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

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.


Research update: Formative feedback research

Posted: May 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, teaching | 1 Comment »

In November 2015, I posted about two new research projects and promised an update as they progressed. Here is the update on one of them:

“Investigation of Students’ Receptivity and Use of Formative Feedback in Online Graduate Research Courses” – This is a collaboration with my colleague Dr. Man-Wai Chu and two research assistants Katie Crossman and Brianna Hilman. Our objective was to investigate how students react when peers and the instructor provide feedback to drafts of writing in a graduate course. In addition, we will explore whether they actually use this feedback in their final drafts.

We gathered data from one course that I taught in which students gave each other feedback on their writing for the course. They worked in groups of four so three peers looked at each draft and then I weighted in. Nine students consented to us using their papers as data so it was quite the task for Katie and Brianna to read and categorize each type of feedback and then look at the final versions of each paper of two assignments to see if the students actually used the feedback.

What did we discover? Students valued their peers’feedback almost as much as mine as judged by the amount of each type their took up. We also discovered an important distinction: feedback can be surface-level (fixing typos, etc.), meaning-level (referring to ways to improve the content of the writing) and rhetorical (not requiring any changes, but encouraging or discussing the content). These distinctions helped us look at why students do or do not take up feedback and also revealed the peers are more likely to give surface-level feedback, which is necessary and saves the instructor from having to do it, but does not improve the writing as much as meaning-level feedback. It also leaves the question as to how much rhetorical feedback is ideal and how much is too much, since there is nothing the student is required or asked to do after they read it.

We assumed that if students got valuable feedback they would use it, but that was only true about 80% of the time. This leaves us wondering how to improve the uptake of the feedback that is given. Is it just a factor of time or are students often confused by the feedback they receive? We dove more into the literature and discovered work that suggests students need to be trained to give valuable feedback as well as trained in how to take it up. I did some training in the course, but I also made the assumption that graduate students know how to give it and then what to do with it when they get it. That assumption is not unique to me, so I think one valuable aspect that is coming from this research is the recommendation that training be more explicit and embedded in courses where students are expected to both give and receive feedback.

If you want to here more, we will be presenting at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference in Calgary in October http://www.issotl.com/issotl15/node/172. I will update this blog with a link to the program when it is available. Look for an upcoming article as well.


Curriculum development: A learning curve

Posted: January 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: academia, service, teaching | No Comments »

This past semester I was tasked with curriculum development: taking two face-to-face undergraduate courses and adapting them for online instruction. One was an introductory course on literacy that had inquiry groups as a part of the structure. The other was a course on interdisciplinary learning which revolved around a large unit plan project.

In some ways I felt well-prepared: I have previously taught a number of online graduate courses and I had previously taught the literacy course face-to-face. This previous experience was helpful in providing me with familiarity with the course content (in the one case) and online pedagogy, which is somewhat transferable from the graduate to undergraduate level. I started with the assumptions that it is possible to adapt these courses such that they meet the same learning objectives and have the same degree of rigour as their counterparts. I knew that some of my students would have connectivity challenges (some because they lived rurally, others because they were on international placements) and I had to wrestle with planning the synchronous online sessions at a time that met the waking hours of several times zones, but those problems were foreseeable, but not predictable, so I did my best to plan for them, but knew I needed to be flexible and adaptable when problems arose.

I also had the luxury of planning time, so I was able to do a number of things in the summer that made the course design and execution easier. I contacted past instructors of the course I had not taught before to discuss with them the successes and challenges they had had and to ask them to envision teaching the course online. This proved helpful for envisioning the course, but also resulted in collegial connections which I benefited from while teaching. I contacted the Teaching and Learning Office of my university and arranged for a tutorial on producing screen capture video. Having someone walk me though new software is my preferred method of digital learning and from there I was able to create several videos during the semester.

The test of curriculum development is in the running of the course. Looking back, I would say that the planning I did paid off. There were however, unanticipated problems that stemmed from assumptions the students and I had that didn’t match. In the case of one course, the second year students viewed online learning as a self-paced correspondence course and, in the first two weeks, oriented themselves toward completing the assignments, not co-constructing knowledge among peers, as was my assumption. Although I had placed information and expectations into the discussion board of the learning management system (LMS), they had gone straight to the content section and grabbed the course outline only. That had been sufficient in their previous uses of the LMS in their first year face-to-face courses, but I had not anticipated it as our online graduate students are well-versed in online learning after the initial course. It took repeated messaging by both of their online instructors in the first two weeks to orient them toward the discussion board. Lesson learned: the expectation of co-construction of knowledge in the discussion board needs to be communicated in advance of the course (and opportunity we had as we had met with them in the summer). Students in both courses struggled with expectations around what to write in the discussion board. The temptation to write at the level of encouragement, rather than critique was strong. Lesson learned: my colleague David Scott blogged about what makes an educationally valuable  academic discussion board post and I shared that with the students.

Having adapted these two courses and taught them both this fall, I look forward to the opportunity to teach them again, improve upon them and expand my repertoire as an online instructor. I will be taking my lessons learned and including them in the preparatory workshops we have when we meet the students the summer before the courses.


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.

 

 


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


Formative assessment in online graduate classes

Posted: June 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: research, teaching | No Comments »

In my teaching practice, I instruct a number of online graduate classes a year. With the first course I instructed, I began in the way of most beginner teachers: “teach as you were taught”. After the first course, I reflected upon what worked well and what I felt could be improved. One aspect of online graduate courses that appeared to be missing was formative assessment. In subsequent classes, I looked at how to build formative assessment into the course.

1. I began by requiring students to provide drafts of final reports by a given deadline. This proved popular. Without the deadline, students rarely took up the general offer to have me read over anything they had written and if they did it was usually a small snippet of their writing or very focused questions. What was missing was a chance to read how the student wrote a longer piece. Once I integrated drafts on a deadline, I was able to see how the student wrote: the line of argumentation, use of citations and practical issues such as formatting and APA style. I commented and gave suggested and expected to see a progression from the draft to the final paper.

2. At the same time, I implemented peer editing. Students in online courses are often asked to comment on other student’s posts and there is a danger of “cheerleading” (e.g., “I really liked what you wrote about. . . “) In the Canadian context, this seems to be heightened by our reluctance to criticize. In the first course I implemented peer feedback on writing, all students posted their work and were asked to choose two other pieces of posted work to comment on. This turned out to be problematic. Students didn’t know how far to go in their editing and the results were superficial for the most part.

3. What appeared to be missing was a relationship among the students that would facilitate closer reading of one another’s work, so in the next course I instituted peer editing groups. Groups of three to five students were assigned to work with one another throughout the whole course, beginning with brainstorming, researching and outlining and culminating with reading and commenting on each other’s drafts. Creating these groups allowed the students to focus only on reading and editing a small number of pieces and since they were working together over the duration of the course, they built up relationships of trust. The resulting final papers, compared to the drafts, were outstanding and the improvement was clearly based on more than my comments on their drafts.

4. An added benefit of formative assessment was the privilege of reading each paper twice. Some colleagues have asked me if it isn’t so much extra work for me to read a draft that goes ungraded and then have all of the grading at the end of the course. I always answer that the grading is made so much more manageable by the fact that I am acquainted with the topic. In addition, I feel that the comments that I make on the final paper are more valuable. I no longer feel compelled to comment on minutiae that would only help the student if s/he were intending to work up the paper for publishing, since s/he would never be writing (or possibly even looking at) this paper again. Instead I can give feedback on the work that was done in light of my students’ learning goals and the degree to which they were able to improve the paper over time.

5. My latest challenge has been to improve the feedback I give in the form of comments. I recently read “Embedded Formative Assessment” by Dylan Wiliam  and have taken to hear the research on “feedback that moves learning forward”. I have altered the way I include comments and grades, by separating them physically so that the students read the comments first and then look up their grade in a different part of the online platform. I do not know if this will have the desired effect or just annoy students, but I will be asked the students at the end of this semester if it was effective. I am also trying to limit my comments to the scoring rubric only or, if I do comment on something outside of the rubric, to label it as such and only include it if it is part of the upcoming assignment’s rubric.

Improving formative assessment in online graduate classes will continue to be a goal of mine for improving my teaching practice. Fortunately, successes are almost immediately perceived and as such, the motivation to continue this work remains high.


Learning through stations: It isn’t just for Kindergarten

Posted: April 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: teaching | 1 Comment »

Adults teaching adults can benefit from strong teaching practices in other contexts. Today I led a workshop for adults who teach ESL to new Canadians in volunteer community settings, usually housed and sponsored by churches. The event was the Spring Training for ESL Cooperative Ministries http://eslcooperative.ca/. I presented a session with the above title, based on a class I had prepared for university pre-service teachers. The room was set up with five stations and each participant was given the instructions to choose whichever station they wished to start at and move at will around the room, in no particular order and with no requirement to complete all five stations. The participant traveled with a two column worksheet on which they were asked to reflect after each station: what did I learn at this station? How could I incorporate this in my ESL classroom?

Here is a list of the five stations and some of the insights the participants gained.

*Artistic expression: Using the small square of watercolor paper provided, participants would use watercolor crayons to paint a picture to describe how they were feeling. Afterward, they were to share their painting, their choices of colors and images, with another person at the station.

Here the participant gets to experiment with a mode of expression that is very kinesthetic and artistic. There is choice in color and image as well what aspects of the painting one chooses to describe. Watercolor crayons are user-friendly, but they also provide blurrier lines than drawing, which takes away the element of precision and encourages students to take risks.

*Props: On the table lay an assortment of interesting objects: a fur hat, an Ikea catalogue, an hour glass and a die. Participants were asked to write a short paragraph story based on one of the props.

This activity once again provides choice in which object to choose. The students’ imagination and language level determines the direction the story will take, but there is no prescribed direction. There is room for creativity, humor, cultural knowledge and risk taking. The stories can be shared through read alouds.

*Poetry reading: Participants were asked to choose a poem from the book Eenie Meenie Manitoba by Robert Heidbreder. This book of short, humorous poems on Canadian themes lends itself well to this activity. Another student uses a stopwatch app on a smart phone to record the length of time it takes to read the poem once. Then the reader rereads the poem, attempting to beat his/her previous time.

This activity is set up with choice and engagement in mind. The student is motivated to increase read aloud fluency through the use of the stop watch and a humorous poem, yet the participants may need to discuss how fast is too fast?

*Twitter: Participants at this station are asked to create a tweet about the workshop. Those that don’t have Twitter accounts are given a 14×10 grid to plan out their 140 character tweet.

This station usually attracts a healthy mix of Twitter users and the curious. The latter group learns what hashtags and mentions are and has the chance to find out how others use Twitter. The 140 character limit encourages precision and creativity and the grid takes away the fear factor for those who don’t have a smart phone in their pocket.

*Signs and Symbols: Participants at this station find a Bingo with pictures rather than numbers. Their task is to explore the meeting space to find these signs and symbols, sharing with others the meaning or location of those which are more difficult.

This activity encourages collaboration and getting to know the meeting space. Each culture has specific signs and symbols and some are universal. The resulting discussion draws upon the personal and cultural knowledge of each participant as experiences with signs and symbols are shared.

As evidenced by the engagement with the various stations, this workshop effectively demonstrated how adults can interact in activities at stations. The resulting discussions are a welcome addition to ESL classrooms where newcomers are sometimes shy to talk.