Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

MS Awareness Week March 8-14 2010

My baby is soon to be 23 and we are still fighting to find a cure for MS. This month, a new drug comes out to improve her walking speed. This year, a new oral drug will give some folks relief from injections and infusions that have been an annoying part of their regular routine. I have only begun to focus on the impact of this disease on my own health. So during this Awareness Week, I am re-dedicating myself to my own fitness and health, because I can only be strong for her if I am strong. And I have had better days……

Lexi’s mobility has changed significantly in one year. She walks with a cane and tires easily. Most of the energy she does have goes into organizing her surroundings to have the most normal life possible. We have wonderful friends all around us who support us with so much grace.

On April 11, our team MSisBS will walk in the Reston Walk MS 3.5 mile walk. I hope all our friends and family will walk with us in solidarity, either physically or through their continuing support.

One love, one heart.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Sometimes I think about the baby inside one of those Russian nesting dolls. What a fascinating design. Every other doll opens and creates suspense and expectation until you come to the baby. Life feels like that- so incredibly multi-layered until you get back to that beginning part that does not open on demand. The little hard-core baby is in there resting all the time.

I see the repetition of this metaphor in my current research of instructional technologies. Always in search of the simple, open and free, I end up in a lot of wikis that contain a lot of links to place to explore, some to which I have been and some to which I promise to return, via delicious. I have made friends this way. Some of us bump into each other on the same or parallel roads. Finding and sorting the resources is sometimes like a kind of e-hoarding- you never know when something may be useful later. I was hoping my laptop would be a place that could stay neater than my desk or my datebook, but I have to be vigilant to make that so.

It all begins with good intentions. Facebook is easy enough because it is limited to family and a few friends, then there is Twitter which is riskier because the Followed have a tendency to take you in all different directions. Nonetheless, it can lead to very fascinating places. Then there are the wikis of those I admire and trust where I find we are all drawn to so many lists like “the top ten”, “the hundred best” “1000 things you need to know” “7 incredible revelations”. I find good things at these places, but it takes time.

I am pretty sure our brains are changing.

January 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Twitterin’ about languages and new media

I cannot contain myself about the minimalist beauty of sharing with people whose work I had long followed in print, listserves and even in person, now in just 14o characters or less.  I am one of those who does not have to struggle to stay within 140.  This happy limit teaches me how tight writing can really be.  The big question I wrestle with is the same one I have year after year.  Is this something that will spill into my language teaching?

So I read this article in Le Monde online (24/6/09) with the title ”

La révolution sera twitterisée… et oubliée”

There was something comforting about seeing that  Twitter adjective in French that made me think this might be the right time to talk to my French students about using Twitter for language learning. I have also begun having conversations with colleagues about how they use Twitter in language teaching. Most of these uses are extremely creative and very different than just answering  the question “What are you doing?” I’m getting so many great ideas this way.

October 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Pill for MS is Coming and then a cure….

I know this is a language blog, but it is also about me. So please indulge me in a moment on the laura side…..

I have to be hopeful. It is all I have. I was in Brazil last summer, nine hours on the plane away from my family, when I learned that my 21 year old daughter has MS. How could that possibly be? These days we watch many of her AAU basketball buddies with whom she played in high school battling it out in the ACC and Big East- Duke, UConn, Maryland. My little girl with the six foot wingspan and leopard print cane battles a different opponent and we are proud of her tenacious D.

This is MS Awareness month. Every hour someone else is diagnosed. They will feel sick, feel hot, feel cold, lose their balance, sleep a lot and then suffer amnesia. They will lose feeling in their feet and legs and then get sensation back and lose it again. They will feel the love of their friends and family and still feel very alone. They will inject themselves every other day with the hope that their treatment will be successful.

Yet this is MS Awareness month and look what I found out today:

In April, we will be walking in Walk MS. We have hope that a pill is coming. A pill and then a cure. All of you who have MS or have loved ones who do, we walk for you, too. MS does not define us. One love, one heart.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | MS Awareness, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

International Faculty Development Seminar: Brasil

As promised to my colleagues, here are a few more details of my study trip to what my daughters call “the land of my ancestors”. The college newsletter blurb had to be abridged, so I’ll be more expansive here . Anyone who occasionally visits here now knows that chronology (and sometimes editing) goes right out the janela……

This International Faculty Development Seminar held from June 1-10, 2008 in Sao Paulo and Paraty, Brazil was an exercise in absorbing contrasts- from the bustling city of millions of inhabitants to the last vestiges of the pristine Atlantic rainforest in  the southernmost part of Rio de Janeiro state. Although my roots are Brazilian and I am fluent in Portuguese, my family ties are much farther north, closer to the very different Amazon region. The seminar greatly increased my knowledge base on BRIC country economics, ever-controversial environmental issues and the changing role of Brazil today.

The first week was largely devoted to a vast variety of insightful pre-planned lectures and field trips. Some topics discussed included:

  • Ecology and Politics in Brazil
  • Education and Sustainable Development
  • Challenges of Modern Brazilian Politics
  • Development and Environmental Impacts in Brazil
  • Social Movements in Brazil: Landless People and their Struggles
  • Issues of the Brazilian Native Indians
  • New Resources for Alternative Energy: The Case of Ethanol
  • Urban Expansion, Population Growth and Quality of Life in Brazil
  • Poverty and Development in Brazil
  • Challenges in Brazilian Education

The seminar was hosted by the Assessoria de Relações Internacionais (International Relations Commission) of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC). PUC, founded in 1946, has 22,000 students and 2,000 professors and is considered among the best universities in Brazil. It is well-known for its Paulo Freire Chair, one of the decisive factors in my selection of this seminar. The PUC organizers went out of their way to bring us in close contact with leading experts in their respective fields. For example, the noted economist, Ladislau Dowbor, appeared so in his comfort zone as he lectured on complex issues and promptly invited us to almost all of his scholarly works online. If your field is Latin American economics, you must visit him online. (My friends  all know of my delight in sharing ideas freely online.) Our expert on the current emergent economy was a senior macroeconomist from the prestigious Bradesco bank. It was ironic that the title of his talk spoke of the “Challenges of the Economy”, but his message was optimistic with Brazil on the move with the Chinese, Russians and Indians.

Movimento sem terra

Movimento sem terra

Touring was fantastic. We were hardly settled in our modern business hotel when we were whisked off on a bus to a settlement of the Landless Movement or Movimento sem Terra with a group of CIEE students studying at the PUC. The student mission was to talk to the farmers about their settlements and their sustainable agricultural projects. The students were asked to translate these interviews for the faculty visitors. (My student guide had it easy since I speak Portuguese. We taked about his study abroad experience which seemed to be first rate.)  To reach the MST, we climbed unpaved rocky roads to three- room homes of settlers who were proud to speak of their hard work. We learned that this type of visit was atypical, mostly because the MST do not always trust outsiders. Reasons include security issues and the sometime negative depictions of them in the press. Yet because the MST members were treated with great respect by the mostly American CIEE students, they were very generous with their time and in sharing their community life with us. This visit was an eye-opener to me because it allowed me to see the kind of authentic experiences our own NOVA students might have on a similar CIEE trip. They were well-informed in advance by their teachers, they had been in Brazil long enough to communicate appropriately with the MST and all Portuguese speakers and they had obviously absorbed the Brazilian culture in which they were immersed.

Parati, a walk in the past.

Parati, a walk in the past.

The other part of this visit was to Paraty, an historic, marvelously preserved colonial city in the south of Rio state. Here is an excerpt from an earlier post in this blog where I talk about my experience in the Saco de Mamangua, our gateway to the Atlantic rain forest:

“It seems like an eternity since my wonderful time in Paraty, Brasil in the southeast of Rio de Janeiro last month. There I visited the Saco do Mamangua, clearly one of the most beautiful places that I have been in 50+ years….. So what if I capsized my canoe in the mangrove, all my valuables were safely in another canoe with  paddlers with skills. All I had to do was not move (or breathe) and I made it safely to shore in Paraty Mirim. Will never forget the hospitality of Dona Gracinha, the little barquinhos (boats) made of caxeta wood that I brought home with me, and the utter beauty of the Atlantic rainforest where beautiful orchids with their roots extending into the air were attached to the trees. I saw pioneer vegetation growing timidly on land being reforested.

I hope to be able to find the book by Paulo Nogara, our biologist in residence from the tour,  who paddled our canoe like some practiced gondolier. His love for this country was so evident. He was an excellent teacher who raised our awareness of both the beauty and the fragility of our surroundings. In retrospect, it was a great exercise in self-control to surrender to the movement of the boat. I finally “got it”, Type A as I am. Mentally, I can still go back to the peace of the setting sun in the beautiful sunset of Paraty Mirim.

The little painted caicara boat that  I brought home from that day is sitting on my dining room table today. It helps me go back there in my mind.  When I think about the locomotion involved in it all- bus, boat, hike, canoe and  the plane ride home, the barquinho gave me a real workout then and now a lot of peace.”  The CIEE IFDS experience was wonderful, particularly the hospitality of our gracious hosts, Ana Luisa and Mauricio. I think this faculty development trip should be offered annually in Brazil. The rich diversity of this country the size of a continent informs our world-view and our practice as educators.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Let’s talk amongst ourselves- MERLOT Voices

View my page on MERLOT Voices

MERLOT now has a social networking page where we can talk and share info. I do hope all my friends will join and make it rock! I’ll see y’all in there,

Update 9/23: We have been having great conversations in MERLOT VOICES, Adobe Connect and at the TLT group site in a three-week, worldwide version of MERLOT 101. If anyone shows up here between 9/23 and Oct/1, you can register and join our group, where else? in MERLOT VOICES.

We are not quite as big as the 1900+ Connectivism Course that I am taking with George Siemens and Stephen Downes as facilitators. I am  learning amazing things there, which in my experience happens when you put the world together. I have found a worldwide community of bloggers called Global Voices and a related Lingua Project that has volunteer translators translating the GV pages. I love it!!!

August 12, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Brief Hybrid Workshops: Live from MERLOT

Steve Gilbert, Ray Purdom and the TLT group presented on the 5 minute workshop. Faculty developers make 5 minute e-clips to introduce a new instructional strategy or concept.  These e-clips can be used alone, online and f2f. E-clips are easy to make and they are the central element of brief hybrid workshops which can be online or face to face. Here’s a blueprint for the workshops from the TLT’s site:

We looked at a video and did a very brief Think Pair Share which is part of the brief hybrid workshop, reacting to the content in the video. The final activity was an individual reflection on a 3×5 card to help the presenters refine their workshop and to help participants conceptualize the workshop.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MERLOT 2008- e-portfolios

First day of the MERLOT conference in Minneapolis and I’m in a session on e-portfolios done by  folks from the CSU system. I can definitely see the application of this type of project to show employers the competencies and skill sets our students have. For language students these portfolios can include work in the target language, showcasing their language skills and evidence of their cultural awareness through the posting of photographs, digital video and their own voice samples.  Many products are available for this work. Students can easily use a  blog format which encourages reflection on the part of students that reveal aspects of their personality to potential employer. The presenters showed various institutional e-portfolio solutions a few of which I ink beow.  In a video that they showed, one employer said that he felt like he knew a candidate before he arrived, based on his portfolio. The presenters spoke to the growing acceptance of e-portfolios by employers. Promising for getting known worldwide.

No more paper resumes!

August 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

O Museu da lingua portuguesa

First, it goes right to my heartstrings to find a museum dedicated to a language (as the name of my

Photo by Bee Dieu

Photo by Bee Dieu

blog might suggest). That it’s my heritage language, ainda melhor. I almost did not even make it to this gem in the Estacao da Luz in Sao Paulo, except for Bee’s tenacity on the last day of our visit. We had no idea it was the Day of the Portuguese Language, June 10, chosen because that was the day Luiz Vaz de Camoes died 428 years ago. Wikipedia has a very good page  to whet your apetite but you really just have to go, queridos.  How do I describe what we saw? A small auditorium where a ten minute multimedia presentation on the Portuguese language opened up into a planetarium-like space. Only in this room, the stars were words, verses and snippets of unbelievable literature pronounced by actors and poets and little children. Portuguese, indigenous and African words shot across the dark ceiling like shooting stars. Nothing is more delicious to me than a language in it’s natural beauty. This was one of those priceless moments for someone who love languages, like me.

August 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Banku is news to me

Goes great with Ghanaian stews.

Goes great with Ghanaian stews.

We got to Accra very late. Our hotel is charming. I feel very at home here. Folks are so nice and the landscape is like Belem.

 I have tried a new food called banku. It is a starch. You’d love it, Vegan.  Check it out.|It goes very well with okra and fish stew which I also had. Funny and a little, just a tad awkward was when the waiter brought me a pot of water to go along and I asked him what it was for!! Apparently banku, and the stew that accompanies it, is eaten with the fingers. I didn’t know, but proceeded to apply my first lesson learned, day one in Accra.

May 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment