Episode 112 Honing Our Craft: Florencia Henshaw & Kim Potowski

Its About Language Ep 112 Honing Our Craft: Florencia Henshaw & Kim Potowski
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 112 Honing Our Craft: Florencia Henshaw & Kim Potowski

We learn about fundamentals. Then as we recognize that society changes, we start questioning as we face new challenges. We need to start having other conversations.”

Ponder for a moment the word “craft.”

A world of mass-manufactured goods, one-use items, disposables, low-low-low prices, divided attention, and Instagram glamour… Where does craft fit in?

The word craft implies so much. Planning. Attentiveness. Skill. Usefulness. Beauty. Durability. Harmony. Duration. Patience. Creativity. Pattern. Universality. Heritage.

You can add many more thoughts. Take a few moments extra here to do so, and watch your nervous system calm down and a small smile appear on your face as you think of a craft that you have seen and admired, and perhaps even a creation of beauty and care that you yourself have made.

Systematically educating others is a craft.

Teaching is a craft.

Its About Language Ep 112 Honing Our Craft

It has all the elements I listed above, and the ones you added, too.

And like craftmanship by hand and eye, craftmanship of education faces the same pressures that threaten to make it increasingly obsolete: industrial-model educational systems, standardization of both outcomes and approaches, low and disappearing budgets, time pressures of a rushed society with goals focused on increasingly shorter time frames….

Oh yes, the craft of education is being replaced by intellectual plasticware.

BUT: Each educator can reclaim the role of a craftsperson. Each leader can reclaim the role of master of a craft. The language we use about ourselves, our purpose, our work, and our skills can transform a rushed and superficial approach to ourselves and others to that of craftspersons and beautiful outcomes.

As you’ll hear in this podcast, it took a while for my guests to find the perfect word to reflect what they are striving to do: provide a sharp and ready tool for the work that needs to be done to release the beauty in learners of all ages, inside and outside of educational walls. When they hit upon honing, they knew they had it.

Sharpen properly the right tools for the work, and the craftsperson is ready to cooperate with the material to make a result of beauty.

That’s what these caring professionals, the guests of this podcast, want to do with their lives, their classroom work, and their writings and presentations: to hone their craft and provide the honing tool to aid others.

Where are you in your craftmanship? Have you been honing your work so as to make a work of beauty, usefulness, and durability in a shifting world?

Enjoy the podcast.

Guests’ bios and resources

Florencia Henshaw’s biography can be found here. Florencia was my guest for Episode 45, “Let Go, Let Grow,” which you can listen to and download here.

Kim Potowski has a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics and a certificate in Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. After finishing her coursework in 1999, she transferred her TAship to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus in order to collect dissertation data and has been teaching there ever since. She directed the Spanish and French Teacher Education program from 2002-2006 and the Spanish for Heritage Speakers program from 2002-2020. After spending a Fulbright year in Oaxaca, Mexico, studying the educational experiences of U.S.-raised Mexican-origin returnees, she founded her campus’ study abroad program for heritage speakers there, which now admits heritage Spanish speakers from around the world. She was very proud to receive UIC’s Campus-wide Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2017.

Dr. Potowski has published and presented in the U.S. and abroad on Spanish in the U.S., heritage language instruction, and dual immersion schools. Her publications and edited volumes include student-facing textbooks (Conversaciones escritas, El español de los Estados Unidos, Gramática y variación, and Dicho y hecho), teacher-facing textbooks (Heritage language teaching: research and practice Cultivando jardines, and now Honing our craft with Florencia Henshaw) and research about Spanish in the U.S. (Spanish in Chicago; Language and identity in a dual immersion school; and IntraLatino language and identity: MexiRicans). Her research has been supported by fellowships including the Institute for the Humanities at UIC and the CUNY Graduate Center.She has been an editor at Spanish in Context since 2009 and has served on various journal boards. She is the editor of a book series at Mouton titled Spanish in the United States. She recently served three years on the College Board’s A.P. Spanish Language and Culture content committee, helping write exam questions and rating student responses.

Here is where you can find information about and where to purchase the book Honing Our Craft: World Language Teaching Today

To learn more about the nature and importance of dual-immersion language courses and instruction: https://www.dlenm.org/who-we-are/what-is-dual-language-education/

Check out our online course “Teaching Spanish to heritage speakers

Director, Summer Heritage Speakers program in Oaxaca, Mexico Heritage Spanish-speaking college students from around the world are eligible to apply!

Latest blog post: Owning up: When you earn your living from a language that was systematically denied to its owners

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0:00:02.1 Norah Jones: Honing Our Craft. The title of this podcast is the title of a material that we will be referring to quite a bit in this podcast, with my wonderful guests, Florencia Henshaw and Kim Potowski. Think about craft for a moment and what it means in today’s world. A craft is something that creates beauty, permanence, and usefulness. Something that is able to give hope for the future, to train others potentially. And honing that sharpening of a good tool that is useful to accomplish its task. That’s what I want for all of us. That’s what I want for the world. And Florencia and Kim, both of the University of Illinois, Florencia at the Urbana-Champaign campus and Kim in the Chicago, have been professionals doing education of youth, writing and presenting for many years. And they have collaborated on this volume that we’re going to continue to refer to as a basis for a way of looking at the world. Looking at a way that we create and create well to bring hope to all. I was so excited about my opportunity to talk with these two wonderful women that I jumped right in. So be ready to jump right in too, as we begin our podcast.


0:01:23.6 Norah Jones: I’m looking forward to this conversation. It’s delightful to have this partnership with me today in Florencia Henshaw and Kim Potowski. Welcome, Florencia. Welcome, Kim.

0:01:34.9 Florencia Henshaw: Thank you, Norah, for having us.

0:01:37.7 Kim Potowski: Hello.

0:01:37.8 Norah Jones: It’s a pleasure. I’m very excited about so many of the things that we’ll talk about, but speaking of honing, I’d like to hone in on the title of a recent material that you have… Our co-editors, of this material called Honing Our Craft, World Language Teaching Today. And since the listeners to this podcast take a look at what it is that language can do in their lives, both educationally but also language in use around the world, what is it that the craft of language teaching is doing to prepare for students for today and for the future?

0:02:22.8 Kim Potowski: That is a big question.

0:02:25.1 Norah Jones: It is.

0:02:26.3 Kim Potowski: Well, I guess what occurs to me when we were debating, I remembered somewhat clearly the conversation with Mahe where we were thinking about a title. And I think we all agree that it is a craft what we do, right? There’s no recipe for teaching language. And in fact, I think Florencia and I both having studied either directly with or having read… Interacted a lot with Bill Van Patten, I know something that really impacted me in graduate school studying about second language acquisition, was the following idea, which I never tire of repeating year after year to students, to anybody who will listen, is that you cannot teach a language to anyone. It’s not possible for me to teach you a language.

0:03:12.4 Kim Potowski: And this kind of makes language teacher’s brains fall out of their head, because they’re like, “What? What have I been doing all these years?” Well, what you do is you create the conditions under which language can develop in the minds of someone else. And basically there’s… The main driver of that is creating input, and I won’t go into the whole technicality here, but input that gets converted into intake, et cetera. Like planting a seed, so to speak, okay? You don’t grow a plant. You don’t make a plant grow. You till the soil. You plant the seed. You give it sun and water and all these things, right? And then that plant grows. And so the craft then becomes, “What does a gardener do,” right?

0:03:50.6 Kim Potowski: And I don’t garden. So I don’t know why I love this metaphor so much, but I do. And I don’t claim to sort of be able to milk it for all it’s worth, but that’s my sense. And so when we had this conversation, that’s sort of what we talked about, was how complex this thing is as a… It is a craft. There’s a lot that goes on, and I forget how we just sort of landed upon the verb honing. I think we just went back and forth with a lot of different verbs, and then I think it might have been me who said honing, and then there was agreement, but that was very productive. It was definitely a group effort to land upon that as the title.

0:04:25.5 Florencia Henshaw: And I think the idea of honing came about because it’s not… We feel that our profession keeps evolving and evolving and evolving and evolving, right? So even as we… Yes, we learn about these fundamentals, like input and output and all this, and that’s how we teach the methods, courses and all that. Yes, but we also have to recognize that as society changes and we start questioning other things and we face new challenges, we need to start having other conversations. And even, even something as fundamental, if you will, as input, we have a chapter on comprehension-based teaching, because there are still some questions there, right?

0:05:09.8 Florencia Henshaw: And so I think that it’s still good to be revisiting some of these topics and to acknowledge that there are still challenges. Again, another example from the book talking about input, but the chapter on translanguaging, right? And so how do we… What do we do with that? Because translanguaging comes mostly from dual immersion, bilingual programs, but then how does that apply to our classrooms? That is a question that we have been starting to ask now. And we can’t just simply say, “Well, no, it doesn’t apply. Let’s just keep learning about input and output and keep doing things the same way.” No, I think it’s good to have these conversations and questions and this food for thought. And I think that was the whole impetus behind the book, is that we want it to be revisiting some things, challenging some things and providing food for thought. After that, of course, every reader applies things or takes away what they see fit for their own context and their own students.

0:06:12.7 Norah Jones: Sometimes it seems, I believe, to those that are not in the educational field, in general, that new ideas may come into education, but they almost seem to be growing out of current practices as if there was some way of improving current practices from reflecting within the community. This… And both of you, Kim and Florencia, have mentioned those kinds of impetuses from outside, from society, from expectations, from changes that are coming about that language learning and usage would address. What are some of the needs or challenges or differences in expectations, or however you’d like to frame the answer, that are coming about that this material is addressing or opening minds to understand those things?

0:07:20.7 Florencia Henshaw: I guess what I would say is that we tried our best to present language and language teaching in a way. And I’m not saying that other materials don’t do this, of course, but in a way that it’s addressing the questions of how language connects to other areas and language as something that is contextualized. Language teaching that goes beyond simply, “I’m going to teach you the system of the language,” right? The vocab and grammar and things like that. So I think that we in every chapter, you can see that. You can see language and language teaching being presented in a contextualized way and in a way that language itself is a tool for something, is a tool for connecting with others, is a tool for social justice change, is a tool for…

0:08:15.3 Florencia Henshaw: That’s at least… I think that’s the common theme in all of the… In all of the chapters. And even the chapter on differentiation, again, now that differentiation is a new topic, but it has been more and more present in the minds of teachers, because we can no longer say that just because you’re teaching Spanish 1 or novice Spanish or whatever you call it, that all learners are going to be on the same level or they’re going to have the same interests or they’re going to have the same purposes for the language. And so I think that just reflecting this dynamic view of language is important and I think maybe more traditionally, we used to conceive language as I teach you, right? I give you input and now you should be able to do this, right? It’s in a little bit more controlled. And we are recognizing that language is a human tool, right? That it’s inevitably dynamic and flexible and it serves different purposes and it’s always connected to something, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

0:09:18.3 Norah Jones: Thank you. Kim?

0:09:19.9 Kim Potowski: And I think it’s important, following up on that, Florencia has stated that so well, it is a tool for these really important goals, right? That humans have. And in the wake of what happened at West Virginia, I think it’s important… The elimination of the language programs. It’s important not only for people to recognize that language is a tool for these things. And I know, Florencia, your vision isn’t limited in the way that I’m about to say. We wouldn’t want some administration to say, “Yeah, it’s a tool of many, so we can afford to get rid of it,” right? It also does things that no other tools can do, right? So yes, there are other tools to learn about social justice, there are tools that help us do all the things that Florencia had just mentioned and more, but language does certain things that no other tool can. So that’s what makes language so critical in a university education.

0:10:07.4 Norah Jones: What are those unique things about language? Enumerate some of them that people may not be aware of why it plays a unique and irreplaceable role.

0:10:18.7 Kim Potowski: Well, I think one of the things it does… I mean, and the Neuro-linguists can speak more to this, it kind of… It alters the structure of your brain in certain ways and it makes you, I think… And I’m going to speak in very, very sort of lay terms because that’s my understanding, it just gives you insight into other cultures and ways of thinking that you just wouldn’t have before. When you get to a certain level of proficiency, it’s not [0:10:39.1] ____ as I think we used to think, it can come much earlier than I think people used to suspect. It allows you to see the world, to understand other people in other ways. So just for example, I can read a fact that in X country, they very much value greeting people. When you show up at a party, you can’t just be like, “Hey,” you have to go and greet everyone and then before you leave, you have to go and say goodbye to everybody in person.

0:11:05.7 Kim Potowski: I can read that and say, “Oh, aren’t they different?” If I have another, a better level of understanding, I can be guided in thinking, “Oh, there’s a value underlying that. What is that value?” And guess what? I also have culture, I have a value, I have… Right? You and the listeners may have seen the cultural iceberg, which is pretty basic, but I think it helps us wrap our head around an iceberg that sits out of water, right? The stuff that’s above is what people traditionally think of as culture, right? Your festivities, the things you wear, your holidays, whatever, but you go below that and it’s, “What’s your concept of time? How do you view aging? What is your role in your family? How are you supposed to greet people,” et cetera. That’s sort of under the surface.

0:11:48.2 Kim Potowski: And I can learn those facts and I can realize that it’s not just they have a culture and isn’t it interesting and different? I too have a culture which is undergirded by beliefs, what are my beliefs? And so yes, that’s the next level, I can be told those things, but it’s quite a different thing when I have the language to express it, right? So here’s just one example, when I first moved to Mexico City in the ’90s, I would be out at restaurants eating and people nearby me would get up and leave and they would say something to… And I didn’t know what they were saying to me. And I would just… I was bewildered for a couple of months. And then I finally… I don’t know how I figured it out, but they were saying provecho, which is kind of like bon appetit, but not quite.

0:12:30.6 Kim Potowski: So when you are in the proximity of another person who is eating and you’re passing through their space, you offer this provecho, right? Either when you’re coming in or when you’re eating. And so that’s a word, it’s a Spanish word, okay? And that is a linguistic thing that’s now in my brain. So then after I’d been in Mexico for a while and I come back to the US and I crossed through the space at a restaurant with someone eating, I stand there like… Right? So that would perhaps just be one example.

0:13:00.2 Norah Jones: And a very useful one because it’s one of those things that happens as life is going on right in front of you there, for example, eating at a restaurant. Florencia, did you have a reflection there, my friend?

0:13:14.1 Florencia Henshaw: The only thing I was going to add is that the experience of learning a language in terms of the experience itself, not just the neurological part, of course, what Kim said, yes, in terms of reflecting about culture, but just… I think that inevitably learning another language puts you outside of your comfort zone. You gain a lot of empathy, you become very humble, you take a lot of risks, right? So I think that you discover a lot about yourself in that experience, that even if you never become fluent in that language, I think is very, very helpful for how we relate to others. And so that is something about language learning that we cannot forget and that we cannot discount. I think people…

0:14:03.9 Florencia Henshaw: Many people think of language learning as sort of like the means to an end in the sense that, well, but if they’re never going to become fluent, then it’s not worth it, right? No, no, no. There’s so much more that is happening along the way that is not about reaching a particular proficiency level, of course, that is a very, very good goal to have. And I don’t think, no offense, but I don’t think that you can have those kinds of experiences of empathy and risk taking with something like Duolingo, like it’s just not a replacement for it to be with a group of people, whether it is online or in person, but to be with other human beings that are learning that language and that we’re all struggling with it because we all do, and that we’re all making mistakes and all… And so I think that that is the other thing that I would add, yeah.

0:15:03.1 Norah Jones: Thank you. And you made a mention there just a moment ago of the making mistakes. We all make mistakes. And as professionals in leadership, in world language education at all levels, what are some of the stories that you can tell with your backgrounds? You are both at the University of Illinois, various campuses, and with various approaches to things. You have your own personal backgrounds with language and with movement within cultures. And tying together then who you work with, who you seek to have an impact on with your knowledge and your own background, what can you… Would you say to encourage people by encouraging them with language and culture, encouraging them through your own stories, your own personal history, and encouraging them through the kinds of growth that you’ve experienced, which I first put in the word mistakes, but is about learning and growth. Personalize the experience that you bring, please, when you are teaching and when you are writing and presenting.

0:16:19.8 Florencia Henshaw: I guess, well, what I would say is that, so personally, when I started learning English was because I was forced to. I didn’t want to. [laughter] My parents thought it would be a good idea. And I clearly remember telling my parents, “I will never speak this language. I’m not studying it. I’ll never need English in my life.” And so I think that sometimes you may come to class thinking, “Why am I being forced to do this?” But it’s just… It’s a little bit of the, “You never know.” And you be… You need to be open to the adventure in front of you. You never know where it’s gonna take you. You might think you’ll never need it. You might… I feel like in a lot of programs, we try to convince students to enroll and try to convince them of how much you’re gonna need this language.

0:17:08.8 Florencia Henshaw: And sometimes we don’t really know, and the students don’t really know, and that’s okay. It’s okay for you to learn a language ’cause you want to, even if there’s not a big promise, right? And you never know where it’s actually going to take you. So even if you may not see it right now, but why would I, I don’t know, learn Italian or whatever? Well, yeah, no, it’s true. Maybe in the US, maybe in your particular field, you might not be using Italian a lot, but you never know where it’s actually going to take you. And so I think that it was good that eventually I decided, “You know what? Maybe I do wanna learn English.” I had no angle in mind. You know what I mean? It wasn’t that I was planning on moving to the US or using English for my job. It was none of that. We just don’t know where that language is going to take you, where that experience is going to take you.

0:17:54.2 Norah Jones: That’s neat. Thanks, Florencia. Kim?

0:17:56.8 Kim Potowski: I wish we didn’t… I’m gonna sort of not answer your question in a way, but it brings me to something that is very important to me, which is the idea that we need to start earlier with languages. And if we had a robust network of schools where every single kid, every single kid in this country attended a school where half the day was taught in one language and half the day in another language, our university language programs would look very, very different because then it would be either moving further in the study of that language that was acquired for 13 years, or adding a new one to someone who’s already to some degree bilingual.

0:18:43.1 Kim Potowski: I think it’s very important. I’m at the university context, and like Florencia, I’m interested in getting people to get into language classrooms and have a really good experience there. Unfortunately, it is far too common, I don’t know that we have time to unpack all the reasons why, but there are still far too many high school and university classrooms where people are just, you know, conjugate verbs, and then graduating and saying, “Oh yeah, I took three years of French in high school, or I took two semesters of Mandarin in college and I still can’t say anything. There’s lots of complicated reasons for that, and I think our book tries to help educators not fall into that horrific trap.

0:19:20.9 Kim Potowski: But my point being, if we were to have a high quality dual language programs, K-12, or at least very least K-8, I think that would go a really long way in changing us as a nation and how we feel about language, of course, that’s generally a question we’ve got, and believe at first before we would create that kind of system, right? But if you look at… I saw some recent data, I believe from the MLA, about the percent of US students who are studying K-12, another language, and it was like dismally low. I think it was like 20% on average. It varies by state. Whereas in other places, it can… It’s 90 or 100%. I think we could… We would do a lot better… If I had sort of one magic wand that I got to use for one wish, or a genie with one wish, it would be to create a really robust K-8 language program.

0:20:21.4 Norah Jones: That’s a very powerful impact indeed, and I know that there is some growth in that direction, also my personal experiences I’ve shared on podcast previously is watching programs fold that had my young family members in them, leaving them bereft of being able to take a language in an immersive environment, much to everyone’s distress, but apparently ineffective response. So I would love to know, Kim you have what type of a background personally in languages where you learned languages, where you have applied them in your life, not only academically, but also in your personal growth.

0:21:04.5 Kim Potowski: Well, in seventh grade, in my suburban school in Long Island, New York, you had to choose Spanish, French or Italian, and since I already knew how to count to 10 in Spanish from Sesame Street, I figured I was halfway there, yeah, I’ll just keep going with this. And the story a lot of people have, you had that one teacher in high school who was awesome, and I had that for sure. Mr. Verratti was an amazing teacher, but I also had inclined that I was kinda good at this, and so I just sort of became this one-trick phony, that was the one thing I was really good at, and people always pat me on the head for it. So you major in it in college. And I went to… I spent my sophomore year instead of junior year, in Salamanca Spain, ’cause I had all the AP… They were just like, “You’re ready to go now.” And I said, “Okay bye.” And that was back when immersion was emerging, in the ’80s, there was no internet. You called your family once a month from the public phone place down in the main square. So, and it was a full year, and that just sort of put me on my path.

0:22:02.2 Kim Potowski: From that point forward, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. In fact last year, my PhD, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that I enjoyed the Spanish language, I enjoyed learning all and stuff about it, and I enjoyed teaching it to other people, and that’s sort of how I ended up where I ended up. And then the heritage piece came about, slowly, I had heritage students when I was a TA in Urbana-Champaign, and I did all the things you’re not supposed to do, with heritage speakers. Told them that this isn’t the right word. I did all that crappy stuff, and then I eventually had a student in an advanced grammar course, five students. But one in particular became their spokeswoman, and she came to me after class and said, “We don’t understand what you’re talking about, we understand the Spanish words coming out of your mouth, but we don’t understand these grammar explanations that you’re giving us.”

0:22:51.7 Kim Potowski: And they were very patient with me, and they met with me once a week, and they taught me… Or put me on the path to learning about how to teach heritage speakers, so that became a different sort of path for me to help us see, especially me as a non-native, non-heritage, non-anything, right? This white lady who learned Spanish as a second language, who was privileged and pat on the head at all times, right? Suddenly I’m being paid to teach a language to people to whom it was systematically denied throughout their whole lives, who were bullied for speaking it in public. Who didn’t get to go abroad, and all that kind of stuck, so that then became a social justice piece for me.

0:23:34.9 Norah Jones: You just tapped on something that I know that you have some recent talks, blogs and so forth about, the pressure in… Well, I suppose globally, it could be said to happen in pockets, but certainly we can address the United States, the folks that are shamed for speaking their heritage languages, corrected for speaking language, not in the way that the intellectual approach of our historical academic slot, speak some more about what you have learned with that, and what are some of the messages, Kim, that you were providing for those that are engaged in this heritage experience?

0:24:19.6 Kim Potowski: Right. So just yesterday in my Intro to Linguistics class, I had everybody take out this paper and draw Bigfoot, and they all did, and they had to hold up their drawings of Bigfoot, and I looked around and I said, “Those kinda are all remarkably similar,” I’m like, “How do you know what Bigfoot looks like if he doesn’t exist? He’s a myth,” and myths are very, very powerful. Now, the week prior, I ask them to ask three people, what is standard English? Provide how they understand that term, and to give an example of what is not standard English, and we put it all on this google spreadsheet and we looked at it. So after the Bigfoot thing I said, “Okay, so those three people that you asked, they all believe in Bigfoot, they all believe that there’s something called standard English, and we all have been… A lot of us have drank this Kool-Aid, and what this class is about is to get you to see that it is a myth. Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Every time you see the word standard, I want you to replace it with prestigious. Every time you see the word error or incorrect or un-grammatical, I want you to replace it with, uses a different system that is not prestigious. So this, I think is really important to get people to see…

0:25:32.9 Norah Jones: Please take a moment to go to my website, fluency.consulting, take a look at the biographies of Florencia Henshaw and of Kim Potowski, take a look at the resources that they’re sharing with us, take a look at the trails they have provided us for the future. Take a look at what they’ve been building with their craft, that they’re sharing with us, at fluency.consulting. You can take a look at all of that, you can download these podcasts, and you can also listen to Florencia Henshaw’s first podcast with me, episode 45, Let go and let grow. I invite you always to take a look at my website, fluency.consulting, to help to orient you to all the wonderful things that my guests are bringing to you.

0:26:26.1 Norah Jones: Thank you, Kim. Florencia, what kind of experiences have you personally had, or what insights do you add or grow from what we have just heard?

0:26:39.0 Florencia Henshaw: The… And clearly my experience has been different for many reasons, but one thing I tell the students, the students assume a lot that the way I look and the fact that I am a native speaker, and I’m a native speaker from Argentina, that nobody has ever judged how I talk, right? And I have, I have been made fun of my accent, I have been told it’s not the right one, so a lot of that has happened to me, and it has actually affected how I talk to students in the classroom to this day, and that is because when I was… I moved to the US when I was only 18, and I was considering different career paths, and one of them was to teach Spanish, and so I called a university program, not the university I’m in, [laughter] I’ll just clarify that. Long time ago, a different state.

0:27:41.8 Florencia Henshaw: And I said, “What does it take for me to become a Spanish teacher? What do I have to do?” And they tell you about requirements and all of that, and this person asked me, “Are you a native speaker?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m native speaker from Argentina,” and they said, “Oh, you’re gonna have to change the way you talk because the students will not understand you,” so they told me just when you go and teach, make sure you cannot use Vos. Vos is the second person singular pronoun for what many other dialects is Tú, so the you. But it’s different in different dialects. So you cannot use Vos. Just be careful how you pronounce… Argentinians have a very specific pronunciation with a sh sound… Anyway, so I was told that, and me being only 19 years old, not knowing anything about anything, I was like, “Oh my gosh, people are not gonna understand me,” and to this day, I speak a very neutral, fake, who knows what accent it is, in class, and I don’t use vos. And I still remember one time a student in a course I was teaching here in Illinois, end of semester surveys wrote, her only weakness is that she won’t use her Argentinian Spanish with us. [laughter] Because I told them…

0:29:00.9 Florencia Henshaw: ‘Cause some of them were like, we have had other teachers from Argentina and they sound different. And I told them, I told them this is exactly where it comes from, and it’s been so ingrained in me that I cannot be… I cannot speak authentically with you because you won’t understand me, that is just… To this day, I speak very differently with the students. And I use it sometimes with the heritage speakers, I understand the level of criticism that they have endured is probably much worse than just that, but at least to relate that I understand how much these comments of, if you use that word nobody will understand you, how much that affects you in your relationship with your dialect, in how you continue to use the language. I know it because I have lived it.

0:29:51.0 Florencia Henshaw: And so one of the things I discuss in class, whether Spanish in the US, bilingualism, I don’t care. It’s just any time, if somebody’s gonna say… If somebody’s gonna use their intelligibility excuse to cover up linguistic discrimination, I’m like, “No, let’s unpack why that is completely false,” and that is because any time people talk from different dialects, people interact, if we don’t understand something we ask, and the conversation keeps going, no one tells the other person, don’t talk like that or nobody will understand you, so to say things like, If you use troca for truck instead of camioneta or whatever you use, nobody will understand you? That is a lie. If they don’t understand you, they ask. Ask me how many words my colleagues from Spain use that I have no idea what they’re saying.

0:30:44.7 Florencia Henshaw: And I ask them, and then we keep going, I would never tell them, You need to change the way you talk because people wanna understand you. I would never tell a TA from Spain, don’t use Vosotros because they won’t understand, I would never do that. So then why are we doing it with some dialects and not others, and so personally, I have lived it to some extent, and I still remember what that feels like and how much it has affected me, so I cannot imagine ever saying that to a student, and we need to be more outspoken about it, if we see colleagues making those comments or if we see them on social media, to say something and have that person reconsider how that is not a… It’s not a logical argument, it’s just an excuse to cover up linguistic discrimination.

0:31:34.2 Kim Potowski: Yeah, that’s… You’ve hit the nail on the head Florencia, this is the communicative burden. This is what Lippi-Green, Rosina Lippi-Green has a great book. People who might be interested in this it’s called English With an Accent, but it doesn’t just… It’s… And it’s not just about the English language, although that’s what she focuses on. People decide when they want to take on the communicative burden, right? Like Florencia mentioned, if I don’t understand you, but I’m interested in understanding you, I’m gonna work at it. Unfortunately, far too many people who are very content to say, “Oh no, I don’t understand… I don’t understand. I don’t understand African-Americans, they just… It’s bad grammar, and I can’t understand a word they’re saying.” When you criticize the way somebody speaks, you’re criticizing that person, period, that’s just… A lot of people now realize you’re not allowed to run around talking about people’s religious groups or ethno-racial affiliations, or gender, sexual orientation like that… Oh, but I can say whatever I want about their language, that’s somehow neutral. No, it’s part of who they are.

0:32:32.3 Kim Potowski: I turn on Derry Girls, I don’t know if anybody’s watching Derry girls, I got to put on the closed captions sometimes, I don’t… There’s things I don’t understand, but I assume my part in that communicative burden. Furthermore, there’s a really, really interesting study that came, I think it was out of Indiana, where they had a bunch of college kids, and they played several recordings for them. Okay, in English, lectures, I think one was in humanities and one was social sciences, STEM-ish. One recording, that’s it. Everybody heard the same recording. But half the students were shown an Asian woman’s face, and half the students were shown a white woman’s face. The people who saw the Asian woman’s face listening to the exact same dang recording as the other kids said she has an accent, and they scored less well on a comprehension test afterwards.

0:33:19.2 Kim Potowski: So they made it up. It was a ghost accent that they heard, okay. And what the Dean of the college decided was, we have to work with TAs about accent reduction, you got to work with undergrads to have them understand that, yes, we all know you’ve had TAs from different countries who you had trouble understanding, and yes, we need to work to get their language to be in a place where it is comprehensible, but you had a role in this communicative… You are part of the Communicative burden thus far. Yeah.

0:33:46.5 Norah Jones: To be able to show that, to share that nationally sounds like an extraordinarily good tool, frankly, that recognition that the accent was judged more on the visual, and could not be attributed to the actual sounds themselves. And podcast after podcast, my friends, folks, the identity is in the language and culture, the identity is in the language and culture, and so we’re really talking about, indeed attacking the identity. Florencia, I go back to you, neutralizing yourself, you don’t even know, you used a phrase that I use, because I like you, Kim, started taking Spanish in seventh grade, and had a multitude of different teachers from different places, and have no idea what I sound like when I’m actually talking Spanish, because it’s some kind of an amalgam. And to hear you say that, Florencia, based on your experience of being asked to cut out that Argentinian stuff, is disheartening potentially, as, I’m laughing, but it’s also disheartening to hear that as part of your experience as well.

0:34:57.8 Norah Jones: When we take a look at what you’re sharing, I’ve started with the honing material, that sharpening that edge that can then cut and do what it needs to do, of all the different things that you are trying to bring to people’s minds. Among the things you mentioned was people are still, if we’re not careful just teaching that grammatical stuff, we’re teaching it in a language as a topic approach, what though did you say are the top things that either in that book itself or in blogs you’re writing, or in the presentations that you are giving in addition, it’s like, This has got to be solved first, potentially you have already spoken about it some, but if you want to add, what is it we’ve got to solve now so we can get this language as part of what humanity is all about, started more effectively.

0:36:00.8 Florencia Henshaw: My answer, I don’t even have to think twice about it. I was ready to answer as soon as you say what is first, and first I would say the chapter on standards-based grading, and we didn’t put the chapters in in a particular order that… I just wanna clarify that they were put in the order that the publisher decide, and I think is only based on the, on alphabetical order by last name, right? So it wasn’t necessarily a particular order, I think it’s chapter six or seven on standards-based grading. And the reason why I go to that one first is because I see it all the time, especially in higher ed, but I see it also in K-12, that if we don’t change evaluation assessment first…

0:36:46.7 Kim Potowski: Yeah.

0:36:47.3 Florencia Henshaw: We’re going about it the wrong way, otherwise, it’s just… It keeps leading back to frustration, and then we end up falling back on changing how we teach, and that is because especially grading, grading, and yes, there are some un-grading movements and maybe in volume two we will talk about un-grading. I think right now in so many contexts, we are still struggling with how un-grading could work for us, but I am excited to see as more people try it, that they could then write about it and we can all learn from them. But in many contexts, we do have to be posting grades, or providing grades to students, and saying how we’re grading them and based on what we’re reading them, and what I see is very well-intended teachers, professors, changing what they do in the classroom, but then the students are still being graded according to how many errors they made, or if they use the vocab they taught, or if the… Right?

0:37:41.0 Florencia Henshaw: The grading is still very much reflecting a, how much do you remember from what I taught you? So the grading is still very much reflecting memorization, and even though it may look like communication because… Oh, now it’s about describe a picture. Yeah, but if you’re still grading it based on, did you remember those words, did you conjugate the verbs correctly? If you’re still going back to that in the grading, doesn’t matter what you’re doing in the assessment, doesn’t matter what you’re doing in the teaching, the students are still gonna get frustrated, and they’re still gonna get the message that your priorities are mastering the language. And so what I like about standards-based grading is that in… It obviously is not exclusive to language, but the chapter is about how it could be applicable to the language classroom, is that it goes back to, to what extent have they met a particular standard?

0:38:39.5 Florencia Henshaw: And what I like is, of course, in language teaching, we follow… Or we adapt the proficiency guidelines right from ACTFL or whatever you’re using, and that gives you a more holistic and realistic picture of what a human being can do with language, we may not agree with everything in the guidelines, I’m the first one to critique them. But it’s not the checklist of how many errors they make, it’s not the checklist of how… If they use the right word, right? It still value things like circumlocution, it still values things like, to what extent were you able to understand them and realistically, right? We were talking about interlocutors, what are we expecting our students who are still in novice level, right? How, why are we being so harsh sometimes when we grade them, we’re expecting so much.

0:39:33.3 Florencia Henshaw: So I think that we need to start there. Whether standards-based works for you or not, but at the very least read the chapter and reflect on it and figure out how you can adapt it. I don’t use standards-based grading to the letter, but I have definitely revised my rubrics so that I’m not counting errors and the students are not concerned with things like that, they’re not concerned with, did I memorize the right words? I trust that I’m giving them the right tools to accomplish that communicative task, but at the end of the day, language is a tool and it comes in many flavors, and so if the students find another way of making themselves understood or to understand me, I can be penalizing them for that, they’re still meeting that standard and should be celebrated, and it does make a difference in how the students feel in the class. Kim was talking about that, you have a good experience in language classrooms, so we definitely need to start with grading, and I know it’s hard, but we gotta let go of saying that our goal is the correct use of whatever we taught.

0:40:41.5 Florencia Henshaw: Got to let go of that. You’re not assessing that. It is, that is the first step, if you’re still uncomfortable with that, then you’re just not quite ready to make changes in everything else. That to me is the first step, is How are you grading them based on what your pedagogical priorities are.

0:41:01.2 Norah Jones: What an exhortation. Thank you, that passion, so clear. I’m motivated.

0:41:07.6 Kim Potowski: What I love about this book, if I can toot our own honing horn here, the vision I think that Mahe and everybody at Klett had for this, to make it just really digestible, not just in the length, and believe me, it hurt when they told me, You gotta cut seven billion words from your chapter. I was like, Oh my God, but I get it, I get it now. And you can pick this up. And teachers are so busy. And I’m thinking in particular of high school teachers, but not just high school teachers, but in particular high school teachers, I had two kids go through high schools, different public Chicago High Schools, and my God. And I interact with so many teachers in so many different forums, and they work hard. So this, I think respects their time, and it respects their ganas, their desire to learn stuff, and I think it’s, it really is centered on them.

0:42:02.1 Kim Potowski: And that’s another piece of good teaching, is that it is learner-centered, not 100%, and I don’t know that anybody promotes 100… Let the students choose everything. They don’t know what they don’t know. Okay, that being said, if I’m taking a bunch of students through the forest, ’cause I wanna teach them about trees or whatever, I have certain things planned out, but if they have certain interests, I will follow them on a little side path and explain the thing, and then I’ll know, Oh, that kids interested in that, and then I’ll bring it back and then you try… And it is more work for you, but if you’re doing it well and you have the right mindset, I think it’s all about a mindset in addition to just not a list of things to check off and try to improve. Although there’s a role for that.

0:42:43.6 Kim Potowski: It’s about shifting your mindset, and I think the tone of all these authors and the collection in general, is to do just that, to change how you think about what you do, your craft, what are the goals of what you’re trying to do. If you just sort of wanna… If you’re one of those people who’s like, I’ve been teaching for 23 years, but really you’ve been teaching one year, 19 times repeated, right? Or are you somebody who wants to really evolve and grow? And I think that’s what these chapters invite you to do, and it does it in friendly language, it does it with examples, it does it in bite-sized capsules and with visuals, and even just the layout of this is friendly, the size of the book, just… I didn’t know it was gonna come out this good, to be honest with you. I knew it was a great idea, I knew Florencia is wonderful, and that the authors that we brought on are amazing. And as I’m reading the chapters, I’m like, “Yeah, this is good stuff.” But when I saw this, I was like, Dang…

[foreign language]

0:43:42.4 Kim Potowski: We did a good job here, and so. Yeah.

0:43:44.8 Norah Jones: That is great. Well, that enthusiasm, I have to, I hope people will recognize this is a great investment for them to be able to invest in themselves, if you’re taking a look at this book, and to following, following up with the kinds of things that you’re presenting later this month, this is being presented… Recorded and will be released in September of 2023. And you’ll be talking about this material in various ways, webinars and presentations, and so encourage people to continue to take a look and follow that up, you know there’s a lot of… If I can go to a very standard kind of metaphor here, the carrot and stick, and there’s a whole lot of stick in education in general. And teachers above all else, in my estimation, and I believe in yours, are the ones that are hope bringers, hope bringers through their curriculum and through their lives. What is that which in order to finish out our podcast today, it’s already been a podcast length, is that to be able to say, Here’s what I hope that you educators, and you, those that have educating in mind, be it parents, community members, owners of businesses, leaders of organizations, what is the biggest hope that people should hold on to through language and language study and cultural study, what’s that invitation that you have to them to look forward, what they can do to change the world for the better through language, in whatever role they play?

0:45:40.6 Florencia Henshaw: I’m not sure that I’m gonna fully answer your question, but I think probably I’m biased based on my background, but the first word that came to mind was communication, to be able to connect through communicating with others and truly communicating, not just… We tend to think of communication as expressing, but understanding each other and understanding someone else’s experience, even if it’s very different from yours, you cannot relate to it, just to be able to validate someone else’s experience, to listen to them, to learn from them. I think to some extent, that’s what we were trying to do with the book, that we were trying to learn from very different authors, even if at times we ourselves would read things and go, I don’t know how I would apply this.

0:46:32.3 Florencia Henshaw: That’s okay, I’m still learning from it even if I cannot fully relate, because you have that experience and you’re sharing it with me, that I can still… We’re still communicating with each other, that we don’t just shut each other down or out, and then we think that it’s just it’s too different from me or somebody is wrong, just because I cannot relate to their experience or to what they’re trying to tell me. And so sometimes I think the comprehension as communication is an important piece that sometimes we forget, so that’s what I would hope that there’s just a little bit more understanding and learning from others, and then yes, of course, it’s food for thought, you process it and you take away what you take away, but as much as we can to try to learn from each other.

0:47:27.1 Kim Potowski: No idea how I was gonna answer that. So, but thank you, Florencia, for throwing up something that I can… As I was listening to you, I was like, Gee, I don’t know what the heck I’m gonna say. I can’t add anything to that, but now, you provided me a little thread there, which I think ties back to something we said earlier, which is the communicative burden, right? I can be asked to pick up a communicative burden if you speak a language that I know, like English or whatever languages that I know, but you just speak differently from me, I can work hard to understand you. I was just in Tokyo recently with my daughter, I can pick up zero communicative burden in Tokyo ’cause I have zero Japanese… I shouldn’t say zero, I very quickly learned how… When I say thank you to people in stores, how to do certain things.

0:48:11.2 Kim Potowski: I learned that on the subways, you just don’t talk, you’re not… They are silent spaces, you’re just supposed to be very quiet. So I can try to be observant and learn certain things, but the hope I think I would have, and I’m just kind of repeating what Florencia just said, with a different angle, is the more languages you learn, or even if you’re just learning one or two additional languages, you are now able to carry on communicative burdens in more languages… You’re able to, right? Yeah, talk to more people and learn from them, and I love that you brought up the point that, some of these chapters, you and I, or you or I might have then been like, “Oh, that doesn’t ring true for me, but my language practice or my practice as a person who walks around trying to understand people, also extends to understanding their ideas,” so I think it does help us to be a little more open-minded and realize humanity comes in so many…

0:49:07.3 Kim Potowski: If you got 10 people in a room, there’s 11 opinions, right? So humanity just comes in lots and lots of different… And we can only grow and enrich our own selves, by even if we don’t completely agree with or harmonize with other people, if our approach can be, Oh, isn’t that interesting, right? That’s a lot better than what we get a lot of today in this planet, which is fight, fight, war, war, you’re with me or you’re against me, right? If we can just go to the, Oh, isn’t that interesting? How can we at least, if not be on the same page and if not maybe completely harmonized, how can we at least not kill each other.

0:49:40.5 Florencia Henshaw: I think Norah, if I’m not mistaken, but I might be mistaken. I think the concept of respectful curiosity, it came up in the… When you interviewed me last time, right? So this approach of approaching things with a respectful curiosity that sometimes we want the students to approach other cultures, or to be asking questions about another culture with respectful curiosity, part of intercultural competence. And I think the same definitely can apply to our profession, and the same can be applied to just about any kind of interaction with other human beings, right? To approach it with this respectful curiosity, so even if you don’t take anything particular from it at this time, you never know, just like me with English, you never know where it’s gonna take you.


0:50:32.3 Norah Jones: It’s interesting because that respect, that isn’t that interesting, it’s almost a title in itself, there’s a sense of patience and a sense of openness that is not threatening to one’s identity, but rather engages and opens opportunity to learn more and still be who you are, but have broad and additional interesting people and experiences and ideas into one’s own circle. Thank you so much for sharing these stories. For sharing these insights, this passion, these experiences, and of course, some of the pathways that people can use to bring hope, to have that respectful engagement and curiosity that changes everything, and hones our lives and not just our craft. So thank you for Florencia. Thank you Kim, it’s been a pleasure to have both of you today as my guests.

0:51:35.7 Kim Potowski: Thank you Norah, this was a great conversation. Thank you very much.

0:51:38.1 Florencia Henshaw: Yes, thank you, lot’s of fun, thank you.

0:51:40.3 Norah Jones: I hope you enjoyed this podcast with my guests, Florencia Henshaw and Kim Potowski. I hope you’ll check out my website, fluency.consulting for the resources and their biographies, and for Pathways to hear more from them and to obtain the material. I hope also that you will see what your craft is, and to hone it for your own joy and the joy of those around you, both now and in the future, and I look forward to welcoming you again next time.


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