Technological Integration and different pathways to language learning for LCTLs: A view from Modern Greek

Despina Margomenou, Ph.D.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Dept. of Classical Studies, Modern Greek Program

How do we engage adult novice language learners using task-based learning and authentic or near-authentic materials with content that permits further inquiry into history and culture, while also creating an inclusive learning environment and different pathways to learning and assessment, in hybrid and/or blended settings? For LCTL programs, especially small ones such as the Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan, the question has pragmatic implications in terms of enrollments, student retention, and program viability. While technological integration in the language classroom is not new, emergency remote teaching prompted us to reimagine the language classroom in post-pandemic times, as a flexible, accessible, safe, and inclusive learning space that affords multiple means of engagement, representation, and action/expression, and where participants are active agents in their own learning process. These are not new concerns, but the pandemic underscored the urgency for changes in curriculum design and assessment.

Small LCTL programs such as the Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan, where language classrooms incorporate a diverse learner population of non-heritage and heritage speakers, from a range of hyphenated cultural and linguistic backgrounds (The New London Group, 1996), face additional challenges in terms of equity, representation, and engagement. Language is integral to identity. For learners who identify as heritage, resistance to moving beyond what is spoken within each diasporic community and community institutions or what beloved relatives and revered community members teach, is part of asserting historically complex and hyphenated identities. Resistance to new materials and motivation to move beyond existing language skills, especially if some basic communication is possible at the novice level, are two significant considerations when designing inclusive language courses. Establishing equity is also a very fine balance. Besides contributing their cultural literacy, which may be inflected by diverse immigrant and diasporic experiences, heritage learners bring to the classroom significant communicative skills, including translanguaging skills, which non-heritage, novice learners can benefit from. Heritage learners can be invaluable in peer-teaching in some instances. But what do they get in return? Reversely, these same heritage learners, especially those who sound native, intimidate novice, non-heritage learners who may feel discouraged. This directly impacts student motivation and retention. Technology can level the field for both heritage and non-heritage learners, allowing different pathways to the completion of the same tasks and fulfilling more individualized/ customized learning outcomes.

Novice I is the most challenging level in the sense that the range of what learners can produce is limited and appropriate authentic or near-authentic materials are difficult to find. Modern Greek is a highly inflected language with a new alphabet which poses additional challenges. Participating in the MSU OLT Initiative courses has permitted me to work on a new series of modules for Novice I, Modern Greek. They are inspired by the work of Spasova (2017) and Korshunova (2021) for Russian, although the latter example pertains to more advanced language levels. They are designed to interface with the UM LMS (Canvas), using online products that are free or easily accessible and/or made available through the UM (e.g., Harmonize).

Using backward design and based on ACTFL proficiency levels, these Novice I modules include task-based synchronous and asynchronous assignments that situate the learner in Athens, Greece, as a student on a study-abroad program at the university. Each module sets specific pragmatic goals (e.g., take the metro, find your hotel, get lunch, get a coffee with friends, navigate the university campus, find your classes, buy your textbooks, etc.) using authentic or near-authentic materials.

Each assignment incorporates writing, listening, speaking, and reading comprehension tasks utilizing communicative skills as fundamental as derivation of word meaning from context and cognates, as well as basic writing and speaking skills for Novice I. Writing can be texting, hash-tagging or captioning an image, and speaking includes recording simple answers to prompts, short oral descriptions, short statements, and peer interactions in the TL (target language). The assignments also allow for further exploration (cultural, historical, linguistic) and creative engagement (e.g., a project on street graffiti: a collection of images, translation, captions, curation, etc.). Assignments are designed so that learners have more than one pathway to task completion. This permits heritage learners to take advantage of their skills, or alternatively, challenges them to use skills they need to develop further. An example of how this is modeled is shown below:

There is flexibility in the design so that the modules can be used in blended learning but also, if necessary, in online learning (currently this option is not possible at the UM). There are different ways in which such modules can be incorporated in course design, depending on mode of teaching, learning outcomes, scaffolding, and pacing. Assessment is designed accordingly. Below, I show an example of how one such module with a focus on oral tasks is scaffolded. In the example I follow the model for Online Task-Based Language Teaching proposed by Kaufmann et al. (2021) regarding scaffolding synchronous and asynchronous components. The example represents a 4-day week delivered in the blended modality. The main task is synchronous, and it is bookended by asynchronous tasks. Because of the blended modality, scaffolding includes a face to face, in-class component (a debriefing section). Assessment is ongoing and includes self-assessment at the front and back end, qualitative assessment (comments), and quantitative assessment (CANVAS rubric).

This project is currently being developed and we hope to pilot all the modules in the coming semester so that it is ready to be used in the Fall of 2022, at which point it will be possible to share more insights based on student input.


Kaufmann, A., Gacs, A., Giupponi, L., and Van Gorp, K. (2021). A model for online task-based language teaching. In del Mar Suárez, M., & El-Henawy, W., (eds.), Optimizing Online English Language Learning and Teaching [Manuscript Submitted for Publication]. Springer.

Korshunova, S. (2021). “Code of the world”: A digital storytelling project in the Russian heritage classroom. FLTMAG, March 2021.

Spasova, S. (2017). Bringing in real life from the start: Scenarios in beginning Russian. FLTMAG, November 2017.

The New London Group (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1): 60–93.