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Here I am, after almost a month in the Golden State.
I am writing from a living room in Long Beach, in the Los Angeles County. I am sitting on the carpet (of course), with my laptop on my lap. If I look outside there is that warm almost boring sun that never leaves the Californian sky.
I was given the opportunity by Ca’ Foscari University to spend a semester of my Master Program in Linguistics at CSULB. (California State University Long Beach, USA).
It seems like just yesterday that I said goodbye to my friends, family, to Venice and my kids at Inglese Dinamico. Several times I found myself counting the days I have been here and pinch myself to make sure this isn't just a dream.
Although I have previously lived in the States during my last exchange experience, it was on the other coast, in Atlanta. But every state is different, and has its own virtues and vices. The air I breathe is even different here. It has a heady scent that is strangely intoxicating and even if I could escape it, I refuse to. In this country of opportunities I feel like I can do whatever I want (in fact,-make a movie and – make a record are on my bucket list).
When I first got to Long Beach, things were easy. I adjusted to this life almost immediately. We bought a Money Tree for our apartment because as my mum says: it is not a home without a plant, we started going to the gym and eating super- healthy.
The first week at CSULB was Orientation Week. They want to make sure you understand how an American University works, they give precious tips regarding On Campus jobs, bank accounts and cell-phones. Everyone was very nice, but they make quite clear that you are in the country because they let you, and with just one word you can be sent home. In fact, with the kind of Visa that I have, I have to be enrolled in, at least 12 units, and have a good GPA. ‘Orientation’ is also meeting a lot of international students from all over the world: smart people, always ready to have some fun.
My classes started a week after I got here. This year, I decided to concentrate on Linguistics. I am taking Psycholinguistics and Language Acquisition. They are very demanding courses which are organized in a seminar style. The course expectations include: open-discussions in which you interact with your peers and there is a lot of reading! The professors give assignments every day and expect punctuality, participation and initiative from each student. They do not slow down because ''you are from another country'’. Most of the time, they do not even know that my first language is not English. These two subjects are really important for the work we are doing at Inglese Dinamico in order for me to better understand how the mind works in relation to language. It will help gain perspective (in addition to the Chomsky)on first language acquisition, and improve my knowledge on second language acquisition processes and techniques.
In addition to these two, I am taking the second level of American Sign Language, and Children’s Literature. These two classes will help me in gaining confidence with some issues that we are examining and resolving with our little preschool students at Inglese Dinamico.
Last but not least, I am in the 49er choir at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, a well-known university choir that will perform on and off campus throughout the semester.
And now, the fun part: weekends!
Weekends are a big deal here, after a whole week of studying, eating healthy and working out, I can finally sleep in, party and relax. We have the fortune to have two Asian- American roommates. They are great. They take us out to eat the best food, and I am not just talking about burgers, but Chinese dim sum, sushi, Korean and Vietnamese food.
I hiked, cut my hair, drove to Los Angeles, had a BBQ, went to the beach, lost my wallet, had house-parties, applied for a California ID, swam in our pool, burned in the hot tub, celebrated the Lunar New Year, and much more.
Everyday I try to catch that special moment, do things, or just hold on to a feeling I wish will never go away.
Here, you can be different, you can be whatever you want. You can be… almost famous.
Volete conoscere la realtà di Inglese Dinamico più da vicino? Potete farlo tramite le parole di Nancy Steinbock, intervistata da Bill Emmott, l'autore del famoso documentario
sull'attuale situazione italiana: "Girlfriend in a coma".
A questo link troverete l'intervista pubblicata sul sito GIAC, in lingua inglese:
Di seguito la versione integrale con tutte le idee e le riflessioni della fondatrice di Inglese Dinamico.
Do you want to take a closer look at the reality of Inglese Dinamico? You can do it through Nancy Steinbock words', interviewed by Bill Emmott, the author of the famous documentary about Italy: "Girlfriend in a coma".
At this link you will find the interview posted on the GIAC website, in English:
Following is the complete version with all the ideas and considerations of the founder of Inglese Dinamico.
Interview – GIAC 2013
- In this particular moment of crisis that forced many Italian to leave Italy, looking for better opportunities, what brings an American to Italy trying to develop an educational project?
Actually, I have been in Italy ten years this September. In 2000, I was changing my life and wanted to come to Italy after falling in love with Venice on a visit a year previously. In researching how I was going to transfer my skills as a well-established speech/language pathologist who specialized in dyslexia, I consulted people here in Italy. I was told that with the reform (Gelmini) that people with my skills would be greatly valued and I should write a proposal to that effect. At the time, there was an American who was a prominent presence in deaf education in Italy. She was located in Rome. With her encouragement, I wrote a project that was translated into Italian, that focused upon pre-school language acquisition, an area that I was intimately involved with as a learning disabilities specialist. Suffice it to say, that in fact, my presence was not received with welcoming applause! But, as I had moved over here literally lock, stock and barrel with my 11-year old daughter who had started in an Italian middle school, I was not about to give up and return home. I was intrigued at the prospect of working to overcome the prejudice and as I became more immersed in the culture, particularly, the educational culture and as I gained adequate ability to communicate in Italian, I became more determined to advance educational reform. While I first attempted to work within the institutions and educational structure of the country, I am now committed to working as a reformer from the outside in. In my decade here, I haven’t found that economic crisis or lack of same, makes much difference in the quality or the approach taken in the classroom.
Did you come across many difficulties to develop "Inglese Dinamico"?
Inglese Dinamico has been a labor of love. When it was clear, rather quickly, that people were happy to meet with me, compliment me on my project proposals and then, not fund them, I started teaching in my kitchen with books and materials I had brought over from my therapy room in America. There were parents who were looking for something different and a small group regularly enrolled each year. Looking back on it, the setting was pretty primitive! But, the kids – they were all mostly in elementary -- made progress in oral language and early literacy skills and in that kitchen, I honed over 7 years, what was to be the basis for the laboratories that I opened in Palazzo Sandi in Venice in October of 2010. And, a group of dedicated parents followed me, and helped through word of mouth, to expand the number of students. I am grateful to them and their kids because some of them are now in high school and we started when they were in 3rd grade together. They have provided me with a rich experimental ground and the parents have generally been my cheerleaders. I still don’t receive funding but hope to in the near future as now, people understand that the project is here to stay and has developed its voice with a message that I think is indisputable, i.e., evidence-based teaching methodology works, a positive teaching environment generates trust and learning and that authentic expertise is needed in areas such as dyslexia if students are going to learn critical thinking skills and the problem solving techniques that are essential for a stronger, more dynamic Italy. I think that the approach encourages students to explore ideas they have little chance to do in the regular classroom, even to explore educational opportunities in other countries, but to value their Italian heritage and to understand that they must be the game-changers in their country. The previous two generations have not taken up the challenge. Of course, I’m still financially challenged! With excellent Italian educational partners, I have written a number of pilot research/teacher-training proposals, e.g., in dyslexia, whose quality has been acknowledged. The regional and foundation funding sources, however, opt to support familiar associations or institutions, often without evidence that their programs are effective. This has been an ongoing frustration. But, the learning community of a few public school and university teachers, numerous parents, students and others that has evolved around the project, is a continuing source of strength and I know that our work will go forward ever more strongly. Inglese Dinamico is in the process of becoming a force for change in education; it has become a little center of big ideas and most parents understand that their children are not going to ‘learn or study’ the language, but to use the language for delving into the world using a medium of wider communication. It has been gratifying to see how the project has grown in scope since the kitchen days. Sometimes, I do get the pushback to just ‘teach English’ in the traditional sense, but I didn’t ever do that and each year, more students arrive so we must be doing something right. It is ongoing work to develop understanding that we all have to push for quality education and that people with means and corporations have to step in where public institutions have failed. Even little acts, for example, such as funding technology tools for a classroom or a professional workshop, at the local level is still very difficult to realize.
How would you define your laboratories? Why are they "dynamic"?
I’m a therapist and I worked for almost 30 years before I came here, developing oral and literate language skills in kids who were preschoolers with communication difficulties and school-age kids whose oral language difficulties then led to dyslexia and other classroom interaction difficulties. It was easy to transfer a ‘language intervention’ approach, into sessions to develop communication skills in Italian speakers. To be an effective therapist and/or teacher, it is absolutely essential to have control of scientifically-based methodology coupled with best teaching practices. I took my own area of expertise which was rooted in acquisition/language disorders, psycho- and socio-linguistics, researched more carefully best bilingual educational practices and then tried, with many mistakes along the way, to coalesce two Western cultures that are so different in terms of teaching styles, what we hold important as ‘successful’ teaching as well as in some ways, different belief systems. So, perforce, the laboratories became fertile ground for working to build, not only language skills, but, more importantly, a ‘thinking’ head that we could then utilize as we worked to understand our differences and find common ground. Students had fairly arid teaching and I wanted them to feel valued as individuals and as learners and teachers themselves. Naturally then, we began to take on current issues and social ideas that we explored once kids could navigate enough conversation and print. Because topics are inherently interesting and because the teaching methodology supports them as learners, their use and depth of the language continues. Then, meaningful contemporary literature, current films and other pieces are incorporated to explore issues such as bullying, the nature of friendship, gay rights/women’s rights/civil rights, the human cost of war, etc. Even a film such as Hugo for my early middle-schoolers becomes a comment on disenfranchised children and the novella, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is an exploration into community organizing. I try to start young!
- When did you decide to start discussing "Girlfriend in a Coma" during your lessons? How do you think the documentary could be part of an educational project?
I have amazing graduate students that study with me, often to prepare for the TOEFL. Because independent writing is so difficult for them since it means taking responsibility for generating ideas and holding a position, I always engage each student in discussion around topics. I was fortunate enough to have a student of economics. She came to the lab one day, looking shaken, having just participated in the conference that President Carlo Carraro (University of Ca’ Foscari) had organized with Bill Emmott, to screen the documentary. She told me about the film and immediately, I bought it. It seemed to me that it was discussing and supporting several of the issues that I had been trying to promote in my labs. I was up-ended by the film! Immediately, I began showing it to my high-school students and then decided that I would show it as well to my middle-schoolers who had studied a few years with me. It was electrifying to watch their reactions! I had one young boy, 2nd year middle school who sat for much of the film over two or three sessions, with his hand over his mouth. Typical guy kid, totally appalled at what he was seeing. Their reactions ran from embarrassed to humiliated over some of the disturbing parts, but I have been working with them to reframe the discussion so that they can identify issues at the local level, identify social and cultural factors in play and then, understand that they themselves can remain in the country and be effective agents of change. They like the idea – that is, of being empowered, of being responsible for their destinies rather than letting the status quo hamper their ideas and actions. The documentary has become an essential part of all of our conversations, either as a reference (Do you remember in the film. . . ) or as a means of understanding the need for self-discipline, critical thinking and risk-taking. The latter is a daunting concept culturally but the younger generation through social media, through parents looking for change themselves, are not afraid. Before they become so, I want to use the film and the ideas in it, to confront “brutta figura”, to confront learned helplessness and to organize to be doers. That is why I am so proud of the group that thought through the issues after a school classroom crisis in Venice this year, and worked to produce the letter which I sent to Bill. This is how the film can have a powerful, positive effect. It certainly gave me the pathway for the change I was seeking but unable to fully achieve because I am “American” and therefore, suspect as a critic. They saw intelligent, committed Italians doing the right thing. I just want them not to be talking about it outside of Italy but working within the country to elevate themselves!
- If you had a magic wand, what would you change of the Italian education system?
This is easy. Not so easy to do given how people all over the world are slow to change but I would click my red shoes, sprinkle a little sparkly dust and command the following:
Scientific-evidence-based teaching methodology with a strong mentoring component
Authentic expertise that is built on best teaching practices along with subject knowledge. Equally important, hands-on mentored hours of practice in areas such as dyslexia and learning disabilities
Accountability that demonstrates a teacher’s ability to teach and to engage his/her students
Educational community – administrators, teachers, parents and students working to develop positive classroom environments that promote measured learning outcomes, critical thinking and self-discipline
Financial investment by corporations, philanthropists and the government that support all of the above.
The public systems are broken and we have to reach outside the familiar and safe to grow an effective, dynamic educational system from preschool through university. Failure should not be a sign of weakness, but point of departure for improvement.
Reform, funding and accountability have been serious problems for many years in Italy. Having personal experience, both as a mother of a daughter who went through school for 8 years, as a collaborator and then, as a critic of issues discussed at length with teachers within the system of higher education, parents and students themselves, I feel strongly that there is a need to continue the discourse regarding the afore-mentioned.
We need to consider ethics in education. Presently, the training in areas such as dyslexia is generally not provided by professionals who have significant, hands-on experience with diagnosis and treatment. There is an over-reliance on theory without truly understanding how to put it into practice. The lack of meritocracy, the abject waste of tens of thousands of euros, e.g., in promoting ineffective teaching methodology in dyslexia, is not only troubling but speaks to certain issues in ethics. When the future success of children's ability to compete in academia and later an economy now driven by global enterprise and not necessarily family enterprise is compromised, then in achieving true educational reform it is important to address these issues. Additionally, it is clear that oftentimes, people in charge of making these decisions, whether in the Ministry, foundations or regional levels of government, are not really professionally involved enough in the field to make evaluative judgements regarding how funds could be spent most efficaciously. In the 21st century, if the right to meaningful education has been decreed by law, then it is incumbent upon the system to put prepared professionals in place to deliver services to all students, whether challenged or non-challenged.
Guardando indietro... Gli incredibili FreedomWriters hanno lanciato l’iniziativa del Centro di Apprendimento Cooperativo
La città di Venezia ha avuto l’onore di ospitare alcuni dei membri della Freedom Writers Foundation, inclusa l’insegnante principale, Erin Gruwell.
La loro storia è raccontata nel libro “The Freedom Writers Diary”, e nel 2007 ne hanno tratto un film, che prende lo stesso nome, con Hilary Swank come attrice principale. Questo film racconta il lavoro compiuto da Ms. Gruwell con i suoi studenti.
I Freedom Writers erano un gruppo di studenti della Woodrow Wilson High School a Long Beach, California, che nel 1994 hanno avuto come insegnante Erin Gruwell, la quale a quel tempo era alla sua prima esperienza ma avrebbe cambiato le loro vite.
Loro erano studenti senza speranze per il loro futuro, con situazioni problematiche a casa ed essendo studenti con scarsi risultati scolastici, non avevano nessuna possibilità di andare al college. Si raggruppavano in classe in base alla loro etnia e probabilmente molti di loro avrebbero presto abbandonato la scuola.
Ms. Gruwell affrontò questa situazione prima imparando a capire le molteplici necessità dei suoi studenti, e più tardi opponendosi alla posizione dei dirigenti scolastici, i quali li credevano “casi disperati”, con scarsissime possibilità di successi accademici.
Dopo aver conquistato la loro fiducia, Erin assegnò loro il compito di scrivere le loro storie di abusi, razzismo, violenza, in un diario. Questa collezione di esperienze personali è diventato il famoso The Freedom Writers’ Diary.
Dopo aver permesso ad alcuni dei suoi studenti di entrare al college ed aver compiuto altre significative attività, Erin Gruwell ed alcuni dei suoi studenti viaggiano per tutto il mondo per raccontare la loro storia e preparano insegnanti ed educatori ad insegnare ai propri studenti attraverso importanti attività guidate, diffondendo così la cultura della tolleranza e dell’inclusione.
Il 28 novembre, i Freedomwriters sono atterrati nella laguna invitati da Nancy Rose Steinbock, lei è direttrice e insegnante di Inglese Dinamico, un progetto educativo indipendente a Venezia, che usa metodologie create appositamente per migliorare l’inglese parlato e le abilità linguistiche in studenti molto giovani, incoraggia il pensiero critico in studenti più grandi e in adulti. Gli obiettivi del progetto sono molto vicini a quelli di tecniche d’insegnamento praticate da educatori come Ms. Gruwell.
Questa è stata una magnifica opportunità, che ha permesso ad un gruppo più esteso di insegnanti e studenti di sperimentare un modo nuovo di vivere la classe, cioè come uno stimolante e coinvolgente ambiente di apprendimento.
L’evento è accaduto nella sede del Liceo Artistico di Dorsoduro, a Venezia, grazie alla partecipazione della preside della scuola, la dott.ssa Annavaleria Guazzieri e un ristretto gruppo di insegnanti provenienti da diverse scuole superiori di Venezia, i quali hanno deciso di aderire all’iniziativa, coinvolgendo alcuni studenti delle loro classi.
Erin Gruwell ha incantato, con le sue doti di insegnante, una centinaio di adolescenti svolgendo alcune attività che aveva proposto durante la sua carriera di insegnante.
Tali attività avevano lo scopo di creare unione tra i ragazzi, aiutandoli a vedere cosa avevano in comune e anche, cosa li differenziava. Con il suo atteggiamento calmo, solare ed empatico, in pochi minuti Erin è riuscita a conquistare l’attenzione di tutti i suoi giovani ascoltatori, inducendoli ad aprirsi e a esprimersi. Questa infatti, è stata la chiave del suo successo del 2006: ha fatto capire ad ogni suo studente che tutti hanno una storia da raccontare e tutti sono importanti allo stesso modo.
I ragazzi al Liceo Artistico si sono inoltre lasciati trasportare anche dalle testimonianze dirette che alcuni studenti di Erin hanno raccontato, a proposito della propria vita ed esperienza scolastica.
La piena riuscita di quest’indimenticabile giornata è stata dimostrata dall’entusiasmo che esprimevano i ragazzi nel voler andare a presentarsi a Ms. Gruwell. Anche il loro libro “The Freedom Writers Diary” ha toccato molto gli animi degli studenti, i quali han detto di essere molto curiosi di leggerlo.
Esperienze come queste sono possibili solo perché persone come Nancy Rose Steinbock fanno del loro meglio per contattare gli esperti, invitarli a partecipare a questo momento di “profonda trasformazione”, nel quale creiamo per noi stessi e per gli studenti, uno spazio d’apprendimento positivo e nel quale ogni studente è valorizzato e supportato nel processo di appropriazione della cultura.
Noi abbiamo imparato molto, e sappiamo, da giovani insegnanti, che d’ora in poi ogni volta che entreremo in una classe per insegnarequalsiasi materia, metteremo al primo posto le persone e proverremo a seguire il metodo di Erin.
Emily Bonifacio & Melania Chistè
Corso di Laurea Magistrale in Scienze del Linguaggio
Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia
On November 28th, 2012, the city of Venice had the honour of hosting members of the Freedom Writers Foundation including master teacher, Erin Gruwell.
Their story is told in the book The Freedom Writers Diary and a in movie of the same name, in 2007, starring Hilary Swank, which portrayted the work of Ms. Gruwell with her students.
The Freedom Writers were a group of students at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California back in 1994 who were in classes taught by Erin Gruwell, at that time, a first-year teacher, who would change their lives.
They were students without any hope for the future, with challenging situations at home, and as under-performing students, no chance to go to college. They self-segregated into racial groups into the classroom, and eventually most of them would have dropped out of school.
Ms. Gruwell confronted these challenges by first learning to understand her students’ multiple needs and later, by not accepting the school administration’s position that these were ‘lost’ students with little hope of academic success.
After earning their trust, she assigned them the task of writing their own stories that told of abuse, racism and violence, in a journal. This collection of personal writings become the now famouse, The Freedom Writers’ Diary. After successful transition from high school to college or other meaningful activities, Erin Gruwell and her students founded the Freedom Writers’ Foundation. They travel throughout the world to tell their stories and “train educators to teach every student through challenging, relevant, and project-driven activities”, spreading the culture of tolerance and inclusion.
On the 28th November, they landed in the lagoon, invited by Nancy Rose Steinbock, creative director and teacher of Inglese Dinamico, an independent educational project in Venice that uses methodology designed to specifically build English speech/language skills in very young students and encourages critical thinking skills in older school-age students and adults. The goals of the project closely align with the teaching practices of educators such as Ms. Gruwell.
This was a wonderful opportunity to allow a larger group of teachers and students to experience a new way of thinking about the classroom as an inclusive, challenging learning environment.
The magic happened at the Liceo Artistico, Dorsoduro, thanks to the participation of the preside of the school, dott.ssa Annavaleria Guazzieri and a small group of teachers from different high schools in Venice, who chose to actively participate with selected students from their classes.
Erin Gruwell charmed about a hundred teenagers, of a couple of high schools in Venice, thanks to her teaching qualities. Ms. Gruwell went through some of the activities she has used throughout her teaching career.
These activities are aimed at creating a sense of unity among students, helping them to see what they have in common and also, to see what keeps them separated. A few minutes, with her calm, radiant and empathic attitude, Erin managed to captivate her young listeners’ attention inducing them to openly express themselves. This was, indeed, the key of her success in 2006: she encouraged each of her students to understand that everyone has his own story to tell, everybody is important in the same way.
The High school students were impressed and touched by the direct evidence of some of Erin’s students about their lives and school experieces. The full success of this unforgettable day was shown by the students’ enthusiasm while going to introduce themselves to Erin Gruwell. Also, “The Freedom Writers Diary” touched deeply students’ sensitivity in such a way that they said they couldn’t wait to read it.
Experiences such this one are possible only because people such as Nancy Rose Steinbock give their best in contacting other people, and inviting them to participate in the possibility of a ‘sea change’ in how we think about and create in outselves and our students, a positive learning place where each person is valued and supported in the quest for knowledge..
We know we learned a lot and we know, as young teachers, that from now on, every time we enter a classroom to teach whatever subject, we will put the person first, and we will try to follow Erin's path.
Emily Bonifacio & Melania Chistè
Corso di Laurea Magistrale in Scienze del Linguaggio
Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia
At Inglese Dinamico, a group of three wonderful little learners has arrived.
Their mothers have made one request: “In a world so connected and global, I want my child to know how to use English as a mean of communication.”
Every week, as teachers in training, we are working to instill authentic skills for activities of daily living -- speech and language forms that serve them as conversationalists! For an hour and a half a week, we teach English not as a foreign language but as second language, following a bilingual approach. The proper use of English phonology is one of our main goals, along with the development of English forms for requesting and commenting.
At Inglese Dinamico, every situation is a language opportunity!
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And now they are four! We are growing so fast!