Academic journal article German Quarterly

Winds of Change? How Do We Teach Literature in a Collegiate Environment?

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Winds of Change? How Do We Teach Literature in a Collegiate Environment?

Article excerpt

The unexpected fare that you are reading in this issue of the German Quarterly1 is the result of discussions at a DAAD-sponsored symposium at Michigan State University, entitled "Engaged Learning: Best Practices to Invigorate German Literary and Cultural Studies," and subsequent discussions at sessions at the German Studies Association and the Modern Language Association in 2006.2 Another context for probing questions was the report by the MLA on languages, "Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World," as well as a parallel discussion in the "language teaching" community (Byrnes), that begins to question communicative competence as the preferred goal for language learning in Higher Education.3 These discussions provide a forum for critical self-reflection on the language/ literature divide. At the same time, our profession, and higher education in general, faces other urgent issues: the increased attention to languages (at least to those defined as critical languages), and the Spellings Commission Report with its emphasis on assessment, accountability, and transparency in student learning. The resultant institutional attention paid to liberal learning goals, and the implications these factors have for curricular discussions and for the training and mentoring of graduate students, as either future faculty or teachers in the field, adds to the complexity of the discussion.

The lingering split between the study of literature/culture on the one hand and language and pedagogy/Second Language Studies (SLS) on the other, despite efforts at curricular articulation, might be one impediment that hinders or at least distracts from a more intense engagement with these important national debates. The contributions by Katra Byram and Claire Kramsch ("Why Is it so Difficult to Teach Language as Culture?"), Katherine Arens ("Genres and the Standards: Teaching the 5 C's through Texts"), and Heidi Byrnes, ("What Kind of Resource Is Language and Why Does it Matter for German Studies?") offer us new tools and ways to think about the literature/language split. Byram and Kramsch critically unpack some of the implications of the MLA report when they point to the difficulties associated with teaching "critical language awareness, interpretive skills, and historical consciousness." Byrnes underscores the difficulties when she asks: "The challenge is formidable: how do foreign language departments propose to create translingual and transcultural competence, a mandate the MLA Report prominently assigns to them, when they have yet to come to terms with the patterned links between their most important, their 'target language' and its cultural context-that is, German for the German Studies context?" Arens challenges both the language-teaching and the literature-teaching sides of a typical language-andliterature department by offering a "reconceptualization of what it means to teach language and literature as texts in different genres, anchored in their cultures," suggesting how the Standards can be utilized as stages in a learning sequence and negotiated within local pragmatic constraints. She argues: "The Standards, then, challenge us with a new model of literary and cultural studies that pursue patterns of understanding culture and its texts or other artifacts: as communication, cultural literacy, and strategic competencies beyond the basics of a language's grammar and vocabulary." Three additional contributions in a companion volume of Die Unterrichtspraxis, by Jennifer Redmann, Astrid Klocke, and Angelika Kraemer, seek to transcend the language/literature split in their description of best practices. The contribution by Kraemer focuses explicitly on technology in the literature/culture classroom.

How we position ourselves as a profession in light of the current push for critical languages will be not unimportant for our own destiny. The national attention on the study of languages, as evidenced in increased funding opportunities for certain languages and the aforementioned report by the Modern Language Association, is not automatically good news for our field. …

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