Transcript of Episode 28 with Joe Barcroft

Transcript of Ep 28: Teaching Vocabulary for Acquisition with Joe Barcroft, Part I


Announcer:  This is “We Teach Languages.” A podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.


Stacey:  I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson, and today, on episode 28 of We Teach Languages, we get to talk to Joe Barcroft in part one of a two‑part episode, all about vocabulary acquisition. Joe, could you tell us a little more about your role at the university where you teach?

Joe:  Yes, I’m a Professor of Spanish and second language acquisition at Washington University. I’m also an affiliate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences of Washington University. I’m involved in the language program direction for the Spanish program, and I’m a second language acquisition researcher.

Stacey:  One of the reasons I’m so excited to have you here today is because your research on vocabulary acquisition has been in all of the journals, basically. You have been working on this topic specifically for years and have contributed a tremendous amount.

We’ve had several listeners who’ve actually written in or called in and told me that they want to do a better job at helping their students acquire vocabulary. You seem like the ideal person to ask these questions, too.

I know that you wrote a book in 2012 called “Input‑Based Incremental Vocabulary Instruction.” I would love to know more about your book and what it teaches us about how to teach vocabulary.

Joe:  Hello to everyone and I appreciate any instructor who is interested in improving vocabulary instruction. The title of the book is Input‑Based Incremental Vocabulary Instruction. The approach that I advocate and that is exemplified and spelled out in the book is exactly that it’s input‑based and it’s incremental.

In other words, there is a large emphasis on how we present target vocabulary in the input and what we do to promote all aspects of vocabulary learning incrementally and gradually over time.

The approach itself is based on 10 principles and some of the principles have to do with just our general programmatic nature, that missing logical and fairly straightforward. Other principles are based…really, they grew out of a long line of research on in an area which is called Lexical Input Processing, in particular. They grew out of theory and research in that area.

Most of the recommendations have something to do with either how we present input to learners or the tasks that we have them engage in or not engage in. Sometimes importantly, when we’re giving them opportunities to learn or to acquire new vocabulary.

Shall I go through them or do you have any general questions before I could go through them one by one?

Stacey:  So the listeners know, I am going to make sure to have a link to the publisher’s website where they can get a copy of your book. I would love to hear about the principles one by one. Thank you.

Joe:  I’ll try to go through them fairly quickly. Maybe mention a little bit of the research and theoretical foundations for some of them.

The first principle is to develop and implement a vocabulary acquisition plan. This is a recommendation that’s more of a programmatic nature. If we sit back and think about it, how do we decide what target vocabulary learners are going to be exposed to?

Is it going to be based on themes that we set up for throughout the course of the semester? Are we going to do something different where, for example, we might consider the frequency with which target words appear in a language and make attempts to help learners acquire, let’s say, a certain threshold?

Maybe the 1,000 most frequent words or 2,000 most frequent words in a language. There’s research on that. There are some decisions of a programmatic nature that we need to make, but I think it’s important to sit back and consider those. That’s what I would consider a vocabulary acquisition plan.

The principle two is already getting into the issue what I would call an input‑based recommendation. There’re input‑based recommendations and task‑based recommendations.

The second principle is to present new words frequently and repeatedly in the input. Here, by frequently, if you’re hearing someone talk, tell a story, explain something, providing whatever type of input it might be to learners, when presenting new words, our target vocabulary in that particular input segment.

The words or the lexical phrases can be repeated multiple times in that immediate input segment. They can also be repeated over time.

It’s something that, even though it’s quite logical and there’s a lot of research both from memory research and psychology to different areas of research in second language acquisition, particularly in L2 vocabulary acquisition research as well, that indicates that this frequency and this repeated exposure is really useful.

It’s quite intuitive that it should be, but sometimes it’s easy to forget, when, we, as instructors already know target vocabulary to forget to repeat it in the input where it may be useful to learners to pick up that novel form.

If a target word is truly novel in form, presenting it only once to the learner may be insufficient and so they may need multiple exposures, both in the immediate context and over time.

Stacey:  I have a question, Joe. One of the things that, particularly the students in my teaching English as a foreign language course, they often ask me the exact number of times that they should make sure to include a word in their input to make sure that students have grasped it.

Is there any magic number for how many times to recycle a word?

Joe:  [laughs] In my opinion, there isn’t a magic number because they’re so many variables involved such as how many novel words are in the immediate learning context, how many novel words are being exposed to differences in everything, from learner‑based differences to other issues related to the larger context.

How demanding whatever task the learner may be involved in, whatever content they are dealing with.

I know there are studies that have tried to address this issue but, I personally, would not recommend a magic number. Obviously, the more the better, but I think that there are things that you can do to see how well the learner is moving forward with the target vocabulary in question.

Typically, I’m going to say target words as we talk, but I also mean target vocabulary multi‑word phrases, and so forth. If I say new words I’m also including those multi‑word phrases. For example, if you see that a learner is able to retrieve a target word form on their own, that’s a good sign that it has been repeated, perhaps sufficiently in the input at least for them to get to that stage.

Anytime we deal with vocabulary, we deal with the issue of quantity and quality. Even if you’ve had sufficient exposure to a target word to be able to retrieve that target word form on your own, like in Spanish, a word like manzana or puerta, or whatever the target word might be, you can retrieve that word on your own.

It doesn’t mean that you know all of the L2 specific uses and meanings of that target word, which becomes an issue of quality. More exposures in truly meaning‑oriented input will help you to develop that quality of knowledge over time as well. Some of the principles I’ll get to also speak to those issues. Did that answer your question, at least to some extent?

Stacey:  Yeah, that was fantastic. Thank you.

Joe:  OK, great. The third principle is to promote both intentional and incidental vocabulary learning. By intentional vocabulary learning we mean, when a learner consciously, intentionally, makes an effort to learn, let’s say, a set of new target words.

They might see a list of target words at the end of a textbook chapter and go home and attempt to learn those words, or they may do a series of activities where they know that it’s their goal to attempt to learn those words.

Incidental vocabulary learning is when you pick up new words when you’re still exposed to them in the input, and again, preferably multiple times, frequently and repeatedly when you pick up words without intentionally attempting to do so.

That’s how when we think back of how we acquired our vocabulary that we have in our first language, the vast majority of those words were acquired incidentally. We don’t remember when we first acquired them. Often it is the same case for the second language.

We acquired these words over time we may not remember or know exactly when we attempted to learn now. There may be cases where we remember studying instead of words and having to take a quiz on those words that would be intentional learning. The principle recommends including both.

One of the reasons that I would recommend not relying solely on incidental vocabulary learning, is because you can pick up a lot more when you include intentional learning as well. There are studies that indicate that. I won’t go into those right now, but there are studies that indicate that.

The other thing that I would say about intentional vocabulary learning is that even when you’re intentionally trying to learn a new word, it’s a meaning oriented task or it’s something that’s meeting oriented in nature, even when you’re intentionally trying to learn a new word. I would point out that that’s different than intentionally learning grammatical rules.

You can intentionally learn grammatical rules, and then attempt to apply them. You could learn a grammatical rule about, let’s say a second language Spanish or second language German. You could actually learn it in your native language. It doesn’t necessarily have a…It’s not meeting oriented in the same way that intentional vocabulary learning would be.

I think that’s an important distinction to draw. The fourth principle is to use meaning‑bearing comprehensible input when presenting new words. This is a shout‑out to Krashen and Krashen’s hypotheses about second language acquisition in general. It really makes a lot of sense when it comes to vocabulary learning and it’s important to keep in mind.

This holds true, whether or not you’re learning words intentionally or you’re picking up words incidentally. For example, in a context where you have opportunities to acquire or to pick up target words incidentally, if most of the input, most of the other input is comprehensible, it’s going to be more likely that you’ll be able to infer the meaning of the new word and to pick it up.

If you’re processing a novel word in a sentence, you know all the other words in that sentence it’s more likely that you’ll be able to pick up the new word than if you only know 50 percent of the words in that sentence let’s say, or even less because you won’t have enough comprehensible input to be able to infer the meaning of the new word.

The fifth principle is to present new words in an enhanced manner. Most research on input enhancement has ‑‑ to date at least ‑‑ focused on enhancement for the acquisition of grammatical forms in second language, but there is some growing body of research on different types of enhancements that you can use to facilitate the acquisition of a target vocabulary.

One area that I would point out that I think is quite interesting is in the spoken mode. If you’re dealing with presenting target words in spoken language. If you use what we call different types of acoustic variability, that can be facilitative. It can increase L2 vocabulary learning substantially. What do I mean by acoustic variability?

Stacey:  That was what I was just about to ask.


Joe:  There are different sources of acoustic variability. When we talk about acoustic variability, we’re not talking about changing the linguistic signal itself. We’re just talking about changing the properties of the signal but not the actual linguistic message. If one example would be to use multiple talkers, when presenting target words.

My colleague Mitch Summers is also here at Washington University. I have done a number of studies in this area. One of the studies that we did, for example, was to present learners with target words. In this case it was 24 target words in Spanish, in second language Spanish. These were absolute beginners. They hadn’t studied Spanish before.

They were given an opportunity to try to learn these new Spanish words. We presented each word six times. In one condition, we recorded one single speaker and that speaker produce…We use that single recording of that speaker. We just used it six times. In another case, we had three different speakers and we presented each of those twice.

The first condition was no variability. It was just one speaker. No talker variability. The second condition was moderate talker variability. We had three talkers, two times each. In the third condition which was high variability, we had six different talkers, one repetition each. The overall number of repetitions is the same.

The only difference is the amount of talker variability that was in that input segment. This was a study that we published in 2005. What we found is that you have these substantial gains. We’re not talking just five percent. We’re talking a substantial amount between the single‑talker condition and the six‑talker condition. The three‑talker condition fell in between.

There is an example of where you can simply…input manipulation by including multiple talkers, you can use to facilitate vocabulary learning. We’ve done that with multiple talkers. We also find that you also get positive effects for multiple speaking styles. This would be one individual using different voice types as they present the target words for example. Another one was speaking rates.

Interestingly, you don’t get it for every source of variability. For example, for amplitude variability, we did not find that. There’s some theoretical issues that we could get into, but I think we don’t really need to right now.

Stacey:  That is so funny to me, since most people’s go‑to when a non‑native speaker doesn’t understand them is to raise the volume.

Joe:  [laughs]

Stacey:  The one thing that you found doesn’t make a difference…


Stacey:  …is to raise the volume.

Joe:  It’s not to say that one volume might not be better than another but the variation in volume did not help. Does that make sense?

Stacey:  Yeah. That’s fantastic.


Joe:  [inaudible 17:29] .

Stacey:  I have to tell you though. The last five minutes have been a revelation for me. I had not read your study about the substantial improvement from having six talkers rather than one.

My mind is blown. Especially from a teaching perspective thinking about how I ‑‑ as one teacher ‑‑ am either making choices to be the primary source of input for my students or to bring in authentic texts and maybe even my friends and colleagues [laughs] to be sources of input for them as well.

How can I create opportunities for them to get the same vocabulary words from multiple talkers? My mind is racing.

Joe:  I’m glad that you found it interesting. The one point I would add…Everybody can intuit. Technology facilitates this.

To make use of it, text book developers and also language program directors and instructors themselves can use technology to create situations where learners will be exposed to the target vocabulary using these types of acoustic variability.

When students are working on home using their laptop or their tablets or whatever they are doing their homework on, they can be exposed to words in this way, as opposed to being just presented by one single talker for example.

[background music]

Stacey:  Joe, that’s all we’re going to do for this week’s episode. We got about half‑way through the principles in your book and we’ll pick up next week with principles 6 through 10. Thank you so much for being here and sharing all this wonderful knowledge with us.

Joe:  Great, Stacey. Thanks very much to you.

Stacey:  If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know. You can find us on Twitter @weteachlang.

You can comment on any of the episodes on our website or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google voice number, which is 629‑888‑3398. If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air.

Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.

Episode 41 BONUS CONTENT: Vocabulary List Follow-up with Kara Parker

In this supplement for episode 41, Kara Parker graciously agrees to be on the podcast one more time to field a follow-up question about vocab lists submitted by listener Deb from Ohio.

You can listen to episode 41 in its entirety here.


Show Notes

We welcome feedback, resources, and diverse perspectives on this topic! To contribute to the conversation started here, leave us a voicemail or send a text message to (629)888-3398. Or you can follow us on Twitter @weteachlang or use this contact form to send us an email.

Kara Parker is a teacher trainer, consultant, and blogger at You can find Kara on Twitter @kararparker.


blurb 41


In episode 39, Stacey interviews Gabriele Dillmann, an associate professor of German at Denison University, a liberal arts college in Ohio. Gabriele is the director of the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s Shared Languages Program, a project that aims to address issues facing upper-level under-enrolled language courses as well as broadening the course offerings for lesser-taught languages.

You can find episode 39 here.

Listen below for the technology supplement BONUS CONTENT for episode 39:



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Transcript of Episode 36 with Rich Madel

Transcript of Ep 36: A Departmental Shift to IPA-based Units with Rich Madel


[background music]

Narrator:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from diverse perspectives of real teachers.

Stacey Margarita Johnson:  I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson, and today on episode 36, Rich Madel talks about how his department shifted their thinking from a textbook‑based curriculum to units all based on IPAs.

Rich, thank you so much for being here with me today.

Rich Madel:  My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Stacey:  Would you mind just giving us a little bit of your background, where you teach and what you work on in the profession, so we can orient ourselves to the story you’re about to tell.

Rich:  I teach in the Colonial School District, right outside of Philadelphia. I teach Spanish, I’m in, I suppose, my ninth year teaching Spanish here. I’m also the chairperson of the Department of World Languages. I’m in my fourth year doing that.

Within the profession at large, I am also an Executive Council member for the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association and I also do some doctor work at St. Joseph University where my research focus is on proficiency-oriented pedagogy and assessment.

Stacey:  The reason why we’re chatting today is because your department has done some pretty interesting transformations as far as what your goals are for your students and how you are assessing those, and we’ll get into some of the details of how you did that.

I was hoping you could get us started by telling us what was it that you wanted students to achieve and just really briefly, what did you implement to help your department meet those goals? We can always unpack that as we go.

Rich:  What we were looking to do was, and I don’t think that we necessarily knew this at the time as explicitly as we do now, but we were really looking to grow proficiency among our students.

The conversation originally started when we were looking at AP scores and looking at how we could strategize to improve AP scores. We realized that our students need communicative ability at that highest level and so we unpacked it in a backward design model from there.

The ultimate result is that we took a look at our entire curriculum, our entire course sequence from 1A to AP and we rebuilt it, we tweaked it. It was under construction for a while and we found ourselves using the framework of the Integrated Performance Assessment to guide us through that process. That’s where we are today.

Stacey:  You mention that you didn’t know back then everything that you know now about how you needed to change. Can you give some specific examples of what the process was like for the department as you went through?

Rich:  What we did together, we first started at a very theoretical level. We first started by introducing ourselves to the Integrated Performance Assessment as a concept. During that period, we spent probably the first half of the year really having philosophical discussions about what the purpose of taking a language is. Having theoretical discussions about what the three modes of communication are and what that looks like in our classroom, how we would go about assessing that. What activities do we use to really build in each one of those modes of communication? From there we were then able to task ourselves with, “Let’s try it. Let’s all pilot a unit that culminates with a full Integrated Performance Assessment.”

We were all able to come back to the table now having that experience and have a very practice‑oriented conversation. We were able to talk about the nuts and bolts of what worked, what didn’t work. How did it affect and impact our instruction? How did it impact our students’ performance in each of those three modes?

Ultimately, we decided that it was something that was beneficial for all of those different stakeholders. We moved forward really just again attacking the entire curriculum.

Stacey:  Those initial pilot IPA units that you guys built. How did you actually build those? Was it each person working on their own to create something for their own class, or did you do it in community?

Rich:  I wanted us all to have that practice‑oriented experience. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to send everybody out on their own and do it. I had some of my colleagues that did feel comfortable just taking a section that he or she was teaching on their own and just go for that.

I had some other colleagues that felt more comfortable working with other colleagues in sections that they shared. They worked together and were able to again split the work that way but also share the experiences in that regard. It depended on how they were going about it. I remember spending a lot of time just being there and guiding. I had already done some pilot work on my own, enough that I felt that it was worth sharing with my department and making this recommendation.

Stacey:  I like that. I do some consulting work with faculty on my campus around technology. I often learned the technology maybe six weeks ago or one semester ago. I’m one iteration ahead. I really like that kind of mentorship because I’m not so far ahead that I’m not still learning. There’s still things I don’t know. I’m still really comfortable with the learning process, but I’m far enough ahead that I have a few more answers. [laughs]

Rich:  Oh, absolutely. Certainly the same thing, I’ve presented on what the IPA is, and I’ve worked with other departments as they introduced themselves to the IPA. There does exist an IPA 101, but I can tell you right now I’m in the IPA 301, I’m in this 401, but I am still absolutely learning and figuring out what works, how it’s manageable for my students, how it’s manageable for me as someone who values my time. [laughs] There’s absolutely growth along the way, no doubt.

Stacey:  So, after you did that initial pilot and everyone decided you wanted to pursue this, I guess you had a practice‑oriented discussion, and then everyone decided they wanted to pursue it for the program. Did you continue that system of people getting to decide for themselves? Because an entire IPA curriculum is just such a huge undertaking. I’m just wondering how you managed it.

Rich:  It is definitely a large undertaking. It’s a large undertaking just working at the unit level definitely. What we did is we divvied up the responsibilities based on the sections that we were teaching. If I had a level three and I felt comfortable going with the level three at the pace that I was working, then I was creating the assessments as we went.

I had other teachers who shared level two, so they worked on that collaboratively. Other teachers at a different level felt OK going at their pace. We were very patient, but we were also very diligent with the work that we were doing.

It took over a year to get to a place where we felt that the entire curriculum reflected not just the assessment shift but also reflected again the pedagogical shift that goes along with working with the Integrated Performance Assessment.

Stacey:  Rich, can you tell me how you build a unit based on an IPA?

Rich:  Yeah, so, previously we had been using a text book that we felt comfortable with. Our unit sequence in a large part followed the scope and sequence of that textbook. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We didn’t want to create extra work for ourselves, especially when we already had these resources.

What we did is we in essence stayed with the thematic framework of a lot of the units that already existed. We constructed essential questions that we were interested in that we thought would be relevant to the students. We took a backward design process, where again we started with an essential question. We identified the specific proficiency target that we were looking for.

From there what we did is we developed and described a communicative event in which all three modes of communication would be necessary. In developing that communicative scenario, it was really important that we detailed it in such a way that it was real world.

It was something that we could say either, A, our students are existing in this world or, B, it’s something that we’re preparing our students and realistically can say that our students would encounter this situation in the real world. Then from there, it was just a function of saying, “OK, now what are the tasks within each of these three modes that are relevant to these communicative scenario?”

For example, we have a unit where we talk about celebrations from all around the world. In that sense our essential question is, “What are these celebrations like in different countries? What are the products and the practices of these celebrations in different areas of our own target culture?”

We found an article in a local Spanish‑speaking newspaper that really did a great job of introducing the concept of the quinceañera. We use that as our interpretive piece. Part of that article was actually multiple case studies of specific families and how they prepared and celebrated their quinceañera. What we were able to do was just assign students these different case studies as in, “OK, this is the quinceañera that you’re going to go to. You can read that.” And then that really provided the content for our interpersonal conversation. We were able to compare and contrast experiences in these different quinceañeras.

From there, going and culminating within the presentation mode, we were able to give back to this family that invited us to their quinceañera. We were able to share with them a celebration that’s really important to our families. We created a scrapbook where we were able to detail ‑‑ this what we did, this is how we prepared. We were able to wrap in all of these different elements of the unit. You really get to see that integrated piece of the integrated performance assessment work. Each part of the assessment really builds off of the other.

Students really required the content now that they get from each one of those pieces in order to progress through the assessment experience. Now, there’s another aspect to building the unit this way, and that is, once we’ve identified what our assessments are going to be in each one of those modes, we’re then able to extrapolate these Can Do statements.

In order for our students to be successful in the interpretive mode, we need them to be able to do X, Y and Z. In order for them to be successful in this conversation, they need to be able to express X, Y, and Z. For me, I used those Can Do statements as my curriculum. What I’m doing is I’m taking a look at those statements and saying, “How do I need to prepare my students? What are we really doing at a task level in order for them to be successful at that more holistic level, working through the IPA?”

I have some colleagues that they still…because they’re still working within that thematic framework, they still feel comfortable using the textbook and using some resources. In that sense, go for it. I have an entire closet of these textbooks that I no longer use. I’m glad that they can use it, but for some of my other colleagues, myself included, we have just absolutely enjoyed the freedom and the liberation of being able to say, “You know what? That part of that unit, not relevant to these tasks. This vocabulary expression, not relevant to these tasks,” or, “You know what? There’s an expression that isn’t in here that we should be incorporating.” And so I have the liberty to go in there and really mold the unit to fit both the tasks at hand, but also that larger, essential question.

This assessment is really driving everything that we’re doing in the classroom.

I think that’s one of the most powerful aspects of working with the integrated performance assessment, is that washback effect and how it’s impacting my practice and also what my students are doing on a day‑to‑day basis in the classroom.

Stacey:  Yeah, I love that. That’s a wonderful example. I imagine that you’re able to better conceptualize and document what your students are able to do and that they’re able to do more because you’re really focusing on that.

I wonder, overall, how are the teachers and students experiencing the new model? Have there been any difficulties or any successes that maybe you didn’t expect?

Rich:  Yeah, especially coming from where we were, we were working within a performance model, in quotations, but our students prior to this, when we assessed an interpretive mode, it was a pedagogically prepared paragraph that they read and it was five true and false questions or it was a textbook listening sample and five true and false questions.

Some of the experience for our students that want it to be easier, they missed that. I think that’s part of the process, is that when you deal with a more complex assessment model, it demands more.

It demands more from the students in terms of what they are doing, but also it demands more from us as the teachers in terms of the time that it takes to evaluate, the time it takes to craft these assessments to make sure that we’re getting the insight that we’re looking for in terms of our students’ progress.

There’re students that miss that old model, but I do think that there are a lot of students that are walking away from this with so much more confidence. The fact that they are, in fact, ready for the real world. Again, we know that as they’re progressing through our course sequence, we’re absolutely sure that they’re able to succeed in these real‑world scenarios.

Stacey:  That’s awesome. I imagine that for the teachers there was a bit of that, too. It’s just a different feedback model and it can be really overwhelming in the beginning. How did you negotiate the workload for instructors?

Rich:  First and foremost, we worked together to really build a rubric for each of those modes that fit our desires as educators in terms of what did we want to see our students, where were the areas of growth that we really wanted to see. We had been working with Fairfax County’s performances rubrics for years.

We took a look at ACTFL’s IPA rubrics. We looked at Ohio Foreign Language Association’s rubrics, and we took bits and pieces from all of them, and really created expectations that were our own and met our needs. Now that being said, as I was mentioning before, working with a dynamic assessment requires time and that is definitely one of the things that, going into using the IPA, I think that everybody needs to understand is that this is no longer grading a true and false quiz. This is taking a look at students’ performance and aligning it to the standards that we’ve set in our rubrics. It does take some time to gain that comfort and to familiarize yourself with the language and the expectations and the different criteria that you set.

Stacey:  Grading performance with a rubric is a skill, also, so it can…

Rich:  No doubt.

Stacey:  It gets easier with time. [laughs]

Rich:  Absolutely, it does.

Stacey:  All of the investment that you guys have put in for really over a course of years to get to where you are, would you say that it was worth it?

Rich:  I absolutely would. Again, if you look at the publications about the Integrated Performance Assessment, there’s often an element of what they call the washback effect. When the washback effect first appeared in literature some 30 years ago, it was really defined as that idea of the behaviors of both the students and the teachers are influenced by the assessment itself.

In that sense, what I’m seeing my students do on a day‑to‑day basis, I think, is absolutely something that we were not doing before. My practice has changed enormously throughout the process of working with the IPA.

I’ve become so much more reflective of what I’m doing to prepare my students with intercommunicative model, really giving students tools for their communicative toolbox, so to speak, in terms of, “How are you negotiating meaning? What are you doing when in this, in, within this task, if communication breaks down?”

Applauding students for strategies they might not even know are strategies. No longer is it a timed writing sample when they don’t understand what the prompt is. Instead, we’re focusing on the writing process, where we are specifically identifying who is our audience, how are we going to engage with them in the presentational mode when they can’t engage back with you, and crafting a message.

It’s inspired our students to be more reflective when they’re working peer to peer, and they’re editing, and they’re giving feedback. For me, it has been absolutely transformational to my practice, working with the Integrated Performance Assessment, just working within these modes and encouraging communicative competence has been huge.

Again, also integrating these authentic resources has allowed us to have conversations of cultures that we weren’t having before. Talking about the three Ps of culture was not something that we had even done before as a department.

Now, it’s standard. Now, we can’t deal with an authentic resource without dissecting these different components of culture and having that conversation and that comparative analysis.

Stacey:  That’s wonderful. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve gotten a lot out of the conversation. I’m sorry that you live so far away, because I think the next thing I want to do is come visit a few of your classrooms and take some notes. It sounds like you guys are doing tremendous work. Thanks for putting it out there so we can all learn from it.

Rich:  No, my pleasure. I’m so proud of us as a department and the work that we’ve been doing. It is absolutely stretched a lot of us in terms of our own personal growth. Again, seeing now what the students are able to do, and especially in comparison of where our expectations were before, it’s awesome. It is really, really cool.

Stacey:  Thank you so much for being here today. This was a tremendous conversation. I know that a lot of people are going to benefit from it.

Rich:  It was my absolute pleasure. I hope to hear from anybody that has questions or comments, by all means. You can find me on Twitter now, but you can send me an email. I’m here to help and to share all that I have.

[background music]

Stacey:  If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, @weteachlang, you can comment on any of the episodes on our website, or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google Voice number, which is 629‑888‑3398.

If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air. Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.

Transcript of Episode 32 with Walter Hopkins

Transcript of Ep 32: Reflective, Principled, and Proficiency-Oriented Teaching with Walter Hopkins


[background music]

Stacey Margarita Johnson:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.

I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson. Today on Episode 32, I am honored to have my friend Walter Hopkins as a guest on the podcast.

I should mention that he didn’t just volunteer to be a guest on the podcast. First, he volunteered to be a guest speaker in my teaching methods course this semester, and then, he agreed to let me share the recording of his presentation with everyone through the podcast.

Walter is everyone’s favorite sidekick on the podcast “Tea With BVP.” He also is the Assistant Director of the Spanish Language Program at Michigan State. He joins us today to talk a little bit about what constitutes excellent language teaching from his perspective, and a little bit about his experience supervising teaching assistants and instructors, and helping them develop.

My class and I got so much out of his presentation and I hope you all enjoy this episode as well.



Walter Hopkins:  I’m Walter Hopkins. Hi, everybody. I teach at Michigan State. I’m really excited to be with you all. I just want to say first of all that one of the things that I think is of utmost importance in teaching…

I work in a program where I’m the immediate supervisor for between 18 and 20 ‑‑ depending on the semester ‑‑ teaching assistants and instructors.

One of the things I always reiterate to them about teaching is that the reality of teaching is that no one is ever going to have a perfect lesson all of the time. No one is ever going to come out of the lessons feeling like every single class period goes perfectly well.

I think that’s a reality that we as teachers aren’t willing to accept because we want perfection, we want everything to go well all the time. We want everything to go perfectly all the time, and so I think one of the most important things for teachers is that they be reflective.

When I say reflective I mean, if I’m going to observe your class, I need to, as someone who’s observing, an outsider coming into your class, watching you, I’m much more interested in your response to how that lesson went than actually how that lesson went. I want to know from you, because that’s going to demonstrate to me, how you are as a teacher much more than whether your lesson went perfectly that day that I came to observe you.

I often tell my TAs and instructors, I say, “If I’m coming to observe you, and I see a mediocre lesson, but you think that it went incredibly well, then I’m much more concerned about that than if I see someone who gives a pretty horrible lesson and can tell me that it was pretty horrible and can tell me some things that they would do to improve it.”

Does that make sense? I think that we’re so concerned about whether each and every time we’re in the classroom, everything goes perfectly, but we don’t consider the fact that it’s not about everything going perfectly but rather about: can we make adjustments? Can we consider what we would do to improve this lesson for future iterations of that class or even in the next class saying, “OK, guys. Last class was a mess. It was horrible. [laughs] So, let’s try this again.”

I think that your students can appreciate that because they can appreciate the fact that you are being reflective. You’re thinking about how you’re teaching and you’re willing to make changes, because you can see that things didn’t go as well as you had planned or as you had hoped for.

That’s the first thing I’d like to say. Think really in terms of quality teaching because it’s about you, the teacher as a whole, that you’re able to reflect on your teaching and have real honest reflection, and then be able to take that honest reflection and turn it into quality instruction, improved instruction in the future.

That’s number one. [laughs] The other thing that I think is really an important part of quality teaching is principled teaching. I’m going to say reflective and principled teaching are the two things that I think are really important.

What I mean by principled teaching is that you have taken the time to think through, “What is it that I believe about language teaching? What is it that I believe about what a language class should be? What is it that I believe that my students should know and what they should be able to do with language by the end of their time with me in this class?”

The answers to those questions are really going to inform how you set up your class, how you teach your class, and how you evaluate your students. This goes hand‑in‑hand with setting goals and saying, “OK. These are the goals for my students. These are the goal…” I think even just setting goals for yourself as a reflective teacher and as a teacher who’s constantly in need of improvement, a teacher who’s constantly developing and growing.

This is my 14th year teaching language, and I still don’t have it all together. I think it’s important for us to recognize that development, growth, learning about teaching and being a better teacher doesn’t end because you’re no longer students. That continues throughout your entire career.

As you take a look though at your principles, you take a look at what it is that you’ve said, “This is important for me, as an instructor. This is important for my students. These are the things that I find to be really key things for a language classroom,” then you need to follow those principles. You need to work toward those goals that you’ve set for yourself and for your students.

That’s what I mean when I say principled teaching. You say, “This is what’s important in a language class. This is what’s important to me. These are the things that I, through my development as a teacher up to this point, have recognized. These are really important. This is what we really should be focusing our attention on the language classes.” Then, do that. Follow those principles and aim to achieve those goals.

I think for me, when I first started out, I had all these thoughts. There were lots of things that I had learned in classes, but I just didn’t see how any of that made sense once I actually was thrown in to a classroom. You’re just overwhelmed with what you have to do.

My first teaching setting, I was teaching high school and middle school French and Spanish. I was given a textbook and said, “Finish the book.” [laughs] I was like, “All right then. I’m not sure how I’m gonna do that, but I’ll do my very best to make sure I finish this book.”

That was the goal. That was what that particular location, they said, “That was what we want you to do. We want you to finish the book.” That was all I had. It was a challenge for me then because you learn all these things in a methods class, or in a principles of language teaching, or whatever the course might be called.

You learn all these things but then when you’re thrown into the midst of it, you realize, “Wow. How do I really put all this into practice?”

When you come in and you recognize you have these principles, you have these ideas, you have thoughts that are based on research. In your mind about, “This is how I want to teach and this is how I want to help my students to learn.” Then, when you’re given a book and said, “Finish the textbook,” then you can say, “OK. Well, how am I going to do that?” as opposed to just following…taking a look at the pages and saying, “I guess I’m just teach this for the sake of knowledge, they’re gonna learn what they need to know, because that’s what they want.” Rather you can say, “No. There’s some principles behind what I’m teaching and this is what I, these are the outcomes that I want my students to be able to have by the end of the course.”


Stacey:  I think that’s so important especially for new teachers. You might have a lot of constraints on their practice. Thank you for that.

Walter, I’m wondering as someone who has a lot of experience supervising TAs and instructors. What would you say are some of the common mistakes that you see instructors making when you visit their classrooms, or engage them in professional development?


Walter:  I wouldn’t say mistakes. The reality is that they’re in the learning process, right?

I was telling them when I come to observe them, “This is not an evaluation. This is an opportunity for professional development. I’m not coming in here with my clipboard and writing down you did this, you did this, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do this, you did this, you did this, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do this.”

Rather I’m coming in and seeing, “What’s going well? What are some areas in need of improvement?” Trying to help them develop professionally. We actually set goals after that meeting and say these are some of the things that we together would like to see improvement on over the course of rest of the semester.

I would say that the most common thing that I see is that the TAs or the new instructors, they want students to be able to produce language long before they’ve ever given them all of the tools to be able to produce that.

What I mean by that is that, they think that by saying something a few times, that students already have that up in their brains, and then they say, “OK. Now you do this.” The students are looking at them like, “What just happened?” [laughs]

That’s the most common point of growth I would say, is helping them recognize that it takes a lot of repetition. It takes a lot of repeated questioning and interaction with input for students to get enough into their brains to finally be able to actually do something with that.

By just simply giving them a short brief introduction and then say, “Now do this.” It’s not sufficient. Students oftentimes feel unprepared to produce output, because they haven’t been given sufficient amounts of input in order to be able to do that. They haven’t had that opportunity to interact with the input in order to be able to do that. That’s the thing that I most commonly see.


Stacey:  I know that you at Michigan State are doing a lot of really innovative things in your language program. I was wondering if you could tell us about a few of the ways that you are increasing the focus on proficiency, on student outcomes, and just trying to innovate in your context.


Walter:  Let me tell you a little bit about what we’re doing. We are what we call a Proficiency‑Oriented Program and we sometimes refer to ourselves the Goal‑Oriented Program. What we’ve set up are courses with the primary focuses on developing proficiency. What we did when we look at proficiency goals, we said, “We want to start at the top and then move down.”

What that means is that we said, “What is our outcome? What is our desired outcome for our students when they finish the four‑semester sequence?” so the two‑year language requirement. What is it that we want them to be able to accomplish at that time.

We decided that we want our students to achieve, we actually set a quantifiable goal. We want 50% of our students to achieve intermediate‑mid proficiency by the end of four semesters.

From there then, we decided to take a look at, what does that mean? What does it mean for our students to reach intermediate‑mid proficiency? What is required? What is the knowledge that’s required? What are the things that they need to be able to do in order for them to reach intermediate‑mid proficiency?

We said, “That’s what we want to take a look at,” and so we looked at our curriculum. We looked at the textbook and we said, “What are the things in our textbook that are going to help contribute to them achieving intermediate‑mid? What are the things in our textbook that are superfluous that are not going to help them to achieve that intermediate‑mid level proficiency?”

We then determined what’s going to help, what’s not going to help and we threw out the stuff that wasn’t going to help, and we augmented the stuff that was going to help. We then established Can Do statements for each our courses.

We said, “So by the end of Spanish 101 ‑‑ so first semester‑‑ we want our students to be able to achieve these goals.” The Can Do statements are established for Spanish 101.

We said, “Then by the end of Spanish 202, by the end of the second semester, we want them to be able to achieve these goals. By the end of the third semester, we want them to be able to achieve these goals. By the end of the fourth semester, we want them to be able to achieve those goals.”

We first started out at the program level. We said these are our goals based on our principles. These are our goals we want our students to be able to do, and then work down to each individual course.

Then, we worked with individual instructors and said, as we look at these as our goals for this course, now let’s develop the course and see how we can fulfill those goals for each individual course. At a unit level, how we can fulfil those goals for each individual course at a classroom day‑to‑day level. Breaking it down from program, to course, to then each individual unit, and then each individual class‑day.

That’s how we got started. It’s been a long journey. It started just before I started here. It started in 2011 and I was hired in the fall of 2012.

We’re constantly revisiting and revising, and we’ve discovered that we’re not achieving our proficiency outcome goal, 50% of students getting to intermediate‑mid. Now we’re revisiting and saying, what can we do to adjust our curriculum in order to help us to achieve that goal.


Stacey:  That’s fantastic. I love how transparent you all have been also along every stage of the process. II know that you’ve done widespread assessment on how the progress is going. Now you’re really upfront that, “Yeah, we haven’t quite met our goals, so we’re re‑evaluating curriculum.”

I think that just sets really such a good precedent for other programs that might be interested in starting that same proficiency‑oriented process so that everyone knows, it’s not something you get right out of the gate. It’s a process of always moving towards that goal.

[background music]


Stacey:  Walter, thank you so much for participating in the podcast and for sharing your knowledge with all of us. I am really grateful.


Walter:  All right. Take care.


Stacey:  If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show, or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know.

You can find us on Twitter @weteachlang. You can comment on any of the episodes on our website, or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google Voice number which is 629‑888‑3398. If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air.

Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.


Transcript of Episode 31 with Maris Hawkins

Transcript of Episode 31: Blogs, Novels, and Teachers Sharing their Work with Maris Hawkins


[background music]

Stacey Margarita Johnson:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.

I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson. Today on episode 31, Maris Hawkins is here to talk about how she uses technology, novels, Teachers Pay Teachers, how her blog works, how she got started in blogging — just a wide‑ranging conversation on a lot of topics.

Thank you so much for being here today, Maris.

Maris Hawkins:  Thanks so much for having me. I’ve been following your podcast since this summer, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

Stacey:  I am so glad to hear that. It’s exciting to actually have you on the show. You’re one of the first people who reached out and talked to me on Twitter and said that you were [laughs] listening to this show, so thank you so much.

Maris:  You’re welcome.

Stacey:  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know your blog though, since I met you, probably, in August. I actually recently assigned some of your blog posts to my graduate students in my teaching methods course.

Maris:  Oh wow. Thank you.

Stacey:  [laughs] Awesome. How is it that you teach between 8th and 12th grade? That seems like a big spread.

Maris:  I teach in an independent school. So, what happens was, by last year just being a middle school teacher, I developed my blended class which needs two days online. They have, actually the Latin teacher is their proctor. I watch the Latin students, so to start to mimic what they would do if they were taking an online class but with some guidance and help from an actual teacher being there. After that, I moved to the upper school, and so I still continued to teach my blended class.

In the past, I taught just level two, or I taught level two and three. This year, I transitioned to teach level one so I could teach level one without a textbook. I blended classes level two, and then I’m also developing level five class. I have ended up with a much bigger span of languages and ages. I enjoy it because you can do different things with upper schoolers; they’re more independent. But, yeah, that’s how I ended up with all the different grades.

Stacey:  It seems like a lot, especially since you’re doing a no-textbook class, then planning all the way up to fifth year. [laughs] I can’t imagine teaching that big of a span.

Maris:  One of the best things I did, especially with level five, level one there’s always a lot of materials to find, but level five, I’ve been using a lot of resources from Kara Jacobs. She’s done a lot with culture development.

In all levels, I’ve also done novels which I think also helps to base a curriculum, because you have all that already written and then it’s just supplementing.

That’s another great thing about teaching now, is there are so many blogs that are out there and most of them share their resources. Or you can go on Teachers Pay Teachers, especially when they’re having a sale, pay under $10 to get a great unit that will last a month or so.

Stacey:  One of the, maybe, downfalls of Teachers Pay Teachers is you really have to know that the materials are high quality and they come recommended. Do you have any teachers that you would recommend people looking into if they haven’t gone on that site before?

Maris:  Martina Bex ‑‑ I’ve bought a lot of materials from her ‑‑ Kristy Placido, and Allison Weinhold as well, who does Mis Clases Locas. There’s a lot. Also Kara Jacobs as I mentioned before. The CCC Spanish Store is another…

Stacey:  “Si, si, si” as in S‑I, S‑I, S‑I?

Maris:  No. The letter is CC…It’s, compelling comprehensible cultural connections. That one has been great as well. Those are the ones that as I’ve been making the transition, I’ve used a lot of their materials.

Stacey:  That’s really helpful. I’m really interested in the whole teaching with novels thing. There’s just a lot of momentum behind leveled novels right now. I would love to know what your experience has been with that.

Maris:  When I really started to dig into the culture behind the novels that they have, “Frida Kahlo”, which has all the art and all of that within it, has been a great one. The “Agentes Secretos” is also great. It has Guernica and Spain and the civil war.

All of those have allowed me to start bringing that culture in. When I could bring more culture in, that has been able to make it more engaging for students.

I found, especially when I do a class novel, if I do a somewhat easier novel to read, then all of the students are more engaged because they can understand it. I can also assign them some pages that they can read without me, which I think doing whole class readings, at least for me, became a bit monotonous for the students when they were always just relying on me to read to them.

When we are not reading novels, I’ve started doing a lot of free voluntary reading. That allowed me to have students pick what they wanted to read. Also allowed them to read harder books or easier books. Reading all of that Spanish has been really helpful and great for them.

Stacey:  Do you have any check‑ins with the free voluntary reading?

Maris:  Usually, I’ve done a booksnap where they take a picture. Seesaw is an online journal that they can use to post all their work. That’s one way that all my students can do it or they can take a picture with Snapchat and then add a caption. Some of them will add their bitmojis, add pictures to it, but just to see what they’re doing.

Some other people have started to do a bit more of keeping track of what their students are reading, and I would like to try that. It’s just a fine line between wanting to hold them accountable and not wanting it to be something that they don’t look forward to.

The other thing that I do that keeps it successful is even in my upper levels we’d just read for about seven minutes. I’m hoping to extend it throughout the year, but they haven’t done a lot of just sitting and reading in Spanish. I think as we continue to read and develop more, I think it’s important to start small and then increase the time.

Stacey:  One of the things that I often have wondered, when you are using novels or free voluntary reading, is if you’re in, particularly maybe for the lower grades, where you might have more developing or reluctant readers, for instance in middle school [laughs], I’m wondering how you motivate people who have difficulty with reading or people who find it to be very challenging. How do you motivate them to get involved with free voluntary or novel‑based classroom activities?

Maris:  The book that I’m reading in my middle school class is actually the Senor Wooly graphic novel.

That’s was the book that I started with my Spanish Two last year when I had a lot of those reluctant readers and I hope also that graphic novels in Spanish and other languages too would really take off because when you talk about comprehensible input, you can talk a lot around the pictures and what you’re seeing, and give students more input that way.

As far as words on the page, it’s definitely not as intimidating as some of the novels can be. I found that graphic novels sometimes are a good bridge.

My levels-ones today, I just put out a lot of books and they read for three minutes. It wasn’t intimidating to them. I think they think, “Three minutes, I can do this.” One said, “3 or 30?” I said “Just three. ” You know, getting their feet wet.

I think keeping the time manageable, making sure that the book is almost a little too easy for them, specially the first book that you’re introducing, you can’t go wrong because then they all feel like they can understand it and that they’re successful.

Stacey:  Yeah, that’s great. Great feedback. You’re doing a lot of exiting things in your classes. It’s fun to get a peek into how all of these concepts are playing out for you. One of the things I really wanted to talked to you about today is your blog.

A lot of the things you’ve talked about today, you’ve put those ideas on your blog. You share glimpses into your class room and how those things are really working for you. How did you get started blogging? What made you want to do it? How did you get entry into that world?

Maris:  I started out loving cooking blogs. I enjoyed cooking and that was my entry into the blog world. I also always wanted to write a book, so blogging seems like a good intermediary thing. Although I love to cook, I am not an excellent cook. No one would read [laughter] a blog about my cooking, so the only thing that I really felt like I knew a lot about was blogging about what’s happening in my classroom and being a Spanish teacher, although it’s always intimidating putting yourself out there. You also wonder, “Would anyone even read this? How long do I have to write a blog until someone tweets at me, or makes a comment on it, or my numbers start to jump? How many people have actually read it?”

It can be intimidating to do that, but luckily for me, everyone I found has been very kind. Even if they give me feedback because there’s a typo, or one time I had a picture with some graffiti that wasn’t the best. I was just putting up pictures and not really paying attention. Anyway, someone said, “Just so you know, you might want to take this down.”

Everyone always starts out with, “Thank you so much for what you’re doing.” I’ve gotten so many great ideas. They always start off positive. As far as worrying about people hating what I was doing or hating my blog, it didn’t happen. That definitely helped me continue to blog.

Stacey:  Awesome. How long have you been doing your blog now?

Maris:  I started January 2013.

Stacey:  Oh my gosh. It’s been almost five years.

Maris:  Yes, it’s been a long time. It took me a while before I really started to see more people. As I started sharing more on Facebook and starting doing more on Twitter, then I was able to talk to more people and bloggers and things like that.

Stacey:  If there’s someone listening who has thought about maybe doing a blog and isn’t sure if they should get started or how they should get started, what advice would you give to them?

Maris:  I would say definitely to go ahead and get started and trying to blog because initially not that many people will find it. You can write a couple of posts, and then when you’re ready to share it with everyone, then you can go on Facebook and share it in a Facebook group or go on Twitter and share it there.

You can wait until you feel like you’ve started posting a couple good ideas and then share it with everyone. The other thing that I’ve noticed take off this past year has been Facebook groups. It seems like when I first started teaching, there was a lot of sharing going on via different emails, Yahoo groups, and things like that.

I’ve noticed that’s toned down and people have more moved to sharing on Facebook. I would say if you’re not sure about if you want to blog, you can always share a post or an activity that you’re doing on Facebook as well to get to that same community and go from there.

That’s a way to get your feet wet if you’re not ready to start a whole blog.

Stacey:  I also think just participating in a variety of Facebook groups around language teaching gives you an idea of what topics people are talking about and how you might be able to contribute to the conversation before you go out and start blogging, right?

Maris:  Exactly. I don’t think you necessarily have to have a grand purpose when you start blogging. Just sharing what’s happening in your classroom is a great start. It doesn’t have to be a specific theme or a specific niche that you really want to focus on. You can develop that as you go along.

I am a prolific blogger. I think for me, it helps to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom, and then it helps me organize because for example, I’m starting the graphic novel again with my middle school students. Last year, I blogged day‑to‑day what I was doing.

This year, I pulled up the same post. I’m changing things up, but it’s a way for me to reflect. I think that’s why I am so prolific. For other people, they don’t have to be worried that they’re not posting enough.

I don’t think you have to post every week, every month. It’s just when you have a good idea, when the mood strikes you. We all go through busy times in our lives. One thing that I use also is Bloglovin. I can just have all of the blogs there and anytime someone shares a new post, it’ll pop up.

Stacey:  Is that an app for your phone?

Maris:  It can be an app. I just also use the web version as well.

Stacey:  Well, this was a wonderful experience for me. I’m going to follow up on so many of the resources that you’ve mentioned, all of the teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers, all of the resources like Seesaw and Snapchat.

[background music]

Stacey:  I’m going to make sure to put links to everything you’ve mentioned in the show notes as well. Thank you for being here today.

Maris:  I enjoyed it.

Stacey:  If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know. You can find us on Twitter @weteachlang. You can comment on any of the episodes on our website or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google Voice number, which is (629)888‑3398.

If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air. Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.

Transcript of Episode 30 with Patrick Murphy

Transcript of Episode 30: Fear of Failure, Twitter, and Virtual Reality with Patrick Murphy

[background music]

Stacey Margarita Johnson:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.

I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson. Today, on episode 30, Jose Luis de Ramon Ruiz interviews Patrick Murphy about how his teaching has changed during his nearly 20‑year career teaching language courses at the university level.

It’s an exciting, wide‑ranging conversation that I think many of us will relate to about how radically technology has transformed, and about how important it is for teachers to be fearless in their risk‑taking sometimes, and really model that behavior for students as well.


Jose Luis de Ramon Ruiz:  I’m really excited to be here today with Professor Patrick Murphy, who is a senior lecturer of Spanish at Vanderbilt University. He has taught elementary and intermediate level, reading and translation courses. He has led study abroad, groups in Cuba, and in other countries in Latin America. This semester, he’s also the coordinator of the Spanish 1103, an intensive Elementary Spanish class.

Thank you so much, Patrick, for joining us today.

Patrick Murphy:  Thank you.

Jose:  Why don’t you tell us about the class that you are teaching this semester? Who are your students? What’s their level?

Patrick:  Currently, I’m teaching a class that’s, we call it Spanish 1103, which is an intensive course for beginners. Essentially, we take Elementary Spanish and we have students who are typically high‑beginners. That’s what we like to call them because they’ve had some experience with Spanish. They come into our class and we basically go over the elementary function of the language.

We try to get them ready for the intermediate course, which would be the next step of matriculation here at Vanderbilt.

Jose:  Nice. I think you started teaching in 1999. I was wondering how your teaching practices have changed over the past years.

Patrick:  My practices have changed greatly and I would say that is due to the advances in technology obviously. I think when I first started teaching, I was using an overhead projector with a dry erase markers and chalk on a daily basis. I was making tons of photocopies, bringing handouts to class typically. Those days [laughs] are long gone at this point.

I think the biggest difference has been the technology that I use in classroom now every day. Not just in the classroom, but with the assessment. I don’t collect a lot of work anymore. Most of the work, they’re submitted online.

Homeworks, they’re submitted online. Compositions and essays, they’re all submitted online. Writing assessments, writing assignments, they’re all submitted online.

I project on the overhead, everything I use is either something I can pull up from an online resource, or it’s a document that I have that I can project, or we use social media in class. There are a number of advances in technology that I have taken advantage of in my teaching, especially in the last five years, that have made significant changes in how I teach from when I started in ’99 to now for sure.

Jose:  Obviously, we live in a technological world. I agree that we should make use of all the resources available to improve language teaching. You mentioned social media. How does Twitter, or Facebook, or any other social media platform help your students achieve their goal in class?

Patrick:  One of our goals is to make cultural connections. As nice as the book will tend to present cultural information, I think our book in particular we use for the high‑beginner course does a nice job with cultural information. It can be outdated the moment it goes to print. We want the students to be connected to the culture that is happening in real time.

The best way to do that, and the way they are very familiar with, is through social media. I use Twitter specifically in my 1103 class because it allows students to get information quickly and a lot of information in real time. They can look at the information. They can read it. They can make a personal connection to it. They can correspond with whatever topics we’re talking about in class.

Whether it’s related to a specific country in a Spanish‑speaking world or it’s related to the topic for whatever chapter we’re studying. They’re able to connect to those topics and those other cultures in real time, and it’s been really fascinating to watch the students connect that way without having to use the textbooks all the time for cultural information.

The other thing we use it for is for writing. I like to do exercises with Twitter where the students can write things in real time and tweet it so I can project it.

We can filter through and look at it together on the overhead and on the projector screen, and actually look at what they’re writing, and then make error correction explicit, error correction while we’re in class, and we can see their tweets live. It’s been a really useful tool for writing as well.

Jose:  What would you say to professors or instructors who are wanting to implement technology, who are wanting to use Twitter in their classes for the first time? Could you give them any piece of advice?

Patrick:  My best piece of advice for that is to try it, to make the attempt. I think the scariest thing for me as an instructor has always been trying new things. It took me a number of years to ever want to try new things because I was always worried about failure in the room, in front of the class. I never wanted to fail or look like I didn’t know what I was doing in front of my students.

That fear would impede my evolution as an instructor. What I started to do, and I started it with Twitter, was just to throw it out there and see what happens. As scary as it was for me at first, it altered the way I teach because I just started to see what worked.

The very first time I started using Twitter in the classroom, it didn’t work very well. It was very confusing for the students on how to use the hashtag, or what to tweet, or how to find the information. It took a number of weeks and even a few semesters before I finally found a system that worked. But now, it seems to work so well. It’s opened my eyes to many other things I can try to do with technology and anything in general with any part of my teaching, is to just try new things.

If I could give a piece of advice to any upcoming instructor, is don’t be afraid to try new things. Make sure you push the envelope because that’s how we evolve. That’s how we become better. That’s how our students will become more confident and comfortable with the language in the world we live in today. I really think so.

Jose:  That’s a really good piece of advice. I agree that we learn through trial and error. I think it’s important to be OK with making mistakes, yes. Try new things, see how they work, and then we can make changes from there. That’s very true.

We have been talking about some really interesting and effective teaching practices. I was wondering if you could define excellent teaching for you. What does it look like?

Patrick:  For me, excellence in teaching is innovation and evolution. What I mean by that is innovation is trying to be creative with how you teach because my goal was for my students to become intermediate speakers. I want them to be comfortable and competent with the elementary basics of Spanish.

In order to do that, I try to innovate ways to help them become more competent and more comfortable and enjoying the language. For me, excellence in teaching is pushing that envelope, pushing new ways, becoming a better instructor that way.

Jose:  I completely agree. Finally, before we wrap up the interview, I would like to ask you, what are you most excited about in your job right now? Is there anything in particular that you are very…?

Patrick:  Actually, there is. I am pretty excited because there’s new things I’m thinking about all the time, but right now, I’m actually thinking about how to incorporate some virtual reality technology in the classroom, which is really cool. The genesis it is for me anyway was we got a pair of virtual reality headset. We got some VR, the goggles, and we got it last year as a gift for my son.

I started to just fool around with him and play with it and realized that this could be something I could use in the classroom with my teaching. It’s so immersive because you can literally put the headset on and you can travel to just about anywhere in the world with a lot of the different applications. What I would like to do is figure a way that I can incorporate that into class.

It’s actually really exciting because there are people here at Vanderbilt that are actually kicking this idea around as well. We have a working group here at the Center for Second Language Studies that’s actually meeting this afternoon. [laughs] We’re going to start talking about how we can actually practically use this type of technology in the classroom. I’m super excited about that.

Again, it’s probably going to be something that I will trial and have a lot of trial and error with. I’ll give it a shot. Maybe this semester, I might try to pilot an activity or two with one of my classes. Maybe implement it a little more next semester and just see how it goes. It looks really cool, so let’s see.

Jose:  It does look very cool. I’m looking forward to hearing more about that in the future because I would love to try that myself as well.

Patrick:  It looks pretty fun.

Jose:  Thank you so much, Patrick, for doing this interview with us today.

Patrick:  Yeah, great. Thank you.

Jose:  It was a pleasure to talk to you. I hope you have a great rest of the semester.

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Patrick:  Thanks, you too.

Stacey:  The two main technologies that Patrick mentioned in this interview were Twitter and virtual reality. We’ve actually had a couple of guests talked about how they use Twitter in the classroom. We’ve had many guests talked about how they use Twitter for professional development. But, Twitter in the classroom for language learning specifically was brought up in episode 13 by Noah Geisel and then again in episode 14 by Lisa Shepard. I’m going to put links to both of those episodes in the show notes.

If you haven’t listened to that far back, if you’ve just started recently, you can go back and check out those two episodes, which happen to be two of our most popular episodes of all time also, definitely worth checking out in any case. I think this is the first time we’ve had someone mentioned virtual reality as part of a language classroom.

I wanted to mention a few things that I’ve come across recently that are related. One actually was a couple of years ago. October of 2015, I was at a conference for the Midwest Association for Language Learning Technology, MWALLT, at Valparaiso University in Indiana. I got to go to a presentation by a faculty member named Carlos Miguel‑Pueyo, who’s an Associate Professor of Foreign Languages there, who presented on how he is working together with other units on campus to provide immersive virtual reality opportunities for his students. The presentation was called When Content Comes to Life ‑‑ Using Virtual Reality to Teach Spanish Civilization. I put a link to Carlos’ faculty page at Valparaiso University in the show notes. In case any of you guys would like to follow up on some of his work, maybe check out some of his publications on similar topics.

I also recently ran across a blog post, like a press release sort of blog post from the University of Texas at San Antonio, describing how last fall some of their language classes were using virtual reality in the classroom. There’s a really fun picture on the site. If you follow the link, there’s a really fun picture of all the students in class wearing their goggles, their virtual reality goggles. [laughs]

I think there’s a lot of opportunities to give students the feeling of being able to travel through virtual reality. What I’m most interested is how are people applying virtual reality in really pedagogically interesting ways. Not just as value added but really integrating it and making it something that’s encouraging language learning in very specific ways.

If any of you out there have experience with virtual reality, have concerns about virtual reality, or maybe have ideas for how it could be a really pedagogically effective tool, I would love for you to use Facebook, Twitter, or particularly actually the comments section of the website underneath this blog post that contains the episode.

I would love to get a running list of how people are working on this or thinking about this. We can have a site that I or other people working on this issue can go back to over time, and maybe get some great ideas and inspiration, and follow up with people and ask questions about what’s currently going on.

Very closely related to virtual reality is the idea of augmented reality.

This is the Pokemon Go phenomenon. You see a picture of what’s really there but your screen augments it with other things that aren’t actually there. I found a really interesting funded research project from Indiana University. It’s in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning vein, which is definitely my jam. That’s I’m all about, [laughs] the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

You get to read the entire 23‑page proposal at the link that I’m going to share on the show notes. This is a really fun topic and I would love to hear all of your thoughts.

Please leave comments on the website, or just add us on Twitter, or post on Facebook. We would love to hear from you. All right, if you are interested in being a contributor just like Jose Luis, please let me know.

My highest hope for the podcast actually is that we feel like it belongs to all of us. Hence the title We Teach Languages and that teachers who know teachers who are doing really cool things will interview them, and then submit those interview recordings to the show so I can turn them into podcast episodes.

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Stacey:  If you are interested in being a contributor, in interviewing someone, and having your interview on the show, please let me know. You can email me at You can @ us on Twitter @weteachlang. You can really find us all over the place, so reach out.

I would love to share with you how you can become a contributor and get someone that you know and love as our next guest on the podcast. Thanks for listening. Bye‑bye.