My colleague, Vesna Rodic, and I attended the Rocky Mountain Language Association’s 68th annual convention in Boise, Idaho from October 8 – 11. I have been participating in the conference for several years now and, without exception, always come away reinvigorated and full of new ideas. As a Senior Lecturer with limited university funding options, I only attend conferences where I 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. Thanks to the special spirit of sharing among the participants, the RMMLA convention provides the opportunity for brain storming and exchanging of best practices. As it has a wide scope that includes sessions on American, British, Canadian, and foreign languages and literatures, it provides an opportunity to speak to and learn from colleagues outside of one’s field.
This year, I chaired a pedagogy session on Teaching Foreign Languages and presented in a different special topic session on Flipping the Classroom in Language and Literature Courses. My presentation was entitled The Flipped Classroom and Communicative Language Teaching. To be sure, foreign language classes have always put the “process” ahead of the “product” and have always used and promoted active, process-oriented learning by engaging students at all times. Task-based activities such as group work, collaborative projects, and oral presentations have always been an integral part of language teaching. More specifically, the communicative method has allowed students to learn the tools to be able to use the language in a wide variety of situations, both oral and written. The question we posed in our study was: “Is a flipped foreign language classroom a good method for all levels of language teaching or might it be better suited for specific proficiency levels?” After a brief overview of the flipped classroom, its advantages and disadvantages, its relationship to the higher levels of learning according to Bloom’s taxonomy, I shared some results from research conducted in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and education regarding how students learn.(1)
My presentation examined the advantages and disadvantages of a flipped classroom in foreign language classes, specifically, within the communicative language teaching method. Whereas flipped classes work more effectively in intermediate and advanced language and literature courses, elementary classes, especially first semester, on the other hand, could benefit from a modified version of a flipped class that would address the specific needs and objectives of beginners. I have found that a flipped classroom does not work as well in first semester language class, at least not in the first few weeks. It raises more questions than answers. With seeing all the irregular forms that have no logic for them, the students become more puzzled by looking at the content ahead of time. The solution that has worked for me is to present the new material and flip the class so to speak the next day when I conduct review. At that time, it is possible to have the students use their skills, to look at the material more critically and to do cross-lingual and cultural contrast and comparison. This is in line with the research that has shown that when students generate questions, summarize, or are asked to talk about what they have learned, they are using different parts of their brain simultaneously and thus gaining a better hold on the knowledge. While flipped classes would work more easily in intermediate and advanced language and literature courses, where the students already come to class with a basic knowledge of the language, elementary classes, on the other hand, would benefit from a modified version of a flipped class that would address specific needs and objectives of elementary language proficiency.
Regarding the other sessions I attended, due to the richness of the variety and the excellent quality of the presentations, it is difficult to single out a specific one. In literature, I especially learned from the session chaired by Vesna on French literature since 1800. In pedagogy, as I believe strongly that literature can be taught in language classes and that we should break down the artificial walls we have constructed between literature and language, I particularly enjoyed and learned from a Women In French session on teaching women writers from various French and Francophone regions around the world.2 I also had stimulating discussions in other pedagogy sessions where the pros and cons of distance education as well as teaching culture in study abroad immersion programs were examined.(2)
I remain forever grateful to Berkeley Language Center for supporting lecturers with the travel grants and making it possible for us to attend conferences and continue our professional development.2
1. Some of this information came from my participation in a six-week long seminar I attended on How Students Learn organized by The GSI Teaching and Resource Center in 2011.
2. Please see full convention program at www.rmmla.org