Through a Cultural Lens, Darkly: Revelations on Adaptability, Perspectives, and Applications for Language Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

If language acquisition implies understanding of cultural perspectives, practices, and ideas with the ability to respond appropriately and flexibly in varying contexts (Doughty & Long, 2003), then we must see the importance of preparing language teachers for the realities of the profession and the demands of performance based assessment. Language is how we understand ourselves as well as communicate to minds other than our own. Inevitably we tend to view the world through individually constructed and socially imposed cultural lenses. Becoming aware of the presence and impact of these lenses constitutes the first step toward successful and meaningful interaction. Unfortunately most textbooks and other materials offer scant treatment of cliched situations, low level drills of rote memorization, and cultural facts in isolation, yielding possible misinterpretations of different cultural groups. Culture in the classroom tends to be limited to projects on the more tangible products of culture tend to be left for a "Friday frill or filler", an afterthought. Cultural perspectives and practices are not integrated into the curriculum, much less seen as a way to design curricular units. The result are tasks that do not encourage flexible and culturally appropriate responses from students.

Possible reasons for the superficial treatment of culture are twofold. First, teacher candidates as well as in-service educators have not examined cultural perspectives, either their own or of the culture they teach. Courses in multicultural education and cultural awareness are plentiful, albeit falling short on issues of adaptability, risk-taking, and tolerance of ambiguity. These are essential for communicating with people from another culture and engaging in situations the learner is likely to encounter in the culture. Materials for teacher preparation do not begin to explore candidate beliefs, attitudes, or understanding, thus actually reinforcing prejudice and an already myopic view. Teachers are unable to create situations that explore cultural perspectives, beliefs, values, and practices if they have not engaged in this inquiry themselves. Second, for this shift to occur in their instruction, there is need for curriculum design tools to guide teachers in creating performance based lessons and assessments, which demonstrate learner understanding of cultural perspectives, practices, and products. The initial interest and rationale for this investigation was always present and obvious because it is a problem all too common in the profession. The urgency for it manifested in order to address National Accreditation concerns for the teacher preparation program and our content area standards.

NCATE Standards and the National Standards for Foreign Languages (5C's)

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in consortia with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL, 2002) have developed standards for teacher preparation adopted by colleges of education seeking national accreditation. Three areas of teacher candidate performance are knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Knowledge is demonstrated by understanding content area material, major theories and practices, and when to apply them. Skills are determined by how candidates select and use materials, curriculum and methods as appropriate to goals and needs, and their ability t collaborate with other professionals. Dispositions are how the candidate values the use of appropriate content pedagogy so that all students learn optimally, as well as how they value language learning and intercultural competence and diversity in content. Candidates must demonstrate evidence in these three key areas in all of their teacher education coursework. More specifically for foreign language education, there are content area standards developed in collaboration with NCATE and ACTFL. Of the six standards, standard two deals with cultural understanding. …