Once again this year, the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association’s annual conference proved to be as stimulating as ever. I have been presenting papers at the RMMLA for over a decade now and every year, without exception, the RMMLA delivers an excellent variety of interdisciplinary literature and pedagogy sessions, high quality presentations, and a genuine sense of collegiality and sharing among the participants. As a Senior Lecturer with limited university funding options for attending conventions, I am very selective in my choice of conferences and choose the ones where I would learn and benefit the most from presenting papers, attending sessions, and engaging in productive conversations about teaching and literature with colleagues from across the nation. The French language is well represented by allied MLA organizations such as Women in French and Conseil international d’études francophones.
For my presentations, I alternate between literature and pedagogy. This year, I presented a paper entitled “A Painting, a Neighborhood, a Park: Non-traditional Teaching of Culture, History, and Literature in Foreign Language Classes in University or Study Abroad Setting” as part of the session on Practical Approaches to Teaching Literature through Travel and Off-campus Study. Due to the rich variety of the program, it is difficult to single out one outstanding presentation among the many thought-provoking literature, linguistic and pedagogy sessions I attended. In literature, the two sections on Francophone Literature of Africa and the Caribbean were outstanding. Professor Danielle Carlotti-Smith’s paper on the “Sugar Cane Novels” and their comparison to Emile Zola’s La Terre was especially thought-provoking.1 In pedagogy, there were many notable sessions but the one on Practical Approaches to Teaching Language was of particular interest. I especially enjoyed Professor Melitta Wagner-Heaston’s talk on how students learn. She summarized the current scholarship on neurocognitive brain research and discussed how brain-based studies have a significant impact on language teaching and learning.2 It’s nice to see that brain-based research is proving what we language instructors have known for a long time, i.e. keeping the students’ “affective filter” low and creating a positive and encouraging classroom environment does indeed affect their learning. Current neurocognitive research is becoming very important in helping instructors develop teaching tools for optimal learning. Professor Wagner-Heaston’s paper was a very nice complement to GSI Teaching and Resource Center’s five-week speaker series on “How Students Learn” which I attended in spring 2011. Translating brain research into foreign language classroom learning is a refreshing addition to Second Language Pedagogy scholarship. The session on Practical Approaches to Teaching Literature was useful as well. Professor Kyra Hudson’s paper on the use of chapbooks as a tool for teaching poetry and writing was most interesting.3 She discussed the origin and history of chapbooks and explained how she used it in her writing class. I think this would be a great teaching tool for our language as well as literature classes. I was quite inspired by her presentation and would like to try it in my classes.
This year’s Keynote Speaker was Professor Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and former AAUP President. Professor Nelson’s address entitled “Can Academic Freedom be Saved?” was a very informative and timely speech.
I am grateful to the Berkeley Language Center’s Travel Grant Program for providing lecturers with opportunities for professional development and participation in conferences.
1. Danielle Carlotti-Smith, University of Virginia. “L’Amour de la terre: Environmental Eroticism and the Aesthetics of Créolité.”
2. Melitta Wagner-Heaston, University of Northern Colorado. “How Do We Learn? The Nature and Quality of Learning in the Second Language Standards-Based Classroom.”
3. Kyra Hudson, Weber State University. “The Chapbook as a Writing and Poetry Study Tool.”