Heritage Language Teaching: A Conversation With María Luisa Parra-Velasco

Many thanks to Dr. María Luisa Parra-Velasco for an enlightening talk about Heritage Language Instruction and using art in community to enhance learning. Enjoy the video. Timeline with notes, links, and articles below.

0:04 Dr. Parra-Velasco teaches in the Department of Romance Languages & Literatures at Harvard University
2:04 How students and teacher relate to one another (as discussed in the articles Dr. Parra shared as pre-reading for the webinar, embedded below)
2:13 In Open-Source Learning courses, students amplify their voices by creating blogs and representing their own thinking.
5:04 Professor Valdes of Stanford defines a heritage language learner as, “A student who is raised in a home where a non English language is spoken, who speaks or merely understands the heritage language and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language.”
10:16 Understanding knowledge students bring to a course as illustrated by conversation about the children’s book “Frog, Where Are You?”
12:39 Fradulence, fluency, and first impressions of students
15:39 Code-switching
17:43 Harvard students are encouraged to speak English in Madrid and Argentina, but in Boston a mother and daughter were attacked for speaking Spanish
18:50 I do not subscribe to the deficit model; we know more than we think, as multi competent speakers (Vivian Cook)
22:46 Critical theory and Paolo Freire
24:25 I don’t follow a textbook. I design my classes by themes and important topics that I know that students want to learn about.
27:13 The piece I take very much into account is emotion and affect
28:48 I do assessment throughout the semester. I don’t do tests.
30:13 Student-created art
36:34 Student experience of reading: understanding how we read in a way that preserves a sense of joy while helping students understand literary components
38:20 Asynchronous learning & thinking of the right thing to say after the conversation is over
39:17 Expanding the pedagogical spaces online, in museums, and the community
40:48 Multiliteracies of the new and the known
43:47 Self-evaluation
47:33 Divided identities
50:00 It’s not the language, it’s the speaker
52:02 We cannot know all the languages and we can not teach all the languages, but we can open spaces to recognize that those languages are part of our classroom
55:35 Taking care with bringing students’ home environments into virtual learning
58:31 Students’ mindsets & senses of self-worth
59:42 Demands on teachers and learning about ourselves through learning about our students as we move away from teaching textbooks and toward teaching people
1:04:17 I have an initiative at Harvard for high school teachers, and we have developed a website with a lot of materials, open source, and links to lectures. So I will be sending you the link so you can share with everybody.

Los Talleres del Español: Materiales

Initiative on the teaching of Spanish as heritage language

Harvard University. Observatorio Cervantes.



The Problem in a Nutshell (Pod)

A friend sent me a message asking for some “quick thoughts” on learning pods.

“Quick thoughts” is a trap.  Learning our way through the pandemic in this society/culture is a complex, nuanced topic. The quickest I could make it: We are innovatively tap dancing our way through a minefield of unintended consequences, interpretations of which vary depending on unit of analysis and caste.

That sentence deserves more explanation.

“Learning pods” is a misnomer. People have been getting together to learn from each other since time immemorial. But in today’s marketing culture, we are compelled to give this a catchy name that sounds non-threatening and familiar. Fun, even. Learning is fun, so that’s easy. But what exactly is a pod? In most dictionaries, you’ve got to wade through groups of marine mammals, parts of tools, insect eggs, and peas before you get to “detachable container of some kind.”

Detachable container. That’s the problem in a nutshell (pod). We can’t afford to be any more detached from each other than we already are. For decades we have indulged in corrosive ideas: government is bad, taxes are a waste, votes don’t matter. NIMBYism.

Except that now, people are opening their backyards and hosting invitation-only school. This seems reasonable when school campuses aren’t safe, the federal government has turned policy planning into a riotous, untrustworthy clusterfuck, and children need inspiration, guidance, and each other.

Learning pods are a clever idea. Americans put a premium on cleverness. This is evident in our reverence for technology (the word comes from “techne,” the Ancient Greek word for cleverness) and in the way we admire getting the edge in everything: sports, avoiding taxes, persuading a court.

But cleverness is amoral. Tools and strategies are agnostic. A surgeon can use a scalpel to save a life; anyone can use the same piece of sharp metal to take a life.

Learning pods have no context, vision, theoretical framework, no reason for existing, except as responses to a crisis.

Many people don’t care about this sort of argument. They have the resources, and it feels good, so STFU. That’s a problem in our society. Without a discussion of what’s not seen, we can’t begin to properly understand what we see. If you don’t know anything about Vygotsky or Krashen, Dewey or Freire, Maslow or Erickson, Hunter or Skinner, school just looks like a place to warehouse and distribute meals and textbooks to poor, semi-feral young people while their parents work.

With regard to learning pods, Dewey in particular comes to mind: “The school must be a genuine form of active community life, instead of a place set apart in which to learn lessons.”

We can no longer afford to isolate school from the deeper conversations about our social contracts as they are instantiated in systems: families, communities, organizations, and institutions such as education, health care, and the law.

Students’ learning can and should be active investigations of the rich, interdisciplinary life that awaits them after graduation, investigations that enhance our mental, physical, civic, spiritual, and technical fitness: the coronavirus, the societal impacts of pandemics past and present, policy and politics, the environment. We all have interdisciplinary questions based on our immediate concerns: Why hasn’t our government simply paid working families to stay home, or issued millions of masks with a clear mandate to wear them, so that we can beat down the pandemic and get on with life?

Whether or not we treat this as a gap year or try to imitate school, young people are going to learn from this moment. Most of what they remember will have nothing to do with the school curriculum. They will learn how to regard the office of the President of the United States, and the role of the police in their community. They will learn how their parents are valued in this country and how to value themselves – based on what they do for a living, where they live, what they believe, and the color of their skin.

“Who in their right mind,” I can picture the average white upper-middle class parent indignantly asking, “would oppose children safely congregating in my backyard or at my private school (a larger learning pod)?!”

That question limits the unit of analysis to the parent’s own child, or to the clique of families (presumably) agreeing to test and trace and mask and social distance.

When we consider the larger community, though, damage is being done. Learning Pod People (LPP) are separating themselves in ways that feel comfortable inside the bubble but appear selfish and elitist to Non-Learning Pod People (NLPP). For their part, LPP children experience an entirely different “new normal” than NLPP children. This is antithetical to the entire purpose of public education as the microcosm of our society envisioned by Mann, and Dewey, and others. School — in whatever form it exists, including/especially virtual – should be a space where young people can experience diversity and divergent thinking, so as to develop the thinking and interpersonal skills that a citizen of our country needs in order to properly function as an adult.

The problem with cleverness is that it requires capital, builds power, but bears no responsibility. The capital of cleverness is both seen and unseen. A person must have real estate capital – a backyard or outdoor space; social capital – peers and friends to validate the idea and agree to participate; intellectual capital – knowledge to design lessons and learning experiences; and the psychological capital that creates power through confidence (that is much easier to develop when you have the security of knowing you won’t be attacked, beaten, or shot by an authority figure who is supposed to protect you).

Clever people innovate and tell us all about their ideas without apology. Oppressed people do not.

The learning pod, the network, the neighborhood, the classroom. These are not things. They are organisms, systems, open or closed, comprised of the people who coexist and communicate within them, reinforcing and reshaping them as they establish values, norms, functions, and relationships.

In her brilliant new book Caste, Isabelle Wilkerson writes, “Only recently have geophysicists had technology sensitive enough to detect the unseen stirrings deeper in the earth’s core. They are called silent earthquakes. And only recently have circumstances forced us, in this current era of human rupture, to search for the unseen stirrings of the human heart, to discover the origins of our discontents.”

If you think for a moment that learning pods are merely the innocent, clever, best efforts of suburban families, you are missing the big picture. They are silent earthquakes. A learning pod that doesn’t include Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and every other conceivable person available is an echo chamber, a physical manifestation of the filter bubble that appears to validate our world view by conveniently excluding everything that might challenge it. That is not an education. It is an illusory, distilled ignorance that further frays the republic. To attempt escape and save ourselves is to sacrifice the very idea of America as we teach it to our children. There is everything right with learning; there is everything wrong with learning in homogenous isolation.

E pluribus unum. At this point in history, there is no more them. Only us. If we are serious about learning our way through this, we will do it together.

Onboarding OSL students during the pandemic

In a normal school year, just finding the right room at the right time on the first day can be a challenge for students. This year, the pandemic and virtual learning compel us to empathize and anticipate students’ needs during an experience that will be new and confusing at best.

To ensure that students have the information they need, and avoid putting them on the spot by forcing them to ask questions in crowded Zoom meetings or guess whether I was available during office hours, I created a way for them to have individual conversations with me.

First, to create some continuity for students looking for course information on Canvas (the LMS my school district is using), I posted an announcement message:

In the announcement the links are live (i.e., clicking on them takes the student directly to the course blog and my calendar). However, Canvas requires a module in order to publish the course and make it viewable to students and parents, so I also created a module version:

The links in the module are static. They still point students to the course blog, which has everything they need for the course, and directly to my calendar, which they can also find on the course blog by clicking on the “Schedule a meeting with Dr. Preston” page:

Clicking that link takes students to Calendly, where they can book a 15-minute one-on-one appointment with me.

Calendly is integrated with my Zoom account, so that when students book an appointment date/time it automatically creates a Zoom meeting:

Calendly is also integrated with my Google calendar, so it blocks time for other appointments and avoids schedule conflict. For example, in both the Zoom image above and the calendar image below, you can see the students’ meetings are booked around classes:

The result is a personalized learning experience that establishes rapport and helps the student begin the course with confidence:

The learning power of virtual community: a conversation with howard rheingold

Many thanks to Howard Rheingold for a wide-ranging discussion about virtual community, learning and connecting on line, and being good humans in general. Enjoy the video. Timeline with notes and links below.

2:05 The Institute for the Future
2:33 Howard Rheingold
3:32 Virtual Communities
4:45 BBS (Bulletin Board System)
4:47 The Well (more about The Well on Wikipedia)
4:50 Stewart Brand & Larry Brilliant
7:05 George Hillyer 94 definitions of community
10:48 The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online
11:07 Marshall McLuhan 
13:54 You Own Your Own Words
15:13 Backstage communication
15:33 Shifts in research on leadership
16:31 Argument as a search for truth
17:49 Smart Mobs
18:55 Spontaneous revolt in Philippines organized by SMS text 
20:54 Pictures of historical events taken by people with phones
22:12 Alan Kay
29:27 Ungrading
31:47 Mindfulness
33:22 Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabelle Wilkerson
37:26 K-Pop fans rally around shared interests to coordinate political movements
39:27 Robert Putnam on social capital and book: Making Democracy Work
47:51 Paolo Freire’s banking theory of education (in book Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
52:40 The power of the asynchronous
52:44 L’esprit de l’escalier (Who knew there was an actual term for this? YAY!!)
55:53 John Taylor Gatto 
1:05:09 Patreon
1:10:24 Wisconsin Idea
1:13:10 Cory Doctorow
1:14:27 The Medici Effect
1:14:46 500-year-old history of indigenous Mesoamerican culture written during pandemic
1:15:09 Students wrote their own history: Surviving With Class

Videos: designing for empathy

During the 2020-21 school year, empathy will be essential to learning. The impact of the pandemic, along with the economic, political, and cultural upheaval in our country, has created a massive amount of trauma and distraction. For teachers to teach, and students to learn, we are all going to need to expand our understanding and practice of empathy.

For these reasons, I created these videos for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District in California. I hope the videos help clarify elements of empathy that we can all share. Please feel free to contact me with questions and ideas.

Learn how you can provide cognitive and affective pathways for students to learn more effectively by creating a calm, mindful, interdependent community.


Achieve the impossible

How one student used Open Source Learning to transform a high school English course and learn to fly.

(Note: This story is the Preface to ACADEMY OF ONE, which is being published by Rowman & Littlefield. Please join the newsletter to pre-order your signed copy of the book.)

Flying an airplane and becoming a pilot are a long way from the typical high school classroom.  So many students have life goals and personal and professional interests that don’t seem to have a place at school.  They don’t know where to get started or even how their academic courses relate to their lives. 

Open Source Learning solves these problems.  When Matt Reynolds expressed his frustration and dissatisfaction with school, the answer was obvious.


Upon hearing that a couple of bicycle mechanics in the city of Dayton were working on what would become the first airplane, the editor of a Dayton newspaper responded to the Wright Brothers’ news by saying, “Man will never fly.  And if he does, he will never come from Dayton.”

We who think we know it all are often surprised.


Aviation is proof that, given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

I’ve never been happier to pull into a dark high school parking lot at 6:00 A.M. on a Sunday morning.  I was meeting Matt Reynolds and Elizabeth Sandoval to take part in their masterpieces. Elizabeth’s is a combination of journalism and photography.  Matt’s is aviation.


Matt was about to take us for a flight in a 1960 Piper Tri-Pacer that belongs to his brother’s father-in-law, Ed Mandibles.  Ed is the perfect mentor for Matt– it’s important to note that when it comes to specialty skills and content, the best mentors are usually found somewhere outside the classroom.  The son of the first female DMV examiner in the state of California, Ed is president of a Piper club that draws hundreds of people to the Lompoc airport every July.  Flying is a major part of his life story.  He proposed to his wife in the plane we flew.  His children have flown it and now his grandchildren do–although he has to pry 5 year-old Aubrey’s hands off the wheel when it’s time to land, because by then she usually falls asleep.

Ed told me that what he loves most about flying is sharing his passion with other people.  This is the secret sauce of Awesome.

When you buy an airline ticket you enter into a contract with a corporation.  You are promised that your pilot will be trained, experienced, and sober.  (Or are you?  What does the fare actually buy you?)  You don’t have any responsibility for evaluating talent; most of us never even see the pilot, much less her qualifications.  After a couple mouse clicks you trust the corporation’s promise to deliver you and your stuff somewhere under very specific conditions with exclusions that limit the corporation’s liability.  From jetway to jetway there isn’t much except the tiny window panoramas to suggest that we are doing anything other than sitting around.

Flying with friends in a small plane is a completely different experience.  From the moment you squeeze in and put on the headphones there is no doubt you are actually FLYING.  Each updraft is a powerful reminder.  Since the pilot isn’t wearing a uniform (although Ed’s Alaska sweatshirt did have a plane on it) you might even be tempted to ask, “Should I put my life into the hands of a retired hobbyist and…a…TEENAGER?”

Contracts are not the best way to determine whether someone has the ability to do what they say they can do.  We can develop and rely on our instinctive abilities to evaluate character, training, experience, credentials, and expertise.  This is the most effective way I’ve found to decide whether I’m going to place my trust in someone.

Welcome to the Trust Economy

I don’t sacrifice my Sunday morning bike ride or making pancakes with my daughter easily, but I trusted Matt and I knew he’d come through.  I confess that I was slightly relieved that we would be accompanied by his mentor.  Ed reminded me of my Grandpa, who flew The Hump and The Berlin Airlift.  Ed was clearly an experienced expert.  Plus, as is so often the case with pilots and others who understand the physical universe better than most of us, Ed is totally down to Earth and insatiably curious.  He is a tinkerer and had several projects going in the hangar where we met him.

Watching learning take off.


As I watched Matt learn from an expert and go through  his pre-flight checklist I was able to focus on the learning (much easier when I’m not also sharing content/ facilitating discussions, grading, taking attendance, etc.).  I reflected on how superficial testing is while I mentally checked off learning theory after learning theory, outcome after outcome, and naturally the “new/improved” Common Core boxes: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity…  All evident in abundance.




The ride was amazing.  Apart from the sheer magic of defying gravity, Ed and Matt gave Elizabeth and me an education on aviation, geography, the history of the region, and the people who live here.  We flew from Lompoc out toward Jalama Beach, then back through the Santa Maria Valley (over the high school, but I didn’t get a good picture) and then up the coast toward Pismo and over my neighborhood.



Documenting Learning

Professional educators and policy makers spend way too much time and energy gathering and explaining one-dimensional circumstantial evidence.  Multiple choice tests had their day when 1 GB of memory cost $300,000 and there wasn’t any way of documenting real-time interaction or mastery.  Now that we can stream and remix our learning narratives in multiple media to everyone with an Internet connection, that era is over.  Can you imagine an athlete being recruited based on letters of recommendation alone?  How long before a diploma isn’t good enough, and employers want to see what you’ve already done?

If you want to know whether Matt Reynolds can take off and land in a 1960 Piper Tri-Pacer, here’s Matt landing.  This is the most authentic performance metric there is.  Keep in mind this is just an amateur with an iPhone over Matt’s shoulder– a better videographer and equipment/production (GoPro, audio through the plane’s intercom, etc.) will enable Matt to document every move he makes and use media to improve his own performance and teach others.

Ed told me that what he loves most about flying is sharing his passion with other people.  We can create value through Open Source Learning by sharing our joy in our learning even as it takes place.  This is the secret sauce of Awesome.

In Matt’s car on the way back to school, I practiced some critical thinking of my own and tried to see high school from his perspective.  He’s been admitted to San Jose State where he’s set to begin the professional path to commercial pilothood.  He has motive, opportunity, access to an expert mentor, and the tools to get more information and tell his story.  A while back Matt wrote, “For me high school is a waste of time.”  Apart from learning how to correct the grammatical errors in the rest of that paragraph, he might be right.  Fortunately it’s a problem we can solve.

Go Forth & Do Likewise

Your mission is the same as Matt’s.  You have chosen an interdisciplinary masterpiece topic that you care about.  For the rest of the year, the reading and writing you do as you explore this topic will satisfy the requirements for ERWC.  So use this hour, this course, this Open Source Learning process, and this community to achieve the impossible.  Share your passion and your progress through digital media with a network of peers, the public, and at least one expert in the field.  Get your Thoreau on: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.

Don’t wait for graduation or Someday, and don’t give up.  Your network is here to help.  There is a lot to be said for keeping your feet on the ground.  There is even more to be said for keeping your head in the clouds.

[Previously published at http://drprestonrhs14exposcomp.blogspot.com/2014/04/achieving-impossible.html]


pandemic pedagogy: a conversation with julieta delgadillo

AUGUST 1, 2020:

Teachers, students, and parents will be doing things differently in the 2020-21 school year. This weekend I talked with Santa Maria High School English Department Chair Julieta Delgadillo to get a head start with a wide-ranging conversation about the philosophy, strategies, practices, and tools to support online learning and student engagement during the pandemic. Please see more detailed notes on the conversation below.


This is the first in a series of conversations that has to purposes. First, Julieta and I want to support each other and our colleagues in teaching by sharing ideas and online content that provide immediate value. Second, we want to start a broader conversation that leads all of us to consider learning in new ways so that we can develop practices that help our students, their families, and our community thrive during the pandemic and whatever comes next.

For these reasons, we intentionally covered a lot of topics in a conversational way. This first step is designed for you to take what you need, ignore what you don’t, and tell us what you’d like to learn more about.

Watch the video from start to finish, or scroll down to the notes and links below this paragraph. You can learn more about each topic by: 1) Advancing the video to the indicated timeline marker; 2) Following the links (feel free to copy or remix anything you see on David’s course blogs!); 3) Using the terms in a browser search; or 4) Commenting to this post or emailing and asking us questions.

Please also let us know if you have a suggestion for future topics. We want to know what would be valuable for you. Also please let us know if you have experience or talent that you’re willing to share. This is all about trying to meet each other where we’re needed. Same goes for hands-on support: content development, tech skills, whatever. There is no expectation that you’ll understand, agree, use, or even read all of this material. We’re just putting it out there. Whatever subject or grade you teach, whatever you want to explore, question, or even disagree on, feel free to get in touch. We’re here to help and all feedback is welcome. Looking forward to your thoughts!

0:41     A new approach to professional development
2:06     How to handle attendance?
3:14     Synchronous and asynchronous learning

3:31 External pressures on students

4:53     Students as productive members of a network

5:21     Data created by authentic curation online
6:29     Students create their own blogs

7:26     Why students need their own blogs/ websites

8:28     Metadata, teacher assumptions, and empathy

15:17   Including students’ families

16:31   A uniquely online reading test

17:16   Project-based learning online

19:21   The first day of school

23:12   Teaching about the internet

23:56   Creating community

24:23   Cursing and other opportunities for improvement

25:17   The value of losing an argument

25:55   Writing on the first day of school

26:48   Individual personality and sacred space of learning

30:32   The single biggest game-changing shift in education
31:51   Creating routines so your devices work for you
32:40   Setting a tone online

33:17   Hope, transparency, & integrity
33:49   Moments of mindfulness & synchronous learning
37:09   Calm app/ offer for teachers

38:16   Walking the walk / taking our own courses

41:01   Using SMS/ text to connect with students

41:41   Sample video lesson

47:30   Finding course content online

50:34   Developing our courses, helping each other, & feeling vulnerable
54:45   Organizing for empathy
56:39   Balancing choice with rigor
58:45   Adaptation and social justice

59:42   Relevancy to life & backfilling standardized concepts
1:00:26 Whitman and exploration

1:03:20 A brief history of standardized testing

1:04:27 Putting the learner at the top of the org chart
1:06:17 Reading & optimizing synchronous learning time

1:08:37 UCSB study: mindfulness correlated with reduction in mind-wandering & improvement in reading performance