Americans participate in voting even though we have voting freedom and rights here. Why is that, and how can we increase participation?” (Superior)
Insert a confused-George-Costanza-gif here. I wasn’t ready for that level of abstract thinking and that level of discourse. I muttered out a few sentences for each question, and then just kind of fell silent. It was pretty awkward. I didn’t even share an anecdote or example to answer these – which is a typical characteristic of an Advanced level speaker trying to perform an Superior level task. For some reason, I felt so intimidated.
Don’t I translate for church on Sunday?
Isn’t everyone always talking about how great my Spanish is? (side comment – a bit of white privilege, perhaps? How many immigrants get complimented on their English?)
Didn’t I do graduate school in Spanish?
I teach in Spanish, and speak it with my kids at home. What’s wrong with me?
I’ve only spent about 5 months of my life abroad in Spanish-speaking contexts. Maybe I haven’t lived abroad enough to hit the Superior level.
The fact of the matter is, we spend most of our life at the Intermediate and Advanced level. We ask questions at the store, ask for a stapler, and wake our kids up with Intermediate level language (perhaps some Novice). We tell stories about childhood mischief and call Verizon to report a lost phone with Advanced level language. But Superior level speech is generally used in academic settings, Fox News Sunday, professional job interviews, and White House press briefings if and when Trump is not the one behind the podium.
What I ended up doing was spending a year immersing myself in content at this level. And in July 2017, I scored ‘Superior’ on an OPIc (computerized version of the OPI – boy is that brutal), and a few months later again in my official OPI.
Here are a few of the main characteristics of Superior level discourse, taken directly from ACTFL’s description:
variety of topics in formal and informal settings from both concrete and abstract perspectives
discuss their interests and special fields of competence
explain complex matters in detail
provide lengthy and coherent narrations
present opinions on a number of issues of interest
social and political issues
provide structured arguments to support opinions
construct and develop hypotheses to explore alternative possibilities
use extended discourse without unnaturally lengthy hesitation to make a point, even when engaged in abstract elaborations
separating main ideas from supporting information
Below, I’ll share a few examples of things that I did over the course of a year to build up to the Superior level.
I listened to…
…Tiempo de Análisis, a weekly podcast from la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
…interviews with Mario Vargas Llosa
I typed in…
…“entrevista sobre”on YouTube and clicked on results that caught my attention – how social media is affecting the life of Latin American youth, what it’s like to be a Muslim in Spain
…“debate sobre”on YouTube and watched debates about capital punishment in Guatemala, educational reform in Mexico, and an address of Pablo Iglesias to the Spanish Parliament
…novels. I developed a love for Mario Vargas Llosa during this time (“Cinco Esquinas” is the most twisted novel I have ever read), and also “La Casa De Los Espíritus” by Isabel Allende.
…news. I found El Pais from Spain to be the news site that offered good coverage on both U.S. issues and international issues that I valued. And the articles seem to all be produced by their journalists, in Spanish – not translations from AP Press or other sources originally in English.
…with a colleague who did many OPI’s during her years in the Peace Corps and who knew how to quiz me. She found a list of thought-provoking questions and sat and threw them at me. She would force me to support my opinion. Sometimes she would switch to English when the conversation went above her comfort level. It was hard at first but eventually became easier. We got together about four times.
…with myself using questions I found a list of at http://www.debate.org. I would answer them and answer these questions to myself as I went biking.
I am with you – binge watching Spanish-language shows on Netflix is a form of PD! I loved Las chicas del cable & Gran Hotel. Check on Tiempos de guerra, too – so good!
I must say that the entire year was a blessing. I don’t feel that I only grew linguistically. I ended up interacting with so many different viewpoints on life, society, politics, culture, and history from so many different Spanish-speaking countries.
I felt like the year was a crash course in intellectual growth. Even if I had gotten to my OPI certification process and ended up only scoring Advanced-High, the process still developed me as a Spanish speaker and as a human being.
I see the fruits of it coming out in the ease in which I can conduct discussions with my heritage students. I’ve still got a long way to go in developing my Spanish. I commonly come across things in life that I don’t know how to express. “Charter schools” in Spanish, anyone?
Heritage language teachers are attempting to get his/her students to improve and incorporate academic registers into their language usage. I want to encourage all teachers of heritage students to set an example for your students by doing the same. If input is the motor of linguistic growth, then your heritage students need to experience a high level of Spanish from you – and you can do it if you’re already in the Advanced range and decide to push yourself a bit.
Go find an episode of Tiempo de Análisis to listen to tomorrow on your drive to work!
Towards the beginning of the school year, I informally classified my heritage students into three proficiency groups: an Intermediate-Low-ish group, an Intermediate-High-ish group, and an Advanced-Low-ish group. Based on some knowledge I acquired at the OPI workshop, I decided that I didn’t need to view all of my students as being at different levels – as I originally thought I’d do. Instead, I grouped them into the three categories above – very informally, but this classification turned out to help me develop tasks more at their levels.
What I have been doing is offering a lot of follow-up activities (especially homework) based on those levels the students are at. Here are a couple examples below.
As a follow-up to our reading of the legend “Quetzal No Muere Nunca”, all students had to do comprehension questions. But then the following additional tasks were distributed to students, with their names pre-written onto them:
Busca 6 palabras de la leyenda que leímos hoy que quieres comenzar a usar en tu español. Utiliza la hoja de que dice “SNS – Palabras de Vocabulario”. Escribe la palabra, dónde la encontraste, y el significado.
Para saber más del folclor maya, leerás un extracto de “Popol Vuh” y escribirás un resumen y una reacción para lo que has leído.
Intermediate students had to look for new words to add to a vocab list to add to their repertoire, with the goal of adding to their ability to tell narrations and thus get them into the Advanced level. Students who I deem to already be in the Advanced category I gave them an extract from the Mayan account of creation and had them do comparison/contrast work and interact with it more. Comparison / contrast is an advanced level task, but having them interact with more advanced literature and history also starts to push them towards Superior level work and thinking.
Here is another example in conjunction with a reading of the legend “Los Novios”, a legend about two volcanoes in Mexico involving love, war, and death. As a class, we read the legend together, talked about its meaning, viewed artwork and listened to a song in conjunction with it. Below was the differentiated element:
(with worksheet): Below are the most frequently used 100 words in Spanish. Throughout this semester, you will make flashcards with them in order to spell them correctly. You will know the meanings – let´s see if you can get the spelling down.
Haz las preguntas de la sección B de “Los Novios”
Toma una hoja de papel y contesta las siguientes preguntas a base de la leyenda “Los Novios”.
1) A base de lo que leemos en esta leyenda, ¿qué tan importante era el papel de la guerra en la cultura azteca?
2) A base de lo que leemos en esta leyenda, ¿cuáles eran las características importantes que necesitaban los hombres para conquistar el amor de una mujer (y su familia)? Comenta sobre esto.
For the IL group, their task was just to read and understand the legend, and spend time building some basic blocks of written Spanish. The IH group needed to answer questions that included comprehension and also had them reflect on cultural and historical content. The Advanced group had to write a bit more extensively on the general principles of culture and society based on their reading. Being able to talk about principles and values in the abstract is definitely a function of the Superior range.
We’re now in our unit reading the humorous novel “La Casa Embrujada” and learning about Mexico. There was one unit in which a detective is falling in love with a lady they are helping, and another detective was pushed off of the cliff La Quebrada in Acapulco where world-renowned divers dive off of the steep rocks. Again, all students had to answer some comprehension questions for one of the chapters, but then I also created Intermediate and Advanced distinctions in the assignments given:
Pepino está enamorado de Sandy. Escribe una carta de parte de Pepino en donde Pepino le explica a Sandy sus sentimientos.
¿Qué piensas del clavadismo en los peñascos? ¿Es demasiado peligroso, o es un deporte como cualquier otro? ¿Participarías en el clavadismo? ¿Por qué o por qué no? ¿Qué le dirías a una persona que contestaría de una forma diferente?
Contesta estas preguntas en el orden que tú deseas con un mínimo de ocho frases abajo.
The Intermediate-level students worked on the level of explaining feelings and describing (Intermediate to Advanced level work), whereas the Advanced level students were given a Superior-level probe to push them to weigh the up’s and down’s to dangerous sports and deal with the topic of risk.
So here are some things I’ve learned, and some lingering questions about what I’m doing:
Start small with differentiation, not big. It gets messy. Example #1 above was earlier in the school year. I continued to differentiate like this during our legends unit. Although I feel it was a pedagogically sound decision to do this, what I found was that it was hard to give all students the help and guidance that they needed. There was a week in which we lost the sense of being *a class*. Sometimes some students were having to make flashcards, others were getting additional material to read, and it got to be a bit messy. Example #2 is more what I’m working with now: Let’s read something together, and then I give you a similar type of assignment (written response) pitched at different levels. That’s been working better.
Differentiated grammar? Not sure. Some of you may remember my post (here) in which I thought that I would be having everyone work on different grammar structures they to improve, on an individual basis. After actually meeting my students this year, and after seeing that I can’t necessarily give students different work all the time, I’ve decided to hold back on this. It may not be feasible. A lot of my students are proving to have difficulty keeping track of a personalized vocabulary list as I’m rotating around the class assisting different groups of students doing different things; how would they ever be able to work on por/para individually? Besides, grammar instruction with heritage students is a topic that’s up in the air anyway… icky.
Right or wrong? I’m not 100% convinced that I’m going about differentiation based on proficiency levels in exactly the right way. I surely haven’t divided my students up with a formal assessment of their proficiency. During the legends unit, I didn’t have the Advanced students share some of their findings with the Intermediate-level students – we had to keep moving on. I’m still working on this.
Assessment? My differentiation hasn’t made its way into the assessment category yet, but I’m looking forward to getting there. I’ll need a summer to chip away at this – not go to an OPI workshop from July 31-Aug 3, and then have it figured out by the first day of class on Aug 14.