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Teaching Philosophy Statement: Silke Falkner

German, Languages and Linguistics, U of S - 2001

I. Background

II. Teaching: The Classroom and Beyond

III. Promoting Quality Teaching in Myself and Others

IV. Teaching Philosophy and Objectives

A. Content-Based Language Acquisition
B. What is Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching?
C. Teaching Materials and Strategies
D. Attempting Instructional Innovation and Evaluating its Effectiveness
E. An Opportunity for Adjustment
F. Assessment of Students

V. Student Evaluations

VI. Bibliography

VII. Appendices (no appendices are posted here)

A. Curriculum Vitae
B. Overview of Teaching Responsibilities and Selected Course Materials

i. Elementary German
ii. German Culture and Thought
iii. Intermediate German
iv. Advanced German
v. Gender and Identity in 20th Century German Literature
vi. Journal Writing

C. Student-to-Student Advice
D. Peer Evaluations
E. Student Evaluations and Testimonials
F. The Extended Learning Environment: Extra-Curricular Activities

I. Background

My philosophy of education is based largely on my experience with the proficiency-oriented methodologies I have utilized in the instruction of German:

  • since my appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Saskatchewan,
  • in my previous work as Language Instructor at the Department of German Studies at McGill University, and
  • in my pedagogical work in Montréal outside McGill (see CV Category 8: Previous positions relevant to U of S employment).

My efforts are directed at the development of all four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing), and I place special emphasis on communicative and cultural competence.

I am much indebted to the mentoring of my McGill professors, in particular to:

  • D. Sakayan for theory,
  • H. Richter for initial practical experience with Elementary German,
  • J. Schmidt for management of Advanced Language classes using literary and non-literary texts, as well as experience with language retreats, and
  • P.M. Daly, who taught me that teaching language and researching literature/culture can be mutually beneficial.

As well, H.-W. Frischkopf, a McGill lecturer, has never ceased to answer my complicated questions related to teaching German. All these individuals continue to be my role models.


II. Teaching: The Classroom and Beyond

In the Department of Languages and Linguistics, the usual number of credit units taught by a faculty member in each academic year is 18. During my three years at the University of Saskatchewan, I have been responsible for teaching:

  • undergraduate language courses (Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced),
  • a cultural survey course (German Culture and Thought, taught in English), and
  • a special studies project (German 399.6: Gender and Identity in 20th Century German Literature: one student, ca. 5 contact hours/week).

With the exception of the latter, all courses involved three to four contact hours and 8 to 25 students (September numbers) (see CV Category 9: Teaching Record, and materials in appendix B).

Though the German program has no graduate students (as I am the only faculty member for German), I currently act as Dissertation Co-Supervisor (with H. Clark) for Cornelia Burian in the Department of English, and sit on the Thesis Advisory Committee for Noelle Lucas in History (supervisor: V. Korinek).

During my own university education, I benefited from an extended learning environment that encompassed far more than classroom experiences. Because of this, and to enhance and enrich the learning of German and improve enrollments by raising the profile of the U of S German program, I have organized several extra-curricular events, including:

  • receptions to welcome students of German,
  • biannual Language Immersion Retreats (Sprachwochenenden),
  • weekly conversation groups (Stammtisch), and
  • a number of film series.

These have been successful in fostering an atmosphere where students can bond to form a learning community, and in raising the communicative and cultural competence levels of students of German (see appendix F). I also administer, on the institutional level, the Werkstudentenflug (Work-Student-Flight) that sends Canadian students to Germany each summer with an orientation, job, and flight subsidy, and I enthusiastically promote the four exchange programs the College of Arts and Science has with German universities.


III. Promoting Quality Teaching in Myself and Others

Since 1999, I have interviewed, trained, and supervised all German tutorial leaders (language assistants for tutorials at all levels of language instruction) and chaired the course committee for Elementary German, and I am currently a member of the Departmental Teaching Committee. To advance quality teaching, and as part of my liaison with the Saskatchewan Association of Teachers and German, I organized and chaired a Study Group for teachers in Saskatoon (Grammatik-Kreis) in 1998-99. I keep abreast of developments and research in the field of applied linguistics re: German as a Foreign Language by, for example, participating in the pedagogical sessions offered each year during the Social Sciences and Humanities Congress by the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German, and reading journals such as Forum Deutsch (published by the Canadian Association of Teachers of German in cooperation with the Goethe Institute) and the online Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht. In response to a peer evaluation from Alex Sokalski, April 18th, 2000, specifically suggesting that I "enrol in a teaching seminar on the proper preparation of overheads and slides," I participated in a workshop at The Gwenna Moss Teaching and Learning Centre: Picture Perfect: Producing Useful Charts and Graphs (October 5th, 2000).


IV. Teaching Philosophy and Objectives

IV. A. Content-Based Language Acquisition: Cultural Specifics

Teaching German is comprised of more than instruction on case system, strong verbs, and adjective endings. Although grammatical complexities continue to challenge ability to analyze, categorize, and memorize, students must also deal with important historical, cultural, and economic information as part of their course material. That is, within the framework of the subject, German as a Foreign Language, language must be viewed not as an isolated system, but within the context and as an expression of culture (Altmayer 1; cf. Gilman 88).

For example, two 20th-century events have arguably been most pivotal with respect to the formation of contemporary German culture, the Holocaust and Re-unification. No course in German language, culture or literature can ever be free of issues arising from these two events. Language, culture and literature are interconnected in evoking critical thinking on identity, nationhood and diversity, subjects of import for both the study of German, and the formation of critically informed young Canadian citizens.

IV. B. What is Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching?

The most important goal in language learning is to master/command language as a medium for communication. This requires parallel development of fluency and correctness. However, more fluent and correct language is only the means, not the goal itself - a means to enable one to communicate one's own reality, and to understand the experiences of others. All language teaching should, therefore, be interactive and have an eye to the culture and civilization of the target peoples. This can be accomplished by creating authentic situations with the language, making it real, using facts and the processes of life the topics of my language courses are such as multiculturalism, economy and ecology, scape-goating and resistance, the self and the other.

On a practical level, then, competence in a foreign language can only be gained when both linguistic and cultural objectives are pursued. And knowledge of the target culture can be more easily accessed and processed when it is brought into relationship with the students own culture, which additionally allows students to experience living with difference/diversity, and enables them to question their own norms (Rost-Roth, see also House). (A simple example of cultural difference is the German du and Sie-dichotomy that has no English equivalent.)

An inter-cultural and communicative approach, therefore, offers opportunities for contextualized, cooperative language acquisition, and so assists learners in becoming effective speakers, listeners, readers and writers. Both teacher and student play an important role in this because education is a shared responsibility. From my students, I expect genuine interest, self-discipline, and readiness to carry out the tasks required to achieve the objectives of the course. As a teacher, I strive to create an encouraging, risk-taking environment to allow students to overcome their inhibitions and communicate without fear. My goal in and beyond the classroom is to provide an atmosphere conducive to both learning and self-discovery in order to facilitate the student in acquiring Intermediate, Advanced, and Post-Advanced proficiency. Students can then realize their creative and intellectual potential and grow both in language and cultural competence.

IV. C. Teaching Materials and Strategies

My development of courses is guided overall by the following principles (as suggested by Curricular Guidelines 7):

  • PROGRESSION: the sequence of content into functional and logically connected learning activities within each language course.
  • CONTINUITY: content and learning situations should continue and/or be re-introduced not only within each course, but also from one course to the next on different levels. E.g. format of oral presentations for Intermediate and Advanced language courses; self-correcting of essays; partner and group discussions and listening activities.
  • DIFFERENTIATION: continually subdividing skills/abilities and content within the progression of each course, and from one course to the next.
  • INTEGRATION (of the learning activities): E.g. teaching the use of an index, memorization techniques and oral presentation skills for utilization outside the classroom and in other classes. (Student comment, course evaluation: "In all of her classes I have had to give a lot of presentations which I feared and hated but I can now say that I benefited immensely from them and no longer feel nervous speaking publicly.")

In conjunction with interactive classroom presentations, I make use of textbooks, the multi-media lab, audio-visual resources, and handouts, according to the objectives of each course. Textbooks chosen for Elementary and Intermediate language courses emphasize inter-cultural and communicative learning without neglecting grammar. For Advanced German, I use a traditional grammar book in conjunction with a selection of literary texts. For German Culture and Thought, I utilized historical, literary, political and philosophical texts, as well as documentaries, movies, slides and music.

Exposure to everyday and authentic literary texts and materials is necessary to achieve linguistic and cultural understanding. A diversity of teaching materials amplifies the potential for cultural and linguistic exchange, and acknowledges and accommodates different learning styles. Realia, in combination with lectures, communicative exercises, readings, and creative writing exercises, provide a varied and stimulating environment for students. This serves to disinhibit the learner and leads to the development of strong communicative abilities. In addition, therefore, to the multi-media lab (an integral part of all Elementary and Intermediate language courses at the University of Saskatchewan), I integrate a variety of audio-visual materials into my courses. For example, I have used video-clips for topics such as Leisure Activities, Partnershipí and Multicultural Society. Short films from German TV provide students with true insight into German culture. Songs often serve to introduce poetry, such as Bert Brecht's "Berliner Requiem" and Goethe's "Erlkönig," and slides and overheads introduce visual art. Documentaries and movies are of particular value in culture classes.

I also emphasize learning and working strategies that will make students more effective outside the classroom (McAdam 10). An example of this is my regimen for written essays in the target language. Students in Intermediate and Advanced language courses write short compositions on topics such as violence in the media, families in the future, resistance to dictatorship, and the alienation of the individual in society. I return these essays with errors marked in a fashion that encourages each student to find solutions to their own text production problems - I indicate the type of mistake (S for syntax, W for diction, K for case, and so on), but not the solution. The essays can be re-submitted until I am satisfied with the process and progress, and each re-submission carries the potential of improving the previous grade (up to 5 points higher than for first submission).

Two aids I provide to students to improve study skills, and encourage motivation and self-reliance are:

  • tips and words-of-wisdom from peers who have previously completed the course in question (see "Student-to-Student Advice" and "How to Survive Advanced German" in appendix C), and
  • detailed time-tables for each courseŸthis helps students retain an overview of the course material and of the time frame within which it is to be covered (see appendix B).

Language and cultural proficiency is further strengthened by student oral presentations in all my courses. Each presentation is followed by a class discussion to help students articulate their ideas with their peers, and each student presenter receives detailed written comments from me to positively encourage his/her progress and to give him/her the means towards that progress (see samples in appendix B).

IV.D. Attempting Instructional Innovation and Evaluating its Effectiveness

For the 2000-01 school year, I made the decision to require all students taking a German class to write a course-based journal, as an opportunity to reflect on their progress in language and cultural learning, and to develop better skills in formulating ideas (appendix B). Research has shown that "writing to learn" substantially influences studentsí improvement of important skills and facilitates learner-autonomy, commitment, and motivation. A course-based journal helps students think constructively about course content, aids their self-reliance as a learner, improves their learning and studying strategies, allows them to critically examine their world view, and benefits their overall growth processes (Kalman, Shulman). I did not evaluate the effectiveness of the journal-writing statistically, but having read and commented on the entries for two terms, I believe my expectations were fulfilled. Anecdotal evidence from the students supports me in this conclusion. However, I have had to make the difficult decision not to continue with the journal requirement because it made the course workloads just too burdensome for students. I still require numerous writing assignments that present students with most of the same learning opportunities offered by the course-based journal.

IV. E. An Opportunity for Adjustment

A language teacher strives to use the target language as much as possible, depending on the level of the group. Peer evaluations have helped greatly in making me aware of how well I am doing in this area (see appendix D for all peer evaluations I have received):

  • N. Senior, (20. March 2000) INTERMEDIATE GERMAN: "The class was conducted almost entirely in German, with occasional very short explanations in English."
  • Alex Sokalski, (18. April 2000) INTERMEDIATE GERMAN: "The session I attended was conducted in a mixture of English and German. Since this is a 200 level class, I feel that it should be conducted entirely in the target language and that the students should be trained early on to formulate all questions and comments in that language."
  • T. Mildare, (12. March 2001) INTERMEDIATE GERMAN: "Dr. Falkner conducted much of the class in German, often also explaining in English. If I were to make any recommendations, it would be that she try and use the target language more consistently."
  • N. Senior, (20. March 2000) ADVANCED GERMAN: "The class was conducted almost entirely German, with rare, short explanations of difficult points in English."
  • L. Jaeck, (30. April 2001) ADVANCED GERMAN: "Professor Falkner used German exclusively in class, to the benefit of her students."

(From these comments I conclude that the amount of German I use in the Advanced classroom is appropriate and that improvements can be made in the Intermediate.)

The greatest challenge to my limiting the use of English in Intermediate German has been student resistance (due in part because a segment of this group enters this 2nd-year university German class directly from high school). I consulted with Mary Marino on this (who encouraged me to persevere in the face of this opposition), and found some guidance in the Curricular Guidelines for University Language Instruction in German as a Foreign Language. The latter holds that the basic principle of using German as the classroom language in the Intermediate classroom must not be followed too dogmatically at the beginning of the course, as students have a need for massive review of all skills after their summer break. In the first phase, then, explanations and requests can be in English (but must be repeated in German immediately). Grammar explanations in particular must be principally in English at the outset with more and more effort to shift the language of instruction completely to German as time goes on (31).

It is my intention to maintain a heightened awareness of my use of the target language in the classroom and to specifically focus on increasing it on a frequent and regular basis. This didactic crux might also be constructively discussed in the Departmental Teaching Committee, as it seems I am not the only faculty member facing this challenge.

IV. F. Assessment of Students

Assessment of students must further the objectives of each course. Final grades from me consist of a combination of marks in several areas, including written and oral assignments, and active participation in the class. Frequent testing and quizzing motivates students to stay abreast of the material at all times and presents them with effective feedback on their progress, and final exams build on and reflect the format of midterms and quizzes. Language course final exams combine the assessment of listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and grammatical correctness within communicative language, with a section of Kommunikation involving short answer-questions and/or very short essays. In German Culture and Thought, exams consisted of recognition skills (short text excerpts must be matched to their source), short answer questions, and an essay to encourage and elicit an overview of the vast time period involved (from first contact of Germanic peoples with the Roman armies to contemporary German society).


V. Student Evaluations

Student evaluations administered by the Department of Languages and Linguistics have consistently underlined an appreciation of my courses and teaching style (see transcripts of student evaluations for all courses I have taught at the University of Saskatchewan in appendix E, with the exception of the special studies project German 399.6 for which no evaluation was carried out because the anonymity of the one student would have been compromised). "Approachable," "committed," "encouraging," "enthusiastic," "fair," "patient," "tough," "effective" and "well-organized" are some of the adjectives ascribed to me by students. Concerns about heavy workloads are juxtaposed with appreciation for the amount learned:

  • "There was a significant increase in the level of ability in the class from the beginning to the end. My only concern is with the workload. I believe that the number of assignments to be handed in and quizzes was rather excessive. Clearly this is an effective way to assure that students are constantly thinking about German ... ."
  • "She is not easy & she pushes us to learn but that is necessary."
  • "She is very encouraging & pushes us hard. I found at the beginning of this course I felt really behind, like I had missed a whole year, but now I understand what is going on & feel better."
  • "Her standards are very high, however, her whole-hearted personal approach to teaching makes her both easy to approach and hard to please. The course load is extremely heavy. My own progress in German has gone beyond my expectations. [The course] has met all my expectations if not pushed me to all I was capable of!"
  • "I have learned a lot this semester because she has pushed us and motivated us to do our best."

These words illustrate, in my opinion, my achievement of that fine line between enough and too much challenge. As yet another student commented: "Dr. Falkner's instruction is, in general, very effective. While she has been known to assign a great deal of homework at times, it is perhaps pretty responsible for the success of her students." And another wrote: "Dr. Falkner continues to motivate me to continually challenge myself by her high expectations and belief in our abilities, tempered with humour and understanding of our struggles." "Dr. Falkner achieves a good balance between challenging us & our being overwhelmed by the material, so that I always feel capable of eventually mastering difficult material."


VI. Bibliography

Altmayer, Claus. "Zum Kulturbegriff des Faches Deutsch als Fremdsprache." Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht [Online] 2.2 (1997): 25pp.

Curricular Guidelines for University Language Instruction in German as a Foreign Language: Final Report of the CAUTG Task Force on University Language Instruction. Compiled by Manfred Prokop (University of Alberta) et al. 1997.

Gilman, Sander. The Fortunes of the Humanities: Thoughts for After the Year 2000. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000.

House, Juliane. "Zum Erweb interkultureller Kompetenz im Unterricht des Deutschen als Fremdsprache." Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht [Online] 1.3 (1996)

Kalman, Judith and Calvin. "Writing to Learn." Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy 9.4 (1997-1998).

McAdam, Jutta. "Lernstrategien im Fremdsprachenunterricht." Forum Deutsch 10 (Winter 2001): 6-10.

Rost-Roth, Martina. "Deutsch als Fremdsprache und nterkulturelle Kommunikation: Relevanzbereiche für den Fremdsprachenunterricht und Untersuchungen zu enthnographischen Besonderheiten deutschsprachiger Interaktionen im Kulturvergleich." Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht [Online] 1.1 (1996): 37 pp.

Shulman, G.M., et al. Using the journal assignment to create empowered learners: An application of writing across the curriculum. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 4 (1993): 89-104.

Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht: Didaktik und Methodik im Bereich Deutsch als Fremdsprache


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