Using GradeCraft in Language Learning Courses at Michigan

Janaya Lasker-FerrettiJanaya Lasker-Ferretti, Coordinator of 2nd Year Italian Courses in Romance Languages and Literatures, GradeCraft user

GradeCraft is known for giving flexibility to students because it offers them choice and agency when it comes to their learning. However, now that I have successfully piloted GradeCraft in my Italian language classroom for a semester, I have to come to realize that not only does it offer flexibility to students, but also to instructors, especially when in comes to the implementation and exploration of new material. Because of this flexibility, I was able to incorporate a new and experiential learning opportunity into my course structure.

Students in the language learning classroom learn their skills in a bubble in that they are not learning language on the streets of Italy through copious contact with native and fluent speakers. Language learning can be tedious and the process is slow in this bubble (even though it can also be that way on the streets of Rome!). Often by the time my students arrive to class, which is the last semester of their four semester language requirement, they have lost enthusiasm and motivation. In order to restore these, it’s essential that we make Italian more alive and relevant, which is what I was able to do with GradeCraft when this amazing experiential learning opportunity fell into my lap mid-semester.    

At the end of October, when the semester was already well underway, I was contacted by the University of Michigan (U-M) Language Resource Center’s Language Bank.  The Language Bank supports non-profit organizations, social justice efforts and the community by offering translation services to those who need it. The program works on a volunteer-basis and it gives those people with language skills at U-M the opportunity to give to their community while advancing research. Dr. Denise Saint Arnault, a professor in the School of Nursing at U-M, had contacted the Language Bank earlier in the academic year to ask for help with her research.  She is working with several researchers around the world that use a type of interview she developed called Clinical Ethnographic Narrative Interview (CENI) to understand how trauma is experienced transculturally. The interviews were conducted in Italy and the researchers interviewed women who had experienced some kind of gender based violence in their lives. To advance Dr. Arnault’s research and that of her international colleagues, there was now a plethora of material to translate into English from Italian. This is where the flexibility of GradeCraft came to the rescue. Leah Squires from the Language Bank wrote to me asking if I knew of anyone who could translate several interviews done in Italian and I let Leah know that because I was using GradeCraft in my class, I could offer this experience to my students for points.  

The Language Resource Center, which funds the Language Bank, kindly offered to host an event so that my students and others in a few different sections of Italian, could get together for a few hours and translate Dr. Saint Arnault’s interviews.  They provided the students with pizza and I, along with my colleague Luisa Garrido Baez and an Italian psychologist living in Ann Arbor, Annalucia Pierro, were there to help students with the language and the process of translation. For three hours, our students, working in pairs, pored through the interviews and made the voices of these women heard in English.  In every interview there was the story of a woman’s life narrated to them in the woman’s own words, and in a language that the students had been studying for almost two years. This experience made Italian real to them and their Italian skills valuable. Moreover, this experience made up part of their grade in the course thanks to GradeCraft. I assigned 30 points to this event, the same amount that they would have received had they earned 100% on an exam. I firmly believe that this experience is worth more than an exam because it is more rooted in real-life and allowed them a window into the lives of Italian women.  

We had a great turn out for the event–there were over 20 students total. Many students were moved by the experience and some even had trouble putting the interviews down once the event was over.  All the students to whom I had spoken about the event told me it had been a great experience. In all of this, credit goes to Dr. Denise Saint Arnault and the Language Resource Center, but just as important in making this possible was GradeCraft because I was able to give value to this experience and the students jumped at this opportunity.  I also invited students who were enrolled in non GradeCraft classes. In these cases, students were awarded extra credit points. They, too, found the event to be meaningful and rewarding even though the points they earned did not, and could not, amount to the points of an exam for them. I plan on working with the Language Bank and Dr. Saint Arnault to host future events like this because there is still a lot of work to do and many more interviews to translate.  At the beginning of last semester I would have never imagined being able to offer such an incredible learning opportunity, but because of GradeCraft I was able to seamlessly implement it into the course once the Language Bank contacted me. I was able to test out this material in the fall and I am looking forward to hosting more of these events during the winter semester. Thanks to GradeCraft, I will be able to make these experiences a part of students’ Italian 232 course and in turn, they will be able to find relevance in their language study and promote research.

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