24 December 2013

Talk to Me: Genius Hour Experiment, Part 7

Google can answer most any question in any language these days. But without the human element, our learning falls flat and remains abstract, almost artificial. Without someone to test our answers on, our knowledge can never leave our heads. Therefore, to learn a language, we must seek an audience, and more than that, we must exchange ideas with that audience. It is our job as language teachers, then, to help students find audiences in their new language and teach them how to engage with those audiences.

I must confess, in my own novice experiment, I've been putting this one off as long as I could. The idea of approaching someone in Portuguese is...alarming. And I've got a few native speaker friends I'm fairly certain would humor me, if only because they're language teachers themselves. I've also got the anonymity of the internet on my side if I choose to go the Twitter or Skype or YouTube route.

But if I start it, it's real. And they might judge me--they will judge me, they will have to. If I put my Portuguese out there, I'm saying it's ready, when I know it's not.

So I've got to build up my own confidence. I've got to collect as much input as I can--without overwhelming myself--from DuoLingo, Pinterest, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (just having the occasional post in Portuguese pop up on my feed keeps me engaged with the language throughout the day).

I've got to make a plan.

Whom will I contact?
  1. People I know
    I know a Spanish teacher from Brazil and  a Spanish/French/ESL teacher from Portugal. They'd write me back (at least one of them may even read this before I write them). There's also my Brazillian cello teacher from third grade on Facebook if I'm feeling really brave...I don't know how much any of them would know about recycling or crafts, but I could surely do a "How is __ viewed in __?" type of survey.
  2. Tweeps
    I've added a few tweeps I have yet to contact, mostly who have reciclagem somewhere in their name or description. Their resources are generally laid out, so I pretty much KNOW what they know. I'll have to choose something specific to ask about, like one of their projects or a category of project that interests me for which they could provided informed recommendations and opinions (best projects for kids? best materials to use?)
  3. Skype in the Classroom
    While reciclagem turns up approximately 2 results, I'm sure I could ask some general questions of anyone indicating they would be interested in practicing English. And if I cannot find a random discussion buddy there, there's always LiveMocha or WeSpeke. I'm not sure how I feel about my students using those, but I will be looking more into them: WeSpeke looks especially promising. It would be especially neat to have them partner with someone in another country with similar interests to compare progress and share their findings, a sort of resource/motivator.
  4. Googled organizations
    Businesses, schools,
    and clubs devoted to selling recycled art or perhaps to green studies (do they even have those in Portuguese-speaking countries?) or to sharing projects might be willing to tell me more about what they do in their line of work, how they deal with reciclagem and/or artesanato on a daily basis.

How will I contact them?

  1. IntroductionOf course different contacts will have different levels of familiarity with A) my topic and B) me. So I would, after the fashion of my own discussion preparation plan, need to introduce myself and my purpose. Even for my Facebook friends, I'd need to introduce in what context I'm addressing them, my Portuguese-speaking self, if you will (poor souls--they've never met that version of me...I'm not sure I have, really. Reason #405 to be scared of this step.) As an aside, my kids that have taken the interpersonal step before me and jumped right in to tweeting questions were met with a little suspicion from their newfound tweeps at times. Just saying.
  2. Commendation
    If some random person from the internet contacted me out of the blue, I'd want to know "Why me?" So, without resorting to stalking, I should indicate what I know about them that leads me to believe they can help, even if it's their native language plus the length of time they spent in a Portuguese-speaking country. If some buttering up should take place, I would think that would be all to the good.
  3. Interrogation
    I mean, don't grill 'em, for Pete's sake, but ask what you want to know. Whittle each down to under 140 characters if you can, for simplicity and tweeting's sake. And try and keep it to maybe three specific--but not weirdly specific--questions. I can't imagine I'd get much but a bunch of question marks back if I asked "What do you know about recycling?" or "Do you like crafts?" At the same time, "What are Portugal's policies on recycling plastic bottles?" probably wouldn't get me too far either.
  4. Appreciation
    I'll have to thank them in advance for their patience with my Portuguese and their assistance in my progress. Even if all they do is say "Eu não posso ajudar," they have reinforced my language skills at least. And if they don't even respond, well, they helped by being there for me to at least attempt to appeal to them.

So I'm thinking this is what I'm going to need to check for students:

  • A contact list with a name and a contact point (number, e-mail address, or handle) from at least 3 of the 4 categories of people they can contact
  • A general e-mail introduction to set up their situation and what they need for someone who doesn't know them, and possibly a 140 character version as well
  • Tweet-length questions: if they can get it under 140 characters, it's probably simple enough, but they also have to make sure it conveys enough of what they're looking for, too; these should probably also be divided by the type of audience their addressing, too
  • Complete e-mail request that combines the introduction, the questions, and adds a logical closing--a sort of less-rough draft
  • Collected responses, probably on some sort of master Google Doc or Storify story (bonus if they get audio put together on a video or glog), with key parts highlighted
  • Summary of responses, wherein they have to put their own spin on what they've learned and elaborate on how this helps them
For now, I guess it's time for me to start assembling my own introduction and questions.


  1. You may have inspired me to pick up Russian again... you know, in my spare time. ;)

  2. I am currently writing my thesis on how Genius Hour in the foreign language classroom affects foreign language proficiency and student interest. You seem to be well-informed, and have experience doing this. Could you make any recommendations or direct to me to any research that you found insightful? Thanks.