Category Archives: Language Pedagogy

Using Team-Based Learning in German Courses

I thank my teaching assistant, Seth Berk, for his help in successfully implementing this new pedagogy in my first TBL course and editing this paper for style and naïve fluency.

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My institution, a public R-1 flagship, periodically conducts surveys of its recent alumni in order to learn about where we do a great job and where we need to improve, specifically in terms of how well we prepare our students for life after college. On the plus side, our former students usually mention the fact that they were trained for a global world, to speak languages, to write well, and to think critically; they were exposed to other cultures, values, and ideas, and they returned from their study abroad experience as more mature human beings. The one thing, however, that they all missed in their education – looking back at their student days after a decade or so in the real world – was that they did not learn how to function in teams. While they all appreci-ated the opportunity to improve their writing and critical thinking skills, to acquire knowledge of history and various cultures, and to receive basic training in the sciences, they felt that the intensive experience of studying for their exams, taking notes in lecture classes, and discussing ideas with their teachers and fellow students in seminars did not adequately prepare them for performing an essential skill needed in many job environments: the ability to work in teams.

A few years ago I started experimenting with student teams on my own without any prior theoretical pedagogical background, because I wanted to address this need for team learning, yet I initially struggled with several issues: Firstly, I did not know how to form the teams. The result was either teams comprised solely of people who were already friends or, on the other end of the spectrum, teams of complete strangers that did not complement each other in terms of skills they brought to the table. Secondly, I did not know how to grade individual contributions to team assignments, as most of the projects were completed outside of class. When I came across the pedagogy of Team-Based Learning, I intuitively knew that I wanted to try this out in my next German Studies course (i.e., a course that is taught in English and that includes students from German, as well as students from other majors). I joined a series of webinar training sessions to prepare for this new teaching style; [1] I also did some background reading into the philosophy behind TBL.[2] I have since taught two larger German Studies courses conducted in English and one class in our German major that utilized the TBL format, and I plan to teach a revised version of one of my German Studies courses again next year. I believe, however, that this pedagogy is adaptable to a large variety of teaching formats and is not limited to those German Studies courses with larger class sizes and taught in English, or to the core courses in the German major; even introductory German language courses that take a task-based approach would profit tremendously from the emphasis on creativity, team learning, and presentation skills that the TBL pedagogy represents.

What attracted me right away to TBL is its modularized approach to the course material. For a ten-week German Studies course on “Literature, Culture, and the Environment,” which met three times a week for fifty minutes, I chose five topics: mountains, polar environments, plants and animals, tropical environments, and postcolonial settings. In a modularized approach, instructors can test what works best for them and their students and what does not, and they can then switch out individual modules or change them around, if the material becomes tiresome or requires more coherency. For instance, for future articulations of the same course, I plan to develop additional modules on food, waste, impacted landscapes, climate change, pollution, etc. Each of these modules then follows the same instructional activity sequencing:

readings are done outside of class before the modules begin

a test on the readings as part of the Readiness Assurance process on the first day of the module (RAT) – half a class period

instructor-led discussion of topic (analysis) – one and half class periods

team discussion of topic – one class period (this can be handled flexibly, some classes need more instructor-led analysis than others)

project-based team-work (application) – two class periods

project presentations (showtime) – one class period

SPRICH: Student Provided enRICHment: Building a language community

(1) Carnegie Mellon University        (2) Michigan State University

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One major issue in higher education today is the struggle to develop new language learning opportunities while continuing to provide superior language instruction in the face of current fiscal hardships. A March 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that, “States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education, nationwide, in the current 2013 fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit” (Oliff et al.). These spending cuts have been especially detrimental to funding for higher education language teaching, which often takes a back seat to more profitable departments, such as the sciences (Skorton and Altschuler; Zehr).

With the almost certain knowledge that no additional funding will be provided to develop new opportunities and programs for students learning foreign languages, we, as language educators, must become more creative in our use of available resources. This paper outlines one way in which we can live by the well-known adage we, as educators at all levels, have come to know all too well, “Do more with less.”

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Heavy Metal, Stravinsky, and the Second Language Learner: Approaching the ‘Third Space’ Through Music Documentary Film

(You can download the complete article as a pdf by clicking here. The appendix and worksheets are available here)

In 2007, the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages published a report recommending the recalibration of collegiate FL instruction. The curriculum proposed by the MLA puts a strong emphasis on the development of transcultural competence, a concept that is theoretically anchored in postcolonial studies, in particular Homi Bhabha’s concept of the third space, which Kramsch (Cultural Component) has further refined to describe identity formation in second-language learning environments.

Inspired by this report, recent contributions to curricular issues in collegiate foreign language education have been devoted to the goal of transcultural and translingual competence (Bernhardt; Eigler et al.; Geisler; Kramsch; Melin et al.). However, the impressive body of opinion pieces, position papers and theoretical contributions that emerged in response to the report has only been sporadically supplemented with concrete pedagogical approaches. This essay takes a practical focus and describes how intermediate and advanced learners of German can work with music documentary films to develop transcultural and translingual competence. After providing a working definition of these concepts, and suggesting that music documentary films may provide adequate content to develop transcultural competence through raising the learner’s critical language awareness, this article will present interpretations and didactizations of two music documentary films that take advantage of Bhabha’s theoretical framework: Full Metal Village by the German-Korean director Sung-Hyung Cho and Rhythm Is It by Thomas Grube and Enrique Sanchez-Lensch.