Academic journal article Babel

Intercultural Understanding and Professional Learning through Critical Engagement

Academic journal article Babel

Intercultural Understanding and Professional Learning through Critical Engagement

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Intercultural understanding is one of the seven General Capabilities identified by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority in the national curricular development currently underway. Conceiving languages education as "an endeavour focused on the development o f intercultural understanding' (Liddicoat & Kohler, 2012, p. 73) requires teachers to identify and challenge their own beliefs and conceptualisations of the nature of their task as educators. This paper presents the outcomes of a small-scale professional development program designed to help languages teachers engage with this re-envisioned task. The program aimed to provide an opportunity for teachers--in primary and secondary language classrooms--to critically explore the links between language and culture and how these can be translated into classroom practices to foster learners' intercultural understanding within an action research methodological framework. This paper examines the data-driven insights yielded by this program, in particular, examples of good practice as well as teachers" personal reflections, and considers them in relation to the field of languages education and teachers" professional learning. In addition, the paper identifies emerging implications for current policies supporting the development of intercultural understanding.

Key Words

intercultural understanding, intercultural language learning, professional learning, action research, Australian Curriculum General Capabilities

INTRODUCTION

Despite the increasingly established recognition that a language cannot be successfully learned without developing an understanding of the culture(s) embodied in and manifested through that language (Byram, 1997; Byram & Zarate, 1994; Liddicoat & Crozet, 2000), explicit, active enactment of such an understanding through development of deliberate teaching practices remains to be explored beyond the level of passive recognition (Liddicoat & Scarino, 2013). This paper starts by exploring the current state of this matter in the Australian context and, in so doing, provides the backdrop for a professional development program, conducted by the author, entitled Demystifying the language and culture nexus --applications for the classroom. The project was designed and implemented with funding provided by the Association of Independent Schools of Queensland (ISQ), and was intended to assist teachers of languages to critically engage with the development of interculturally-oriented practices. Data collected from classroom observations, teachers' interviews and evaluation of the program, and teachers' final reports provide insightful information about the various challenges languages teachers are facing as they engage with a re-envisioned teaching endeavour focused on the development of intercultural understanding.

INTERCULTURAL LANGUAGE LEARNING--THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Over the last few decades, the field of languages education has taken several steps to explicitly address the role of culture in curriculum development and teaching practices. In the Australian context, the most significant step taken to this end has been the introduction of an intercultural orientation to language learning and teaching (see Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino, & Kohler, 2003; Scarino, Liddicoat, Carr, Crichton, Crozet, Dellit, Kohler, Loechel, Mercurio, Morgan, Papademetre, & Scrimgeour, 2007; Scarino & Crichton, 2008, for example). Explicit endorsement of this orientation at policy level was evident in the National Statement and Plan for Languages Education in Australian Schools 2005-2008 (MCEETYA, 2005), and in the national statement on education in Australia which emphasises the need to develop students' ability "to relate our own values and traditions to the experience of others' and, in so doing, to promote the development of skills such as "intercultural engagement, communication and understanding' for future participation in society (Council for the Australian Federation, 2007, p. …

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