Articles by Michael DeSalvo

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When I started this blog, I imagined it as a professional space for me to write about what I’m doing in terms of teaching and research. I have deactivated the majority of my social media accounts in response to the disgustingly shady practices of these for-profit tech companies which mine and sell our data to influence elections at worst and bombard us with ads at best. As a result, I curate this site as my main web presence, and recent events in my personal life made me feel the need to blog like it’s 2002 and I’m on LiveJournal.

This past week and a half has been exceptionally rough on my wife and me, and I’m still honestly not sure when this emotional tumult will be over. Robin, one of our ferrets, took a terrible turn in health. The long and short of it is that my wife and I spent about three days cycling through the various stages of grief, and decided that it was probably time for Robin to “cross the rainbow bridge”. I have a tendency to write a lot, and plan on cataloguing Robin’s life here, so I won’t hold you in suspense: as you’ll see by the end of this post, dear readers, Robin is still with us, and she’s feeling much better than before.

Before I get into her present state, let me establish a bit of background:

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While role play activities are a popular mainstay in language textbooks, I’ve always been dissatisfied with how shallow they can be. In this post, I’m going to compare the traditional role play activity found in American language textbooks to Robert Di Pietro’s (1987) Strategic Interaction scenarios. I start by defining each of these activities before discussing what happened in my French classroom the other week when I ran a Strategic Interaction activity, and drawing some conclusions about the two different activity types.

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This past Summer, I taught two sections of the same French course during the same six-week session at a large, public R1 university. The main difference between these two sections was the mode of distribution: one was delivered asynchronously, while the other section met synchronously over Zoom for 80 minutes twice per week. I wanted to record some of my observations, in an attempt to explore some of the different student outcomes. Note that this is an informal comparison, and no personally-identifiable data are being shared.

I’ve broken down this post into several sections:

  • Course description and distribution model
  • Modifications for online distribution
  • Student population
  • Unexpected roadblock
  • Interaction and engagement
  • Grades
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
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Last week, I gave a brief, 20-minute lesson on introducing oneself in French. We went over some common greetings (bonjour, bonsoir, salut), giving one’s name (je m’appelle…), and asking/responding to comment ça va?. I ran this lesson over Zoom for a graduate course on integrating technology in the language classroom. This post contains my organization process, my own assessment of how it went, and feedback I received on the lesson. I have broken this post into three sections:

  • Planning
  • Justifications
  • Feedback and Reflections

Planning the lesson

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Introduce themselves in French
  • Ask how others are doing in French
  • Respond when people ask how they’re doing
  • Use FlipGrid to have an asynchronous French conversation
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I always love to incorporate the wider world of Francophonie into my French classes. One of my go-to assignments is a Francophonie research project. I’ve run variations on this theme across all levels of French study, and I’ll make a separate post about the whole project itself, but I wanted to share a supplemental assignment which incorporates digital literacy skills and some elementary coding.

For French I, the base project involves researching a country (location, capital, leader, languages, foods, etc.), which students then present in front of the class in French, while the rest of the students filled out a little passeport I had them assemble. One quarter, I brought my students into the library, to visit our learning technologist, who walked us through an “hour of code” exercise: digital postcards.

Here’s a sample of what a simple one could look like, using some C0-licensed pictures of Paris:

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My school's learning technologist directed me to VidCode's "Bestie Greeting Card" activity. Students learned some JavaScript, uploaded some videos and pictures of the countries they researched, and created animated, digital postcards for that country.

Some of my students got really creative, incorporating background videos, multiple images and filters, etc., showcasing pastoral countrysides, urban landmarks, and local delicacies from the countries they researched!

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While the field of linguistics suffers from a lack of awareness among the general public, it also doesn’t seem to hold much ground in the hearts of many language educators–the people who could benefit the most from the scientific pursuit of how people learn and use languages. I’ve spoken with teachers of both modern and classical languages, in public schools and private schools, from the primary level to university. The apathy, ignorance, or even disdain of professional language instructors towards a discipline with the goal of making their jobs easier boggles the mind.

Clearly, I am biased, as a trained linguist who now conducts second language acquisition research. If you’re on the fence about what linguistics can do for you, I merely ask you to read my argumentation. I fully understand and empathize how the daily lives of teachers, especially those in American K-12 public schools, have so many competing demands that it sometimes takes all of your energy not to collapse on the couch when you get home. I also recognize that many colleges and universities in the US do not offer training specific to language teachers, but rather group all prospective teachers, regardless their fields, into the same “education” pathway.

In this post, I’ll be discussing the following topics, with each on its own page: (1) a broad (read: brief and noncomprehensive) description of language study in the US; (2) what the study of linguistics entails and what it does not, along with its usefulness to both learners and teachers; and (3) a general overview of the field of Second Language Acquisition, with some sources for further reading.

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When he first announced Duolingo, co-founder Luis Von Ahn’s stated goal was to crowd source the translation of the internet. As the site (and subsequent application) have undergone extremely transformative development, this original goal has been tossed by the wayside. No longer do Duolingo users translate web articles for algorithms to decide which inputs are the most accurate. Instead, we have a free-to-use language learning application which overly focuses on vocabulary and rote exercises, developed mostly by computer scientists rather than trained language educators, and monetized through ads (or a paid version without ads) and high-rolling investors.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve used Duolingo on and off since the Beta release, and I assign weekly homework through Duolingo to my middle school French students. I love the “Stories” function, and I love the community interaction. That said, Duolingo is not without its flaws and lack of essential functionality for serious language enthusiasts: almost no support for grammar, no way for a Duolingo Classroom to force audio exercises, complete decontextualization of input (outside of the “Stories”), and essentially no creativity or higher-order critical thinking for responses (again, “Stories” is a good start with some of its follow-up questions). These flaws are not enough to make me stop assigning Duolingo as a supplemental activity for middle schoolers, but the recent investment from Google parent company, Alphabet, is enough for me to take a step back and question the security of my students’ (and my own) data.

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Élise Gravel, a québecoise children’s book author and illustrator, has some wonderful posters to teach children about inclusivity and social awareness. Many of these are available for free to download and print from her blog, available in both French and English. Some topics include:

  • Identifying and stopping bullies
  • What is Autism?
  • How to minimize our impact on the environment
  • Making mistakes is human
  • Boys and girls can like whatever they want to like

You can hang these in your classroom for passive impact, or you can incorporate them into your lessons by having students analyze them and share their opinions.

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https://www.xkcd.com/327/

Turns out that Learning Management Systems aren’t as secure as they want you to believe–SQL injection vulnerability is a pretty grievous, novice error to make for company like Blackboard.

The US Department of Education has several online resources regarding the collection of students’ personally identifiable information, and even discusses how online education platforms might collect usage metadata from all of our students–but this doesn’t violate FERPA as long as any shared metadata is not directly linked to identifiable information. So there shouldn’t be any issue with that, unless tech companies start using these data and metadata to create a profile of you, even if you don’t have an account with them.

It’s not a stretch to say that a company like Google could take all of these data and metadata from schools’ Google Apps for Education accounts and match them to personal accounts of people whose personal data match. As long as Google keeps the data for themselves (because only disclosing it would violate FERPA), there are no legal protections for any of us, especially our children, from a company that decides to use these metadata to create psychographic profiles for targeted advertising.

“Oh, so Google can show my A-student ads for colleges, and the C-student can get ads for tutoring? What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that an unscrupulous advertising firm might target students based on psychological traits rather than grades alone (which would be Huxleyan enough). Students whose schoolwork shows a lack of critical thinking, or a reactionary mindset–students who are quick to jump to conclusions just by seeing a headline without reading the whole article (or who don’t bother to read the instructions)–they might be susceptible to the kinds of propagandistic voting campaigns that a company like Cambridge Analytica boasted about.

This doesn’t even touch special education plans, disciplinary records, medical records, or even family information (some of my students’ files have had notes about their parents’ divorce arrangements). We need to start taking students’ data more seriously, otherwise they’ll have to worry about their “permanent records” for the rest of their lives.

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French news sites

Below are some French-language news sites that I give to my students for current events presentations.

General, simplified

Print news sources

Non-print news sources

Satire

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