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