ACTFL 2014 – Ideas for Curriculum Discussion

At last year’s ACTFL conference in San Antonio, I attended several panels that concentrated on using literature at various levels in the language classroom, which was also the topic of the session in which I presented.

In one session, instructors who earlier in the year had participated in Heidi Byrnes’ workshop on multiple literacies as the guiding curriculum principle showed how they adapted current textbook texts to the demands of this approach, which emphasizes critical and analytical reading over simplified communicative competence. Since there are no textbooks following this model, instructors, including TAs, select their own texts and materials, which are then shared and improved upon by future instructors.
Various aspects of this approach have been nicely put together in the recent edition of Transforming Postsecondary Foreign Language Teaching in the United State (2014) by Swaffar & Urlaub. The volume could perhaps be used as a basic for a discussion of curricular developments at Yale.

The same collaborative approach could be detected in one of the presentation in a panel on “Literature & Literacy in the Language Classroom”: Lauer & von Handle from the University of Amherst introduced thematic topics for intermediate German, “Home and National Pride”, “ Art and Kitsch in Vienna,” “Fairy Tales”. Another presenter discussed a collection of several very short stories (of 3-5 pages) for intermediate German, which all sounded informative and fun to read.

In a third literature and language session, I was intrigued by a discussion of teaching ambiguity in Kafka’s Metamorphosis in an intermediate class. This was of particular interest to me since I just finished teaching the novel in an advanced class.

Our own session “Multikulti and Beyond: New Voices in German Poetry and Prose” offered suggestions for using contemporary short literary texts for intermediate and advanced German classes, and at the same time introduced a collaborative online model of sharing texts and teaching ideas around these topics for interested instructors. The platform was set up by my colleague Iris Bork at Wesleyan University, and everyone with a password, can download materials and adapt them for their own classes. Texts are organized by author, topic, and level (A1-C1 on CEFR).

Together with my colleague from Wesleyan, I attended an info session on organizing short-term study trips to Germany, offered by a German youth hostel organization. They do not only offer reasonable modern accommodations but also help with the logistics of organizing trips around specific topics. We are very much interested in designing such a trip around the timely topic of sustainability/green Germany in the future.

Cengage, the online portal for a number of foreign language textbooks,
had invited language instructors to a reception at the Tower of the Americas, with a splendid view of San Antonio’s night sky, and information portals revolving around very useful technological options for all foreign language teachers using cengage, such as students’ recordings and exchanges on the same platform as the online workbook. (The socializing was interrupted by a rain storm that shook the whole building and caused some uproar, though only momentarily when more seasoned Texans pointed out that this was a very common event in the area.)

Sunday morning at 8am, before take-off, I attended a very inspiring session entitled “Teaching AP, IB and Advanced German Through Film,” which was conducted by two IB (International Baccalaureate) instructors from the American IB School in Hungary. I was impressed by the high standards of the IB program, which rigorously aligns linguistic skills and content, critical and creative thinking. (IB was created in Switzerland in 1968 for students in international schools around the world.) The two presenters are working on textbook for using film in German classes, which will be useful for high-schools and colleges alike.

As usual, there were too many sessions to attend, and often too many at the same time, but it was an enjoyable experience.

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