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.