Discovery Phase: Interview and Affinity Diagrams

Rose Ciriello and I envision an easy and widespread implementation of second language learning in elementary schools. Currently, most of the United States only introduces opportunities to formally learn second languages during high school. Research has shown that the crucial age to begin second language education is as early as age six and seven.

Unfortunately, the United States currently does not allocate enough resources and trained language teachers at the elementary level. For our final project in Role of Technology in Learning in the 21st Century, Rose and I have decided to design an experience, particularly utilizing technology, for elementary students to engage in Spanish education. We are currently narrowing our scope and targeting children of middle to upper-class backgrounds in predominantly homogenous neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. We have yet to choose a local school that fits these requirements.


In order to begin our discovery phase and pinpoint our problem area, we scheduled an interview with Janina Tabilo, a elementary school Spanish teacher at Winchester Thurston. Janina provided key insights that propelled our project forward.

Janina Tabilo’s User Insight Board

The most important insight we gathered from Janina’s interview were her current assessment methods and frustration with language learning technology’s lack of transparency. If Rose and I do indeed pursue a technological solution to language learning, then we need to be sure to adequately involve the teacher within the education process.

Affinity Diagrams

In order to synthesize our research and connect it with Janina’s insights, Rose and I decided to create affinity diagrams. We gathered quotes from our interview, language learning research, and current news on language learning initiatives.

We created five key categories for language learning: assessment, basic communication needs, benefits, challenges, and strategies.

Below includes the documentation of our diagrams and the summarized insight we pulled from each category and sub-category.

Assessment of Second Language Learning

Assessment Diagram

Overall: Tests on the state and national level are a common way to assess foreign language proficiency, but rubrics and checkpoints can be used to more gently guide as assess students’ progress.

Basic Communication Needs of Second Language Learning

Basic Communication Needs Diagram

Overall: People need language to express themselves, a need that is relevant on both large scales involving global communication, and on small scales involving day-to-day conversation.

Personal Needs: Language serves a number of purposes for students, whether it be for academic writing, effectively navigate social situations, or simply to communicate effectively enough to survive in a new place.

Global Needs: The United States does not boast very high foreign language proficiency rates as compared to other countries, but the skill is necessary in order to effectively communicate on the global scale.

Benefits of Second Language Learning

Benefits Diagram

Overall: Learning new languages helps build the confidence and the skills necessary to excel in a variety of disciplines, and to forge meaningful connections around the world.

Global Relationship: Foreign language skills are highly beneficial in helping students understand the world according to a global context where social, political and economic relationships must form between entities with different tongues.

Fulfillment: It is satisfying to be able to express oneself effectively in different ways.

Development of Skills: Foreign language education, especially when started early, contributes to the eventual fluency of the speaker, and to cognitive abilities in the realms of reading, writing, speaking, and math.

Challenges of Second Language Learning

Challenges Diagram

Overall: Second language learning presents a wide-range of problems including design of the content, children’s cognitive limits, and time constraints.

Content: Beginners language learning is often presented in a non-engaging manner, such as memorization of basic vocabulary.

Cognitive: Second language learning is cognitively challenging especially when the education is disrupted. Additionally, younger children may not have access to more complex learning strategies.

Time: Many language programs are not robust because students start late in life and cannot achieve mastery in time for graduation. Furthermore, those who are exposed to second language learning early only receive 20–40 minutes a week.

Technology: Current language learning technologies do not provide a transparent way for teachers to track and assess students.

Strategies of Second Language Learning

Strategies Diagram

Overall: If a technological solution were to be created for language learning, then it must involve cultural connections, adequate oral practice, and classroom oriented activities.

Language Learning Environment: Immersion is the ideal way to learn a language but may not be feasible in most environments.

Motivation: It is key to positively motivate younger children.

Informational Structure: It is crucial to maintain both oral practice and team communication when using a second language learning technology.

When In Class: Cultural activities and familiar games are strategies often used by language teachers for engagement.

Out of Class: Meaningful experiences in second language learning often come from actual worldly connections with others.

Moving Forward

Rose and I created one more affinity diagram for key learning principles in language education. We have yet to research and connect our current insights to existing theories in learning science. We expect to detail our findings of principles by our next entry.

For now, we have some questions. We would love some feedback moving forward.

1. One thing we are still pretty unsure about is how to go about assessing students’ proficiency as they use our program. Do you think a rubric/goal type model is sufficient, or a quiz model is necessary?

2. Can you think of any main benefits, challenges, or strategies regarding second language learning that we have not yet accounted for (maybe from personal experience)?

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