Amigos, I don’t know about you, but I need something to distract my mind from Trump, Kim Jong-Un, and Dennis Rodman in a MAGA hat all landing in Singapore to chit-chat for a few days. To get our minds off of that, how about we get an update from Day 2 of the annual heritage language teaching conference from the University of Texas at Austin?
Today’s entry will consist of (1) the what and the who of heritage language teaching; (2) a random smattering of ideas and resources that were brought up at the conference; and (3) a few things stated at the conference that I disagree with. Comment your thoughts below!
Heritage teaching, heritage teachers
The main topic of the day was talking about the needs of a heritage course, and how heritage teachers need to be equipped. Powerpoint can be found here.
These should be the main, overarching goals for a heritage language course. Notice how much of it is affective:
And the core competencies that heritage educators need….
There’s so much that could be said about all of those things above. Heritage teachers have to be aware of how to build up their students’ identities, approach their curriculum with an additive approach (versus “replacing” the Spanish they speak), and foster a love for literacy in the heritage language.
So what are some ways to do that? Below are some things that were shared at the conference.
Potpourri of resources and ideas
Beginning of the year surveys are very important for collecting info about why your heritage students are in that class. It’s particularly important because you can pick up on inferiority complexes they may have about their language ability or cultural identity. The teacher can include elements in the course to directly address these through planned conversations about U.S. Spanish and reading pieces about Latino identity.
“Radio Ambulante” is a podcast that we as heritage teachers must start using in our classroom. It’s a subsidiary of NPR, but all in Spanish, and based on the lives and stories of people in the Spanish-speaking world. Now, here’s an amazing thing: Radio Ambulante’s Vimeo channel runs the subtitles to all the podcasts as videos. Check it out.
“The Abuelos Project”: This year-long project gets students grounded in their culture via a series of interviews and conversations they need to have with an elderly person in their (heritage) community. See info about it here, on 18 slides. This seems a bit ambitious for my classroom, but I think a modified version of it would be in order. Aren’t our students’ communities and families a source of learning sitting right under our noses that we often ignore?
Photography and presentation of Hispanic presence in the community. The presentational mode is the most difficult mode of communication that our heritage students struggle with. One project idea that was shared was having heritage students go out and photograph the Hispanic presence of their community, and then doing some sort of presentation with it. One professor shared that her college students did this and presented it at a community event. What a way to have students document the barrio.
Teaching accents: Advice was given to focus on diacritic accents and frequently used words in Spanish that carry accents, and that should take care of about 75% of accented words in Spanish. A professor stated that she doesn’t see that teaching explicit accentuation rules helps students. Good point to ponder. I am thinking more about how little my explicit teaching about language seems to make its way into my students’ actual language use, although I do have some ideas cooking about how to address that next year. Not sure if I’m ready to give this up though, especially since I’ve boiled the topic down to a single-page flow chart after teaching the concepts of llana, aguda, and esdrújula.
Authentic text about Mexican identity: A teacher at the conference mentioned that Octavio Paz, in his book “El Laberinto De La Soledad”, writes a lot about Mexican identity. I’ve been perusing some parts here in the book (gotta love all the PDF’s of novels on the Internet), and do find that he unpacks a lot of elements of Mexican identity in chapter 2 entitled “Máscaras Mexicanas”. Some parts might be a little advanced.
Three points of disagreement
I was debating whether or not to make mention of this, but I think it’s worthwhile to start bringing up some interesting points where heritage teachers may differ:
“Use translated materials”: Some presenters at the conference promoted the use of materials that have English and Spanish versions available, which would be resources like “Cajas De Cartón” or “The House On Mango Street”. I absolutely grant that texts like these are excellent for the identity element. Having English versions of texts available could help literacy development. However, I strongly believe that we as heritage teachers need to steer away from translated texts and find authentic texts for our heritage students. ACTFL encourages us to do that with L2 students; how much more with heritage students, who already struggle with an ‘authentic’ sense of self? I find many translated pieces to be really rough to read through. Can we start compiling a list of authentic literature that would be good for us to use, and perhaps hang it on COERLL’s “Resources” page?
I’ll start: “La Mesa: Historias De Nuestra Gente”. This is fantastic. I’ve used several chapters from this, but I’m thinking of asking my school to purchase copies of this and just make it a whole unit. What else is out there?
“ACTFL doesn’t provide a good framework for heritage teaching.” Although it is true (to my knowledge) that ACTFL hasn’t laid out specific official guidance for heritage course design, I do believe that everything that heritage teachers need to know does fit within the 5 C’s— albeit different elements within each “C”. Also, I must say that knowledge of ACTFL proficiency levels are incredibly informative for the heritage teacher, as I have written about here and here.
“Non-Hispanic students from dual-immersion schools are not heritage students.” At my high school, I have always placed White students that come from K-8 dual immersion schools into my heritage classes, and all (with the exception of one) have done very well there and would have missed out on a lot had they been placed in a regular language classroom. Dual immersion schools are going to become more and more common (Chicago Public Schools has the vision to have 30 by the year 2020), and I think that high school and college language programs shouldn’t overlook non-Hispanic students who have successfully acquired a language naturally in a dual immersion context. Linguistically, they are HLL’s in my opinion. They may not be HLL’s based on family and home culture, which Valdés has always included in her definition of a HLL (see here). But considering the amount of hours of their most formative years they spend in the context of the heritage culture in a K-8 context, I would think that they qualify in some way – at least for purposes of language placement.
And that concludes the report from Austin, Texas. Hopefully this will spark some great ideas for your heritage classroom– perhaps even better ideas than those that will come from Singapore this week!