Dr. Roca Presents
Ideas on Teaching Heritage Speakers of Spanish
Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I love languages — plain and simple. I love the sounds, the ability to communicate with someone who has a different world view, and the challenge of decoding a complex system of sounds and patterns that mean something in an entirely new way. Living in northwest Arkansas, I have the opportunity to practice a number of languages, but most of all, I have an obligation to keep my language learning current in order to share the knowledge with my future teachers in the MAT program.
On Monday night I attended a three-hour workshop on the challenges of teaching heritage speakers of Spanish. In the spirit of lifelong learning it’s always nice to sit back and absorb a presentation or lecture, but Monday's workshop came with an added bonus for one who loves languages. It occurred to me once I arrived that the workshop might be presented entirely in Spanish! And for the most part it was! I held my own, so to speak, and managed to understand a good two-thirds of the presentation.
Dr. Ana Roca from Florida International University came to the UofA to share her expertise in working with bilingual speakers of Spanish and English. Dr. Roca began the evening with her own bilingual story — a tale of travel from Cuba to Florida when she was nine years old and the challenge to gain and retain literacy in two languages. To the thirty-plus professional educators attending the event, her presence in northwest Arkansas was inspirational. Dr. Roca’s knowledge and experience confirm that our efforts to address the linguistic and cultural needs of a growing population of Hispanic students in Northwest Arkansas are “spot on.”
Her presentation provided several strategies to consider as we continue to welcome new and returning students into our classrooms:
- Teachers should find out what the students think and believe about their own language skills.
- Teachers should assure students that they are indeed bilingual.
- Teachers should help students focus on getting to know one another and finding out about each other’s country of origin and language journey.
- Teachers should provide engaging assignments that pique students’ interest and provide topics for rich discussion.
- Teachers should provide plenty of opportunities for students to hear different speakers of Spanish using the language in a number of settings.
- Teachers should organize instruction so that students feel comfortable in discussing their experiences and giving their opinions through partner and small group work.
- Teachers should scaffold instruction in the skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking so that students can learn the kind of language needed for academic success.
- Teachers should consider content-based instruction to achieve the literacy skills needed for successful acquisition of academic discourse.
Although these strategies are just a few of the examples Dr. Roca shared with us in the brief span of one evening, her enthusiasm, passion, and generosity will stay with us as we implement her suggestions in the classroom.
Some Cultivate, Some Destroy
Weeds, Habitat, Hunger, Social Justice
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2014
Late June in Northwest Arkansas and we still have our windows open. Temperatures linger in the low 80s during the days and upper 60s in the evenings. We’ve also been graced with lots of rain out here in the countryside at Three Dog Acres. The little rural lanes abound with exquisite clusters of Queen Anne’s Lace, daylilies, black-eyed Susans, daisies, butterfly weed, and a smattering of pink and heather blooms I can’t find a name for. The fragrant scents of privet, honeysuckle, and magnolia add a special flavor to the early evenings, quiet times when the clouds drift in layers to partially obscure and visually enrich the sun’s farewell.
My beau and I cultivate patches of wildflowers throughout the property — islands of nectar and sustenance for the many winged creatures. The buzzers and bumblers, the bees and butterflies and dragonflies, are not as abundant as they once were. We bemoan the fact that soon, government mowers will appear on the county lanes to denude the roadsides of their floral fashions, robbing us of beauty and decimating the habitat and food sources for our smallest inhabitants. It’s unjust for the roaring machines to destroy so much abundant life under the guise of “removing weeds.”
But injustice exists at the human level, too, and it’s a shame that our clashing cultures continue to bicker, struggle, and ignore the plight of so many of our citizens. Arkansas allows six out of 10 of our children to go to school hungry, despite the presence of six Fortune 500 companies here in Arkansas. Our region is home to one of the richest businesses in the world, Wal-Mart, but the presence of vast corporate wealth doesn’t keep over half of our children from being hungry at school.
At the University of Arkansas, a few of us are speaking out for equity and social justice in the education system. At the second annual symposium on Multiculturalism and Social Justice held on campus on Monday and Tuesday, over 50 participants listened, learned, discussed, and shared how media and images present opportunities for teachers to connect with students and establish an environment of equity and respect.
We almost doubled our attendance at the Symposium this year, so I am determined to maintain a positive attitude about the concept, hoping it will catch fire and continue to develop as we hold our course straight ahead and begin planning for the third symposium next year.
Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvna
Cheerleaders for Choctaw in Durant
Posted on Thursday, May 22, 2014
It's my second evening in Choctaw Nation as guest of the Choctaw Language School (Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvna) in Durant, Oklahoma. My friend and colleague at the school, Teresa Billy (Teri), contacted me in April to invite me to present at a workshop for the Community Language Classes. My presentation was this morning.
Teri and I go way back to 2007, when Eb and I "wandered" into the school on one of our road trips home from Santa Fe. Eb had heard about the language school on one of his road trips west, and since my own passion is language, we decided to drop by and visit this unique school. Teri and I recognized our common commitment to language and teaching and hit it off right away. We began to collaborate on several projects, including offering Choctaw through distance learning at the University of Arkansas. We have maintained contact over the years and always end up having long conversations about language teaching whenever we get a chance to visit.
Choctaw is the third largest native language spoken in the United States. The Choctaw Nation offers language classes in many contexts — for high school foreign language credit in the Nation's schools, for college credit in many Oklahoma institutions, through free on-line courses, and through community classes.
The community classes are created upon request from Choctaw citizens scattered across the globe. All they have to do is contact the school and request a qualified teacher. Though most of today's participants were from Oklahoma, two were from California.
I was the first presenter this morning to a group of 50 language teachers. This was a nice "homecoming" for me and a chance to see a lot of good friends. Teri, now Assistant Director of the Community Classes, is passionate about implementing a new technique, the Repetitive Language Method, so my workshop focused on using oral language to create an engaging learning environment.
Jim Parrish, director of the language school, opened the morning with a brief lesson using the new method, which was a great warm-up for my presentation. We spent three hours practicing a number of techniques that involve student collaboration and language production. It was non-stop action and a lot of fun for all of us. Many of the participants thanked me during lunch for joining them in their efforts to be "cheerleaders for Choctaw."
In the Slushy River and Furious Snow,
I See Reflections of Corporate Intrusion.
Posted on Friday, February 14, 2014
Up early on Valentine’s Day to fulfill my responsibilities as board member and conference planning committee co-chair. Gray dawn reveals yet another round of snow reflected against the great arch of St. Louis. I open the curtains in my suite to greet the morning and admire the view of the slushy Mississippi River, the Arch park, and the large white flakes falling furiously on the city streets.
At a 7:30 fellowship breakfast we welcome the 2014 Leadership Academy participants. The board members extend greetings and President Gallavan delivers words of encouragement to the group. I welcome everyone to the conference, outlining the coming events and special features. All board members report on their particular responsibilities. Most of the current board members and the president have graduated from the Leadership Academy. It works. We are leaders of a national teacher education organization, ATE, the Association of Teacher Educators.
I’m honored and awed that I have a role in this prestigious association. Teacher education programs bear the brunt of the negative national discourse regarding public education, so it’s imperative that there be a voice of support for our beleaguered colleagues and public school teachers.
However, I’m not sure our “voice” speaks forcefully and often enough to counter the moneyed opposition to public education and the insidious efforts to privatize this vital public trust. My teacher candidates work hard and must fund their own efforts to become master teachers with an eye toward a career in education, while the Walton and Gates arms of the corporate world generously fund any graduate who wants to teach for a brief season in the underserved areas of our nation. Long-term solutions versus the quick fix.
The inequities in funding for professional education programs compared to the stream of corporate dollars now pouring into fashionable private initiatives tear at my heart.
On the one hand, I observe the hard work and consistent effort of my students, who are trudging the extra mile to become licensed professionals through a proven and highly successful masters program. They are highly qualified and motivated.
Then, on the other hand, I see corporations with strong profit motives and even our own institutions support a cadre of passionate social reformers as they enter our classrooms with minimal preparation in the ways and means of teaching.
Our students in the Masters of Arts in Teaching Program are passionate, too, but they have 33 hours of master-level coursework and hundreds of hours of practical, rubber-meets-the-road experience as interns before they earn a classroom of their own.
I'll call-up a well-worn but appropriate allusion: Something is rotten in Denmark.
She, He, It.
What's Your Gender? What's Your Stereotype?
Posted on Thursday, February 6, 2014
Some languages identify every noun by giving it a “gender.” Spanish and French use masculine and feminine words before the noun (articles that are equal to “the” or “a/an”), and German adds a neutral identifier. Some uses of these articles make sense. A woman is identified by the feminine article in German (die Frau) and a man has its own correspondence (der Mann), but a girl is designated by the neutral article (das Mädchen). However, a boy in German is not identified by the neutral article as one might suspect. The boy is identified by the masculine article (der Knabe/Junge).
As a language teacher and educator, these quirky designations are accepted as, well, quirky, but some of the eccentricities of languages do revert back to our cultural patterns of behavior. Why would a girl be considered non-gendered in a language, but a boy would not? I don’t have an answer, but it does beg a closer look at the way language, gender, and social expectations align.
Consider this anecdote. Lately, I’ve been corresponding with a colleague from another institution regarding procedural matters. I’ve never met this colleague, but he was referred to me as a resource. As our correspondence developed, he adopted the male pronoun to identify me based on my given name, Freddie.
I find it amusing, not offensive. But the assumption of my gender based on given name also makes an academic point because it reflects cultural boundaries relegated to naming girls and boys. I was named after my father Fred, and I treasure that honor despite my gender identity. I’m little Fred (Freddie), and though I don’t hunt, fish, or play golf like my father, I possess other qualities associated proudly with him.
The gender and sexual orientation topic is presently under discussion by the 2013-14 MAT cohort in my Multicultural Issues class. My students are writing about these challenging and often perplexing issues as part of an assignment. As I read their papers, I'm discovering that gender stereotyping is alive and well in 2014. Some pundits call sexual orientation the most current civil rights debate. I can certainly understand that when I’m reading about girls being called “sweetie” by male strangers and boys being called “gay” by their male counterparts because their tennis shoes are dark blue!
I find in my mature years a shifting perspective regarding the priorities of teaching in the 21st c. classroom. As a novice teacher back in the day, my focus was on content (and a lot about me!). As an experienced teacher, I began to focus on the student with the content a close second and very little focus on me.
In my discussions with the interns, I stress the value of putting their focus on student needs — academic, social, psychological, and physical. Let’s face it: public schooling can be a trying time for our students, who need our support, care, and respect. We can leave our stereotypes in the school hallway (or the dustbin) as we welcome students into an exciting, engaging, and caring classroom learning environment. Perhaps by our own examples, we can model behavior for students so that gender-based stereotypes can disappear from our common discourse — at least disappear in our own little havens for student learning and personal growth.
Let's Schedule a Storm.
Better Yet, Let's Learn a Language.
Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013
The talk around campus is the impending weather event predicted for Thursday and Friday of this week. A foot of snow in Tulsa! Rain turning to ice turning to snow and sub-freezing temps! Judging by the reaction, you'd think the storm is scheduled instead of predicted.
My students are already planning for a snow day or two. E-messages are flowing through cyberspace, creating scenarios of if, then, when! Should we reschedule this test? Cancel that event? When will the first flake fall?
Hard to imagine the severity of a winter storm amidst the deceptively warm temperatures on this third day of the Advent season — upper 60s with a flawless blue sky. I must admit, though, that I plan to drop by the local grocery and stock up on basics! Bread, milk and eggs — bread, milk and eggs! With Arkansas weather, one never knows what could happen, does one?
What I do know is the palpable reality of student anticipation regarding another semester approaching its end. We have another week of classes, a week of finals, and a late December 21 graduation before the official dismissal of classes for winter break. I’ve also noticed an underlying weariness in many, who are less attentive to matters at hand and more focused on grades to come.
One of my responsibilities is to encourage students to be successful and realistic. Blending the two sometimes requires a delicate balancing act. I returned an assignment today in which many students met the standard but held hope for a higher grade. I had to remind them that they are novices in the teaching field and that our course is a process of building a foundation for future proficiency in foreign language instruction. Pep talks usually have a positive effect, so I hope this one did, too.
Learning a second language as an adult is quite a challenge; teaching a second language is even more challenging. The teacher has to know the language and the culture as well as the pedagogical skills necessary to instruct and inspire students to persevere in their studies. Unlike some subjects that center on content knowledge alone, language studies involve learning about the content first and then learning how to use it in conversation and writing. For example, we learn about American literature in English and history courses, but we don’t have to produce poems and novellas. In a language class, you have to learn about the target language and then you have to put the language into action to get things done.
If you want to teach a language, you have to know about it, know how to use it, and know how to teach it. It’s a complex combo and takes years and years of study and practice for the practitioner to become proficient. Experience shows us that we need seven-to-nine years of early development just to become moderately proficient in our “mother” language — and that arises from an environment of total immersion. Our education system requires each learner to take “English” every year at school, so add another nine years to become advanced.
In foreign language education, our future teachers must prove through rigorous testing that they have Advanced Low Proficiency in order to teach in public schools. It’s a stout challenge as you can imagine, especially if the prospective teacher waits until college to begin formal study of their target language.
I admire those brave, few souls who persevere and decide to make a career of teaching another language.
Fall Colors / Fall Back
Sizzles and Pops
Posted on Tuesday, November 5, 2013
I raised the shades in my office this week since we’ve had a number of overcast days with cool temperatures. Two sets of seven-foot tall glass windows allow more than enough heat into this small space on a sunny day, so raising the shades and pulling back the curtains is a rare treat. If I lean back in my chair a bit, I can look to the northeast and see a palette of autumn colors on Mount Sequoyah. It’s my favorite time of the year, and I appreciate the view. I love the mist and subdued light of late autumn, the iridescent glow of ginko leaves caught in an intermittent rays of sunlight, the umber and sienna hues from oak and walnut leaves.
The clock time has also shifted from “spring forward” to “fall back.” The effect is palpable — stifled yawns and blurry vision — as I try to adjust to the hour’s change. Fall colors / fall back .… the year falling to a close.
Endings always present the opportunity for reflection, and I chastise myself for not taking the time to sit back and enjoy the crackling fires so well-tended by Teacher Bowles back at the hacienda. When I do slow down long enough to absorb the warmth and attune my ears to the sizzles and pops of the flames, I drift off for a catnap.
My students were also drifting off today. Fortunately, our classroom has two walls of windows. Today all the blinds were raised, so we had lovely views of the trees on the lawn of Old Main.
Instead of focusing on linguistics, I devoted today's class time to reviewing two major assignments. After assuaging their concerns about the first assignment, we discussed the importance of culture as part of their commitment to teaching language. Four weeks from now, each student will present a cultural practice from their target-language country. Class finished with students suggesting a number of possible practices to present from holidays to eating habits. Food for thought, for sure.
Stretched like Taffy
Searching for a Smoother Change
Posted on Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Last week my thoughts meandered around the theme of balance. This week I change course — not in mid-stream — to consider change itself.
I’ve got the shade raised in my cozy office to look eastward, mainly to take advangage the soft light of a late afternoon rainy day. The weather has changed. Rain moved in yesterday morning and cooler temperatures followed.
I’m scarfed, coated, and booted for the moisture and chill. Not a bad thing either. The pronounced change of season makes living in northwest Arkansas pleasant with recurrent surprises each time the earth tilts and travels.
I’ve also gotten to know my students better and noticed the change in them as well. I know who is prepared and who struggles, who vacillates and who holds the course. I see the triumphs and tragedies as we move forward in our daily efforts to improve and persevere.
Change is most evident in my friends and colleagues who have young children. One of my former students just sent a Facebook Invite to celebrate her son’s first birthday. How quickly children change in 12 months. What if we didn’t measure time in days and hours? We would be much more attuned to more relevant changes in people, places, and the natural world. I think we would move in a flow rather than in fits and starts.
Driving from campus to my rural home at yesterday’s end of the work day, I imagined myself to be a piece of taffy stretched thinner and thinner with each revolution of the taffy paddle. How thin does the taffy have to be before it is molded into a piece of chewy candy? What happens if the taffy snaps? Do the paddles stop? Is the taffy still good?
Any taffy-makers out there?
Career and Family, Home and Hearth
Posted on Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Balance and priorities. They seem to contradict each other. My current priorities revolve around my career for the most part, but that focus impacts the overall balance in my life. It seems like I’m parsing time for family and friends, home and hearth. I try to remember the accomplishments of each day rather than the failures.
This challenge is mirrored all around me. My students appear distracted and fatigued — it’s mid-term and many have multiple exams. The MAT interns are planning units of instruction, and at the same time experiencing an increase in their teaching loads. Faculty are preparing for conferences and presentations, striving to carve time out for research as we teach and perform other duties.
I realized this past weekend that the balance had tipped when I slept for almost 12 hours straight. The corporeal me took advantage of the quiet, rainy Saturday morning. I hadn’t realized the extent of my fatigue until I checked the clock, expecting to see an 8 or 9 on the digital face. I was amazed that it was 11:38. It was luxurious to be at home on a Saturday and still in bed without any appointments to keep.
Now it’s back to late nights and early mornings. I'll be heading out the door before 7 on two mornings this week for conference obligations. All in a week’s work.
A small consolation in the frentic rush of life in Northwest Arkansas is the cooler temperatures. It feels like autumn at last. We’ve even covered some of our more fragile plants at Three Dog Acres as temperatures dip into the upper 30s. October is a grand month.
A Credible October
Routines, Demands, Stress
Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013
October has finally arrived, and though the scenic vistas of our mountainous aerie still reflect the greenery of late summer, the idea of fall permeates campus. Students are in a routine; fall fashions appear more frequently; football season is firmly underway. Absenteeism is up as the demands of the semester influence students’ health and welfare. Many students work, raise children, and take a full load of courses. tress is unavoidable.
My students will have a mid-term test next week. How quickly the weeks slip away.
Ironically, our class today focused on the smallest unit of meaning in a sentence, the morpheme. We examined each word in several sentences, looking for “free” and “bound” morphemes, whether the free ones were “lexical” or “functional,” and if the bound morphemes were “derivational” or “inflectional.”
The students asked some challenging questions as we explored and dissected the vocabulary of each sentence. What is the most basic unit of the word “incredible?” Is it “credible,” or do we stretch back to the Latin root, crēdere? And is “cred” a new word derived from “credible”?
What entertainment for the first day of October!
A Lifetime of Achievement
Posted on Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Back in my office at Peabody Hall, the first task that pops up on the screen is a request to design an award for Dr. Stephen Krashen, who will travel to Arkansas in October for the annual meeting of the Arkansas Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Our organization will present Dr. Krashen with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in second language acquisition and teaching.
I’ve studied Dr. Krashen’s work for some years now and even met him one ARKTESOL conference long ago at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. His theories in language acquisition are foundational for my students as they prepare to teach other languages.
As I reflect on today’s capstone class, it’s not a far stretch to imagine the connection of Krashen’s theories on reading comprehension to the lesson of the day — how words are formed in English. Understanding how words are borrowed, clipped, converted, and combined promotes vocabulary retention and expansion, which helps students to understand what they read.
I asked the students to ponder how these formations are reflected in their target languages of French, German, and Spanish. Put on the spot, they struggled to come up with examples, so we will pursue this question another day.
A Phonetic Challenge
The Mysterious Path to Conceptual Knowledge
Posted on Thursday, September 19, 2013
Sometimes I forget the challenging nature of learning new material. Information that seems logical to me appears arcane and mysterious to my students.
For the last two weeks, my class of future teachers has been learning the phonetic alphabet of English and the phonetic alphabets of their target languages. I assumed they had a fairly good understanding of how and where the sounds of English were produced, but today I realized how much more they need to practice.
Teaching requires patience and a lot of repetition but not redundant repetition. You have to work around and through a concept, ponder the essence of the thing, and consider why it exists. You have to figure out the fundamental purpose of each concept. Students want to learn and like to learn, so it's up to their teachers to create lessons that keep students engaged.
So today, the students wrote their name poems on the board in the target language using the phonetic alphabet. Each student read their poem aloud, and then their classmates guessed the meanings of their adjective descriptions. Being adept language learners, the listeners quickly guessed the meanings of their peers' word choices.
Some students used nouns rather than the required adjective forms. I also found some errors in their homework transcriptions.
To facilitate practice of the phonetic forms, I divided the class into two groups. Each group reviewed the phonetic consonant forms for five minutes. Then they put their forms away for a competition. I called out the manner and place of articulation. The teams discussed the answer and then a team rep raced to the board to write their choice. The first group to write the correct phonetic letter got a point, and the first team to get five points won the competition.
Watching the progress of the game helped me figure out how my students were thinking about the topic and what they needed to review.
The last part of class was a homework review on the same topic. Once again, the discussion and comments helped me to better understand my students' conceptual knowledge.
A teacher's work is never completed. More review is often needed. And it always helps to reflect on a day's work done.
The Sweet Spice of Phonology.
Taking Care of the Commonplace
Posted on Tuesday, September 17, 2013
After a day in the digital salt mines, the effort to slow down and think requires a few minutes of meditation. Deep breaths, softened focus, and quiet.
The day began and ended on campus with students. One of my mentees dropped by before her 9:30 class, so we caught up on her academics and chatted a bit about the weather. An intern called with assignment questions. A former intern called asking me to visit her class as a guest lecturer. I wrote a letter of recommendation for another of my mentees, who is trying to get her research funded. I recommended a former student for a job. Text messages were bouncing back and forth on a group message service for the officers of the Native American Student Association. Interspersed with student affairs were emails with colleagues regarding organizations, meetings, and admission requirements — and a block of time devoted to class preparation and research.
But the day finally wound down with my capstone class and a chance to focus on something I really love — language learning. Everyone was present today as we continued our study of phonology. Students transcribed English words into the phonetic alphabet, which generated a lot of discussion on pronunciation and debate about the exact sound we attempted to transcribe.
It's a good feeling to leave campus after a lively class with rich discussion — sweet spice at the end of a good day.
Safe and Comfortable = Learning
Doing the 'vowel run'
Posted on Thursday, September 12,2013
Every minute is valued in the classroom. Whether the focus is on the planned sequence of events or an unplanned discussion, I try to maintain a sense of learning.
Today was a good day in our third week of classes . The students are becoming more relaxed and getting to know one another. Getting to know me, too. This familiarity is somewhat unique to the U.S. education system, but research suggests students learn more readily when they feel safe and comfortable in an educational setting.
I never thought about that when I was a student some two-score years ago. The teacher ruled and the students served — we rarely collaborated on anything and the classroom norms were strict.
I appreciate the casualness of the classroom setting in our college. Students are learning from me and from each other. Their discussions are focused on the topic almost exclusively, and the information we share contributes pertinent information for everyone. Time management remains challenging because there is so much information to access and share.
Today we did a “vowel run” to hear the progression of sounds from high front to low back, beginning with the word “bead” and running through 12 more words beginning with “b” to finish with “bird.” It was fun to exaggerate the vowel sounds and listen to the students sounding out their words. To my dismay, we didn’t have time to do so in their target languages, so I think I’ll ask them to try to create their own vowel runs in their target languages next week.
Joys of Articulation
Sometimes it all comes together.
Posted on Tuesday, September 10, 2013
I always get a bit apprehensive right before teaching a class. When humans and technology mix, you never know what might result. Fortunately, today’s combo was quite delicious. Biological and digital entities complemented each other nicely.
As our group of language students began to explore the phonology of sounds, I was impressed with the enthusiasm they displayed imitating my exaggerated utterings for each of the 40 English phonemes. With several languages represented in the class, students tossed in a few challenging sounds they had learned in their studies. One student told us about a glottal stop unique to Arabic; another connected voiced and voiceless production to Japanese.
I’m always gratified when students make connections to prior learning and especially joyful when students work together as the group did today. They labeled the places of articulation from the larynx to the lips. I pointed out all the possible ways the air escapes the lungs to form sounds in English by connecting the places of articulation to the terms used to describe them, such as labiodental and alveolar. And they asked questions!
What a marvelous moment for a teacher — students working together, asking questions, making connections, practicing new information.