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Blame it on the bossa nova

September 21, 2015

Music helps students master Portuguese

Known for his lyrical writing style, 18th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called music “the universal language of mankind.”

You might say Arizona State University senior lecturer Clarice Deal is taking a page from his book in her unique approach to teaching Portuguese.

Ever since she began teaching at ASU in 1990, the Sao Paulo native has combined her love of music — in particular bossa nova, a style of Brazilian music derived from samba — with her passion for teaching.

“As I began teaching, I quickly realized that music provides an effective tool to assist in the teaching and acquisition of learning a new language,” said Deal, a member of ASU’s School of International Letters and Cultures faculty.

In fact, she found teaching language with music so effective that she decided to make it the subject of her postgraduate work.

“I began doing research on the subject of teaching with music in general, and later focusing on the subjunctive, a verb tense commonly used to express feelings of regret or desire (‘I wish I had’), that often shows up in music,” she said.

“As I researched I found a significant … amount of material on the use of music in the classroom. Experts identify several advantages of language learning through song: Memory is helped by rhythm; many songs are an excellent source of cultural knowledge, representing national characteristics, trends and tastes with astonishing clarity,” said Deal.

Proof of that is on her students’ lips.

“I have laughed many times while watching students taking tests in class; I sometimes see them silently mouthing a song to remember the verb tense or vocabulary,” she said.

Deal sometimes takes requests from her students, using songs they suggest in her classes. However, she says, the type of songs used is key.

“In my research, I had the opportunity to learn about the intrinsic value of music in language teaching and the many issues that must be taken into consideration to do so,” she said. “The most valuable aspect was the need to choose the songs carefully, and then use them appropriately with other tools in the course curriculum.”

Songs like those of the bossa nova genre, with an emphasis on rhythm and melody, are especially suited to helping students absorb vocabulary and grammar.

And if her students’ responses on instructor evaluation forms are any indication, music as a means of learning is not only constructive, it’s fun and leaves a lasting impression.

“Perhaps the most significant aspect of my work is the use of music in the classroom to teach language,” said Deal. “[My students] constantly comment on it.”

Having taught hundreds of classes to thousands of students, she reflects on her time at ASU as “a great joy and honor to teach people the language and culture of my native country.”

As for those thousands of students, Deal said, “I hope they are still listening to bossa nova.”

The School of International Letters and Cultures is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

University Innovation Alliance receives grant to study academic advising


September 21, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) was selected as one of the winners in its First in the World competition to encourage innovation among institutions of higher education. Arizona State University is a founding member of the UIA.

Georgia State University, on behalf of the UIA, has been awarded $8.9 million to conduct a four-year research study on its 11 member campuses to evaluate the effectiveness of advising in increasing retention, progression and graduation rates for low-income and first-generation students. ASU is a founding member of the University Innovation Alliance ASU is a founding member of the University Innovation Alliance. Photo by: University Innovation Alliance Download Full Image

Many of the UIA's programs and initiatives had their start at ASU.

"ASU is proud of its role as a leader within the Univeristy Innovation Alliance," said ASU spokesman Kevin Galvin. "The more that institutions of higher education can work together, share ideas and best practices, and offer support to one another, the better we will all be at serving our students and communities."

The project will study 10,000 students who are exposed to an intensive menu of proactive, analytics-based advising interventions at the UIA universities. Through quantitative and qualitative research and analysis, the study will examine the benefits, especially for at-risk students, of introducing systematic, proactive advising.

“This grant illustrates why the alliance is so important. Over the next four years, our 11 institutions will produce groundbreaking evidence illustrating the impact of predictive analytics on student success that will have national significance,” said Dr. Tim Renick, vice president for enrollment and project lead at Georgia State University.

As part of the study, students at each of the 11 universities will be selected by random assignment. In addition to advising services typically offered, they will receive intensive, proactive advisement to help them establish individualized academic maps; real-time alerts prompted by a system of analytics-based tracking when they may be struggling; and timely, targeted advising interventions to get them back on the appropriate academic path.

Launched just one year ago, the UIA is a consortium of public research universities established to help more students from all socioeconomic backgrounds graduate from college. This year, all institutions are implementing or scaling the use of data analytics and advising to improve student retention and college completion.

The 11 member schools of the University Innovation Alliance are Arizona State University, Ohio State University, Georgia State University, University of California-Riverside, Iowa State University, University of Central Florida, Michigan State University, University of Kansas, Oregon State University, University of Texas at Austin and Purdue University.