BLC Travel Grant Report

I attended the 2011 Annual Conference of the American Association of
Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages in Pasadena, January 6-9
on funds provided by the Berkeley Language Center. I presented a poster at
AATSEEL’s first-ever poster session, Teaching Less Commonly Taught Slavic
Languages and Central/East European Languages II. The poster session was
experimental and was judged by the participants to be a great success.
Each presenter had five minutes to give an overview of the materials on
his/her poster, after which the participants gathered for informal
discussions in the area housing the posters themselves. The poster format
allowed presenters to make a great deal of material available for
discussion, and the brevity of the verbal presentations allowed a larger
number of presenters than could ordinarily have spoken on a panel.

My presentation, “Teaching Grammar and Culture Through Reading: Examples
from the Elementary Czech Language Classroom,” was one of several
addressing issues in Czech language instruction. There were two
presentations from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, by Milada
Saskova-Pierce and Layne Pierce, both dealing with aspects of on-line
presentation of material. Susan Kresin of UCLA addressed ways of
incorporating heritage themes into introductory language classes, and
Christopher Harwood of Columbia University showed clips from a video
supplement he has been constructing, entitled Real-Life Czech, for use in
elementary and intermediate Czech. Masako Fiedler presented interesting
results on studies of relative error gravity as perceived by native
speakers. In addition, Eva Eckart of the Charles University in Prague
discussed a new semester-long study abroad program, CESTA, at the Charles
University which integrates elementary language instruction with other
areas of instruction.

In my poster, I focused on a series of structured reading exercises I use
starting at the very beginning of the elementary Czech sequence. These
exercises take a children’s story with two characters, a doggie and a
kitty (masculine and feminine nouns, respectively), and have the students
“preread” them before they have any significant knowledge of word
meanings, developing non-English reading strategies. The exercises call on
students to identify nominative case vs. all other case forms (dictionary
form vs. not dictionary form), to locate past tense verbs and tell from
those verb forms which of the two most likely subjects is in fact the
subject of a given clause, to observe the importance of morphological
endings in determining the subject and the relatively lower importance of
word order, and to locate accusative pronouns. Students read the story
itself later in the semester, after certain basic grammar points have been
taught, but the pedagogical value of these early exercise lies in
motivating students to pay attention to word order and morphological
endings from the outset and to develop somewhat different strategies for
reading Czech from those they bring to an English-language text.

Unfortunately, most of the Czech presentations were scheduled in the same
session, which meant poster panel participants could not attend other
Czech panels. We will try to avoid this problem in the scheduling of
panels next year. I attended the annual meeting of the International
Association of Teachers of Czech and was elected technical editor of the
IATC newsletter.

I am grateful to the BLC for providing funding for me to attend this
conference. I benefited not only from participating in the poster session
but also for hearing various pedagogical talks on teaching other languages
(primarily Russian) and Victor Friedman’s informative and
thought-provoking Keynote Address.