Heritage Conference (cont’d)

First International Conference on Heritage/Community/Languages
Sybil Alexandrov

Thanks to a CLS Travel Grant, I was able to attend and participate in the First International Conference on Heritage/Community/Languages. The conference, hosted by the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA from February 19-21, 2010, was a unique opportunity to meet colleagues from around the globe and discuss current issues in the field in general and in heritage Spanish in particular.

My presentation, “Integrating Group and Individual Assignments in the Spanish for Heritage Speakers Class via an Online Databank of Activities,” was part of the first of two poster presentation sessions (“poster” in name only, as all were PowerPoint presentations) held during the conference.  I shared a table with a young colleague from New Mexico whose focus was on stewardship, sovereignty and sustainability among the Laguna youth, a compelling topic, indeed!

The conference was an ideal venue for me to showcase the project I worked on during my professional development leave (fall semester, 2009). The databank of activities, a work in progress using the Test and Quizzes tool of Yale’s Classes*v2 course management system,  is a content-based adaptive module that allows students to discuss the same “text” in class while doing individualized online homework. All the activities are contextualized, based either on a text, an image, a video clip or a film. In order to access the material for different purposes, I have organized it from four perspectives:

a. “Text”
b. Heritage Country
c. Topic
d. Grammar and Orthography

Activities related to a given text include:

• Vocabulary
• Orthography
• Grammar
• Listening Comprehension
• Reading Comprehension
• Writing

At the conference, those who showed the most interest in my project were young teachers interested in creating and using online activities and colleagues who teach in smaller programs with demographically diverse heritage speakers of Spanish. Irma Alarcón (Wake Forest University), whose paper, “College Heritage Spanish Speakers: A Study of the Effects of Instruction on Their Underlying Grammar and Written Proficiency,” was very much in line with my approach to heritage language teaching, expressed enthusiastic interest in a future collaborative project.

The panel “Placement and Assessment in Spanish” that I had hoped would begin to solve the problems I face with accurate placement of heritage speakers proved interesting but not entirely relevant. In all three presentations, the speakers stressed the importance of creating assessment tools that fit the program in question, something we are well aware of here at Yale. The assessments models presented evaluated demographically homogeneous groups, whereas Yale hosts a highly diverse population of heritage speakers of Spanish.

Aside from the stellar presentations at the plenary and award sessions (Nancy Hornberger, Maria Polinsky, Guadalupe Valdés), I found Francisco X. Alarcón´s talk on poetry as a tool of personal empowerment particularly compelling, and hope to put to practice some of the strategies he suggested.

It was both comforting and energizing to be at the conference with a strong contingent of Yale colleagues. Kiarie Wa’Njogu, Julia Titus, Seungja Choi, Peisong Xu and Nelleke  Van Deusen-Scholl were both a springboard for ideas and a source of encouragement as we hurried off to our respective sessions. Over coffee or lunch, we eagerly exchanged thoughts and made plans for heritage language efforts at Yale.

On a more personal level, I enjoyed exchanging accounts of the challenges of raising a family of heritage language speakers. Be it Spanish, Persian, Chinese or Russian, many of the issues are the same. In her award acceptance speech, Guadalupe Valdés stated that our focus should be on helping our children and grandchildren maintain their heritage language. As language teachers, our families are vast.

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