Online Lakota classes

Online Lakota classes

Postby Jan » February 28th, 2010, 2:21 pm

Several people have inquired recently about on-line Lakota classes, especially about how to tell whether an on-line class is any good. So I thought I would post some thoughts about that here. Below are some basic thoughts far from being entirely comprehensive, but enough to give some lead on the issue.

There are several criteria that you should look at when you subscribe to an on-line class:

Teacher speaking time:
You won’t learn a language unless you practice speaking it. Therefore, good language teachers have to always try to minimize the teacher speaking time and maximize the student speaking time. If the teacher speaks more than 5% of the class time, then it is not language teaching, but an exhibition or self-promotion. If a language teacher speaks most of the time during the class then nobody is learning. Let’s say there are 10 students in a 60 minute class. If you divide 60 minutes by the number of students you will see that every student spends only 6 minutes speaking. And if the teacher speaks half the time, the student speaking time is only 3 minutes. That is not a lot for spending an hour in a class. The only way to maximize the student speaking time is to use language activities that employ pair-work and group work. This is done by good language teachers and it can be easily done in on-line classes.

Sequenced Curriculum and Progression:
Is the class based on a sequenced curriculum? Is there a sense of progression, of going from easier to more difficult? If the answers to these and the following questions are YES then it is a good class.
Conversation classes or study groups don’t have to be based on a sequenced curriculum but they need a clearly established topic, vocabulary set or set of grammar rules to practice.

Proficiency levels
Does the online class offer different sessions based on students’ proficiency levels? For instance beginners on Monday, intermediates on Tuesday, advanced on Wednesday etc. If students of all proficiency levels participate in the same class it is much more difficult to follow a sequenced progressive curriculum.

Is the class demanding? Are there high expectations?
If you have to prepare for the class, for instance by studying vocabulary, reviewing grammar, reading a text, doing homework etc. then you are more likely to progress in your learning. If there is no expectation that the students will work on their own outside the class then there is little or no progression.

Good teachers need to have an extensive repertoire of methods, teaching strategies and activity types. These have to cover all language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) as well as language situations (conversation, listening for specific information, etc.). If the teacher doesn’t employ a variety of methods and teaching strategies, then the language skills are not covered, the various learner types are not well served and the class is not motivating.

The expertise as well as the personality of the teacher matter. If the teacher doesn’t pronounce properly, doesn’t have a good knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary then you are likely to learn bad language habits from him or her. Such incorrectly learned language becomes fossilized over time and it is hard to get rid of.
Are the teachers’ instructions and explanations clear or do they confuse the student? Does the teacher know what he/she is talking about? Is the class time well organized into recognizable units? Do the students always know what they are learning at a given moment? What are the teacher’s achievements? Did the teacher publish anything on Lakota language or are there students who became fluent through the teacher's classes? The answers to these questions are some of the indicators of the teacher’s qualities.

It is important that vocabulary and grammar are learned through context. The learning/teaching activities have to employ contextual methods in which the vocabulary and grammar are integrated into highly contextualized language activities. Describing a picture, doing personalization activities (e.g. where did YOU go last summer?), asking each other about things in a story or a picture, information gap games are just a few examples of contextual activities.
Learning vocabulary and grammar without a context is ineffective. In natural language acquisition children always learn language through context, and nothing but context.

Study group instead of classes
Unfortunately there is a lack of qualified Lakota language teachers for on-line classes. For this reason it is actually better to form on-line study groups than try and find a good on-line class. A good study group can be very helpful in increasing the participants’ proficiency, provided it uses some of the effective strategies.
It is wise to base the study group on a sequenced learning material, such as the CULP textbooks or the Lakȟótiya Wóglaka Po textbook series. The Level 3 textbook in particular has a lot of activities that allow pair-work conversations and information gap activities, so it is highly suitable for study groups.
Lé Jan miyé yeló.
Blihíč’iyapi na Lakȟól’iyapi kiŋ čhaŋtét’iŋsya yutáŋyaŋkel uŋspéič’ičhiya po. Héčhel uŋglúkinipi kte ló.
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