Globalizing the Foreign Language Classroom: Moving Beyond “Us” and “Them”
June 10, 2021
by Kasina Entzi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of German
The foreign language classroom may seem like an inherently cosmopolitan learning space, but even after years of teaching German at the college level, I found that my students and I regularly struggled to move beyond a simple comparative approach. With a single target language, there is a convenient temptation to simplify cultural diversity and current world events into an “us and them” mentality. This in turn inevitably involves a fair bit of generalization when it comes to who exactly fits into the categories of “us” and “them.”
After the Coronavirus pandemic forced us all into the virtual teaching space when students and teachers alike were experiencing the effects of prolonged isolation, the German-speaking world had never felt more distant from my classroom, and my course had never felt more disconnected from the global community. I knew I wanted to challenge my students’ preconceptions about Germans and Americans, and I wanted this challenge to be an opportunity to reflect much more broadly on identity, culture, diversity, and globalization. It felt clearer than ever that I needed to globalize my curriculum and I needed help to do so. I am so grateful to have found exactly the inspiration and guidance I desired through my participation in the 2020-2021 Globalizing Curriculum Faculty Learning Community (FLC).
Though we came from drastically different fields and had to consider our own unique approaches and learning objectives, I have learned so much from my colleagues and I have been encouraged again and again by their ingenuity and creativity. From the very first virtual gathering, when we heard from previous participants about how they implemented what they had learned, I felt revitalized, no longer overwhelmed or exasperated, but instead eager to examine my curriculum, challenge my own pedagogical inflexibility, and facilitate real cultural engagement in my courses. At each of our monthly meetings, we had a chance to share the development of our individual curriculum projects and receive specific feedback from colleagues; this was invaluable to my own brainstorming process. By resisting the standard boundaries of academia and incorporating a thoroughly interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, we received truly novel insights about our own classrooms and such fresh perspectives have led to exciting new ideas about what I could hope to accomplish by supplementing my curriculum.
For my own first-semester German course, I decided to focus on introducing students to more of the histories, cultures, and international relationships of the greater German-speaking world (Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein). I hope that by focusing on some of the global connections of each German-speaking country, I can encourage students to consider both the German-speaking world and themselves within the context of a global community.
To that end, I will be supplementing my current culture curriculum with a series of mini-presentations on specific objects or events that represent the interaction of different cultures and can serve as emblems of the multicultural reality of the greater German-speaking world. Each mini-presentation of a cultural artifact will also include a short interactive project for the students to complete outside of class. I am very excited to incorporate hands-on cultural projects such as informal surveys administered by the students, a virtual art gallery visit, film viewings, and even a scavenger hunt (supermarket visit).
But perhaps the most important component of the FLC has been the engagement expected of each of us in this learning community. We are dedicated ACC faculty members, and we are also lifelong learners, and for the past 12 months, we were invited to engage in our own serious conversations about human rights and contemporary global issues. So not only have we been designing and planning a more global curriculum, we have been listening to gifted scholars and guest speakers on a variety of topics, and we have grown together, as instructors, as intellectuals, and as globally-minded citizens. In the Globalizing Curriculum FLC, we have forged a community of diverse educators united by our desire to globalize our curricula and model global citizenship to our students and colleagues.