Emily Sposeto, Senior Lecturing Fellow, Romance Studies
Emily Sposeto was one of fourteen faculty and one graduate student who participated in a Spring 2010 CIT Fellowship for language faculty interested in exploring with colleagues the most effective and most efficient ways to increase students’ oral production in the target language, in order to increase students’ language learning.
Sposeto is the course coordinator for the Italian 1 course at Duke, and as such is responsible for developing the curriculum for the 5 – 7 sections of the course each semester. About her Fellows project, Sposeto wrote:
My primary goal for this project was encourage student oral production outside of the classroom in ways which would be both spontaneous and clearly linked to real-life situations. While our Italian 1 syllabus addresses oral practice in several ways: in-class participation, weekly Wimba Voice assignments with focus on grammatical structures and pronunciation, an oral exam, as well as an in-class oral presentation, I found that most of these assignments, with the exception of class participation, tended to promote a very rehearsed style of speech. Beyond rehearsal, many oral assignments seemed to result in reading from a script, and thus entailed written linguistic production as a prelude to oral production, which is less conducive to real-world interactions.
To address this perceived gap in the course, Sposeto implemented a new type of project which was integrated into the course in addition to all of the previously mentioned assignments. The project required students to create a series of “video diaries,” the topics of which were related to the thematic units presented in class (e.g., free time activities, describing cities/places, making travel reservations, etc.), but were primarily presented in relation to students’ daily lives (e.g., videotaping themselves engaging in leisure activities or creating a tour of the campus/Durham). The students were expressly instructed not to script their videos but to attempt to produce speech spontaneously. To reduce anxiety, the videos were kept very brief (1-2 minutes) and were graded on a credit/no credit basis. The students recorded their videos using Flip video cameras checked out from the Link, and submitted their videos to a Blackboard blog, which created some technical issues but seemed to be the easiest way to keep the videos organized.
Brief student surveys served as a prelude to a written reflection which provided more narrative feedback, and revealed an overall positive experience and a widespread conviction that the project resulted in a noticeable improvement in their oral skills. The surveys asked students to indicate to what extent they agreed with the following statements:
|Prompt (n=30)||Strongly disagree||Disagree||Agree||Strongly Agree|
|The video diaries helped me practice my speaking skills.||0%||0%||71%||29%|
|My oral skills improved as a result of the video diaries||4%||4%||70%||22%|
|The video diaries helped me relate the use of Italian to real life situations||8%||12%||60%||20%|
|The video diaries were a valuable part of my Italian 1 course||4%||12%||72%||12%|
While surveys communicate a sense of a generally positive student engagement with the videos, Sposeto thought that one of the most valuable aspects of the projects (both for the students and for her own evaluation of the project’s success) was the final reflection which the students were asked to complete at the end of the semester. The students were required to watch all of their videos, beginning with the first, and reflect on their progress throughout the semester. The final reflection took the form of both a video (in Italian) in which they discussed their experiences in a general way, and a written contemplation (in English) in which they were asked to respond to specific prompts:
- In what ways did your Italian improve throughout the semester? Be specific!
- Were there mistakes you made in the early videos but not in the later ones?
- Did you notice improvement in particular aspects of your pronunciation?
- What would you say are the strengths of your videos?
- Are there things upon which you could improve in the future?
- What did you get out of this project? Did your oral skills improve?
- Did practicing Italian with your videos help you relate its usage to real life situations?
- Did you enjoy this project? Did you find it challenging? In what ways?
Students put a good deal of time and effort into completing their final reflections/self-evaluations, as is clear from these samples of student comments:
- “[The video assignment] forces you to just get comfortable speaking Italian in everyday situations.”
- “The project gave me an opportunity to listen to myself speak and apply the corrections from class and the weekly Wimba assignments to my pronunciation.”
- “I think it was visible that I was much more comfortable speaking [in later videos].”
- “I gained a sense of accomplishment…I realized how my skills had improved…greater confidence is a byproduct of the Italian video project.”
- “Understanding how to think up words and phrases on the spot forced me to realize what I knew well and what I need to review, and helped me learn about speaking Italian in a realistic, rather than a classroom setting.”
- “I…liked the fact that I got to practice my speech without the pressure of being in front of a class.”
- “…this project was definitely challenging because it forced me to put to use the grammar and vocab that I have been learning in class. I had to integrate all the different aspects of Italian 1 and put them together when working on this project.”
- “[The videos] helped me more fully realize practical purposes for what we were learning in class.”
Based upon student feedback, Sposeto will continue the video diary project in the future, with some adjustments:
First and foremost, our syllabus was too full to add an additional component without overwhelming both the students and the instructor. I might try to balance the Wimba assignments with the diaries by cutting back on both somewhat, so that in any given week students would be completing either a Wimba or a video diary, but not both. Ideally, I would give feedback more consistently (as opposed to once at the midterm and once at the end of the course), but I’m not sure how feasible this would be. I might adjust some of the topics slightly based around student feedback and I would like to find a way for students to submit and organize the videos that would create less technical problems.