Research interests:
educational responses to linguistic diversity; linguistic identity; bilingualism; second language teaching

My latest project: Project-based learning in an advanced German class

Posted: May 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: academia, teaching | No Comments »

This Winter semester I took on a new teaching assignment: an advanced German class called Senior Projects in Language. The title is a placeholder. Each year the faculty member who teaches the course gives it a unique name. However, this placeholder name intrigued me and I decided that there was no better name for a senior course in German, especially if the focus of the course were project-based learning!

Project-based learning in the second language classroom is not new. It has been used in second language classrooms for over thirty years. In German, the term is handlungsorientierter Unterricht (action-oriented teaching). It speaks to the active learning that takes place when students are involved in projects. Experiential learning provides concrete ways for students to learn the language while pursuing topics of interest.

My specific challenge for this class was the small enrollment (4 students), the lack of familiarity the students would have with project-based learning (PBL) and my own limited experience with PBL. To give the class structure, I had each student create a video, a multimodal presentation and a website. The students co-created the rubrics for these assignments in German at the beginning of the semester. I supported them with class sessions on web 2.0 tools, activities to improve their German and lessons on pop culture. We profited from the support of a teaching assistant who taught lessons on translation and comic books. These classes were interspersed with peer feedback sessions in which the students reviewed each others’ work. While this was new to them, they caught on quickly. Most of all, they thoroughly enjoyed exploring their own topics and sharing their learning with their classmates, an audience of other German learners (another advanced class) and the wider world (since their videos and websites are on the internet). They learned to talk about their projects, their learning, and what they felt made a good final product – all in German!

In the end, my small number of students were a blessing since I was able to allow each student to pursue the project s/he chose. Their lack of experience with PBL was quickly overshadowed by their strong passion for their projects. The experience of designing a project-based learning course helped me to expand my teaching repertoire. Looking back, I can see things that I would like to have done differently, knowing now that some students need more structure than others and students work best when the class lessons directly support their projects. Overall, however, I consider the design of this semester’s course to be a success and can’t wait for a second opportunity to teach this course.


Three aspects of academia that make it all worthwhile

Posted: December 31st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: academia, teaching | No Comments »

Have you ever made of list of what you love about your job? It is a recommended activity for career seekers and brings to light what drives you to seek a particular job. (By the same token, writing down what you do not like helps to clarify if you are indeed in search of the right position). Here are some of my favorite aspects of academia and how I experienced them this past semester.

I have been working as Interim Coordinator for the newly-relaunched Teaching Across Borders (TAB) program in Undergraduate Programs in Education (UPE) at the University of Calgary. This program will enable students in their third semester of the BEd program to spend 10 weeks abroad volunteering in schools while getting to know another culture, language and school system. They will be supported by the Teaching Across Borders Coordinator and their online instructors. This support will help them to have a successful experience abroad and return to Canada to take part in their third semester practicum in a Canadian school. I am excited to be a part of this program and will post more about it as the program unfolds. For this post, I would like to focus on the three most-rewarding aspects of the role that I have worked in full time this past fall.

1. Variety – I have had an office on campus as a student, but having set up an office for Teaching Across Borders, I was also able to set up a schedule that involved a variety of activities everyday from office work, research and writing that had me sitting in front of the computer working in a relatively solitary manner, to meetings of all sorts (TAB-related, service to UPE or my educational discipline specialization area (EDSA)) to workshops and meetings around campus to educate myself or make arrangements for Teaching Across Borders. In addition, I taught one course, mentored a new instructor and collaborated with a colleague on creating a video for future iterations of the course.

2. Collegiality and Team Work –  I am an extrovert, so I thrive on being around people. Thankfully, I have interesting, dynamic colleagues that I enjoy working with. These people serve as mentors in the areas of teaching, research and academia in general. For example, the above-mentioned video involved helping to prepare an interview of a visiting scholar who was very accommodating and presented interesting, important work in an accessible manner. My collaborator is the team lead for the course, who balanced her goals as the interviewer with my goals as the videographer, while also being sensitive to the interviewee. It was a very positive experience with a steep learning curve for all of us. Some of my mentors also include staff whose roles provide support for the TAB position. I created content for a TAB webpage that involved o the staff of the Communications Office who advised me on how to set up the content, physically put it together for me and then created publicity for the program and the website by having me in to do a QuickChat Interview.

3. Research and Writing – Keeping a regular, on-campus schedule facilitated my research and writing. I set aside regular blocks for both and even participated in an on-campus academic writing group. I caught up on study abroad and intercultural communication research. I revised and resubmitted two articles, one of which has now been accepted. I also co-wrote a grant application for the TAB program. The focus of an instructor’s research and writing is curriculum development. I see a great capacity in the TAB coordinator position for research that will inform the program.

Reflecting on this role, I see these three aspects of academia as ones that make the work rewarding and worthwhile. While academia is not the only career that offers these three aspects, I consider these aspects as important to sustaining the work that is done at universities.

 

 


“Are you a writer?” or 5 things I have learned about writing

Posted: September 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, writing | No Comments »

The other day I was discussing a popular novel with an acquaintance and she asked me “are you a writer?” This question took me aback in the context of discussing fiction. No, I don’t write fiction, but yes, I do write as a part of what I do for a living. In fact, this spring I taught a course on Writing Educational Research. In true teacher fashion, I learned as much as my students. Or rather, in discussing writing I realized some of the things about writing I have learned along the way. (My apologies to past English teachers/professors of mine if you find yourself saying “I taught you that”. Honestly, like most students, I had to discover some things myself: the hard way). These observations pertain primarily to academic writing, the genre I work in, as interpreted by APA writing and referencing style.

1. Speaking of the American Psychological Association (APA),  “APA 6th” is more than merely a way of writing out in-text citations and references. While I used to worry about the distinction between sentence and title case in book and journal titles, I now focus on economy of language. That is to say, how can I say what I want in the fewest words possible. Try that again: Be direct because long sentences confuse readers. Contrary to popular belief, academic writing is meant to be clear, not confusing. Terminology and jargon should be explained. Lengthy phrases should be rewritten. The passive should be avoided. Oops, I mean, explain terminology and jargon, rewrite lengthy phrases and write in the active voice. Writing in APA style means writing with effectiveness and parsimony.

2. Learn to embrace the pronoun “I”. Reading a sentence like “the researcher surveyed 100 students regarding their opinion of what makes a good teacher” sounds like you are having an “out of body” experience or not entirely confident about your work if indeed YOU ARE THE RESEARCHER. I encourage my students to own up to what they have done, primarily in the methodology section of their papers. Now, I understand where the caution comes in. The use of “I” in the literature review section could lead to espousing personal opinions such as “I believe every student should have a university instructor who has taught at the K-12 level”. That’s interesting, but do you have anything to back up that claim? If so, then lead with that: “Studies show that students are more satisfied with university instructors who have K-12 teaching experience (insert citations here)”. For further reading on this topic, I recommend reading Timothy McAdoo’s post of the use of the first person in APA style. I have found the use of the pronoun “I” facilitates stronger, clearer writing.

3. Learn the difference between critical analytic writing and descriptive writing. The purpose of academic writing is to persuade the reader that your point is significant and well thought out. You need to argue this in a way that leads the reader to the same conclusion: “yes, I agree, why hadn’t I thought of this before!”

4. End each paragraph with your own thoughts. Tell the reader why the points you mentioned are important and what they add to your main point. For example:

Recently I wrote the following in a first draft:

Two innovative practices serve to reconcile competing discourses:team teaching and translanguaging. Team teaching in this context is understood to be the teaching of two classrooms of students by two teachers who both remain present in the classroom. Translanguaging is defined as an “instructional strategy that integrates and reflects bilingual usage” (Cummins, 2014, p. 14).

After I edited it and strengthened it, it read:

Two innovative practices serve to reconcile competing discourses: team teaching and translanguaging. Team teaching in this context is understood to be the teaching of two classrooms of students by two teachers who both remain present in the classroom. Translanguaging is defined as an “instructional strategy that integrates and reflects bilingual usage” (Cummins, 2014, p. 14). Both practices are currently found in bilingual education in North America, although their role in reconciling competing discourses is newly emerging.

The addition of the final sentence brings the reader back to how the knowledge of these two definitions will help him/her to understand how these concepts impact the study I conducted.

5. Making writing a social process mitigates the pitfalls of an isolated practice. The image of the writer sitting in an office typing for hours on end is just one way to understanding the writing process. Collaboration can include co-writing (either synchronous or asynchronous); mutual editing (I will find your commas if you find my spelling mistakes); mutual support (meeting over coffee to discuss whether each person is meeting their writing goals and encouraging one another through writing challenges); solicited advice (asking respected others for recommendations of suitable journals, sources, or solutions to writing challenges).  Wendy Belcher, in her book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks recommends putting your commitment to yourself and other in writing, to solidify the commitment. All or some of these activities can support the writing process from idea to publication.

For me, moving forward as a writer means embracing the process as a continual learning experience, sometimes enjoying it and other times needing the courage to try and fail and try again. Documenting these recent insights facilitate my writing and hopefully the writing of others as well.

 


Knowledge dissemination in a connected world

Posted: July 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: academia, teaching | 1 Comment »

Gone are the days of the ivory tower, with its implication that what happens at the university, stays at the university. Bringing exposure to one’s work through conference presentations and academic journals is effective in reaching other academics, but providing workshops for the public, using of social media and being available for the press are avenues for reaching the world outside of academia. I have been providing workshops for teachers locally and nationally for over five years. These are very satisfying to conduct because I feel that, as a former teacher, I provide the right balance of theory and practical application to make the workshops immediately useful to practitioners. More recently, I joined Twitter professionally, but have often struggled with what to tweet. I started observing others, whom I follow, and noticed that some use Twitter as a way to communicate recent blog posts (which I will do with this one), conference activities and recent publications. So, in the last year I have also promoted my blog and when my last article was published, I shared the 50-free download link. I did the same on Facebook, which is my personal social media, because I wanted friends who don’t have access to university libraries to be able to take a look at the work that I do, perhaps removing some of the mystery. The one chance I hadn’t had up until that point was to connect with the press on an issue related to my research. Those aren’t always opportunities you create, but rather, ones  you respond to. So, when I was asked to put forward names of students to be featured in our university’s coverage of convocation, I didn’t see that it might some day lead to a newspaper article in which I was quoted. The student was featured as a part of a focus on graduating students on the day of her convocation. I retweeted the link when it appeared on the Werklund School of Education twitter feed. The original tweet was noticed by the Rockyview Weekly, which covers the rural area where the student lives and the student suggested me as a former instructor the reporter could interview. Long story short: I had my first telephone interview and the article came out the next week. I consider this to be a small part of my  goals for knowledge dissemination. Granted, I didn’t talk about my research, but rather indirectly, my work with students. Since this is such a big part of what I do, I was honored to be asked to talk about it and it was a great “first step” for future media interviews. You can read the article here: http://www.rockyviewweekly.com/article/20140623/RVW0302/306239981/-1/rvw/irricana-firefighter-prepares-for-life-after-fire-station-in-education


The long road to publication

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: academia, multilingualism, writing | No Comments »

Today I had the pleasure of opening an email that read “We are delighted to say that we would like to accept your revised paper”. Music to my ears. As many academics experienced and emerging can attest, rejection in publishing is something to get used to and perseverance is the key. I would also add humility. This article, on the linguistic landscape of a bilingual school,  looks at data that I gathered during my Ph.D. research and decided not to include in my dissertation. It was great data, but I had too much for one dissertation and I am glad I didn’t try to make it all fit. Right after I finished my dissertation I worked in earnest to get it written up. I read Wendy Belcher’s “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks” and followed it pretty closely. I tried to make my writing a social endeavor, but few people around me are doing similar work. My first reader was a friend who is a strong writer. Springboarding from her comments, I revised and sent my article to the external examiner for my dissertation. His strong theoretical background helped me strengthen my argument and pointed me to additional literature in environmental print in elementary schools. These steps delayed my initial submission, but saved me from outright rejection. The first review took just over a month, but the revisions were plentiful, so they took me three months. Most of the time was spent putting myself in the shoes of the reviewer who objected to my methodology. Once I could see exactly where my lack of clarity had led him/her astray, I knew how to respond to his/her comments. The second review did not take long and this time the review was split. I still hadn’t satisfied the one reviewer, but the new one liked the article. At this point I was very discouraged. Do I continue with this journal and face this reviewer or take my article to another journal with the hopes of encountering someone more open to what I had done? After all, my article is improved. I consulted with two academics I admire and the advice that was most helpful was “look, they could have rejected it outright, so they must see merit in the article”. So, I took some time to get back into the mindset of the first reviewer and then, in my first break in teaching, I did a concentrated period of writing daily until I was able to submit a second revised article complete with snappier title! (The second reviewer wanted a snappier title, so I held a contest in one of my classes for students to come up with a snappy title based on the abstract. The winners got books to help them as future teachers and I had a blast reading the submissions). So, today, just a month and a half later, I got an acceptance. Now I enter a new world. While I have had peer reviewed articles accepted before, this is my first international journal so I suspect I have a lot more learning ahead of me.


New research opportunity

Posted: October 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research | No Comments »

This summer I had a fortuitous reunion with a former colleague. In my first year of teaching, the educational consultant seconded to Alberta Education from the German government was Rainer Wicke. In the two decades since he encouraged me to write an article about a student letter writing project, both of us have received our Ph.Ds. Now he and a research collaborator are embarking upon a research project in which they would like to include research about the German Bilingual Program in Canada. We met again at the International German Teacher Conference and shared our mutual research interests, only to discover that we might be able to work together on our overlapping interests in the German Bilingual Program. So, he introduced me to his research collaborator, Dr. Kim Haataja, from Tampere, Finnland, who was able to tell me more about their project: Content & Language Integrated Instruction in German. I look forward to working with them and take inspiration in their interest in my work.


Lifelong learning

Posted: February 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: academia | No Comments »

Some people consider the phrase trite and overused, but I enjoy the concept of lifelong learning. When I struggle with writing and enlist the mentorship of a more successful writer, I continue to improve upon my own understanding of what is involved in effective writing. When I check my twitter account and read up on the current issues in Alberta Education or recent blogs about the problems with Ph.D.s seeking alt-ac (alternative to academia) careers, I realize how much can be gained by keeping up on ‘current events’ in my field. I consider the presentations I attend on campus and at conferences to be my continuing education program. I challenge myself to explore the learning management software (LMS) our university uses for online courses, recognizing that if I can imagine an application, there is a good chance someone else had previously and it might be embedded into the software. For example, I wanted to show my online course participants how to do  a research database search and was able to do so using the application sharing function in the LMS. This is so much a part of my life that I assume it is a part of everyone else’s; however, I occasionally encounter resistance to learning that surprises me. “Oh, I could never learn another language” “I passed Math in high school, I don’t need to look at it again”. What I learn from hearing those remarks is how different attitudes toward learning are, especially among those who don’t carry successful learning experiences with them. It also reminds me of my former negative attitude toward art and physical education (and hence certain sports). I appears that we gravitate toward lifelong learning in areas we love, but still might have mental blocks about those we love less.


Attending the International German Teacher Conference

Posted: January 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: academia | No Comments »

Four years ago I discovered the International German Teacher Conference (Internationale Deutchlehrertagung http://www.idt-2013.it/de/home/default.html). Fellow teachers had attended and presented in IDT Jena 2009 and came back raving about the experience. I kept it on my radar as it is only held once every and when the Call for Papers opened up, I applied. Meanwhile, I also applied for funding from the Goethe Institute in Toronto to attend. As someone who teaches German and regularly provides workshops to teachers as a part of the German teacher-facilitator network (Multiplikatorennetzwerk), I was eligible to apply. I was ecstatic this week to discover I received the funding, so even if my presentation is not accepted, I can attend! This year the conference will be held in the south Tirol area of Italy which has German as a minority language. The conference itself will be held in the small center of Bolzana (Bozen in German). I am very excited to start planning the trip. It will be a wonderful opportunity to meet German teachers from around the world and share the latest in second language teaching.


Balancing teaching and writing

Posted: November 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: academia | No Comments »

One of the main challenges of academia is balancing the demands of teaching and research/writing. This year I have undertaken a great deal of teaching to enhance my CV. Despite my previous experience as a school teaching, it is necessary to build up experience teaching at the university level. For that reason I am teaching two undergraduate courses for the German department, a course in the undergraduate teacher preparation program and a graduate level online course. In addition, I will be supervising the French cohort of student teachers who begin their practicum in just over a week.

In addition, I am working on articles that are coming out of my dissertation research. This requires a perseverance and discipline that is hard to muster after having just written my dissertation. Sure, the writing is still fresh in my mind and I am enthusiastic about the topic, but the long-awaited break between writing my dissertation and starting up the new academic year didn’t materialize, so forging ahead with writing is indeed challenging. I have been aided by the encouragement of key mentors and a book outlining a systematic writing plan. It remains to be seen if this is successful,  but I am nearing the completion of my first article since the dissertation and look forward to submitting it after in the near future.


Job search

Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: academia, Ph.D. journey | No Comments »

Anticipating the completion of my Ph.D. this academic year, I have been responding to job postings for Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) positions. This has involved the creation of a teaching and researching portfolio of quite some length. Online resources such as youtube videos from university HR departments and sample Statements of Research Experience and Statements of Teaching Philosophy have been insightful as to ways others have found of expressing what they do and why, as well as what employers look for and why. None of this replaces in-person mentorship for which I am extremely grateful to several professors who have been willing to read over my writing and provide me with constructive feedback. The job market for professorial positions is competitive and despite preparations for success, one must somehow also prepare for rejection. I am grateful to those university personnel who take the time to update applicants on the status of one’s application.  Wish me luck!