Monday, January 27, 2014

Multilingual Minnesota

There is a lot going on in Minnesota schools these days. One of the most exciting aspects of being a teacher in Minnesota (at least to me!) is our growing linguistic and cultural diversity. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the North Star State, Minnesota is actually home to a significant number of cultural groups, including growing numbers of Hmong and Karen and the largest Somali population in the entire United States.

Immigration Policy Center


With growing language diversity has come a growing need for resources on multilingualism. The website Multilingual Minnesota has been a great resource for me to encourage others to expand their linguistic horizons. There are resources for language teachers as well as for language learners (including prospective language learners). Users can use the website to learn more about the benefits of bilingualism or about the research behind immersion education.

One of the really neat features of this site is a language service directory that highlights where you can go to learn or study more than two dozen different languages within Minnesota. There are a wealth of resources available to encourage and support bilingualism and Multilingual Minnesota has done a great job combining many of those resources in a single place. Check it out!

Reference: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/new-americans-minnesota

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Google Books Ngram Viewer

Every once in a while, I come across a website that distracts me (in a good way) from whatever I was doing. Today's language distraction is Google's Ngram Viewer. I stumbled upon this site several months ago and I have used it since then to keep myself entertained and informed with the kind of data that makes linguistically-minded folks smile.

This Google project pulls data from a corpus of scanned books. Users can input words or phrases and Google will graph the frequency with with those words or phrases have been used in print over time. There are also advanced features that allow users to modify their searches with inflections or parts of speech.  

For anyone interested in language or history, the Ngram Viewer offers the potential for leisurely fun or for more serious, scholarly research. As an English language teacher, this website seems like a good tool for understanding more about how language is used over time and for explaining to students the different contexts in which English words and phrases are used.

Usage of 'tackle' as a Noun or Verb between 1800 and 2000

Usage of 'read' with different Determiners between 1800 and 2000

The graphs above could be used in a language instruction context to demonstrate patterns of language frequency and usage. More information and sample graphs can be found on the Ngram About page. Happy Searching!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

21st Century Learners and Leaders

One of the major themes in our district this year is how to best prepare students to be learners and leaders in the 21st Century. I've recently joined our district's curriculum advisory committee, which has given me a great opportunity to discuss a vision for learning with other teachers, parents and administrators. One of the questions that has arisen from these committee meetings is "What does it mean to be a 21st Century Learner?"

Several years ago, Education Week published an article with eleven different answers to that question. Educational scholars and leaders weighed in on the topic and shared their own definitions of what it means to be a 21st Century Learner. As I read through their responses I realized that I agreed with many of the different definitions that were put forth. Trying to define what it means to be a learner in this century is a complex proposition, but is it definitely a discussion worth having.



In my opinion, being a 21st Century Learner means having the skills and knowledge to be successful in our ever-changing world. Technology is changing and advancing at an increasing rate. Students today need to be able to adapt to changes in technology and use technology as a medium to advance their own learning. Students also need to be able to use technology to build and manage social networks for the purpose of learning and collaborating.

In today's world, effective collaboration requires effective means of communication. Students need to be able to use and learn language, including academic language, world languages and the languages of technology (like coding). Academic language allows students to develop their own voice as learners, world languages allow students to communicate globally, and coding languages allow students to become creators (and not just consumers) of technology.

Finally, students need to be equipped to think critically about the world. There are a multitude of issues in our world today that require complex problem solving and critical analysis. Students need practice in defining problems and identifying multiple solutions. We need to teach students to be able to look at issues from multiple perspectives and identify the complex relationships between issues.

Being a 21st Century learner and leader requires an intentional commitment and investment in education. It requires teachers, administrators and parents working together to establish a vision for learning and teaching. Isolation is no longer an option. We must work together and encourage one another to create the kind of learning environment our students need to be successful. Let's make it happen!