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?

Codigo de correcciones screenshot

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.

5-21 preguntas about drones

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.

4-27 Los padres cultural relationship difference a comenzar

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.

 

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!

Heritage goals, heritage teachers, and random ideas – Day #2 from June 2018 workshop at Univ of Texas

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:

HL goals

And the core competencies that heritage educators need….

HL teacher competencies

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.

Radio Ambulante

“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.

Octavio Paz extract

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?

La Mesa image

“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!

Starting a heritage language program – takeaways from Day #1 at Univ of TX June 2018

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.

www.espanolabierto.org

espanol abierto photo 1

You’ve got to visit that SpinTX Video archive.  It’s amazing.

Heritage Spanish screenshot

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!

The most important thing to improve your heritage students’ proficiency

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”?  

 

Slide1

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.  

Slide2One 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.Slide3

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, 

Slide4
Class discussion about Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera, pardoned by Obama in January 2017

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?  

Check out some of my recommendations (and my journey) in this sequel post here!  

Other references mentioned:  

 

The Atlantic article https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/01/a-root-cause-of-the-teacher-diversity-problem/551234/

ACTFL Community forum, Spanish for Heritage Learners SIG, June 3, 2017.

ACTFL’s proficiency descriptors:  https://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/actfl-proficiency-guidelines-2012/english/speaking#superior