Thanks to the generous support of the CLS travel fund, I was able to participate at the annual conference of American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) held on Dec.27-30, 2009 in Philadelphia.
AATSEEL is a national organization uniting the scholars specializing in Eastern Europe and is an affiliate member to the Modern Languages Association. The mission of AATSEEL is “to advance the study and promote the teaching of Slavic and East European languages, literatures, and cultures on all educational levels.” I have presented several papers on various language pedagogy topics at the AATSEEL conferences in the past, and I found attending these conferences intellectually very stimulating and very important for my professional growth as a teacher.
Since I currently teach a course on heritage speakers, my research interests have focused around this new category of learners and the specific needs of this unique group. This year I presented a paper “Select Issues in Testing and Assessment of Heritage Learners” at the panel dedicated specifically to the heritage language education. This presentation grew out of the ideas that we discussed here at Yale in May 2009 at the CLS workshop on testing and assessment. My paper was well-received and I am planning to do additional research on this important topic.
While at the conference, I also attended a language teaching methodology workshop “The Intensity of Engagement” led by one of the experts in the field of language methodology Benjamin Rifkin. Professor Rifkin outlined the new approach to language instruction and demonstrated the techniques of shifting the focus of instruction from the teacher to the learner, giving the learner more autonomy and “time on task” and maximizing his/her engagement in the language learning process while in the classroom. In the second part of the workshop the participants were asked to design a lesson plan incorporating these new guidelines and then the lesson plans were demonstrated and discussed.
Another panel that I found very thought-provoking was on pedagogy and curriculum design, where several important issues were discussed. One was the 2008 MLA report on foreign language education (www.mla.org/flreport) suggesting that the current curricular design in the foreign languages may not necessarily match the learners’ goals for foreign language study or national needs for foreign language expertise, and this mismatch of learners’ needs and the existing curriculum offerings needs to be remedied for sustained foreign language enrollments and vibrant foreign language programs. The language pedagogy panels in general were very stimulating and I was able to get a lot of new ideas to apply in my classes here at Yale. Again, I would like to thank the Center for Language Study for making this trip possible.