26 August 2016

Authentic Texts as Windows: Products and Perspectives

When I was in college, interpreting Spanish was like looking through a window. A very thick, very small, very dirty window. I could perceive what I was looking at, but just barely, and with great effort. You know how people used oiled skins to cover windows in medieval times? They might have been more like that.

About grad school time, I was looking through stained glass windows: the view was nicer, but not altogether clear.

I think I've got pretty clear windows now. Maybe they could probably do with some Windex and elbow grease in places--and some blinds that don't go wonky when you try to open them. But I've got a good idea of what I'm looking at now.

It's taken me about 15 years to get to crooked blinds and spotty windows.

My early college kids only get 2 years with me.

So my plan is not to show them windows, but to show them doors--doors with windows. Doors they'll eventually be able to open and walk through one day, should they take a notion.

I would say I've been pretty good about incorporating authentic texts into my class since I figured out what "authentic texts" meant. And when I say "good," I mean I made a conscious effort to use them. It was kind of painful at first--lots of medieval skin windows that were windows into the culture, but really weren't appropriate for novices.

I've since gotten better about the windows I show my students and designing tasks that are, well, reasonable for beginning language learners.

That's why we start first with peepholes instead of full pane sliding doors--simple pop choruses and infographs with plenty of culture to see behind them, but only the smallest textual focal points. Then we can get broader and fancier, eventually building up to large, glamorous doors that are mostly window--but also mostly glazed panels.

Looking through

Reading this summer's #langbook got me thinking about how I could be more intentional about how my students address culture. I had started getting students to focus on products, practices, and perspectives with the telenovela unit, but in Keys to Planning for Learning, Terrill and Clementi emphasize analyzing the relationship among the 3 P's, and I realized that's something my students need to do to be thoughtful, observant, open-minded people.

As I contemplate the research students will be conducting for their semester-long marketing projects, I decided I would like to pause when we are examining authentic texts as a class to discover the answers to some basic questions:
  • Where does this text come from?
  • Who is the author?
  • Who should read it?
  • Why should they read it?
  • Does it represent a typical perspective? 
  • Can we find other texts on the same topic from the same culture?
  • Can we find other texts on the same topic from another culture?
  • What ideas are similar?
  • What is different and why?
This ties in with some of the November Learning training that our district is investing in this year, wherein Dr. November exhorts us to have our students compare perspectives from different sources and to take advantage of Google searches with different country codes. (I confess I'm particularly looking forward to what this looks like with resources on Pokemon Go, what with the local perspectives on Pokestops around the world and all!)

Another step I'm taking to get students to actually look through the peepholes and glazed windows to the culture beyond is through the weekly blogging assignments. Here's what the assignment looks like for Spanish I:

Write a blog post in English describing a product of a Spanish speaking culture with which you have interacted recently. 
1. How the product is similar to products you have observed in your own culture
2. How the product is different from product you have observed in your own culture
3. What practices, or activities from everyday life, are associated with that product
4. What those similarities and differences lead you to believe about the perspectives in the culture, that is what is valued 
Some possible product you may choose to reflect on include:
  • Infographs
  • Music videos
  • Class library selections
  • Personal practice
  • Interest videos

When you are finished, at the label CULTURA and publish the blog post end submit the link to that post on the Classroom assignment.

The first round of posts has been...educational. It's clear we're going to explore what counts as a Product of the target culture as well as how students draw their conclusions about what is typical (apparently Nicky Jam is the ambassador for Latino Attitudes (TM)--seriously, these kids are addicted). So it's going to be important to return to their assertions about Practices and Perspectives and examine them with a critical eye.

Although some of the posts are already doing me proud and showing that some students are able to get a good view even with just a peephole perspective on things like makeup tutorials and teen dramas.

They key to unlock the doors with those peepholes--and eventually windows--is going to involve looking inward as much as outward: setting aside the barrier and examining how much of what they understood was just what they assumed from what they could see on their side of the threshold. 

Here's hoping what they see through the windows inspires them to turn that key.

22 August 2016

New Translator Policy

The linguistic world is a-changing. We all have pretty awesome translators in our pockets--some even say the Babelfish of Hitchhiker's fame is already here! I mean, my students don't have it, and I doubt they will for years to come (I suspect it'll be a luxury item for the duration of my teaching career). But you can bet they've had smart phones that can turn a Spanish sign into English before their very eyes for a year already.

Sra. Stilson touched on why we still need to learn language (or acquire, excuse me)--luxury commodities aside. Because really, translators kind of get in the way when we depend on them to engage in personal relationships and to just enjoy art.

Still, as learning tools, they're pretty hard to beat. So here's the deal I'm making with my Online Spanish III class.

Google Translate is actually pretty cool. Did you know it can help you...
  • choose the right word you're looking for?
  • practice the correct pronunciation for new words?
  • revise your writing for mistakes?
Do you know what else? WordReference is even better! It gives you...
  • context sentences--in English AND Spanish!--to help make sure the way you use it makes sense.
  • notes about regional usage so you can figure out of the word will make sense to everyone.
  • definitions and context for Spanish idioms using the word you're looking for. 
  • forum discussions at the bottom of the page to find answers about specific situational usage (e.g. sports terms.)

Of course you know that Google Translate's not perfect yet, either. Its algorithms haven't fully grasped every nuance of Spanish or English--to say nothing of the 100+ other languages represented. And you will retain nothing if you spend all of your time looking up every single word for an assignment.
So here's what we'll do.
I firmly believe there is a time and a place to use a translator and that it can help you continue growing beyond even your Spanish work this year. And so, that means that 

    1. I WILL allow the use of dictionaries and translators BUT
    2. ONLY to complete certain assignments AND
    3. ONLY IF you follow these guidelines:

Translators and dictionaries are primarily for writing assignments, though there may be some situations in which a quick check for a word or two would be appropriate in a speaking situation. However, these tools are for learning situations only--NOT ASSESSMENTS. 
Assignments for which translator/dictionary usage is acceptable:
  • portfolio revisions
  • blog posts & comments
  • discussion boards
  • infographs
  • diagrams
  • scripts
  • comic strips
  • storyboards
Some assignments may indicate in their instructions that translators/dictionaries should not be used. Please read instructions carefully. But translators and dictionaries will NEVER be permitted for completing Integrated Performance Assessments.
IPAs are designed so I can evaluate what YOU can know and what YOU can do, not what WordReference knows or Google can do. I cannot give you accurate or appropriate feedback if you rely on those tools to complete those assessments.

Now, will students still misuse the translator? Probably. But we'll have a clear agreement ahead of time as to what is acceptable and what is not, a starting point for communicating about the desire to use translators.

So if you think this policy might help you and your kiddos, feel free to reuse the image with them. For online courses, the content page and quiz will be available on the Canvas Commons soon. And in case you need a print copy, I added a free editable .Doc to my TeachersPayTeachers store--quiz and all!

Translators are not the enemy, and dictionaries are useful in moderation. So let's help students figure out how to make these tools work for them instead of against them.

(P.S. Everything else in my TPT store is 20% off today!)