Category Archives: school

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.

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EmMeth 2012 – A Quick Look Back

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany

I have just returned from a small, ‘intimate’ two-day conference for PhD-students and Post-Docs held at the University of Jena in Germany (February 24-25, 2012). The focus of the conference, which was extraordinarily well organized by the Jena team around my esteemed colleague, Prof. Hermann Funk, was on discussing and choosing appropriate (not only empirical) research methods in the field of German as a second or foreign language (broadly conceived).

The event was framed by two keynotes. I was generously invited to deliver the first one. In my talk, I problematized textbook use in school contexts (and how little we actually know about all this), as well as the future of the textbook and textbook research in second or foreign language school education. I argued that marketing slogans such as ‘dead-tree textbooks are a thing of the past’  (Apple computers) are premature,  but that we are definitely faced with new opportunities and challenges in all areas of FL/SL textbook research (i.e. in researching textbook use, in evaluating existing textbooks, and in devoloping new language learning media and materials for the classroom of the future). New challenges for textbook research are, for instance,  transmediality,  media hybridity, and integrative diversification (of underlying methodology, print and digital materials, etc.), to name just a few.

The second keynote speech, delivered by Michael H. Long (University of Maryland) on the final day of the conference, was clearly a highlight. Based on his own research on classroom interaction and error correction, on implicit as well as explicit learning, Mike argued convincingly for ‘matched studies’ (i.e. studies on one particular issue conducted both in laboratory and in naturalistic environments). I agree that combined studies such as these can potentially enhance the (external/ecological) validity of research findings, making it easier for practitioners to translate these findings into actual day-by-day classroom practice.

In between the keynotes, there was plenty of time to discuss all aspects of relevance to FL/SL research and methodology, in workshops and seminars, during the poster sessions and in hallway exchanges. Personally, I learned a lot about MaxQDA (a very interesting software package for text analytical research, both quantitative and qualitative), and I was also able to update my knowledge about transcription systems, language archiving and text analysis, and related software like ELAN (MPI Nijmegen), EXMARaLDA (Hamburg University), FOLKER (IDS Mannheim), and Praat  (University of Amsterdam).

So, all in all, the EmMeth 2012 was well worth a visit. The next conference will be held in Vienna, Austria in 2013.

Elevating Increased Monitoring and Testing to an Educational Imperative – Does this really make sense?

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

On Monday this week I gave a talk to a small group of teacher advisors on the pros and cons of integrated skills development in EFL classroom environments near the city of Berlin. The focus was on developing oral skills in primary and secondary schools, more specifically, on fundamental issues related to the transition from primary to secondary EFL classrooms. In this context, I voiced my concerns about the current trend to think about (efficient?) foreign language education in terms of competence- and standards-based measurable outcome in Germany, arguing that this approach is difficult to bring in line with traditional conceptualizations of Bildung (foreign language education as a time-consuming process of self-formation; in the age of globalization, mobility and migration, cultural diversity and hybridity, etc.). This was followed by a lively discussion.  Since we did not have enough time to discuss all this in detail, especially the potential problems associated with conceiving of oral target language proficiency in terms of neatly defined, measurable sub-skills (or so-called competences and levels of oral competence), especially perhaps with regard to primary schools, I would like to add the following:

In my view, improving foreign language education in everyday classroom practice is complex and subject to the interplay of a wide spectrum of interacting factors. By importing and adapting reform strategies and measures that are largely based on values, goals and concepts which (arguably) have been proven successful in business, commerce, finance and industry, complexity may appear to be manageable. However, the price to be paid for injecting market pressure into secondary (primary?) school education, for turning foreign language classrooms into arenas of competition for the best test results, for coating instruction with more and more layers of assessment, for reducing educational ‘quality’ to a limited number of measurable performance indicators, and for conceiving of output or outcome as the linchpin of quality development, may be hefty and unacceptable. In many countries, concerns are continuing to grow that standards- and test-driven compliance pressures on teachers are likely to rise, and that, in consequence, foreign language classroom instruction may increasingly and largely be condensed, redesigned and repackaged toward improving isolated skills performance in standardized tests (see, for instance, Böttcher, Bos, Döbert & Holtappels 2008; Kurtz 2005, O’Day 2008).

Today I stumbled upon two highly interesting, and perhaps, highly controversial  articles (mentioned/written) in the New York Times that I would like to share with you. Please click here and there. :-)

References

Böttcher, Wolfgang; Bos, Wilfried; Döbert, Hans & Holtappels, Heinz Günter (eds.) (2008). Bildungsmonitoring und Bildungscontrolling in nationaler und internationaler Perspektive. Münster: Waxmann. [Education Monitoring and Control – Viewed from an international perspective; my translation].

Kurtz, Jürgen (2005). „Bildungsstandards als Instrumente der Qualitätsentwicklung im Fremdsprachenunterricht: Towards a Checklist Approach to Foreign Language Learning and Teaching? In: Bausch, Karl-Richard; Burwitz-Melzer; Eva; Königs, Frank G.; Krumm, Hans-Jürgen (eds.). Bildungsstandards auf dem Prüfstand. Arbeitspapiere der 25. Frühjahrskonferenz zur Erforschung des Fremdsprachenunterrichts. Tübingen: Narr, 159-167.

O’Day, Jennifer (2008). “Standards-based reform: promises, pitfalls, and potential lessons from the U.S.” In: Böttcher, Wolfgang; Bos, Wilfried; Döbert, Hans & Holtappels, Heinz Günter (eds.). Bildungsmonitoring und Bildungscontrollingt in nationaler und internationaler Perspektive. Münster: Waxmann, 107-157.

New Publication on FL/SL Textbook Research

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

This special issue of Fremdsprachen Lehren und Lernen (FLuL), a fully peer reviewed, interdisciplinary journal which aims to promote the research and the practice of language learning and teaching, focuses on foreign/second language as well as multilingual textbook analysis, textbook use, and textbook development. Guest edited by me, it features papers by various experts in the field, covering a wide range of languages (German as a second language, English as a foreign language, French, Russian and Spanish as foreign languages), topics, and problematic issues.

The contributors to this issue are Engelbert Thaler (University of Augsburg, Germany); Members of The English Academy, Andreas Grünewald (University of Bremen, Germany), Britta Hufeisen (University of Darmstadt, Germany), Grit Mehlhorn (University of Leipzig, Germany) & Heike Wapenhans (Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany), Hélène Martinez (University of Kassel, Germany), and Markus Bohnensteffen (Carolus-Magnus-Gymnasium Marsberg, Germany, an academic high school leading to the Abitur, the central German university entrance qualification).

English abstracts of the papers (which are written in German):

Engelbert Thaler addresses important issues concerning ‘the future of the textbook’ as well the as ‘the textbook of the future’ in the EFL classroom. Beginning with a brief outline of what is presently known about textbook use in EFL classrooms in the current ‘Internet Age’, he goes on to present findings from two case studies that point to emerging trends in textbook development. Pulling these strands together, the paper concludes with some useful insights into the development and use of textbooks and their supplementary materials in the future.

Members of The English Academy look at the current state and the future of foreign language textbook development and research, focusing on major achievements as well as new challenges. In this context, the authors problematize the opportunities and interactive potential that electronic media have added to textbook development and use, particularly those of interest for foreign language teaching in schools.

Andreas Grünewald argues that promoting intercultural competence has gained considerable momentum since the introduction of Foreign Language Education Standards in Germany in 2004. So what does today’s foreign language classroom look like with respect to cultural and intercultural learning? Few empirical studies have addressed this question, as the cognitive-affective processes involved are exceedingly complex and nearly impossible to depict fully in an objective way. However, the content of textbooks can give a good indication of what could be learned from them. Accordingly, he analyzes recently published school textbooks for French and Spanish for their promotion of intercultural competence. The paper presents his findings, highlighting the degree to which these recent textbooks now incorporate promotion of intercultural competence as an actual objective.

Grit Mehlhorn & Heike Wapenhans point out that the year 2008 saw the introduction of a new generation of textbooks for Russian as a second or third foreign language. From a methodological standpoint, these new textbooks are comparable to many being used for the instruction of other foreign languages. In their article, they take a look at how these textbooks are designed to support teachers in the difficult task of developing communicative and intercultural competence, in addition to language skills. They extend their discussion to approaches that have been recommended for tertiary language learning, suggestions for self-reflection and self-assessment by learners, and considerations of authenticity and media in textbooks. Finally, they identify the strengths of these new textbooks and note those areas that still need improvement.

Hélène Martinez states that in the course of the implementation of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), the definition of the term ‘competence’ in  foreign language teaching and learning and the issue of its measurability have  been controversially discussed. In her paper she questions to what extent the development of the different types of competence and skills required by the  CEFR, e.g. intercultural communicative competence, is embedded in current French and Spanish textbooks and how exemplary units reflect this underlying  principle. Her paper emphasizes the importance of process-oriented and  learner-centered textbook and task design and also calls attention to the high demands competence-oriented approaches put on teachers and learners.

Markus Bohnensteffen argues that textbooks are undoubtedly the most widely-used classroom materials in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. However, research on English textbooks focuses almost exclusively on examining their potential. The question of how students and teachers actually use the materials is rarely addressed. His article begins with an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of using textbooks in the EFL classroom and suggests reasons for their popularity as a teaching medium. It then looks at the attitudes of German learners of English and their teachers towards the textbooks they use and goes on to report on an informal study, conducted in two German grammar schools, on what students and teachers thought about their English textbooks and supplementary materials. The findings serve as input for a more empirically-based discussion of what future English textbooks should look like.

Researching Textbook Development and Use in FL/SL and Multilingual Classrooms

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany

About a year ago,  I launched a research project on textbook use in German EFL classrooms. I was astounded to see how relatively little attention this fundamental aspect of everyday teaching and learning practice has received in German TEFL research in recent years. Up to date, systematic, especially large-scale empirical studies on this are virtually non-existent (not only in Germany). In other words, this is a ‘grey’ area world-wide, dominated by the assumption that introducing and using innovative textbooks is conducive to enhancing the ‘quality’ (i.e. the efficiency and effectiveness) of teaching and learning foreign languages in schools.

For a brief overview of research in the three most important areas of EFL textbook research (i.e. textbook analysis/critique, textbook use and textbook development), see my most recent publication (written in German) – in combination, perhaps, with my views on the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom, published in an eight-part series of posts on this blog:

Kurtz, Jürgen (2010): „Zum Umgang mit dem Lehrwerk im Englischunterricht“. In: Fuchs, Eckhardt / Kahlert, Joachim / Sandfuchs, Uwe (Hrsg.) (2010): Schulbuch konkret. Kontexte. Produktion. Unterricht. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt, 149-163.

Coming up in a few weeks is a special issue on textbook analysis, development and actual classroom use in the German FL/SL journal “Fremdsprachen Lehren und Lernen” (FLuL), guest edited by me. Here, the focus is on current textbooks, their analysis and use in English, French, Spanish, and Russian as a Foreign language classrooms as well as on research dealing with multilingual approaches to FL teaching, learning and materials/media. The contributors to this issue are Engelbert Thaler (University of Augsburg, Germany); Members of The English Academy, Andreas Grünewald (University of Bremen, Germany), Britta Hufeisen (University of Darmstadt, Germany), Grit Mehlhorn (University of Leipzig, Germany) & Heike Wapenhans (Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany), Hélène Martinez (University of Kassel, Germany), and Markus Bohnensteffen (Carolus-Magnus-Gymnasium Marsberg, Germany, an academic high school leading to the Abitur, the central German university entrance qualification).

English abstracts of the papers (which are written in German):

Engelbert Thaler addresses important issues concerning ‘the future of the textbook’ as well the as ‘the textbook of the future’ in the EFL classroom. Beginning with a brief outline of what is presently known about textbook use in EFL classrooms in the current ‘Internet Age’, he goes on to present findings from two case studies that point to emerging trends in textbook development. Pulling these strands together, the paper concludes with some useful insights into the development and use of textbooks and their supplementary materials in the future.

Members of The English Academy look at the current state and the future of foreign language textbook development and research, focusing on major achievements as well as new challenges. In this context, the authors problematize the opportunities and interactive potential that electronic media have added to textbook development and use, particularly those of interest for foreign language teaching in schools.

Andreas Grünewald argues that promoting intercultural competence has gained considerable momentum since the introduction of Foreign Language Education Standards in Germany in 2004. So what does today’s foreign language classroom look like with respect to cultural and intercultural learning? Few
empirical studies have addressed this question, as the cognitive-affective processes involved are exceedingly complex and nearly impossible to depict fully in an objective way. However, the content of textbooks can give a good indication of what could be learned from them. Accordingly, he analyzes recently published school textbooks for French and Spanish for their promotion of intercultural competence. The paper presents his findings, highlighting the degree to which these recent textbooks now incorporate promotion of intercultural competence as an actual objective.

Grit Mehlhorn & Heike Wapenhans point out that the year 2008 saw the introduction of a new generation of textbooks for Russian as a second or third foreign language. From a methodological standpoint, these new textbooks are comparable to many being used for the instruction of other foreign languages. In their article, they take a look at how these textbooks are designed to support teachers in the difficult task of developing communicative and intercultural competence, in addition to language skills. They extend their discussion to approaches that have been recommended for tertiary language learning, suggestions for self-reflection and self-assessment by learners, and
considerations of authenticity and media in textbooks. Finally, they identify the
strengths of these new textbooks and note those areas that still need
improvement.

Hélène Martinez states that in the course of the implementation of the Common
European Framework of Reference (CEFR), the definition of the term ‘competence’ in  foreign language teaching and learning and the issue of its measurability have  been controversially discussed. In her paper she questions to what extent the development of the different types of competence and skills required by the  CEFR, e.g. intercultural communicative competence, is embedded in current French and Spanish textbooks and how exemplary units reflect this underlying  principle. Her paper emphasizes the importance of process-oriented and  learner-centered textbook and task design and also calls attention to the high demands competence-oriented approaches put on teachers and learners.

Markus Bohnensteffen argues that textbooks are undoubtedly the most widely-used classroom materials in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. However, research on English textbooks focuses almost exclusively on examining their potential. The question of how students and teachers actually
use the materials is rarely addressed. His article begins with an overview of
the advantages and disadvantages of using textbooks in the EFL classroom
and suggests reasons for their popularity as a teaching medium. It then looks
at the attitudes of German learners of English and their teachers towards the
textbooks they use and goes on to report on an informal study, conducted in two
German grammar schools, on what students and teachers thought about their
English textbooks and supplementary materials. The findings serve as input for
a more empirically-based discussion of what future English textbooks should
look like.

Stay tuned for more …

Multilingual Education in the 21st Century: A top priority around the globe

Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany

View this series of videos from Language Learning in the 21st century – Innovative Language Classroom on the Hill, a highly interesting US policy briefing and classroom demonstration hosted by ACTFL and the Parternership for 21st Century Skills on March 29, 2011.

FFF Conference 2011 on Early Foreign Language Learning

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany

The 3rd FFF Conference 2011 (FFF = Fortschritte im Frühen  Fremdsprachenlernen; Advances in Early Foreign Language Learning) will be held September 15-17 at Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany. If you are interested in getting to know more about this event, please click here.