Go Back to the article page

Please upgrade to a browser that supports HTML5 audio or install Flash.

Audio MP3 Download Podcast



This is the transcription for Podcast #1

[Maria] Hello everybody, this is Maria Carrera from the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA, and I am here today with Dr. Florencia Henshaw from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Henshaw is an authority on heritage language pedagogy, in particular, research-based practices. If you teach mixed classes, her paper in the Heritage Language Journal, published by us, "Second Language and HL Learner Interactions" is a must. We will post the reference to that paper with this podcast, and you can access it for free through the Heritage Language Journal. But today, Dr. Henshaw is not here to talk about this topic, but rather to share her expertise on online HL instruction. This topic is of course front and center for all of us right now, and so we are very grateful to have you here, Florencia, and to share you research and experience on this most important topic. Welcome!

[Florencia] Thank you so much, Maria. Thank you for having me.

[Maria] Wonderful, thank you for being here. So let's start with the basics, Florencia. What are some of the foundational ideas about online teaching that HL teachers need to keep in mind?

[Florencia] Um, this is a good question, and it's a pretty broad question, right? [laughter] What I would probably start by saying is that the format doesn't define the method. And what I mean by that, is that instead of thinking of online teaching as forcing you to reconsider everything you have been doing, you should always lead with what you already know about HL pedagogy. So, good HL pedagogy can be online, hybrid, in person - it shouldn't matter, right? So, the format shouldn't matter. So, if we know, for example, that HL learners need a lot of input, and especially in terms of written input, right, they need a lot of reading, uh, and they also need to work on writing, you know, online, you know, gives you almost like the perfect venue for that. So, um, something else comes to mind is authenticy, right. So, we want heritage learners to be engaging with authentic content to connect with the roots, with their identity, with their family, and so being online makes it a little bit easier to bring the outside world, which currently [laughs], it's a virtual world, but it's there, right, it makes it more real. Could that be done in person? Of course, it's just it requires maybe a little bit more planning, right, how you're going to bring those authentic resources. But if everybody is in front of a computer, it's so much easier to connect with the real world. Something else that is foundational in terms of online teaching that I think is relevant for heritage language teaching, but for other language teaching of course, is instructor presence and community building. So we know we are, we, we love languages because they are a part of our identity, and it's because it helps us belong to a community. And so, a lot of teachers are worried that, when we go online, we miss on that community building. So, for example, something to think about is the acronym VOCAL, V-O-C-A-L, right, so for instructors need to be VOCAL, and that stands for Visible, Organized, Compassionate, Analytical, and Leader by example. I think that goes a long way, and it is very applicable to HL teaching, right. So you do need to be visible, meaning you need to be connecting with your learners, you need to get to know them, they need to get to know you, and we all know that they have some really fascinating stories to share with us. So, give them a forum to share those with you. Organize - I think that goes for all kinds of teaching [laughter]. Compassionate - meaning you need to be able to relate to them, and they need to relate to you too, right? But I think we need to understand where they're coming from, and I think in the case of heritage language teaching, we know that many of them may have been told that they don't speak right, you know, or that their language is too informal. So, we need to understand that - we need to understand where they're coming from in order to connect with them and be compassionate, understanding why they feel the way they do. Being Analytical, um, that goes for anything from grades, to attendance to anything else, but I think in the case of HL teaching, I think we really need to pay attention to those messages that they're sort of tellling us, but not telling us, and understanding what areas are they still struggling with, and how we can help them. And Leader by example - so, if you are saying that you are welcoming all dialects and all forms of speaking, etc, you need to be a leader, and you need to be comfortable, too, right? So, you need to be comfortable embracing all dialects and just the way that you act; the way you communicate always needs to reflect the way that YOU want them to communicate. So, if you take risks, you make mistakes - and that's perfectly fine - they're gonna feel like, "Okay, it's okay for me to do that as well".

[Maria] Okay, so to summarize, what I hear you saying is that the fundamentals of teaching drive what you do, NOT the technology.

[Florencia] Yes.

[Maria] Right?

[Florencia] 100%. The technology is just a tool, yes.

[Maria] The Technology is just a tool. Can you mention, speaking of tools, can you mention two or three tools? When people ask me about tools, I frequently just concentrate on a few, because you really don't need - in my experience - all the bells and whistles, right? But do you have a couple that you favor?

[Florencia] Um, it's a good question [laughs]. I tend to say, "Lead with the task, not the tool". So, I always ask, "What are you looking to do? Then I'll tell you the tool".

[Maria] That's good.

[Florencia] However, [laughter] I will try to give you a better answer. So, what I would probably say, things that I "tend to favor", if you put it that way - well, in terms of things that I think are very valuable, something like screen-casting, which essentially means you're recording your screen and your audio - and webcam, if you want to - but it's mainly you can be narrating and recording your screen at the same time, and creating a video. I think that could be fantastic for HL teaching, in the form of video readings, because then the learners are basically watching a video where they're reading the text and listening to it at the same time. They can be very easy for you to create, right? You just need a blank powerpoint slide, with, you know, black font - very simple. But you type your text there, and it could be a story, it could be maybe the beginning of an argumentative essay, whatever you want, but they need to be reading and listening to it at the same time, and then you engage with the content, whether you do comprehension questions, keep going with the story...I mean you can be as creative as you want, but I think that giving them both the oral and the written input at the same time, I think is essential for heritage learners, because most of them already know what it sounds like - they just now need to see what it looks like written down. And so, for something like that, I think that's a very helpful tool.

[Maria] I think that's an excellent idea, and I had not heard that before, and I think it is particularly useful for beginning readers, or you know, low proficiency readers.

[Florencia] Yes.

[Maria] So, thank you. I'm going to do that in my own teaching.

[Florencia] Yes, and I mean, I think it's also useful for L2 teaching, because - one thing- sometimes the learners are a little bit too quick to be looking up every single word they don't know [laughter], and the fact that it's in a video - it's a little bit harder for them to be copying/pasting. In fact, they cannot copy/paste from the video. So, it's more of this, like "Just go with it. Just try to, you know, extract meaning as much as you can." But I think for HL learners, knowing that they already know what it sounds like, but making that connection with the written text - and you can make it as simple as you want for your learners - and so, I think that that's a useful tool for that thing. Another tool that I was going to mention, and keep in mind that I teach college, and so I understand that with younger learners this may not work, is platforms that allow the learner to connect with speakers of the language in other countries. I think the learners really really enjoy being able to communicate with somebody from Mexico, Columbia, Argentina... I mean, I teach Spanish, [laughter] of course, and depending on the language you teach, you connect with different speakers. And one of them commented - I did a little bit of research on this, but I didn't publish anything. Maybe one of these days.One of the heritage learners commented, "I loved being able to talk without thinking whether I was saying everything right". And I think that it's different when they interact with the teacher, it's different when they interact with another student, just having them connect with somebody else and being able to learn whatever THEY want to learn. So some of them, for example, chose to talk with speakers of the same country as where their parents or grandparents were from, others wanted to explore something completely new. So, giving them that choice of what they want to learn about, and to learn it firsthand, not just read about a country, but to talk to someone from that country, I think they really like that.

[Maria] Excellent. Alright, so you've presented a lot of advantages about online teaching in terms of authenticity, the screen-casting suggestions, the speaking to speakers of a target language in other countries, but let's now address some of the challenges, right? What are some of the main challenges that teachers face, and how can they overcome them?

[Florencia] That's a good question. Okay, so I'm going to start with a challenge that I think is the most obvious challenge that we are all facing regardless of what we teach, and that is the fact that in the current situation with COVID-19, a lot of students do not have a choice. So, a lot of students are taking online classes because that's the only format available. When you read a lot of literature on online teaching, you do hear this importance of "buy-in", so that the learner should be convinced in a way, or at least believe that they can get a good educational experience online. A lot of it implies that choice - that the students who succeed online tend to be the ones who have chosen to take an online class. So I think that's a big challenge for all of us currently. How do you overcome that? It's not easy. Probably the best thing I could suggest would be to hear your learners - to listen to them, to understand what they're struggling with in terms of the format - why they're not connecting with the

content, for example, and maybe even ask them, what things you can do as a teacher to help them feel more connected. So maybe some of them, it could be that they need more one-on-one help, and it could be - I mean, I understand that everyone is very, very busy - but, it could be that maybe you could carve out some time to help that learner one-on-one, and that could be one way of remediat[ing] that situation. But it's not an easy solution. I understand it's a difficult problem, same with lack of resources, connectivity problems, right? The digital gap is noticeable, now more than ever, and so those challenges are indeed hard for those teachers to overcome. Now, that applies to everything, but let's talk a little bit more specifically about HL teaching online. What I would probably say is the main challenge is the rigidity of computer-graded activities. In many online courses, we don't do 10 hours synchronous Zoom sessions, because then we would get tired of that, right? The Zoom fatigue is also real. So, what we want them to do - because one of the advantages of online is that individual instruction, right? That every learner can answer on their own, realize what they got right, wrong, and learn from it. So to me, when I think about Heritage Language Learners, I do get a little bit worried of computer-graded activities where the answer is "right or wrong", and that is about language. You could say, maybe it's right or wrong if they understood a text, but even the words "right" and "wrong" seem harsh. When it comes to actual language, we don't want them to think the way they wrote something is "wrong", and that their is only one "right way" of saying something. So, I think it's important to be careful about computer-graded activities, what are they doing, and then what kind of feedback are they getting. Are they thinking that things are either "right or wrong" when it comes to language? So that would be my advice.

[Maria] Okay, so you're tellling us to be very careful about this categorical approach to the answers that students give. So, does that mean we should not give online quizzes?

[Florencia] Uh... yes. So, if they were to say, "I see some computer-graded activities", or maybe the learner has to conjugate a verb right, or maybe... I don't know... or "rewrite these sentences using x-verb tense", you know - those kinds of activities - and then the computer "doesn't accept it, because the computer has already an answer key, predetermined.."

[Maria] Exactly.

[Florencia] "And the answer key only says 'that's wrong' - the computer doesn't know any better", right? But, we know how fluid language is, and, on top of that, we know what connection heritage learners have to the language, and so - to me -

it's a little bit different with second-language learners, which may view the language as "this is the right way of saying, and this is wrong" - we need to address that, too. But I think with heritage learners, we - you know, in GOOD HL pedagogy - we are very careful.

[Maria] Right.

[Florencia] In fact, I don't think anybody would tell a learner, you know, in class, "no, that's wrong". So why are we letting a computer say, "no, that's wrong"? If you don't use activities like that, great, but if you do use computer graded-activities, just be careful about what messages they're getting.

[Maria] That's a great point, and it's one that I had not thought about. I like to use computer-graded activities - I'll be much more careful moving forward [laughter]. Now, Florencia, you mentioned that one of the great advantages of online teaching is the opportunity it affords us for individualized instruction. Can you speak a little bit more about that, as well as some of the other advantages or pluses that virtual learning presents for HL teaching, and, in fact, all teaching?

[Florencia] Right. So, yeah, I mean I think that online teaching leads to more accountability, because in a classroom of 19-20 students, sometimes it's okay for them to not say a lot and to kind of blend in the back, if they don't want to answer something, they don't. In online teaching, if you are going to be assigning these asynchronous activities - meaning that they complete on their own, not in a synchronous, real time session like Zoom - but rather, forum posts or any other task that they're doing on their own - even computer-graded activities - let's say it's a comprehension... reading comprehension quiz, or something like that. Each student has to answer, right? Each student is accountable for their own response - for paying attention, and then for responding. So, I think that's a big advantage of online teaching, and in the case of heritage learners - also for L2 learners, too - but in the case of HL teaching, I think it's good to have that "safe space", that "safe individual space" for them to take

risks with language and not feel exposed that they said something in class and people are going to judge them, or anything like that, so that they can... if it's something like a forum post, they can more carefully think about it, they can post it, and then there is this, you know... time-lag, right? So people are not right there looking at you [laughter] speaking. It kind of takes that pressure off, and the same with computer graded activities. If the computer says, "that's not the right answer" for a reading comprehension quiz, maybe they didn't understanding the reading. It creates that safe space for them to answer without feeling that everybody else is gonna judge them if they answer wrong.

[Maria] And I would add that that "safe space", as you so well put it, is really important in mixed classes.

[Florencia] Yes.

[Maria] Because each population of learners has strengths and weaknesses relative to the other. So, they can take advantage of that "safe space" to confront insecurities, add in a little more, etc.

[Florencia] Absolutely, absolutely. I think that is...absolutely...for mixed classes, I think online is also helpful for other things, such as being able to tailor - if you are able, right - to have different content that you can release, right? In many of the learning management systems, you can release different activities to different groups of learners without the learner knowing, right? When the learner doesn't have to know who-sees-what...so...that's another advantage for mixed classes, in particular. Um, I don't know if I gave you enough advantages, or if I should keep going [laughter].

[Maria] Oh, yes. [laughter]

[Florencia] I can keep going. The other one that I was gonna say, if we still have time -

[Maria] Yes!

[Florencia] - is creativity. I absolutely love, LOVE having my students - ALL students, but HL learners in particular - be creative with language. PLAYING with language, right? Language doesn't have to be this - you know - you learn about the rules, you learn about the grammar... language is a live thing that allows us to do a lot of fun things, too. So, I think online they can be creative, simply because there are so many programs, platforms out there for them to create a video, for them to create a flyer, for them to incorporate images, sounds... I think that, you know, you can get... you can do a lot of fun things. Comic strips [laughs], so many things online, uh, and the fact that - again - everybody is already in front of a computer makes it a little bit easier to assign those kinds of creative projects.

[Maria] I love that idea about creativity. And creativity also connects really well with authenticity and experiential learning, right?

[Florencia] Yes.

[Maria] If they want to creative a video for something, it's authentic, right? And they're gonna have to consult other videos in the target language to learn how to open a video, you know, how to present different topics, how to use connectors...and in the process of doing that, they're being creative, and they're learning is being individualized according to their preferences. So, I love that, Florencia.

[Florencia] I think it also goes directly to communicative need, right? So, instead of us telling them, "Tell me this" [laughs] -- you know, creativity implies choice.

[Maria] Exactly.

[Florencia] So, I think that I absolutely love to see how creative they are. I mean that does not mean that you cannot give them parameters, they should have some parameters, yes? [laughter]. Cuz' otherwise they don't even know where to begin. But, there's still a lot of choice in there, and that -- what they want to communicate. They have something to say in their own way. And also creativity, especially when we're thinking about things like creative writing... um... you know, a lot of these hardcore grammar rules, you know, all of that kind of goes away. And we've seen it, right? We see it in literature, how people play with language, right? They don't have to follow all of the rules. And so... like that, too.

[Maria] Right. Excellent. Alright. And then, to close this podcast, can you share with us a really cool online teaching idea that you implemented, OR that you saw somebody else implement, and that has worked really well.

[Florencia] So... whoo. [laughter]. The first really cool online idea makes me a little bit nervous. I don't know how much people are gonna think this is really cool, but I'll just share two. To me, they're relatively simple,... uh, sometimes the best ideas are actually pretty simple. So, the first one is related to -- we were talking about creative writing.. um, one thing that we have our heritage learners do -- and this is a composition course, so keep that in mind -- but, I absolutely love grading these projects, is when one learner has to create a video using images and sounds and music. And then, they post it in a forum post, and then the next learner in the thread has to create a story that goes along with the video that the classmate posted. Um, and they get really, really creative. There's usually some dragons involved at some point... it's beautiful to see. I mean, and you read these stories -- they're almost like micro-stories -- they're not long, but, to me it's still fascinating how they're

interpreting all of these sounds and images and things like that.

[Maria] It's fun!

[Florencia] It's fun! That's the one that I really like. And then, the way we have it is just in a forum, right? So it's just asynchronous. But, you could change it up, so that perphaps... um... the learners make those stories to you, and you know, you read them out to the class, and the class has to say which video it goes with, right. Something like that. What you turn it in to more of an activity for synchronous sessions, too. So...um.. anyway, that's one. And then, the other one that I was gonna share is something that I did with my class. This is a class that is called "Spanish in the U.S.". It's a mixed class, but a lot of them are heritage learners of Spanish. And we did this activity the other day, that I thought it worked BETTER online than it did in class. And, it's an activity that I do where I look for several famous heritage learners [laughs]. We have a lot of famous heritage learners of Spanish here in the U.S., and others who are not heritage learners. So, some of them have some Hispanic roots, but they don't speak Spanish, like Cameron Diaz. Others are native speakers of Spanish, in the sense of they're first generation, born and raised in a Spanish-speaking country. We don't consider those to be heritage learners. So anyway, so first we discuss who is a heritage learner, right? When we come to an agreement of what we're looking for to determine whether somebody is "classified" as a heritage learner, then what I asked them to do was to go to these Google Slides -- uh, there were 20 slides, I have 20 students-- and each slide has the name of a famous person and a picture. And so, they were tasked to choose one of them -- first come, first serve, they all claimed their own, and then they went online and found information about this person's family and where they were from, and things like that. And so then, they had to complete this slide explaining why they thought this person was or was not a heritage learner/heritage speaker. Um, and the student got really, really into it. It worked better online than in person, because it was easier for them to be doing research, as opposed to, you know, on their phone sometimes is a little bit cumbersome. And then also, because they had ownership of that slide, so they had to present information. Some of them added extra pictures, some of them told me all about the family of somebody, some of them went above and beyond saying "they're not, but their children are, because they're children...", right? So some of them expanded it, which was fantastic. So that was a really, really fun activity, and also for them to explore who is a heritage learner.

[Maria] I love this activity, and as you were presenting all the advantages of it, I thought of another one, and that is, that it's teaching students how to develop argumentative skills in the target language, which is a skill that we associate with the advanced levels, right? So, it's preparing them to reach those higher levels of proficiency. Excellent! Well, Florencia --

[Florencia] They sort of play -- sorry -- no, I was just going to add that they sort of play detective, and in some cases, when they couldn't find all of the information, then they had to, you know, explain why, and what else they would need to know. It's more than just a one line "yes, it's a heritage learner", right? They actually had to think about it. They had to put in some analytical skills into it.

[Maria] Exactly. And, I'm also thinking, they have to be able to speak in all time frames, so that's an intermediate level skill. So, it integrates a lot of things from different levels. And, of course, you can do it orally, you can do it in writing... it's a rich activity. Thank you! I'm gonna try that one, too. [laughter]

[Florencia] I mean, it worked very well. Just using Google Slides and giving them editing priviledges, so that everybody could edit their own slide. And I'm happy to share which famous people I collected if you teach Spanish [laughs], so that you can use the same. And if you find more, you can send them my way. But, some of them have very fascinating stories, you know. The person was born here, but then they moved back to their country, and then what do we do? Do we call them heritage speakers? I mean, it just generates a lot of good discussion.

[Maria] Excellent! I'll take you up on that offer - that generous offer - to share. Thank you so much, Florencia, for all these excellent ideas, um, for tips, your insights, your generosity in doing this for us at a time when we're all so busy. I'm sure our listeners will greatly benefit from listening to this podcast.

[Florencia] Thank you so much, Maria. And yeah, I would like to share - I think, you guys have maybe posted it already, but I have a site that I created where I've been collecting a lot of, you know, these tools and different resources, and I have a lot for Spanish. And I even have a subpage - a separate page - with resources on Spanish in the U.S., so, which a lot of these resources may be helpful for teachers of Spanish as a heritage language. So, I just wanna put it out there, and I'm happy to share the link so you can post it on the site.

[Maria] We will definitely post it on the NHLRC website. Thank you again, Florencia.

[Florencia] Thank you - it was a lot of fun. [laughter]

[Maria] Likewise! Take care.

[Florencia] You, too.