Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cultural Comparisons and Contrasts: Utilizing Google Voice

As a teacher on a 4x4 block system, I typically have about 90 students at a time. As a teacher on a traditional 7 block system, one can have about 150 students at a time. It is a slice of my proverbial work pie that I must work to know, see, speak with, and hear all of my student every day to the best of my ability.
How I view my role as an educator, 2014
Additionally, as a modern language teacher, I need to assess my students' speaking production on a regular basis. I have experienced that with a classroom of 25-30 students, it is difficult to give up that precious learning time, so that I can hear each student speak and give feedback. 

This year, I experimented with a new tool that I believe will free up some of that time formally spent on speaking assessment. Much less often will my students sit and patiently (passively) wait for their turn at the language steering wheel. That new tool is Google Voice

Old teaching practice: assign students a guided conversation task to role play with a partner with a set amount of time to prepare, assess their progress by having them perform that conversation in front of the class, enter grade in gradebook

National Standards for Foreign Language Education
Standard 1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions
Alabama Course of Study Languages Other Than English
Modern Languages Level 1.3.: Present oral and written information in the target language using familiar vocabulary and correct structure in the present time frame.
New paradigm: assign students a guided conversation task to role play with a partner, give students an allotted amount of time and then WHEN THEY ARE READY, they submit their speaking sample IN A PRIVATE SPACE with their cellphones using Google Voice, return to the classroom to WORK ON ANOTHER TASK while other students finish, assess their speaking samples when I choose, FORWARD STELLAR SAMPLES to parents of students using Gmail with a note of encouragement (Look! Your student is speaking German! Prima!), enter grade in gradebook

Last year, I was able to do this type of activity twice with German 2 students. Both times, it went so well, that it seemed too good to be true. Only a couple of technical glitches occurred, and I just asked those pairs to resubmit their speaking samples with no penalty. No complaints, no resistance, and the students were all engaged using the target language and technology. It's truly an administrator's dream. In fact, I tweeted about my first run with Google Voice on February 5th, which was Digital Learning Day (#DLDay). My instructional partner retweeted that, which then got retweeted by the Alabama State Superintendent of Education, Tommy Bice. (Apologies for the tooting of my horn, but I thought it was nice to having world language learning recognized at the state level!)

Screenshot from my Twitter @frauboynton, 2014
I'm now considering ways in which students can use Google Voice at another level. I'd like to see them use it for culture discussion, for example. Maybe at the end of a unit of Austrian culture, like this one about the city of Salzburg, students could speak for 2-3 minutes about the similarities and differences between Salzburg and their own hometown. For novice learners, I believe that this can totally be done in English. For intermediate to advanced learners, this can be done in German. For those students at all levels, who are continuing on to Advanced Placement, this is an excellent activity to prepare and vertical team for the Spoken Presentational portion of the exam.

Google Voice also allows opportunity to do collaborative work with other subjects and classrooms. At the end of the day, building COMMUNICATION skills should be a primary objective for all educators.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy. CCRA.SL.6
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
For a clear and concise perspective on the value of podcasting and students submitting digital work, watch this video. I believe that it applies to this arena of students using Google Voice, as well.

During the past two years, I have developed several interdisciplinary units with colleagues in my building. What if at the end of a lesson, we assessed our students' understanding of the connections between the world language and culture class and the other subject area (science, math, ELA, music, art, etc.) using Google Voice? I think that it could be even more powerful than before.

I presenting to at my school district's professional development day on this topic, so I've created a Padlet wall with the resources that I have found to be most helpful with getting ready to use Google Voice in the classroom. If you know of any others that are good, please leave a comment and share!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Me

First, the CLICHÉ, I did not imagine or expect that I would still be blogging about teaching the language and cultures of the German-speaking world a whole year from last June! On June 18, 2013, I posted my first blog entry. 28 entries later, I continue to write and to find inspiration regarding this discussion about how I teach, think about teaching, and reflect on teaching the language and cultures of the German-speaking world.

Second, the PLAN for year 2, now's there's a scary thought. I periodically ask myself, do I want to keep blogging? Do I have more things to share about teaching and learning? What else about my Austria experience do I want to share with my students?

Last, the HOPE that I have for myself. People often ask, "Looking back, what would you tell some younger/earlier version of yourself?" I am going to tell myself today what I want to hold as my wish for the next step in my developing, growing, evolving teacher-self...
Keep writing! 
Keep dreaming, innovating, and stretching for more! 
Keep wishing for a professional development opportunity that takes you to Switzerland!
Flammkuchen, Cafe Henrici, Zürich 2011

Lake Zürich, 2011

Farmers Market in Luzern, 2013

Thursday, June 19, 2014

No Culture Left Behind

Tag! Salve! I'm a world language teacher. I support students as they build skills to comprehend and produce a new language. I also provide them with opportunities to experience different perspectives on this thing we call life. 

Not too long ago, I listened to a woman speak about what German companies are looking for in prospective American employees. [I'm paraphrasing here.] She said, "Yeah, it's nice if Americans can speak or read or write some German, but what German employers are really looking for is an understanding of German culture, values, and perspective." 

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!? I've been drilling my students on verb conjugation, adjective endings, spelling rules, 16 ways to say "the", prepositions, noun cases, word order, ...... and now you're telling me that global success is more dependent on CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE & UNDERSTANDING?

"It's high time, that something changes.!" Frankfurter Flughafen, 2013
So, I began to change what I did/do. No more heroes and holidays or foods and festivals. When I create or select a LANGUAGE activity, I ask myself, "What aspect of CULTURE is present? A product, practice, perspective? If none, where or how can I add one in?" 

After doing this for a few years, I am still hitting bumps along the road. Parents of students and colleagues make complaints about culture education in the world language classroom all the time. "Too much Austria!" "All you teach is Mexico." "I can't assess culture." "I don't have time for culture." "Switzer-what?" So, I'm still searching for methods and strategies to make my teaching of culture even better.

  • How does one teach culture most effectively?
  • What are my obligations to representing the expanse of the culture relating to the German-speaking world?
  • What does a teacher of Spanish do, when there are 20+ Spanish speaking countries?
  • With Google at the steering wheel, will my students gain valuable knowledge or skills related to culture?  
  • What serves the student better: a.) a buffet-style presentation with a taste of everything along the way? b.) a three-course meal with a solid serving of a few items that the teacher/chef feels are his/her best? c.) a pile of ingredients with instructions to the students to make something? d.) something else??

Truth be told, I've NEVER had a student complain about any culture lesson. They look forward to learning about the new culture. They long to visit the places that we discuss and explore. They beg for more culture! Many of them sign up in the first place for a world language class, because of  their interest in the culture or history of the people whose language they will be learning to use. It is such a disservice to not deliver culture in a world language classroom.
Making Schultüten for German 1, 2009
A few articles about teaching culture: (ELL has been working on this for a while, WL folks!)
UNC School of Education "Teaching World Cultures" Regina Higgens
"Practical Techniques for Teaching Culture in the EFL Classroom" Cullen, 2000.

P.S.: Couldn't you just image an entire activity with the photo at the top about energy use? Reading, grammar, vocabulary, AND culture (Germany's value on global issues, German power outlets) all in one photo!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Austrian Art Series: Kokoschka

Schlafende Frau, Oskar Kokoschka, 1906-08
Like the girl above, many art prints are currently snoozing in my classroom closet. After two successful activities focused on paintings done by Austrian artists (Klimt's Der Tod und das Leben was the first and Kokoschka's here was the second), I am very much looking forward to using more of them during the next school year. As well, I'm so grateful for all of the resources that Fund For Teachers has afforded me, so that my students and I can experience more visual art.

Let me share with you now, how I built an activity around Oskar Kokoschka's piece "Schlafende Frau/the sleeping woman." It is actually a part of a larger series by the artist. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a nice write up on it. Or you can read in German at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg about this piece.

The bold strokes and colors of this Expressionist piece completely pull me in, and I love how it gives me and my students the opportunity to discuss Expressionismwhich does not get the marketing push that the Impressionists do.

The activity that I created for this artwork is for a day devoted to learning stations. Each station is given 20 minutes. The activity was completed by students in German 1. The students who came to the Austrian art station found these tasks:
  • read a biographical text about Oskar Kokoschka
Kokoschka war österreichischer Maler und Dramatiker.
Er wurde 1886 in einem Dorf namens Pöchlarn in Österreich geboren. 
Er wohnte und studierte in Wien, als er jung war. 
Er ist bekannt als Maler des Expressionismus, wie Vincent Van Gogh und Edvard Munch 
Er kämpfte in dem ersten Weltkrieg. 
Er reiste gern und wohnte in vielen anderen Orten, wie zum Beispiel, England, Nordafrika, und Deutschland. 
Er starb am 22. Feb 1980 in der Schweiz.

  • view the painting
  • discuss with your group the painting using the prompts provided and record your responses.
  1. Was siehst du im Bild?
  2. Welche Farben hat Kokoschka benutzt?
  3. Was passiert im Bild?
  4. Wo ist das Mädchen?
  5. Wie findest du Kokoschkas Gemälde?
  6. Was für Gefühle drückt sich das Gemälde aus? Freude? Angst? Traurigkeit? Mut? Wut? Etwas anders?
  7. Geben Sie dem Gemälde einen Titel.
In retrospect, I need to develop an activity to accompany the biography reading. Not sure what to do with that yet. I don't want it to be too complicated, but it needs something that motivates the students to actually read the text. Maybe a targeted word list for the students to sketch?

I'm glad that I'm pushing my personal envelope and utilizing art in the classroom. I'm dreaming of a summer workshop in Switzerland that is all about art history in the German-speaking world. Can someone get on developing that for me?

If you are interested in a copy of the handout that I made for this activity, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

Hooray to me for completing a blog entry about an activity that was completed in November! :)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Salzburg For The Win!

Since living and working in Alabama, I have been taking groups of students to the University of Alabama German Day, which is our day of competition and exhibition for all students who study German in Alabama. Events are divided into three main categories: speaking performance, academic challenge (writing, reading, listening), and visual/artistic. Underneath the umbrella of academic challenge is a contest known as Geography. Each level of German is assigned a city or region to prepare for a pencil-and-paper quiz. This year, my German 2's received Salzburg as their assignment, so I seized this opportunity to integrate some more Austrian cultural perspective into the classroom.

My teaching strategy for this topic was structured so that almost everyday over the course of approximately three weeks (beginning in mid-February and lasting up until German Day itself, March 7th), my students would work with a bit of Salzburg culture and/or geography.

I've never been a fan of memorizing dates, facts, and figures, so I had this challenge of how to make this information RELEVANT and AUTHENTIC and INTERESTING for all involved. To accomplish this goal, I chose to keep it very visual, personal (whenever possible) and language-based as possible.

Here is the schedule of topics and activities that I ended up using:

  • Introduce Salzburg as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its Historisches Stadtzentrum, show a photo of the Getreidegasse and the Markt with the Salzburger Brezen stand

Salzburg, 2011
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mozart's Geburtshaus (read the sign hanging outside it), Notice the use of "Jänner," and read a short bio written by me about Mozart

File:Mozarts Geburtshaus.JPG
  • Physical geography of Salzburg, used text from (it was one of the recommended resources to read from the University of Alabama) and an outline map of Austria for labeling, students also had to create three reading comprehension questions of their own of any type in German after reading the text.

—  Die Stadt Salzburg liegt an der Salzach (der Name eines Flusses) und am Nordrand der Alpen. Salzburg ist ungefähr 150 km südöstlich von München (BRD). Sie ist die Landeshauptstadt des gleichnamigen Bundeslandes und mit 145.871 Einwohnern (Stand 1. Januar 2013) nach Wien, Graz und Linz die viertgrößte Stadt Österreichs. Der Name “Salzburg” kommt aus der lateinischen SpracheSalis Burgium”. Die Römer wohnten dort von dem 1. Jahrhundert vor Christus bis 5. Jahrhundert vor Chr. Salzburg trägt auch den BeinamenMozartstadt,” denn in 1756 wurde Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, weltbekannter Komponist, dort geboren.

  • Salzburg and what it experienced during World War II beginning with the Anschluss 1938 through the American bombings 1944-45 and how it changed the city
  • The Mirabellgarten, Zwergelgarten, and the filming of The Sound of Music (lots of photos for this one plus a video clip of course from the movie)
  • Famous Salzburger: "Wolferl", Johann Michael Haydn, C. Doppler, Joseph Mohr, Georg Trakl, Felix Baumgartner, Maria von Trapp. I gave the students a slide with clip-art and images on it representing each person and asked them to guess who belonged to each image. 
  • Stiftskeller St. Peter (oldest restaurant in Europe!) and Salzburger Nockerl I just realized I should have had them read the recipe for this!
Salzburg, 2013
  • Salzburger Dom, the Kollegienkirche, religion and the story of St. Rupert who revived the town with the salt mines 
At the very end of it all, we played a Survivor-style game called "Mensch, Ort, oder Sache." Since the geography quiz at German Day would be trivia-based, I wanted our final formative assessment to model that. It was fun. On the day of the quiz, we didn't have any winners, but that's okay because the experience of focusing on Salzburg was very rewarding and enriching. 

Personally, I learned about the Zwergelgarten while preparing for these discussions, which I had missed both times I was in Salzburg, so now I have something to seek out the next time that I am there!

If you have any other ideas of topics regarding Salzburg that I could include for my next go-around with this unit, please share! Continue to teach culture. It's vital to language learning.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Marillen aka Aprikosen fresh from the fruit trees in Graz, 2013

It's a fortuitous thing that my German 2 class is scheduled during third block, which wraps itself neatly around our lunch block. A January 2014 article on National Public Radio on how language affects our view of the world mentions recent research that "...that if you're hungry, you'll pay more attention to food-related stimuli." Fingers crossed and thumbs pressed that Kapitel 8 will be a slam-dunk for this class!

Part of the theme for chapter 8 is groceries. I used this opportunity to integrate p. 10 from my Österreich-Quiz book that I've mentioned using before. My strategy for this lesson was to allow the students the chance to explore "the puzzle of Austria from a culinary point-of-view." I imagine that of all the potential situations that my students could be placed in inside of the German-speaking world someday, interpreting and ordering of off a menu is the most likely to happen.

I think that this exploration activity lends itself well to device use as well. With a tablet, smartphone, or other web-connected device, food items are very easily found and understood by using Google Images or the Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon. As I was prepping for the activity myself, I searched for "Striezel", because I didn't know what it was. With a snap of my fingers...

...asked and answered: a braided Challah-type sweet bread. This activity models for the students how to work within the context of culture and language that we are learning, while simultaneously stretching and reaching out for more.

My questions for the students were focused on cultural practices, perspectives, and products while communicating in the German language. I find this activity to be more deeply connected to why the students learn German in the first place. Here is what some of the questions sound like:

  • Not "What do you eat for breakfast?" but "What does a breakfast in Vienna look like?"
  • Not "What do you eat for dinner?" but "What are specialties of Austrian cuisine?"
  • Not "Do you like to drink this?" but "What would you order in an Austrian Kaffeehaus?"
  • Not "What is the German word for potato?" but "What variants exist in the German-speaking world regarding food?"
Don't get me wrong. I use those first set of questions all the time in the world language classroom. I'm challenging myself to take it to the next level, especially when it comes to the integration of culture into the lesson.