Research interests:
bilingualism, bilingual education, heritage language learning, identity, motivation

Research Outbound: Personal and Professional Insights

Posted: June 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, multilingualism, research | No Comments »

My one month stay in Hamburg is coming to a close. What a full month it has been! I had both personal and professional goals for this trip. Here are a few of insights.

Personal: I wanted to get to know Germany as it is now. Germany has changed so much since I last stayed here for an extended time. This shouldn’t surprise me, but just as my parents spoke of a Germany that was radically different from the one I encountered in my first stay as an adult; so is the Germany of now different from the Germany from when I was 18. I have caught many of the changes in my visits over the years, but the diversity I see in the city now more closely resembles the diversity in Calgary.

I wanted to improve my German. From a language standpoint, I still marvel at what I know and what I don’t know. Some conversations flow smoothly and others hiccup on an ill-chosen word or a lapse in recall of a word I should know. I have expanded by vocabulary with regards to academic language, but similarities across words in similar categories reminds me of a joke my Dad used to tell: cabbage, carriage, garbage – what’s the difference? For me it is: Antrag, Vortrag, Beitrag. I have to stop and think before I use each word that I have chosen the right one! I watch non-native speakers of English deliver talks in English, while I am still frightened of my first talk in German. It still hasn’t happened since talks in English are valued here, but one day I will convince someone to let me and then the fun will begin.

Professional: Writing up my reports for this trip were a chance to put together a list of activities I intended to do and didn’t, intended to and did, and didn’t expect to do, but did. I tried to be open to opportunities that arose and as a result, I met with four professors I hadn’t anticipated meeting, took in two talks I hadn’t planned, and encountered more documents than I had ever envisioned when I proposed a document analysis.

I hope to return again, soon, to Hamburg. As I have mentioned to many whom I have seen, one goal of this trip was learning the right questions to ask. So, when I return, I would like to visit a preparation class (Internationale Vorbereitungsklasse), guest/co-teach, and conduct a workshop on research methodology for graduate students. On a personal level, I hope to bring along a colleague or family member so they too can see how interesting Hamburg and the University of Hamburg are.

German bilingual high school visit

Posted: June 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism, research, teaching | No Comments »

Yesterday I visited a German Gymnasium (academic high school) that offers a German-English bilingual program. It was difficult to arrange because the school year is drawing to a close, but I am grateful to Robin Kiso at the Helene-Lange-Gymnasium for letting me visit. To make it more challenging, my visit occurred just as a storm was rolling through Hamburg and I am thankful the guesthouse provides an umbrella or I would have been soaked upon arrival.

The class I visited was German history, taught in English. This is interesting from the outset since Alberta Bilingual Schools switched away from teaching Social Studies in German because of the difficulty of terminology and the lack of resources. Herr Kiso remarks that terminology is sometimes an issue, but he will use the German terms when it makes sense. Regarding resources, bilingual programs are now common enough in German that publishers are creating specific resources, so I observed that the students had textbooks to accompany their lessons. However, Herr Kiso remarked that he often used other resources, which was evident from his lesson, where he used One Note software and an LCD projection set up to bring visual elements to his lesson. When asked, he noted that he uses technology more than most teachers, which has also been my observation in other schools. The students themselves don’t have access to a computer in the classroom and a sign in the hallway indicated that cell phones should be stowed away and unseen.

The lesson on the first German nation-state started with a picture prompt of the Reichstag. The German educational system values the ability for students to express themselves verbally and that was evident from the time the students spent discussing what they felt the building’s architecture represented, first with a partner and then as a whole class. Since this was a double class, they easily spent 30 minutes expressing their opinions in English. The students are very strong and were able to use precise vocabulary such as “intimidating”, “shows pride”, “minimalist”. Herr Kiso made a point of giving a thumbs up to effective use of vocabulary and reusing the same terms when he spoke to reinforce their meaning. These are all points I tell my students about building academic language skills in the second language classroom. The lesson further involved opportunities to make linkages between students’ current knowledge and opinions about democracy with facts about the first nation-state, which allowed them to draw conclusions about how democratic or non-democratic it was and how aspects of that government and society led to a later constitution that Hitler was able to exploit when he got into power.

Overall, the visit was very interesting. It differed from other school visits I have made in that the link between content and language theory was strongly exhibited in practice and I look forward to another opportunity to visit this school and others in future research visits.

Visiting Professor – Faculty of Education, University of Hamburg

Posted: June 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, multilingualism, research | No Comments »

For the month of June I have the above title. With funding from the Werklund School of Education, Office of Research and the University of Calgary’s Office of Internationalization, I have embarked upon this short research stay with a few flexible goals in mind:

  1. get to know the people and place of the university, the faculty and the structure of higher education, in particular, pre-service teacher education in Hamburg and in Germany
  2. hold some preliminary meetings and document analysis to see if a larger comparative project examining how Canada and Germany prepare teachers for refugee education
  3.  deliver two talks
    1. one on linguistic diversity in education in Canada
    2. one on the teaching across borders program and how its design is informed by research
  4. take a trip to Limerick, Ireland to attend and present at the International Symposium on Bilingualism and to network with scholars in applied and educational linguistics

Ok, this is starting to look like more than a few goals. There are also the future goals, such as considering whether to suggest Limerick as a future TAB placement or making connections for a research agreement with Uni Hamburg.

What can I share from my first full week in Hamburg:

  1. June is indeed a lovely time to come, the university is well-suited a short walk from parks and the Alster. I have been warmly welcomed, provided with an office and access to printers, etc. A colleague has explained aspects of the train system I can’t figure out from the internet and the Guesthouse is an amazing gathering place for visiting scholars and their families.
  2. a meeting with school officials was arranged and they spent an hour with me. I learned so much about the deliberate efforts to prepare teachers and set up a strong response to the wave of refugees that have come, recognizing the unique need to deal at times with illiteracy, trauma and interupted schooling.
  3. the talks are still to come, but I attended one and was delighted by the interest students showed in the topic
  4. the trip to Limerick is on Sunday and the talk for Monday is prepared. Already I have a mental list of talks to attend and people to connect with.

The value of a trip like this is that people learn so much more in person than from afar and the connections they can make are valuable for any number of future endeavours. This is not my first time in Germany, but this is my first trip as a visiting scholar and my first residence abroad since I was 18. Despite the challenges of getting ready to go and making arrangements both professional and personal for while I am gone, I am optimistic that this trip will be worth the effort.

Educational Responses to Diversity in Brazil and Canada: Initial Thoughts

Posted: January 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism, research | No Comments »

A January cold streak sounds like an excellent time to blog about a research trip to sunny, warm Brazil. A colleague of mine is heading up a comparative study of educational responses to diversity in Brazil and Canada. We are working with colleagues in Brasilia and Goiania. For the first phase of the research, we traveled to Brazil in November 2016. There we were a part of a symposium on the topic. Colleagues from Brazil and we, as guests from Canada, presented on perspectives on educational responses to diversity in our respective countries.

As a Canadian with no previous ties to Brazil, I learned a great deal. I discovered an interesting, rich and troubled history of slavery, migration and immigration that has been dealt with over the years with numerous policies that have not consistently been applied in practice. Yet, there were very interesting examples of application that Canada can learn from. For example, we met with someone from the Ministry of Education who works in Indigenous education. She told us about university programs that train Indigenous students to become teachers in Indigenous schools. I listened with great interest since I am involved with a program that targets Indigenous students to become teachers, but we are facing the challenge of finding Indigenous students who have the qualifications to enter the program and reaching adequate numbers of potential students. I am eager to read the transcripts and translation of the recording, since my Portuguese is minimal and our informal interpreter was doing his best to keep up.  This example alone intrigues me to learn more about their pre-service teacher education.

While we were in Goiania, we were able to hold focus groups with professors, graduate students and undergraduate students. At present, the transcripts are being translated. We presented the participants with a number of examples from the Canadian context and asked their opinions as to whether there are similar situations in Brazil, how such a situation might be handled in Brazil and what we could learn from Brazilian responses.

Looking forward, we will begin writing about our initial research with our colleagues, which in and of itself should prove an interesting challenge in light of the differences in language and academic culture, but we also anticipate bringing a few of those colleagues to Canada for a similar symposium to that which we held in Goiania.

So, beyond providing a great break from the November doldrums, this trip resulted into an interesting and potentially very productive research project. Stay tuned.


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.

Working in three languages

Posted: June 4th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism | No Comments »

I was musing the other day on the difficulties of working in three languages. That morning I was answering emails in English to my graduate students, in German to the organizers of a session at the conference in South Tirol this summer and in French to the professor organizing the teacher preparation courses for the French cohort. Someone entered my office and I had to ask them to wait while I concentrated on the right wording of the email in French. Those of you who live and work in three languages know the challenges. Researchers recognize that multilingual people use their languages for different purposes and therefore have areas (domains to quote Fishman) in which they work in one language and not another. However, some of us, for a variety of natural or artificial reasons, do the same work in more than one language. I facilitate teacher workshops on drama pedagogy in either English or German. I teach language classes in German or French and undergraduate teacher preparation classes in English or French. So, in one domain, I need to have the same vocabulary in all three languages (or at least in two of three). This can be really challenging as one is always stronger in one than the other and sometimes you don’t realize your shortfalls until you are in the middle of a sentence! Take, for example, an undergraduate class in French that I taught in January. I took great pains to prepare the classes, but during a spontaneous reference to something the students may have been exposed to in the lecture from another class, I started saying “Dans votre. . . ” then I got stuck. I wanted to say “lecture” (in French), but that word in French means “reading”, like reading a book. Immediately I thought of the German word “Vorlesung”, but that actually does mean “reading” because, I surmise, it came from the days when professors sat at the front of the lecture hall and read to their students from a paper or prepared notes. So the German word was no help. I asked the students. They (also mostly advanced  second language learners of French) said they didn’t really ever use that word and so nothing came to mind. So I did a circumlocution and said “classe de x” and moved on. Working in three languages keeps me humble and always adding to my knowledge, but there are times I wish people could see a sign on my head that read “she really is trying”. (Oh, by the way, the word I was looking for is apparently “cours magistral” – very impressive sounding word – I have connotations of the king presiding).

Continuing Education

Posted: February 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism | No Comments »

I just returned from a three week seminar in Germany. Sponsored by the German government, I was able to join German teachers from all over the world (from China and Georgia to Ecuador and Paraguay) for a multi-purpose seminar. We studied topics pertinent to second language pedagogy (e.g. literature in the classroom), observed German schools in session, became familiar with five important German cities (Cologne, Leipzig, Weimar, Dresden and Berlin) and worked on projects that we then shared with one another for immediate use in the classroom. It was also an opportunity to improve our academic German as our only shared language was German! It was an intense three weeks with twelve hour days, but well-worth the time and effort.

Bilingual identity

Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism | No Comments »

I was asked during my candidacy exam, what my conceptualization of bilingual identity was. I must confess that I don’t think it was one of my better answers, but I believe I do a much better service to the answer in this newly-published article from my Master’s data. It can be found in the online Heritage Language Journal at in issue 7(2), the special issue on identity. I have been anticipating its publication for some time and was delighted to receive the email announcement of its publication on the day following my candidacy exam.