Recently, thanks to receiving a CLS Travel Grant, I had the honor of attending and presenting in the UC Consortium for Languages and Learning in April. For the first time, the West and East Coast Consortia combined to host a joint conference centering upon language and learning.
I presented, along with my colleague Sebastian Diaz from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, a presentation entitled “A Hybrid Approach to the Teaching of Culture in an Immersion Program.” The focus of the presentation centered upon a course we both taught for Yale Summer Sessions in the summer of 2009. In this Spanish immersion program, the students study intensive Intermediate Spanish I, Intermediate Spanish II, and History and Culture of Spain. The course goes four weeks in June in New Haven and then the last four weeks are given abroad at our partner institution, the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. Our research was conducted during and after the course of the program and focused principally upon how to assess culture in a study abroad program.
Our presentation was divided into three distinct sections. The first part centered upon the theoretical background and the obstacles faced when designing a culture class. How do we define culture? How do we measure it? What linguistic abilities do we expect the students to acquire through their formal learning of the language within a classroom environment and what language skills are they learning through their own interactions with their new host family and linguistic environment? And finally, what do we expect the students to gain culturally from a study abroad experience and how do we evaluate what is acquired? These questions invite endless questioning, analysis, and debate which of course served as the starting point for the creation of what resulted in a surprising and inspiring outcome for the professors leading and teaching in this immersion program and for the documented positive linguistic achievements and cultural insights seen in the student portfolio writings.
The second part of the presentation focused on the elaboration of the Portafolio del estudiante and the creation of this component. We concluded this section of our discussion by presenting a new matrix to our audience of how the Portafolio del estudiante functioned as both language and culture tool. We showed how this project can also be easily assimilated into a classroom culture course as well.
The third part of the presentation discussed practical ways of integrating the Student Portfolio into the classroom at any level. We provided attendees with the guidelines we used, a sample of the portfolio, and ideas on how this approach to teaching culture can be assimilated into L2 language and/or culture courses.
There were also other presentations given on the creation of student portfolios which were interesting and seemed to provide another prism to assessment of student language acquisition. One presentation in particular, given by Randa Jad-Molessa from UC San Diego and which explored the use of the digital student portfolio, stands out in my mind.
In her presentation, she described the e-portfolio and how this tool can be an excellent way of showing student growth over time, having the student self-evaluate, and how it is a solid document for grading purposes. Ms. Molessa discussed how each of her students created the e-portfolio using the first page of the portfolio to “Describe me.” In this first page of the e-portfolio, the student included pictures, audio files, etc. In this presentation, Ms. Molessa made reference to Electronic Portfolios in Adult Learning by Dr. Helen Barrett pointing out that Barrett is considered an expert in portfolio implementation. In this citation one can find important materials for the use of portfolios in the classroom. I think that the e-portfolio is opening doors to alternative methods for assessment and I look forward to sharing the information learned at the conference to other colleagues who are interested in this tool.