Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

An Interactive Reading Journal for All Levels of the Foreign Language Curriculum

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

An Interactive Reading Journal for All Levels of the Foreign Language Curriculum

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article introduces an innovative approach to teaching texts at every level of the foreign language curriculum through the use of an interactive reading journal. The article describes how the journal can address the interpretive communication standard at the secondary level, as well as the challenges of integrating lower-level "skills" courses with upper-level "content" courses at the post-secondary level. The journal format itself is discussed in detail, along with examples of how it can be implemented with specific texts at the intermediate and advanced levels. The conclusion offers student reactions and suggestions for putting the interactive reading journal into practice.

Key words: foreign language, interactive, journal, literacy, reading

Language: Relevant to all languages

Introduction

In introducing an interactive reading journal1 for use in foreign language courses at all levels of the curriculum, this article addresses both curricular and methodological questions facing foreign language departments and faculty today. What do foreign language instructors want students graduating with foreign language majors to be able to do? What role should literature and the act of textual interpretation have in foreign language curricula? Finally, if the members of a foreign language department can agree that students completing a program of study should have the ability to read, speak, and write critically about sophisticated texts from a foreign culture, how does one design courses and activities to help students achieve that goal?

At the root of these questions lies a divide in many departments between lower-level language (or "skills") courses and upper-level literature (or "content") courses. The divide between these two levels of the foreign language curriculum is familiar to nearly everyone in the profession and it has been the subject of much discussion and debate in the scholarly literature for years. (see, for example, Hoffmann & James, 1986; McCarthy, 1998; Rice, 1991). All of the authors in the recent volume SLA and the Literature Classroom: Fostering Dialogues, edited by Virginia Scott and Holly Tucker (2002), addressed the problem of the split between language and literature faculty and sought to bridge the gap by advocating courses which integrate language learning and the transmission of knowledge through texts. The integration of skill building and knowledge acquisition requires that foreign language reading (long and short texts, literary and nonliterary texts) play a vital role in courses at the beginning and intermediate levels and that explicit instruction in the reading process continue in upper-level courses. The articles in the Scott and Tucker volume offer a number of interesting ideas and models for integrating linguistic skill building and the interpretation of texts at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (see Byrnes & Kord, 2002; Frantzen, 2002; Katz, 2002; Swaffar, 2002).

At the precollegiate level, the importance of reading and interpretation emerges through the communication standard, specifically Standard 1.2: "Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics" (Phillips, 1999, p. iv). In an article on the communication standard, Hall (1999) emphasized the interactive nature of the interpretive domain as defined by Standard 1.2. More than a simple decoding of a set of symbols or sounds, the interpretive act draws on students' past knowledge and experiences in fostering their understanding of a text. Furthermore, by opening up new perspectives on the world, the interpretation of a text can subsequently reshape a reader's past knowledge and experiences in profound ways. The interpretive communication standard is also inextricably linked to the cultures standard in that, by creating a community of foreign language readers in their classrooms, instructors faciliate both students' comprehension of the target language community and their eventual entry into it. …

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