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…