Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Notes on Blended Learning in Language Classrooms

Note: This post is not an endorsement of a product, simply my notes on the session. My pre-webinar hope is that there will be a focus on concepts that can be used regardless of tool.

Today I sat in on a Webinar from Michael Schutzler, CEO of LiveMocha on Blended Learning in Language Classrooms. 
Schultzler noted that 1 out of 3 high school students take a world language, but there is a 95% failure rate on their ability to converse conversationally, including students who get a 4 on AP World Language tests.
He argues that we teach basic facts and encourage regurgitation, but language is a performing art.

Performance anxiety with artists is the same as performance anxiety for students attempting to speak a foriegn language. Practice makes perfect!
It is essential to hear and watch native speakers in that language conversing in topics you are interested in.
Breaking those conversations down into component parts, and then having the student practice that with a native speaker is critical.

He sited a study at Marquette University, where students using LiveMocha and Skype to practice 50 minutes a week showed 4 times the level of speaking ability. Focusing blended learning on practice is key-We do our students a disservice if we do not!

He showed this slide that shows the evolution of blended learning in language instruction:
If we don't practice conversation in the teaching of a foriegn language, we will not have mastery!

He advocates the "Whole, Part, Whole" model that his product incorporates:
  • View/Listen an entire conversation with native speakers
  • Break the vocabulary and grammar down
  • Look at how the grammar is chunked to connect to the greater conversation
  • Produce in written and spoken form that conversation
  • Get feedback
  • Only after this has taken place do you place the student in the performance opportunity with a native speaker.

Language pairs are both served by looking at what both should be practicing. The cycle looks something like this:

He is advocating blended learning from a practical perspective for students to be able to have that feedback from native speakers. The connectivity to another human being is the key to successful learning.

The LiveMocha platform allows for teachers to collaborate on lessons, peer and student rating, and access to a global lesson repository.

Schultzler then went into a demonstration of the product, and what the cycle above looks like for a student. The lessons are connected to in-class activities for both reading, writing and listening. He argues that the feedback from the native speaker creates great motivation and an increase in learning.

He then showed case studies where blended learning for language had significant impact:
Case 1: Bill and Melinda Gates foundation Immigrant ESL training

  • 3 cohorts
  • 2x's the number of students showed improvement in written proficiency
  • 3x's the number showed improvement in verbal proficiency

Case 2: Burlington High School French

  • Rapid Language Aquisition
  • Significant improvement in conversational proficiency
  • Higher level of engagement and increased time practicing
Case 3: Arabia Mountain Georgia Freshman Spanish
  • IEP for each student
  • Pen Pals served as TA for teacher (Students helped with English)
  • Significant improvement in vocabulary acquisition and retention
Single largest shift when practicing with a native speaker is engagement. It gives students a sense of purpose for practicing the language.

Advice from teachers...
  1. It does require some relinquishing of control on the teachers part of what students are assigned each day. Students may want to move beyond. 
  2. You may need to build your own exercises if your school has a rigid curriculum. 
There are sometimes technical glitches. The Internet can be fussy at times...

  • Practice with native speakers every week has the greatest impact on language learning. (Marquette study)
  • You must provide guidance and structure with that interaction.
  • They highly recommend NOT requiring live conversation. Wait till the student is ready!
  • Encourage students to stretch!
  • Cost is $2-$3 per student per year for the service
  • "Language is a competitive weapon!"
I'm intrigued by the ability to get native speakers to participate and provide constructive feedback. My concern is that in many ways it feels similar to a "School of One" model of learning, that I am not a big fan of. If used judiciously, it may have promise.

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