Sonntag, 10. November 2013

Grammatik im Klassenzimmer

Hallo alle!

Today is one of those days where I have little energy, but it's important to finish up some of the homework and other tasks I need to, so I can enjoy me week as much as possible. This blogpost is about by perceptions and ideas about grammar instruction in the language classroom, which can often times be a challenge to students and teachers alike. What I find most important to remember, is that grammar instruction needs to be fun and interactive, so as to keep students focused, as well as enable their ability to retain the rules, information and structures for future use.

My professor, Dr. M, talked to us about a U-Curve in grammar understanding and implementation. On the up-swing of the curve, students understand the rules and can use them with great accuracy, but much like any economics graph highlighting a boom and bust cycle will state, students hit a peak in understanding, encounter exceptions to the rules, and then all understanding is shattered once again. Students then need time to re-learn and explore, finding all of the hidden exceptions, memorizing them, and pushing past the irregularities in the grammatical rules.

In my German classroom, I noticed how many of my students were having issues with genders of nouns, and did a short lesson in regards to it. Trying to keep from the direct grammar lessons I received as a student, I attempted to make it as interactive as possible with a video and constant discussions. I also checked for understanding on the rules by feigning confusion and ignorance, asking my students to create their own rules/generalizations. For the most part, the class was engaged, but it wasn't as much as I would have liked. It's sad to say, but I feel as if the students have come to the realization that they don't need to work very hard any more, since the German program is closing after this year at Grandville. With this in mind, however, several college-bound students who WANT to continue with their German really interacted and joined in with the discussions, and helped guide other students.

To me, learning is ALWAYS a cooperative event. Students should be co-teachers and co-learners. I am just the captain on the ship, I set the course, tell the students where we will be going, and hand out tasks for them to complete. Students work together in a number of ways with one another in setting who is to be in charge of what aspect of the task handed to them, and they then are to navigate their own course to our intended destination in learning. Grammar is the exact same way. Having students sit in groups and talk about how the rules apply, what their generalizations are, how they function, etc... helps deepen student understanding, and I've seen how much more readily the students are able to internalize the grammar rules than I was.

The way I was taught verb placement, for example, was that "the verb is always in the second position except for when it is not." This is a grossly, horrible explanation, and when I got to German 301 with Herr A, I was in huge trouble for not knowing the rules. By allowing students to come up with GUIDED generalizations and ideas about the rules, students can help correct misconceptions, and incorrect ideas can be repaired much more easily by the teacher. To me, I feel as if I would have benefited from this style of instruction better, as opposed to a "be free, my little birds" or "these are the rules, learn them" approach. By having structure from the teacher, yet freedom to explore, students are more likely to understand things all the better.

However, we must consider differentiation in instructional methods in regards to grammar. Some structures, such as verb placement, can be open to student interpretation. Having students compile a list of times where verbs are in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc... position is helpful. BUT, when considering genders of nouns, I find that a direct approach, with group activities, helps wonderfully. There are always exceptions to gender in German words. What we need to consider, is how to teach the normal rules, then slowly introduce exceptions, while avoiding gross generalizations. To say that if a word ending in "e" is always feminine is not only misleading, but horribly wrong. Words like "Affe" and "Neffe" are masculine, even though they end in "e." Why? Well there are rules regarding that. All words describing men (family, jobs, etc...) are masculine no matter what, unless they end in -chen or -lein. Neffe, is German for Nephew, and because it is for a man, it automatically is a masculine word. By teaching these rules first, students can identify the exceptions quickly, and keep from saying "die Neffe" instead of "der Neffe."

With this in mind, direct approaches in the beginning help with some grammar rules, while allowing students to compile feedback, generalizations and ideas helps students understand others. It is important to experiment and see what works for what groups of students. Some are just naturally good with grammar, while others struggle. No single lesson plan can work for every class, and it's important to identify when one needs to change tactics to help students succeed.

To quote Robert Jordan in his book series, The Wheel of Time, "The moment the first arrow is nocked and the first sword is drawn, the battle plans have already changed." So it is similar in the language classroom. I generally start my Monday's off on task, but everything changes in an instant after the first warm-up activity, and I have to change activities around for each day. The moment the first question is raised, I already have to shift gears. The students are the focus of my classroom, and I wouldn't change that for anything.

Mit herzlichen Grüßen,

Dienstag, 5. November 2013

Second Professional Development Activity

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go and participate in a professional development meeting at GVSU for language teachers between the High School and University levels. It was really quite interesting to meet with various teachers and compare and contrast our various teaching methods across the language spectrum. As usual, I was in the minority as a German teacher, but I couldn't help but enjoy learning and connecting with some of the Spanish usage in the room, as well as witness some of the learning and teaching strategies employed in the Arabic classrooms.

We often forget, within our small departments, how similar and interconnected all language classrooms are. Many language teachers, departments and professors all work together, but they often hold a silent, and sometimes overt, competition between one another for students. The heavy-hitting goliath, which is Spanish, often dwarfs French and German classrooms, causing us alternative language teachers to feel as if we are trapped against our will in attempting to break out of the role of "minority languages." What this meeting did, in fact, was instill how similar we all are, and helped develop a more cohesive idea about what it means to be a language teacher.

When considering building language communities, ethnic and language clumping exists. It is a normal human behavior, in which individuals choose to spend time with those similar to their own ideals, interests and personality. This is often the case with foreign language. Although I have several friends in other languages, and we get along very well, during academic processes, we typically tend to stick with those within our language, even when working on projects in English. What this workshop taught me, above all else, is not necessarily HOW to go out into the community and use the language, but how to instill a love for the language, and possibly even connect with other languages.

Keeping a German department alive and functioning is often a challenge. Many school districts are focusing on turning over to being Spanish only, and as a result, German departments are shrinking all over the country. In an effort to curb this, rather than sitting around and complaining about low-student number counts, or focusing on cultural events like Oktoberfest, why not attempt to host a culture night at the school between ALL foreign language classes? Cultural foods could be put on display and offered to attendees, students could present several stories on histories or historical figures from their language's past, and families would be offered a time to see what the students are doing, and possibly consider sending siblings into different language classes in the future.

As one speaker noted, it is important to never underestimate the power of the family. If all language classrooms worked together, they could potentially help one another build up stronger ties, as well as keep each other alive. When hosting large, after school events, like a culture night, students could gain an understanding and appreciation for the other languages and the small, insular communities next door. Building a classroom community is always important, but building a departmental community is far more beneficial, and can be all the more rewarding.

In my honest opinion, I learned many great teaching strategies within the conference, but this was what struck me the hardest. No student group should ever go without interaction with other language learning classrooms, and students could only benefit from one another, when all foreign language teachers work together and promote one another. The worst that could happen, is that everyone loses a night they won't get back, and can simply never do it again. But by learning and presenting together, perhaps then, students, families, teachers and administrators will be able to finally come together and settle how to build a stronger foreign language community within their school system.

Mittwoch, 23. Oktober 2013

Professional Organizations

One thing I am stunned by, is the fact that there are multiple organizations for German educators within the United States. I've spent the past few hours looking through the memberships of American Council on Teaching Foreign Language (ACTFL), American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), and Michigan World Language Association (MIWLA). All of these programs offer a wide variety of perks and bonuses for becoming a member, and they all have many  different focuses in their outreach goals. With that in mind, I have a lot more deeper thinking to work through before I simply write a check, fill out paperwork, and send in any  membership request. Of course, I can join any and all of these organizations, but my bank account is draining through my gas tank faster than I'd like this semester, and I need to be more careful in my final decision.

I think it would be only logical to work through these organizations in order of how I first mentioned them. ACTFL is of course the most prominent of all of these. No foreign language teacher would be able to teach without being aware of this organization. Generally revered as the most widely known contribution to regulating and standardizing foreign language education, they provide one of the most comprehensive learning tools: the dreaded and revered ACTFL scale. As many of us know, this scale ranks any language learner/speaker based upon his or her skill level, and helps guide language learners to higher levels of proficiency. However, membership through ACTFL's website offers more than just a language guide, but an entire network of learning and teaching resources, podcasts discussing everything from differentiated lesson planning to how to set up a study abroad program/facilitate interest in students studying abroad, and any other number of teaching and learning tools. Regular publications become available to members, and discounts to professional development conferences all work to help motivate and inspire language teachers of all levels.

What struck me as the most impressive about ACTFL's membership bonuses, was that they have such a wide variety of things to offer members. Simply having a job-posting database makes any future language teacher or learner's job all the easier. No longer would I be restricted to rescheduling my life around GVSU's job fairs, nor would I spend days slogging through google searches for local and national jobs, and mind numbingly pounding my head against a desk while sifting through outdated listings on Suddenly, through ACTFL, I would have the opportunity to gain unlimited access to professional information, developmental tools and job hunting tools all in the same location. To me, this speaks volumes for what any professional organization's website should be, and the benefits of becoming a member definitely outweigh the costs.

However, what was interesting about AATG's registration process was that I could sign up for a membership through ACTFL as well, when I was looking to potentially check out with my order. This alone shows networking between ACTFL and AATG, and it makes both options together appear to be rather strong candidates for my professional membership. That being said, AATG does offer some interesting benefits which ACTFL does not so readily offer me.

As a German education major, AATG would be the best supplement to an ACTFL membership, or it would even function as a good starting point for any professional organization portfolio in my resume. The first thing that I noticed, when looking through the website, was how every educational resource was related to German culture, history and language learning in some way. Even if the main body of the text was in English, the topics and content were completely devoted to teaching and learning German. Whereas ACTFL has specific documents and articles pertaining to German, the entire AATG website is devoted to preserving and maintaining German programs across the country. In a time where Spanish is on the rise, and short-sighted school districts are switching to Spanish-only programs, organizations like this are all the more important.

AATG's website offers something unique aside from the general teaching resources. It also offers scholarships and grants to members for their study abroad needs, or for helping in maintaining a German program where they work/teach. To me, this was a major selling point, not just for my own potential benefit, but for the benefit of all members who need assistance in furthering the goals of the organization: to educate as many people in German as possible. If I needed money to start up an iPad program for my German classroom, this would be an excellent place to go and seek out potential grants to off-set start-up costs. If I joined and had time, I could even submit paperwork for scholarship grants for me to study abroad this summer. The educational resources are important, but having the financial opportunity to help fund my language goals to the benefit of future students only makes this a highly viable option.

What is sad, is how poorly constructed MIWLA's website is. To me, there is no way I would ever sign up to become a member of this organization simply because its website is poorly maintained. The job-postings board is greatly out of date, and the resources offered for teaching foreign languages seem to be much lack-luster in comparison to ACTFL or AATG. Offering discounts on educational resources to members is fine, but when ACTFL and AATG are offering far more in greater variety, I can't help but pass this offer by without much deep contemplation.

In the end, I need to truly decide between ACTFL, AATG or whether or not to purchase memberships to both organizations. Both of these programs offer a wide variety of help in becoming a more effective language teacher, and both are highly reputable. Although I haven't signed up for membership as of this post, I am heavily considering it, and I am looking to research more through forums, general discussion with professors, and even try and find time for my CT and I to get together to discuss whether it is worth spending the money or not.

I have by no means made a final decision, but doing comparisons of my two main choices has helped me in developing a better understanding as to what it is that I am looking for in a professional organization. I'm already a member of Phi Kappa Phi honors fraternity, and I have gone to numerous professional development meetings already. For me, this is a slower process, but worthwhile. I want to be sure before shelling out money for something like this, and I want to make the most of the resources either option would make available to me.

I'll probably update this with more information in a "Part 2" post later. I want to talk with some professors and teachers first, and see what it is that they feel is the best option.

Mit herzlichen Grüßen,

Freitag, 18. Oktober 2013

The Language of Technology

Technology can be one of the more challenging things in the world for me to integrate into the classroom. It never fails, whenever I need to access Youtube, the internet is down, or lagging. Whenever I need to use the overhead projector to show the students a presentation, something isn't working properly. I'll admit it, and I won't beat around the bush, I'm terrible with computers, and I'm terrified of having my students lose focus with an iPad in the classroom, or come across some obscene image/website either by accident or design. However, technology is an important aspect within my teaching methods and styles, and I rarely go a day without some form of it in the classroom.

It is true, that language learning is easier with technology. Without the use of email, Skype or other chat programs, apps and features, students would be limited in being able to be engaged with native speakers in either real-time or nearly-real-time. Having email pen pals is one technique I would love to try with my future students, and it would help to greatly increase language exposure between students in both Germany and the US. Similarly, having a class "skype date" with a native German speaker could be a really fun class time activity, in which students would be able to ask a variety of questions, as well as be more fully exposed to the language in ways that would otherwise be impossible when bound to the United States.

I already use Youtube regularly, either with videos pertaining to the vocabulary,  a poem, music, virtual tours of a landmark, or any other number of cultural exposure items, which we would otherwise not have in an American-based classroom. I have already seen a greater influx of interest in my students whenever they are given the opportunity to listen to music, read the lyrics and jot down notes all at the same time, with the end of the activity culminating in either small or large group discussions about what it is that they were being presented with. Just a simple, weekly music exercise as a warm-up, when using Youtube has helped my students in so many ways, by simply exposing them to all four modes of communication within language learning. In just a short span of time, I have seen a dramatic increase in language usage, retention and understanding already.

Similarly, the use of video has played an important role in teaching my students about the history and culture of Germany. Although reading is important, having instead a short video about a landmark, historical building, or cultural practice from Germany is far more interesting for my students. It also has the added bonus of helping visual learners, and can open up far more in-depth discussion about the topic at hand and increase class participation 100 fold. Because of this, I am far more inclined to use Youtube as a teaching tool. Of course, I would refrain from making it a crutch, or my main method of teaching, I would use it as a supplemental tool to facilitate learning, rather than replace it.

After a short, professional panel about technology in the classroom this past week, I have learned about several other interesting teaching tools for iPads, wikis, and group projects which make learning more interactive, interesting and fun for all parties involved. Although the greatest obstacle to technology in the classroom is the availability of the technology itself, simply using one iPad in the classroom can create a plethora of opportunities for all language learners, but by not having a 1 to 1 ratio, students are limited by time constraints. However, by using free apps, such as Sock Puppets and Screen Chomp, students are able to record themselves speaking while presenting/acting, then listen to how they said things multiple times through, and possibly help address weaknesses and strengths in the language (when students are seeking to address such aspects in their language development). This allows not only for a fun, low-stress opportunity to give a presentation or act out a play for more shy students, but it offers a new way for students to self-assess themselves, making corrections along the way.

Games are always a fun way to grab a student's attention, but learning through technology, and changing up normal tasks can add a wonderful variety to the classroom. As a musician and one-time, prospective music major, I will once again return to the topic of music in the language classroom. Instead of using a CD to hear a piece of music, Youtube can provide a fun mode of watching and listening to music, or programs like Garage Band would open up the ability for students to write and produce their own German music as a final project. By simultaneously bringing culture and language together through music, coupled with varied technology use, students then would be given the opportunity to use the four modes of language communicative use, as well as be given variety and choices on how to perform a task.

As was discussed during the panel, giving students the option of using/not using technology, and then giving them the option of various TYPES of technology, only helps students in their focus and interest in the assignment. Student work quality increases, and students are given much more freedom to produce meaningful projects on their own terms. As is my favorite classroom management technique, giving students choices only yields better focus and more willing participation. If I were to assign a project in which students were to present about their family, they would be given the options of using PowerPoint, Word, Publisher, Prezi, Glogster, Youtube, or any other number of free applications. Suddenly, a dull, routine classroom exercise in speaking becomes a fun, worth-while task. Students use the language in a retention-oriented manner, and they are given ample opportunity to learn through speaking, writing, reading and listening, which would contribute to more meaningful classroom discussions.

For me, when evaluating the quality of a technological tool, I always look to see if the application engages students in the four modes of communication in some way, or at least lends itself to the major overarching theme of the unit, lesson or plan. For example, in my Nibelungenlied unit, students are exposed to a lot of medieval and historical vocabulary from the story. To tie in culture and history, as well as the vocabulary and overarching themes of the story, I look for music which uses the vocabulary for that week, as well as pertains to the subject of the story we are reading. Our auditory and reading exercises through Slow German (a podcast from a native speaker), although not medieval, match the week's lesson in some way: weddings/relationships when the story is about the characters getting married, or even clothing fashions, when we are discussing the clothing, armor and fashions from the Nibelungenlied. And finally, using presentations with culturally relevant pictures of the vocabulary only helps retention, and visual, auditory and mental bombardment of language stimuli.

In short, technology helps students to learn a language more easily. However, it is not without its limitations. Viruses, popups, dead batteries, power outages, and any other number of Murphy's Law nightmares can throw a lesson plan off kilter. As is my advice, and a personal practice in all forms of my life, I always keep a contingency plan in my back pocket. If I cannot teach it without technology, then it shouldn't be taught without a completely separate back-up plan. Anything can happen within the classroom, and it is best to be prepared, but technology usage, no matter how subtle, adds to the lesson and captivates students more effectively than straight-up lecture/discussions.

Mittwoch, 25. September 2013

Professional Journal

After reading what felt more like a psychology journal, as opposed to a language journal, my head is spinning. It is rather implied that language acquisition and usage affect the brain and development of an individual heavily, but it is rather interesting to examine it from another perspective. We all learned our primary language in relatively the same way: immersion and trial and error. We struggled through the nuances of our native language, and fought against the oddities and exceptions displayed within grammatical structures from dative and accusative case, all the way to the strangeness of plural forms of words. In English, we learned that they are "eyes," not eyeses. When we learned about "boxes" and "foxes," "oxes" appeared to be a logical extension of grammatical rules, only to realize that we should have said "oxen."

What makes learning grammatical rules interesting, is that we often operate from implicit or explicit reasoning and knowledge. When we simply just know, and often times have a gut feeling about the correctness of a grammatical structure, we are working from our implicit knowledge and reasoning. If we are explaining and reasoning through a grammatical nuance, then we are accessing our explicit knowledge and/or reasoning. For instance, when asked when they know to use dative or accusative case in a sentence, Germans often shrug their shoulders and say that they don't know, it's simply what feels and sounds correct. However, if a German were to go into detail in regards to direct objects receiving the verb's focus dictating whether to use accusative or dative case, or the rules applied to prepositions, then we would be working from explicit knowledge.

As outlined by Xavier Gutierrez in  the journal "Studies in Second Language Acquisition" (Volume 35 Issue 03), he noted that many educators are interested in gauging the progress students are making, when handling grammatical rules. Although he did not expound much upon it, in my understanding and opinion, implied reasoning and understanding would be considered the natural form of language, whereas explicit is the more understanding of the two, in which a language user is able to share information about the rules used in a particular grammatical query. He argued that, in order to measure how much of either form of reasoning is used, a timed or untimed test would be administered to two different groups to gauge the results/responses. By needing more time on a problem, during the timed test, subjects were deemed to be operating from explicit reasoning, whereas, if they automatically knew whether or not the sentence was grammatically sound, then the subject was operating from an implicit reasoning pattern.

Similarly, on the untimed version of the test, subjects were asked to explain why a sentence was correct or grammatically incorrect. This allowed to highlight explicit reasoning, however, if a participant left the comment section blank, he or she was deemed to be working from implicit reasoning. Although there were limitations in fluency, factors in stress, and many other outside influences, this study can give us some interesting information, especially for in the classroom.

When giving a test to students, what should we be testing for? Should we test for correct grammar, and not worry about what level of reasoning and knowledge that they are working at, or would it be best to administer a speed-test, and gauge how well our students are able to spot errors? Would we rather have our students fill out a grammar sheet, and explain how each and every item on the test is correct or incorrect, to see if he or she has mastered/memorized the rules? Personally, I would rather have the students be able to use both forms, depending upon the situation, and formative testing would be a good marker as to the progress students are able to move through. In slower test, without much of a time limit, having students explain what grammatical rule is being violated or upheld allows for deeper thinking and reflective processing. However, as I am often in trouble for doing, students can  over-think many aspects, and trick themselves into finding fallacy where none lays, or even thinking that everything is perfectly okay, because deductive and/or inductive reasoning led them to that conclusion. How often do we stare at a test sheet and waiver between two possible answers on a multiple-choice questionnaire? The same could happen here.

If we were to use an explicit style of test, students could show their thoughts on paper, and then work towards deeper understanding and contextualizing of the rules. From there, simple "yes/no" tests could be administered quickly to see if the students have deeply ingrained the information. In my opinion, I would say that this should be the approach to any form of grammar instruction in an secondary language classroom. Modeling and scaffolding are some of the things that I use as tools in almost any area of teaching, and it only makes sense when discussing complexities such as this. I'll show you the rules, apply them with you to certain circumstances, then we'll do them together, then you do them with a partner while I watch and guide you, then you guys do it yourselves, then you reproduce it and show me. This is the basis of how I run most of my lessons, and it allows the student to drive the speed of instruction. With this in mind, students can be slowly released into the language, when discerning correct or incorrect grammar from reasoning out the rules, to automatically knowing them.

From here, another article within the same journal, tied into implicit learning and reasoning nicely. Ronald P. Leow and Mike Hama discussed the intricacies of testing for implied learning, that is, learning done without even knowing it. The factors in conducting any experiment to test for implied learning consistently only expound upon themselves. How does one keep the subject from responding to being examined, when he or she is supposed to be learning without knowing it? However, when teaching for the test, or even integrating classroom management into a lesson, students are unable to recognize that they are learning certain skills.

From what I understand, if the class rules state that all speaking must be in the target language, students will recognize it, and be able to follow the implicit rule without even thinking about it. That being said, although this is behavior modification, the students would then be more able/willing to learn more of the target language, just by speaking only in that language. This then primes the brain for learning without being forced to do so. New words are learned based on context alone, pauses in learning are diminished, and students can forge ahead. However, how does one gauge something that isn't even supposed to be noticed?

One thing that I have seen in classrooms is the constant checking for understanding on topics, rules, vocabulary and other items from previous lessons. Students automatically know certain words and ideas well before they even know it themselves. Simply think back to when you were last immersed in a foreign country in your target language. How often did you use words properly, without even knowing the English counterpart, but you gained the implied meaning, and could work from there? The answer should normally be "a lot." So it should be in any language classroom.

In the end, how we learn and use a language matters little, when the end result is self-evident in our daily usage. What matters is how our students learn to use the language. Simply using my father's "read the f***ing book" approach will not work, and implied learning is the best kind. How often do we enjoy things that we didn't know were happening to/for us? How often do our unexpected surprises turn out to be a blessing? So it should be in learning. From what I feel is akin to "learning shouldn't be work," students will learn more, if they don't even know that they are learning it.

Freitag, 20. September 2013

Lesson Planning in a Foreign Language

Lesson planning has and always will be a mainstay in teaching any subject. Before any music rehearsal with Olde World Music Club, I typically outline what we will be covering by posting our weekly meeting agenda. Although I know we will never get through all the music I would like us to, having a guideline is worth putting together, not only for myself, but for my club members as well. My weekly practices have carried over into teaching, and even before I was president, I would do lesson plans for tutoring, lessons and the few times I've had to teach a class.

Although argument abounds over what format to use, and frankly, I absolutely HATE Hunter's model, when backwards design is much better, lesson planning contains many of the same elements, no matter what subject it is. Having a strong, teachable objective that is measurable through some form of assessment is key, and even formative assessments in group discussions or exit slips work wonders to see how well your lesson went.

With this in mind, I talked to my adviser, mentor and in many ways, my friend, Herr Anderson about his lesson planning strategies. According to him, in the beginning, he used to cling heavily to the outlined lesson plan he would carry to class every day, and would rarely deviate from it. To him, giving up control to the students was like losing a battle, and to deviate from the plan was not a very good option. He used to have many of the little details planned out ahead of time, and would then refer to his notes almost religiously during each lesson. Eventually, as he became more comfortable in the classroom, Herr Anderson moved away from this and put more emphasis on having student-led discussions with guided modeling questions, which means he would have a set of discussion questions set up, but allow students to run with follow-up questions, points and arguments.

Many of Herr Anderson's lesson plans are derived from sharing ideas and strategies with colleagues throughout the Modern Languages and Literature Department at GVSU. When asked about this further, he claimed that Herr Neitzert, a fellow German professor, often came up with incredibly amazing lesson plans and assessments that would push students to use their newly-attained vocabulary in a contextual manner. Rather than doing simple translation vocabulary worksheets the entire class hour, Herr Neitzert created open-ended drill questions that allow the student to gain full points, so long as he or she answers the question in an appropriate manner. Herr Anderson said that he's been using these techniques in his lesson planning, and it has allowed students to grow exponentially in their use of the language. Basically, to be an effective teacher at any level, Herr Anderson said that it is best to become flexible and steal as much as you can from other teachers when developing lesson plans, as well as to hand over power to the students in any activity.

Even though he is willing to experiment with lesson plans and designs, Herr Anderson typically uses a backwards design approach with the end-goals of the class in mind with every unit plan. For instance, in a German literature class, he might come up with a general, over-arching theme which fits into a specific learning objective, and then find the appropriate texts for the smaller units that fit into that theme. Finally, Herr Anderson will work on lessons within a two week time frame, and plan the homework around that. If the plan works, he saves it for next year, updating post-lesson notes as the semester progresses. If the lesson plans are a failure, then he scraps the idea, and tries a different approach.

In essence, if the theme of the class is "Das Individuum gegen die Gesellschaft" (The individual against society), and the learning goals are for students to be able to develop their own reading strategies and to be able to interpret and discuss German literature in a variety of formats, then Herr Anderson will then choose appropriate texts to fit that theme. In this scenario, we'll assume that he is using the anti-fairy tale, Der blonde Eckbert by Tieck, and will build lesson plans around note-taking while reading. The text will tie into the strategies involved, while the strategies being practiced feed directly into the reading. With a goal in mind, Herr Anderson is able to teach towards the test, so to speak, while allowing students to grow in their studies, and maintain a sense of direction within the classroom.

Whereas Herr Anderson is heavily focused on the end goals of his class, my coordinating teacher, Frau Mahoney has a different approach all together. While there are benchmarks in national and state standards within foreign language teaching, Frau Mahoney has much more freedom in lesson planning than Herr Anderson does. She is the only person in the German department at her school, and she has had to build the curriculum, for the most part, on her own. This being said, she of course has goals and themes for each semester/year of study for her students, but she is far more flexible within her lesson and unit planning. If she finds that the students are struggling in a certain area with grammar, she will tailor the next lesson to include that study through activities, homework and games. If the students seem confident and competent in a particular area, she moves on to the next task. Flexibility is key, and there appears to be consensus about that.

Because she has more flexibility, Frau Mahoney told me that she often plans each unit out on a large piece of paper, emphasizing the goals of that unit, objectives and themes. If the The students are expected to be able to speak and write in the past perfect tense by the end of the unit, she will then pick texts in that Vergangenheitsform, and build exercises, warmup activities, and homework around it. However, she has one of the most unique and interesting ways of building a unit out of lesson plans that I have ever seen.

Rather than use the rigid structures employed by the College of Education, Frau Mahoney keeps her end goals and objectives in mind constantly, but writes down what little objectives she wants to work towards each particular day and/or week. She then takes those objectives, and puts them on ten pieces of paper, and writes out what activities each day she can do to meet those smaller goals. Once that is done, she cuts out the pieces of paper, and lays them out, and maps out what lesson she wants to do when. This allows her to remain extra flexible, delete a lesson plan if the students need more time on something else, or to meld two or three lessons together. It really is an amazing idea that nobody has ever talked about in the College of Education, and I think I will be trying it out when I start working on my unit lesson plans for my History and German classes.

From what I've learned, just by talking with a college professor and a high school teacher, lesson planning has a lot of different approaches. I agree that borrowing, collaborating and stealing is one of the best ways to build effective lesson plans in any classroom. In fact, my first-ever German lesson plan on reading strategies has now become a weekly warmup for the students. Of course, they groan over having to do work/read hard texts, but their improvement is apparent, and it shows how good Frau Mahoney is as a teacher by simply being willing to take an idea from somebody else. If there is nothing else I use or learn from this, it's that borrowing from other teachers is a good, worth-while effort.

I do like Herr Anderson's overall unit approach by doing backward design, but I also like Frau Mahoney's scrapbooking technique. I think I will be doing a combination of the two. With a definitive developmental end goal with a piece of literature as the basis of that unit, I can then turn around and build each lesson plan as a part feeding into a bigger river of knowledge. If that is my approach, it won't matter what activity we do when, so long as we have the same end goal the entire time, and each day we work on everything in a steady manner.

I have a lot of good ideas, but we'll have to see how it goes. I want to experiment around a little and develop my own style, and now is the time to do it. I'm looking at doing around three units this semester, and I can try my own approach, Frau Mahoney's and Herr Anderson's for each of them, and compare at the end as to what I like best. I'll probably return to this idea later on so I can reflect on it further and share any further thoughts I develop as time goes on.

Bis dann,

Mittwoch, 11. September 2013

A hypothetical letter with real-world implications

Today's blog is about a letter to teachers and administrators as to why I feel they should not cut the German program within my hypothetical school district. Hopefully, I will never have to go through with this sort of thing, but as a future German educator, this is a distinct possibility, especially since Spanish has, and probably always will be, the language of preference for many ISDs and districts.

To the parents and school district of (INSERT DISTRICT HERE),

It has recently come to my attention, that the school board is seeking to remove all non-Spanish language classes from our schools. This is one of the more disheartening possibilities that has been put forth for consideration for quite some time now. The implications of moving to a Spanish-only program are far more damaging than may first appear. First, and foremost, students will be limited by what they can study and retention of a language will diminish through forced decisions on what sets of languages students are allowed to learn. Being a Spanish-only district will send a message to our students that their preferences and feelings toward their own education do not matter, and that they are to be simply being treated as numbers on rosters. Of course, learning Spanish, or any other language, is of great value within our society, as we push for more emphasis in a bilingual society. However, forcing students to learn a particular language against their will does little more than to force them to refuse to put forth effort in order to rebel against learning the new language.

As a high school student, I was given the choice between French and Spanish. Several friends of mine, who had immigrated from Spain, had confided in me that the that Spanish programs at the school were teaching a debased form of a Mexican-dialect of Spanish, which, as they explained it, was little above the level of Ebonics or Cockney in English. That being said, I opted for French immediately, even though I would have preferred a German class instead. By having the choice between Spanish and French, I was able to live with my decision and work towards learning my new language. I wasn't nearly as happy as I could have been, had there been a German option, but never the less, I found the situation far superior to that of being forced into a Spanish room against my will.

With that in mind, think of this scenario another way. It is your first day of band, and you have no choice but to play the French Horn. You have no say in this, despite arguing and begging to be allowed to play the clarinet. Instead, you are told to sit quietly in your chair, read the music and play along with everyone else, or you can fail and be kicked out of the class. Most students, when forced to learn something against their will, when choices are normally offered to them, will rebel openly or silently by refusing to put forth more than the minimal amount of effort. The experience of playing in band, or being in a language classroom, is then greatly diminished, and the student is cheated of potentially building upon life skills, thinking critically, and potentially becoming globally aware of issues and ideals outside of his or her general home-town surroundings.

Secondly, we must also consider the implications of a Spanish-only school. With the number of Spanish speaking children enrolling within our district continually rising, we must consider the possibility of these students being cheated of the ability to learn a third language. With a Spanish-only program, and state and school requirements forcing students to take two years of a foreign language, should we truly rob these students of an experience that could enrich their lives by allowing them to take French, Italian, German or even Latin? We emphasize resume building and college preparedness, yet we balk at the idea of producing exceptional members of society when the time calls for it. When given a choice between one, bilingual student who's native language is Spanish, and said student studied Spanish for two years, or a trilingual student, who would you hire or accept to your school? Student one appears to be lazy on paper, since he or she opted for Spanish, even though the student had no choice but to relearn a language that he or she was already proficient in. Do we truly want to hinder the abilities of our students in the future due to our short-sightedness?

Lastly, we need to consider the global implications of limiting our students to only one foreign language option. When considering the vast majority of European nations, and dare I even compare the United States to the superiority to language literacy within the developing world, many foreign students are at least bi or even trilingual. Several family members of mine are from India, and they speak Hindi, English and Gujarati. As a supposedly developed nation, it would seem to be of greater importance to allow our students to have the option of learning multiple languages if they so choose. If the United States is to remain a viable nation within the global economy, our students need to be well-equipped for the work world beyond our school's campus and even the university classroom. Continually, bilingualism is becoming less and less preferred within the professional realm, and our students deserve to be exposed to as many languages as possible.

I ask each of you to consider these vast and sweeping implications. I am not speaking from a perspective of maintaining job security, but from the standpoint as an educator who cares about the future of our children. If we are to push for the success of our students, then we must arm them well, train them for what is to come, and gird them for the battles before them. Without versatility in our curriculum, the whole system in itself will fall apart from within, and our students will suffer greatly.

With much respect,

Herr Evan Semeneck