Academic journal article Italica

Clickers and the Teaching-Assessment of Culture in the Beginning-Level Italian Classroom

Academic journal article Italica

Clickers and the Teaching-Assessment of Culture in the Beginning-Level Italian Classroom

Article excerpt

That proficiency in a language also implies proficiency in that language's culture(s) is a deep-rooted concept in our field. How to teach and assess culture in the foreign language (L2) classroom, however, has been at the center of great debates throughout the history of our discipline and at the core of its major methodological shifts. From the Grammar-Translation method of the 1960s to the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach, which is still very popular in our classrooms today, culture has shifted from being the ultimate goal of language proficiency to a conduit for language proficiency. The notion of culture with a "capital C" (that of the great literary works, historical figures and thinkers) has de facto yielded its position of primacy to the "small-c" culture of the quotidian, seen as inextricable from language itself and key to a main tenet of the CLT: "negotiation of meaning" with L2 speakers in the context of real-life situations. Over the years, different methods have equated culture with foods, folk dances, festivals, and fairs; geographical landmarks and monuments; and random cultural practices emphasizing contrasting types of behavior between native and target cultures (Omaggio Hadley 348-349).

The language-culture connection debate continues as we enter what B. Kumaravadivelu calls a "postmethod era" in which we are increasingly aware "that there is no best method out there ready and waiting to be discovered" (Beyond Methods 33-34). Yet, this is also an era in which our field has been called upon to meet conflicting demands: preparing students to conduct business in a global economy, to travel and to experience personal enjoyment abroad, to deepen their knowledge of the humanities, to strengthen national defense, and to foster world peace (Kramsch, "Post 9/11" 558-559).

While solving the multifaceted complexities of language and culture teaching clearly lies outside the scope of this article, I would like to explore the teaching of culture in the L2 classroom through the lens of materials development as a field of inquiry. I adopt the operational definition of materials given by Brian Tomlinson, of anything, whether tangible or intangible, instructional, experiential, elicitative, or exploratory in nature, "which is deliberately used by teachers or learners to increase the learners' knowledge and / or experience of the language" (2).

Specifically, I focus on the use of "clickers'--audience response systems (1) similar to those used in popular television game-shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?--as a supporting aid to L2 pedagogy aimed at the development of intercultural communication. Often used for summative evaluation purposes (e.g., quiz and exam administration and grading) in other disciplines, clickers can be of particular interest to ours for conducting other types of assessment. Because the instructor can immediately modify a lesson based upon the class's polling results, as Kevin Hinde and Andrew Hunt point out, these systems are especially helpful for conducting diagnostic assessment (i.e., testing prior knowledge at the beginning of a lesson) and formative assessment (i.e., assessment that takes place during instruction to improve teaching and learning as a result of participants' feedback) (143).

Far from arguing that clickers are going to be a magic potion for L2 instruction, I would, instead, like to sensitize our field to the strengths that these instruments, which remain largely ignored in the L2 research arena, might hold for certain aspects of culture teaching and learning in elementary and low-intermediate level classes. It is important to underscore that clickers are simply a tool among and complementary to many others we have at our disposal, not the tool that can replace all others.

Surprisingly flexible, clickers can aid instruction in different phases of lessons, and for different purposes, whether in the target or native language. …

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