Speaking in another tongue can tie up even the highest achieving language students. But thanks to French professor Sebastien Ruffo, some of those old stumbling blocks can be smoothed out by combining technology with the tried-and-true test of performing text.
“A lot of students whose competencies in writing and reading a second language are quite high, but have speaking on the lower end, are mainly taught to ask for a pizza, hotel room or street directions,” he said. “That makes for hard conversational activities. It’s a shame in teaching language, they no longer value literature. There’s an empty intellectual take against literature that’s rampant in society.”
Enter Speaking Texts, a third-year course focused on improving spoken French through the study and performance of oral and written texts. The intention is for students to understand and interpret written language and use appropriate techniques in pronunciation, accent and intonation.
The course recently won a 2019 ATLAS (Apereo Teaching and Learning Awards) from the Apereo Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and sustaining innovative open-source software solutions for education. Ruffo will receive the award in June in Los Angeles.
For the course, students can perform about anything. They can read aloud a 1,000 words from a novel, perform a 10-minute mock work interview, or tell a child a bedtime story. In a team of two, students can stage a radio show where two celebs dialogue, perform a stand-up comedy routine, even dub the voice of a movie characters.
Recorded at home, or anywhere actually, students then upload the audio and/or video presentation of their performances for Ruffo to provide oral feedback on via messaging tool, including audio excerpts from the student’s work.
“It’s a way of using the software for teaching language – oral language,” Ruffo said, adding most who don’t know online teaching picture a MOOC (massive open online course) model, providing it to a huge amount of people.
“I don’t do that. My idea is still to hold onto a small classroom and use online tools to enhance what can be enhanced. In our schools, you cannot get the students to speak a lot; there isn’t time. Speaking activities are hard to organize from a teacher’s point of view. This (software) enables me to do that.”
While Ruffo feels universities tend to value quantitative over qualitative when it comes to course creation and teaching – gotta fill those classroom seats in today’s world – he feels investing time and energy in this open-source software has made a qualitative difference in his teaching.
“Innovation in teaching and learning involves more than simply using new technologies. It is an approach that results in a much-enhanced, even transformative, educational experience for students. People think online is bad. But if given great tools and freedom, it can work. Technology moves fast; it’s important to be a competent user of it.”