Tag Archives: standards

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: New Companion Volume

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

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), published almost 20 years ago, is currently under revision. In the context of the 38th Annual German Spring Conference for Research on Foreign and Second Language Learning and Teaching, held again at Castle Rauischholzhausen (February 15-17), Giessen University’s most beautiful venue for conferencing, roundabout 20 EFL/GFL/GSL professors from all over Germany will discuss the new CEFR companion volume with new descriptors and its implications for learning and teaching foreign and second language education in Germany and in Europe in more detail (a preliminary version of the companion volume is available here).

However, the major focus of this year’s Spring Conference will be on foreign and second language teacher education. In this particular context, the revision of the CEFR is just one of many other developments and aspects that need to be taken into consideration (e.g. the theory-practice divide, the interdisciplinary character of foreign and/or second language teacher education, the role of teacher identity and ethos, the functions of physical learning place and digital learning space, the question of teaching expertise, the significance of teachers’ language proficiency and skill, etc.).


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.

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany

According to Sir Ken Robinson, “We have built our education systems on the model of fast food. This is something Jamie Oliver talked about the other day. You know there are two models of quality assurance in catering. One is fast food, where everything is standardized. The other are things like Zagat and Michelin restaurants, where everything is not standardized, they’re customized to local circumstances. And we have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education. And it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.” (subtitled in 50 languages)

In Germany and, from my perspective, in many other countries around the globe, SL/FL teachers are put under massive pressure to meet vague and – partially – unconvincing standards, and to conduct tests based on a questionable approach to foreign language education. What do you think about all this?

New Publication: Structure and Improvisation in Creative Teaching

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

This new book, edited by R. Keith Sawyer (Washington State University, St. Louis), takes a fresh look at one of the core issues in education and learning. Focusing on the predictability and unpredictability of learning (and teaching) processes in schools, it raises a number of fundamental questions concerning flexible and creative curriculum and instructional design in the 21st century, providing readers with the know-how as well as the ‘do-how’ necessary to create rich, meaningful, and encouraging learning environments in the age of outcome-orientation and testing. As Keith Sawyer points out on his blog:

“The key idea is that good teaching involves both structures and improvisation, both advance planning and adaptability. Expert teachers know how to use structures (lesson plans, activities, techniques to discipline unruly students) in an improvisational way that’s customized and targeted to each class and each student. This is what “creative teaching” really is: it’s not a flaky, New Age performance artist who mesmerizes the students. It’s an expert with a deep knowledge of the craft of teaching, and of the subject being taught, and an expert who can use that to orchestrate valuable learning activities among the students.”

The book comes at a time when education systems are under massive socio-economic and ideological pressure world-wide, and it would be fatal if all this resulted in what David C. Berliner calls creaticide in the foreword: “With a few notable exceptions, policies designed to improve schools have resulted in a diminution of those classroom activities that are more likely to promote higher levels of thought, problem solving, and creativity in academic areas. It is not that the research community can agree on how to produce higher-order thinking and creative responses among youth. Far from it! But there is remarkable agreement about how not to produce the outcomes we desire. And by constraining what teachers and students can do in classrooms we do just that” (2011: xv).

Chapter 7 of this book focuses on the significance of structure and improvisation in teaching English as a foreign language. Title: “Breaking through the Communicative Cocoon: Improvisation in Secondary School Foreign Language Classrooms.” (Kurtz, 2011: 133-161).

For further details, please click here.

Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms

by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Two years ago, I wrote on this blog: “It is really heartbreaking to see how education is increasingly transformed into an economic enterprise by external stakeholders, how commercially exploitable competences and skills are turned into commodities, and how the principles of lean production are applied to schools …” (click here to continue). Yesterday I discovered the following thought-provoking video lecture on Youtube which I think fits in nicely with this ongoing discussion:

I also like this inspiring RSA animate which was adapted from Ken Robinson’s talk:

PS.: As I did two years ago, Ken Robinson speaks of a “mass-production mentality” which is outdated and  harmful to our children and youth (for more on this, click here).

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?

New Common Core State Standards Released

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

From The  New York Times Online, Wednesday, June 2, 2010: “The nation’s governors and state school chiefs released on Wednesday a new set of academic standards, their final recommendations for what students should master in English and math as they move from the primary grades through high school graduation. The standards, which took a year to write, have been tweaked and refined in recent weeks in response to some of the 10,000 comments the public sent in after a draft was released in March. – The standards were made public at a news conference on Wednesday in Atlanta.”