Category Archives: pedagogy

Call for Papers: 25th DGFF Conference, Session 7: Textbooks and Classroom Interaction

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus-Liebig-University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The 25th Biennial Conference of the German Association of Foreign Language Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung, DGFF) will be held at the University of Augsburg, Germany, September 25-28, 2013. The conference theme is: SPRACHENAUSBILDUNG – SPRACHEN BILDEN AUS – BILDUNG AUS SPRACHEN. The main thrust of the conference lies in looking both at the training side of language instruction ( “Ausbildung” = making people competent in languages for further study and jobs) and the idea that learning a new or additional language leads to self-formation (“Bildung” in German).

The conference program is now almost complete and available in English here. Session 7, chaired by Hermann Funk (University of Jena, Germany) and me, will be devoted to FL/SL textbook research, more specifically, to FL/SL textbook analysis, critique, and development, focusing in particular on the role of the textbook in orchestrating classroom interaction. This is our session abstract (in its English translation):

“If quantity and quality of classroom interaction are crucial factors for successful language teaching and learning, the factors surrounding and influencing classroom interaction, then, deserve our attention. In this regard, classroom management by the foreign language instructor is at the center of interest in today’s research. Textbooks, however, have not received much attention in recent classroom-oriented research in terms of analyzing their relevance for interaction. For this section, papers investigating the ways in which textbooks affect classroom interaction, both positively and negatively, are welcome. The following questions could be addressed:

• In what way does the textbook, with its numerous additional print and digital teaching resources, impact foreign language classroom interaction?
• In which ways can textbooks as a whole or particular additional teaching material be used to facilitate learning-centered classroom interaction? Which textbook-related competences (concerning lesson planning, instruction and reflective evaluation) should be taught and developed in academic teacher training?
• How do future textbooks need to be designed in order to be up-to-date with the current standards of foreign language teaching and modern technology? In addition to this, how can this design meet the conditions of learning-centered classroom interaction in the age of increasing linguistic and cultural diversity and the hybridity of language learners?
• Which qualitative, quantitative and mixed research methods can help systematically illuminate the complex relationship between what textbooks have to offer (in this case e.g. types and sequencing of tasks and exercises), the usage of textbooks in the classroom and the textbook-related classroom interaction?”

The call for papers is still open. For further details, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


A Paradigm Shift in Language Teaching – at long last!

by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

Goodbye Berlitz, goodbye Helen Doron, goodbye Rosetta Stone…
The fact that small children grow into their native language without the help of another one, has inspired countless reformers. Charles Berlitz proclaimed himself the inventor of the direct method (which he wasn’t), and in his schools any use of the learners’ native language was taboo. In our times Helen Doron schools similarly claim to be using „the only internationally acclaimed early English learning method that allows children to absorb English in exactly the same way they learn their mother tongue”, i.e. without translation of any kind. The central idea, the exclusion of the children’s own language, has also been adopted by many public school systems and official guidelines for teachers, although in a less strict and dogmatic manner. A methodological monolingualism became the mainstream philosophy, as evidenced in many textbooks. The use of the mother tongue was invariably cautioned against, generally downplayed and rarely recommended. English-only became almost a badge of honour.

However, commercial self-instructional courses today are curiously divided. There are computer courses which make “no translation” their central selling proposition (e.g. Rosetta Stone: “It essentially means that you learn German in German, without translations – like you picked up your mother tongue”), and there are others which make regular and systematic use of their learners’ native language in various ways (Assimil; Birkenbihl; Michel Thomas…), making the very opposite their central selling proposition.

For more than a century this most vexing issue has been discussed and has often generated more heat than light, and it has certainly generated an immense literature by now.  Although in many countries monolingual teaching with some modifications carried the day, a number of researchers continued to radically question the monolingual assumption. Interestingly, some of them started out as „monolingual“ practitioners (the students’ native language being only a last resort), but changed their minds over time. This is also my own case. As early as 1976 I pressed for a „paradigm shift“, building on C.J. Dodson’s Bilingual Method, a book which opened my eyes when I was a young teacher of modern languages. On reading Dodson I could put the new bilingual techniques immediately into practice, and thus came to understand them by experimenting and observing their effects in the classroom (for more on this, please click here).

In many ways what is now happening fits Thomas Kuhn’s description of a paradigm shift (in The structure of scientific revolutions), a significant change away from the monolingual doctrine in favour of a modern bilingual approach. Over the years, more and more researchers have challenged the settled view of their predecessors, and it seems that a paradigm shift is just around the corner:

„Die Zeit ist reif für eine neue Synthese … die bilinguale Revolution findet statt.“ [„The time is ripe for a new synthesis…the bilingual revolution is taking place“] (W. Butzkamm, Lust zum Lehren, Lust zum Lernen, 12004, p. 2)

“Making the mother tongue the corner stone in the architecture of FLT is a true paradigm shift.” (W. Butzkamm & J. A. W. Caldwell, The bilingual reform. A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching, p. 15)

“We live in interesting times: having lived through one paradigm shift, I now have the feeling this book marks the start of another.” A. Maley, Review of Translation in Language Teaching: an argument for reassessment by G. Cook. ELT Journal 65.2, 192–193.

„If their proposals are implemented, it will be a true paradigm shift.“  P. Scheffler, Review of The bilingual reform. A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching by W. Butzkamm  &  J. A. W. Caldwell.  ELT Journal 66/1, 2012, p. 119).

In the influential journal  Language Teaching  – (listed both in  the Arts & Humanities Citation Index and in the Social Sciences Citation Index) authors G. Hall & G. Cook come to the conclusion: „The way is open for a major paradigm shift in language teaching and learning“ (state-of- the-art article „Own language use in language teaching and learning“ , in Language Teaching, 45/2012, pp 271-308). With this authoritative review one can safely say that a century old tenet has been overturned. A dogma has been toppled.

According to Butzkamm & Caldwell the learners’ native language is ‘the greatest pedagogical resource’ that they bring to foreign language learning, as it ‘lays the foundations for all other languages we might want to learn’. While language teaching in many countries had to be officially monolingual with small concessions, it is now accepted that language learning is, and has always been, a fundamentally bilingual endeavour, as modern brain research has shown. Thus it is not just a more flexible and less rigid attitude towards own-language use which is advocated today, but the well-targeted, systematic exploitation of the diagnostic potential of learners’ own language(s), however with the foreign language still being the working language of the classroom. What is now needed is the knowledge and dissemination of those highly effective techniques in which the L1 is essential – techniques which are yet to filter into mainstream pedagogy.

Caution: A sophisticated bilingual approach does not give licence for the lax, unthinking or indifferent use of L1.  It is a highly purposeful, focused tool to promote L2 learning and communicative use in the classroom. We must at long last resolve the apparent paradox that with systematic mother tongue support an authentic foreign language classroom atmosphere can be created much more easily than in classes with a mother tongue taboo.

InTASK Model Core Teaching Standards

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

During my stay at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada this summer, I stumbled upon an interesting paper on teacher education issued by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC. The title of the publication is: “InTASK: Model Core Teaching Standards: A Resource for State Dialogues”. From my German and European perspectice, the paper outlines some very general standards of teaching that are conceived of as being important to lead to improved student achievement. I agree with the overall goals and objectices of education in schools, but in its decontextualized nature, the paper has very little to say about the many different contexts in which education in schools, including second/foreign language education is taking place these days. Opportunity-to-learn standards and teacher qualifications? Since all this has become an issue of world-wide interest, I am interested in hearing your personal views on this.

25th Biennial DGFF Conference

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The 25th Biennial Conference of the German Association of Foreign Language Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung, DGFF) will be held at the University of Augsburg, Germany, September 25-28, 2013. The conference theme is: SPRACHENAUSBILDUNG  –  SPRACHEN BILDEN AUS – BILDUNG AUS SPRACHEN.  The main thrust of the conference lies in looking both at the training side of language instruction ( “Ausbildung” = making people competent in languages for further study and jobs) and the idea that learning a new or additional language leads to self-formation (“Bildung” in German).

The conference program has not yet been finalized, and the call for papers is not open yet. Nevertheless, it is my great pleasure to announce that one conference session, chaired by Hermann Funk (University of Jena, Germany) and me, will be devoted to FL/SL textbook research, more specifically, to FL/SL textbook analysis and critique, textbook use, and textbook development in the Internet Age (cf. my series of posts on this blog).

Stepping up research in these three areas is of fundamental importance to advancing FL/SL education in everyday classrooms. Apple (TM) recently announced its entrance into the digital textbook market, and against this background it is important to discuss if so-called ‘dead-tree’ textbooks are a thing of the past (to read more on this, please click here). On the other hand, Scott Thurnbury argues on his blog that teachers and/or learners (?) “don’t actually need textbooks […]. Not for language learning, at least. Maths, history, economics – maybe. But ESOL? No way.”

Taking into account that textbooks and related materials and media are widely used in FL/SL classrooms around the globe, I think we need to gain a much better understanding of how frontline teachers actually use the textbook and related materials and media. This is an area crying for empirical (qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods) research. I am very  interested in getting to know what you have to say about all this. If you are currently working on a research project in this direction, please let me know.

More to come. Please stay tuned.

Managing Diversity in the EFL Classroom

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

In one of my classes last week I presented an authentic, anonymized piece of writing to my students here in Giessen, produced by a 13 year-old learner in grade 7 a few years ago (in his/her third year of learning English as a Foreign Language in a secondary school in Germany). After providing all the necessary bits and pieces of background information (type of secondary school attended by this particular learner, his/her heritage language/language spoken in the family [i.e. Turkish], the textbook used at the time, etc. pp.), I asked them to evaluate and grade this learner text which I chose because it is full of target language anomalies (misspellings, grammar problems, etc.), for instance:

signs = singns; languages = langeses; Wales = Wahls; castles = carsels, carstels, casels; climb a mountain = climb a monten; with = wiht; table = tabel; making = makeing; having = haveing, etc.

However, this beginning learner of English also produced text passages such as: “In South Wales you can go to a pit museum, a casel [ = castle], a beach, cycle a bike. I would like to go to the bache [= beach] and swim.”

It was very interesting to see how my students reacted to this. While a few of them immediately conceived of this as a clear case of dyslexia (without any substantial knowledge of research in this area), arguing that this learner needed professional help by a specialist (i.e. a psychologist, or even a psychiatrist), others were less certain. They pointed out that they were quite confused by the inconsistencies in error  and text production.

In the following, we discussed a wide spectrum of possible causes for learning difficulties in the EFL classroom (including, among many other things, lack of motivation and effort, absent-mindedness, carelessness, distractibility, linguistic interference, teacher-fronted instruction, teaching as transmission of skills, as well as dyslexia, ADD and ADHD), and potential options for dealing with these issues in everyday classroom practice in adequate ways.

I am very interested to hear what you have to say about this, and about diversity in foreign/second language instructional contexts in general. Please feel free to comment on all other facets of diversity relevant to foreign language instruction in the 21st century.

Culture-sensitive Learning and Teaching in the Foreign Language Classroom

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

In the current age of globalization, migration and digital communication, developing intercultural and/or transcultural communicative competence has become a priority aim in university and school education. Over the past years and decades, ‘remarkable progress’ has been made in international research in terms of understanding culture and how it is encoded in language. However, looking back at the 6th UCCLLT conference held in San Diego in April this year once again (see my previous post), I feel that official guideline recommendations on ‘teaching culture’ in the foreign/second language classroom, issued by the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL 1996), the Council of Europe (2001), the Modern Language Association (2007), and over here in Germany (KMK 2003; the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs) are partially unknown to interested researchers, teachers, and students depending on where they live, work, or study.

Inspired by Claire Kramsch’s brilliant keynote speech delivered a few weeks ago in San Diego, I would like to draw your attention to the important publications mentioned above (linked to this blog on the sidebar to make them more easily accessible). Since culture and language integrated learning in FL/SL classrooms is of interest to reseachers, frontline educators, and univerity students world-wide, I would very much get to know more about the current state of discussion on teaching language and culture in integrated ways in other countries and what teachers actually do to promote culture-sensitive learning in everyday practice around the globe.

6th Biennial UC Language Consortium Conference in San Diego

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

I needed surgery on my left leg three weeks ago, just a few days after returning from the 6th UC Language Consortium Conference on SLA Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives which was held at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, San Diego, from Friday, April 20 to Sunday, April 22, 2012. This is why this post comes later than intended.

The UCCLLT conference was truly remarkable again, all the more because I was given an excellent opportunity to share, compare, and learn lots of exciting things I did not know before. Earlier this year, I had attended the EmMeth 2012 in Jena, Germany, where I gave a keynote speech on current issues in EFL textbook research. At that conference in Jena (see my brief review on this blog), I heard some thought-provoking presentations from promising doctoral and post-doctoral students, discussed posters with them and, apart from all this, I was brought up to date on computerized ways of analyzing classroom data. In San Diego, I gave a talk on the same topic, i.e. on “Textbook Innovation and Use in FL/SL Classrooms”, which is currently at the top of my research agenda. I argued that actual textbook use in everyday practice is an area crying for empirical, classroom-based research, and sketched future avenues for qualitative, mixed-methods studies in secondary school environments, based on what we have been doing at JLU Giessen over the last twelve months.

To put it this way, my ‘secondary’ focus in San Diego was on exploring what (kind of) research talented young minds in some parts of the US are currently involved in, comparing their research interests and projects to those previously presented at the University of Jena. I was quite impressed by the diversity and quality of research studies conducted on both sides of the Atlantic (so to speak), and noticed that many young scholars, in the US and in Germany, appear to be particularly interested in those issues and challenges that have emerged in recent years. These are, for instance, culture-sensitive instruction in FL/SL classrooms, bilingual/multilingual education, optimal use of technology and digital resources in the classroom, the role of literature in FL/SL instruction, standards and outcome orientation, possible consequences for FL/SL teacher education, etc.

Looking back at both conferences, I feel that some ‘bread-and-butter’-topics and related, pressing questions of learning and teaching foreign/second languages, especially those related to ‘hands-on didactics’ in secondary schools such as holistic grammar and vocabulary instruction, teaching the five skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mediating) in integrated ways, communicative language learning and teaching in all its variants and manifestations (CLT, TBI, CBI, project-oriented learning, etc.), balancing scripted (pre-planned and largely predictable) and unscripted (improvised and widely unpredictable) classroom interaction, promoting differentiation and inclusion, etc. are currently under-represented in many of those research projects undertaken by the young scholars I listened and talked to. This is, of course, just my personal experience. In my view, it is perfectly clear that sooner or later all these issues will (have to) be given more attention again, and I look forward to seeing how they will be re-addressed, then based on the knowledge and experience accumulated at present.