Early Language Learning: Good or Bad?

USA Today featured an article on a growing trend, as well as personal and professional interest of mine: early language immersion:

Azure Warrenfeltz is fluent in Japanese and Spanish. She also can understand bits of French, German, Arabic and Italian, and she soon hopes to learn some Mandarin Chinese.

Azure is 4 years old.

“I’m smarter than my father. He can only speak one language. Muchas gracias!” she says playfully.

In today’s globalized world, Azure is one of many young American children whose parents insist her education include foreign languages.

More children learn more than one language – USATODAY.com

I’ve blogged about this before and find the learning that my daughter has gone through this year amazing. She can carry on a brief conversation with her Chinese teacher. When we practices her flashcards (which had, fortunately, English phonetic spelling of the Chinese characters/pictures) over the holiday break, she often was correcting me. “Dad,” she would moan, “you aren’t saying it right. Say it like this…” The teacher becomes the learner.

So, what I am dismayed by in this USA Today story is the little interactive poll that rests beside it. “Bilingual Babies: How do you feel about children learning multiple languages?” While I think that the poll itself offers some interesting choices, I am dismayed at the wording in the first choice of responses: “I’m happy with my child speaking English only.” The phrasing of this response uses rhetoric of the “English only” movement, one that is built on a type of linguistic intolerance that I don’t think we can afford. Besides the racist and classist undertones imbued within this view, it is just plain myopic for us to think that being monolingual will be suitable for our children (or, any of us, for that matter).

At any rate, I was having a conversation with a foreign language teaching colleague today and she was thrilled to hear about my daughter’s learning. Her simple response: “This is what experts in my field have been calling for for many, many years.” Keep the multiliterate classrooms coming, both in terms of their linguistic and technological diversities.

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Visions of Technology In English

Tomorrow, I will be working with a colleague’s class of pre-service English teachers. He asked me to “offer this group is a vision or several visions of what is possible regarding technology and writing” and I can think of a few, but there are two rolling around in my mind right now.

First, I return to a post that Will had about a month ago introducing us to Mogopop. I downloaded the software and tried to get it to work, but with the holiday rush, I gave up on it. Well, this weekend I finally got back around to it as I began to think about the talk tomorrow. I am glad that I did. This seems like a simple, yet highly effective and web-based tool for producing multimedia content. Some of the examples on the site are very simple — just pictures in a slideshow, basically — but some of them are really elaborate. Moreover, Mogopop basically allows you to use the “note” feature in a video iPod to create an interactive, hypertextual and multimodal text. In short, it seems to be the most user-friendly multimedia creation tool that I have seen in a long time. Now, I haven’t made my own yet, but the possibilities seem quite engaging, with some examples on their site incorporating public domain and open source content (like all of Poe’s poems) into a Mogopop project. To me, this seems like a natural extension and publication tool for student work created in blogs, wikis, podcasts, and digital stories.

The second thing on my mind is one of Paul‘s most recent podcasts: Self-Assessing Blogging. He asks a series of timely questions to his middle school students, all of whom have been blogging all year:

Here are the questions I asked my middle school students to address today.

  1. What makes for a really good blog post — one that others want to read and respond to? * Is it something you care about? Is it about something important? * Is there enough writing? Is there too much? What keeps the reader reading? …

He asks many more questions and, in his podcasts, reads a number of students’ answers. One of the main themes? Audience. All of the students addressed the fact that they felt a real sense of audience in their blogging. I know that Paul has been using a blogging matrix to invite his students to write, and from his podcast it sounds as if this intentional scaffolding of student bloggers is paying off.

So, those are the two places that I will probably start talking tomorrow after a little bit of prefacing. I have other sites to show, but these are the things on my mind this weekend and both seem to be pertinent to our discussion tomorrow about visions.

It’s always nice when the vision can be grounded in reality.

“It’s Not About the Technology…” (Usually)

So, a few things have happened in the last week that have me thinking about my belief that “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the literacy practices the technology enables.” As much as I do believe that, there is a certain point at which the technology has to be functional in order for the literacy practice to take its place front and center. Three cases from the past week…

First, Lansing Schools are (as they should) celebrating a new school opening this week. The interesting move that I think all of the school officials and board members are making is framing this as a move to “compete” for schools of choice students that have left the district. The articles and news reports have been celebrating many things about the school, especially the fact that it has four computer labs (as compared to the previous school’s one) and LCD projectors in each room. Again, something to celebrate.

However, what I am concerned about are the other schools in Lansing — many of which my RCWP colleagues teach in — that do not have the technology that the new Pattengill has. Here is a case where we now have disparity not only between districts, but within a district, too. As we think about digital literacy, and the quality and quantity of access that students get at school, I think that we can’t underestimate how important this part of the discussion is as an equity issue. What happens when middle school students from different locations converge in the district’s high school, some working in highly networked environments and others not? This is certainly something that we need to consider, let alone the disparities between school districts.

The second case was from when Aram and I delivered a workshop on digital storytelling, the first one that either he or I participated in as a facilitator. While I want to say that digital storytelling is about the story, not the technology, I do have to say that we had a heck of a time trying to get Photostory and Windows Movie Maker to do what we know iMovie can do on its own (adding narration to a full time line in Photostory, for instance). Then, there was Jumpcut (and, I am sure a number of other online video editors that I haven’t even found yet), and we considered jumping to it mid-day, but decided to ride the storm out.

Again, this is another issue that we need to consider as we try to integrate digital literacies into schools. We had some resilient teachers and two facilitators working to make this all happen, and we did have twelve success stories by the end of the day. However, I can see–and would likely agree with–a teacher who felt that there were too many hoops to jump through in order to bring a digital story to fruition using these two programs, programs that I am sure most schools are dealing with since they are Windows-based (and, Photostory still needs to be installed separately, assuming you even have XP). Once the technical issues outweigh the benefits of the literacy learning, then it seems as though the project could turn into a “how to” lesson and not a writing one.

Finally, and this is my last gripe for tonight, I joined in the ACE Second Life meet-up the other day. Again, nothing really new there, as people like Rob, Sarah, and others have been writing about Second Life and the implications for English instruction for months and I am just getting on board with it. However, what I found interesting was the fact that of all the things to do in SL, the one thing that you can’t really do is compose and share text beyond simply chatting.

Now, you would expect the digital literacy guy to think that it was cool that you could take screen shots and videos and create multimodal compositions. And, I do. That’s cool that people are composing in a multimodal manner.
Yet, I still wanted to see something in SL where people could actually share their writing with one another in a quick and easy way. Sarah talked about this on EdTechLive a month ago: the idea that people could look at an internet browser live in SL. Perhaps they could look at a Google Doc or wiki page and work on it together, in SL. Who knows? Perhaps now that SL has gone open source, something like that might happen. (Also, I won’t even go into the equipment and bandwidth requirements that SL needs in relation to digital writing…)
Well, enough said for tonight. I guess that I needed to just think through my “it’s not the technology” argument a little bit more. Thanks for listening…

Wikipedia links used to build smart reading lists – tech – 02 January 2007 – New Scientist Tech

From the “so cool it is uncanny” department…

Software that generates a list of reading material tailored to a person’s individual interests has been developed by a PhD student in the US.

Alexander Wissner-Gross, a physics student at Harvard University, teaches a course to under-graduates student at his university. While preparing the reading list for his course, he began to wonder about ways to automate the process. (Check out his paper about this topic.)
Wissner-Gross says he saw similarities between the structure of his course and the way information is connected via links in Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia written and edited by volunteers.

“Increasingly, a net user who wants to learn more about a subject will read its Wikipedia page,” he adds. “However, for further depth in the subject, there has been no system for advising the user which other [Wikipedia] articles to read, and in which order.”

Wikipedia links used to build smart reading lists – tech – 02 January 2007 – New Scientist Tech

I have often thought about how designing a course syllabus in a digital environment would be a challenge. As the course moves on — and students’ interest in particular topics evolve — and new articles, blog posts, and media items are released, how can the syllabus that you made in January still be 100% relevant in April?

This seems to be a wonderful method for engaging students in continually updated and engaged professional reading.

Thanks, Cherice, for the link.

IM Shorthand Slips Off Computer Screens And Into Schoolwork – washingtonpost.com

Well, guess what is back in the news:

IM Shorthand Slips Off Computer Screens And Into Schoolwork – washingtonpost.com

“They are using it absolutely everywhere,” said Sara Goodman, an English teacher at Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County who has worn out many purple and red markers circling the offending phrases in papers and tests.

Wendy Borelli, a seasoned English teacher at Springbrook High in Silver Spring, finds photo captions for the school yearbook sprinkled with shorthand such as “B4″ and “nite.” A student who left on a brief errand to the office announced he would “BRB.”

In 2004, 16 million teenagers used instant messages to communicate, up from 13 million in 2000, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Students say IM language has become so ubiquitous they often do not realize they have lapsed into it.

The good news with this article is that the journalist goes on to talk about IM as a “teachable moment” and quote Leila Christenbury. She might also have checked out the U of T study that came out last summer about the ways in which IM does, and does not, influence writing.

What I am concerned about with this type of article in a major newspaper is that it continues the whole fear of our language degenerating at the hand of technology. Perhaps I can use this in some way as it relates to the state of English education?

Tag, I’m It

So, Kevin tagged me yesterday, and now I am doing a little self-disclosure. Well, here goes:

  1. In high school, I played the trombone and I was the drum major of the marching band for two years. Geeky!
  2. To continue my love of marching band, and perhaps of geeky-ness, I was a four-year member of the Spartan Marching Band.
  3. I am getting very close to finishing my dissertation, “From Pixels to Praxis: Engaging Teachers in Technology Learning through the Pedagogy of Multiliteracies,” although when my wife asked me just today if I plan to walk in the May graduation ceremonies, I began to panic. I sense “geek” as a theme for this list.
  4. I have three kids. Ages: 13, nearly 5, and 18 months. This is giving me a very broad perspective on what it means to be a parent — still cool to two of them and extra-geeky to the other.
  5. I love Legos. So much so that I have nearly all of the Star Wars Lego Collection (but I got mad when they began to reissue some sets with slightly different designs and/or characters, so I gave up on it after getting everything from Episode 3). And, yes, my kids think that this is geeky, too.

Thanks, Kevin, for tagging me, and to Maria for sharing, too.

Here are my five tags, all RCWP colleagues:

Students Researching Online

Paul has invited me to be part of an upcoming Teachers Teaching Teachers show about students doing research online. Check out the Google Notebook for the show to get a sense of what will be happening and let me know if you have things that you want to add to it.

My interest in this topic goes back to my time teaching middle school and first-year composition at the community college. At the time, I know that asking my students to keep a list of citations with an online citation generator was considered pretty cutting-edge. Now, however, I wonder if that is A) still cutting-edge and B) enough?

In this age of hypertext composing and plagiarism detection services, I have to ask whether or not our old means of citing sources is good enough. Clearly, there are cultural norms and rhetorical traditions that we have to meet here, so I am not suggesting that we ask students not to cite their sources. However, I do want to suggest that we begin thinking more about why we are asking them to site their sources and how to keep track of them.

I have put some initial thinking in the “Citing our Sources – How and Why?” section of the notebook. And, as always, I would appreciate hearing what all of you think about this issue — what is happening in your classroom? How has the research process changed in the past few years with the emergence of read/write web tools?