Tag Archives: school

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.


The ACTFL Decade of Standards Report

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

Standards-based EFL/ESL education has become increasingly influential in the past decade, in the US as well as in many other countries. I have voiced my concerns about all this many times on this blog. Yesterday I stumbled upon two important papers in this context, both issued by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL): a) “A Decade of Foreign Language Standards: Impact, Influence, and Future Directions”, and b) “Alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with the Common Core State Standards”. If you like to read these papers as well, please click a) and b). I am interested to hear what you have to say about it.

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. :-)


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.

Amy Tsui: Understanding Expertise in Language Teaching (TESOLacademic.org)

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Academic is a knowledge dissemination site which links the work of TESOL-based academics to teachers, teacher-trainers, teacher-trainees, decision-makers and other researchers. Edited by Huw Jarvis, it provides a global forum for people to talk about how their published research, or an aspect of it, impacts on language pedagogy. TESOLacademics.org only posts talks about research which have gone through the peer review process and this ‘guarantees’ the quality of the submissions.

In the following video webcast, Amy Tsui discusses the nature of expertise in language teaching, its development, and how teachers employ it (click on image to view):

I very much agree with what Amy Tsui has to say about improvisation in structured learning environments. This essential aspect of teaching (which she refers to as “skilled improvisation” in her talk) should definitely not be underestimated (in the midst of the standards- und test-oriented teaching hype).

Jim Scrivener on Traditional PPP in the EFL Classroom

by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

In a talk delivered at the 44th IATEFL Conference in Harrogate earlier this year, Jim Scivener argued that the term ‘situational presentation’ (used by him to refer to the first of three steps in traditional lesson design, known as PPP – presentation, practice and production) seems to have lost  much of its meaning and/or relevance in the age of task-based or task-supported, technology enhanced and self-directed instruction: “I’m puzzled that this term, situational presentation, and in fact that the concept behind it, seems to be relatively unknown now.  There is a whole generation of teachers that don’t know what this is and don’t know how to do it. Or may be they know it or they know it by a different name or they know it with some other differences …”.

I very much like how he goes on illustrating what situational presentation (or dialogical contextualization) is about. Watch this:

However, based on my personal experience as an EFL teacher educator over here in Gernany, I  cannot confirm that situational presentation is something my students/student-teachers in the weekly teaching practice sessions don’t know (or think of as a discredited technique). It is rather a firmly established part of their developing teaching repertoire and, furthermore, a concept that is deeply rooted in their personal set of presumptions and beliefs of how English should be taught in schools.  As such, it is a valuable starting point for discussion.


Improvisation in the Foreign Language Classroom

by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

In April 2010, I was invited to give a talk on the role of improvisation in second/foreign language (SL/FL) education at UC San Diego. My focus was on learning and teaching English as a foreign language in German secondary schools, but I think the overall approach is of great importance to teaching languages in institutional contexts in general. The following keyword summary is indended to briefly outline what improvisation is (or amounts to) and to give you an idea of how it can contribute to the development of a more flexible infrastructure and culture of SL/FL classroom interaction and instruction – one that is sensitive to the here-and-now characteristics and realities of everyday communicative interaction. All this is, of course, highly theoretical, and it is perfectly clear that much more top-down (theory-driven) as well as bottom-up (practice-driven) research is necesssary to  develop a theoretically sound and practically feasable, effective and efficient framework of improvisational instruction and learning. As laid out on this blog earlier on, improvisation seems to run counter  to current standards- and outcome-oriented thinking and policy-making (at least in parts: immediacy, spontaneity, unpredictability in the Age of Accountability?), but its overall potential should not be underestimated.

What do you personally think about this? More specifically, perhaps, how do you (try to/manage to) balance out the expected and the unexptected in the classroom? How much immediacy, spontaneity and unpredictablitly are you prepared or willing to allow in your FL /SL classroom?