Andrea Weatherman Teaching Statement Whatever you think you

Andrea Weatherman
Teaching Statement
Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it. – Goethe
Counter to many second language software infomercial claims, one can also “starting
speaking German within 15 minutes” as a participant in my “traditional” second language classroom.
It may be considered an out-of-date approach, but I lean on behaviorist theory and the stimulus of a
handshake during the first session. I find no shame in taking advantage of cultural parallels between
German-speaking and English-speaking cultures (international students are typically familiar with
this Western custom as well), and the directness and simplicity of this exercise allows students
immediate access to L2 usage, as active listeners and speakers.
I’ve found this ritual to be an invaluable foundation for a healthful affective filter. It gives us
all the opportunity to learn one another’s names and ask after well-being (a substantial question in
German-speaking cultures, rather than a superficial courtesy, as in the States). By following my
verbal modelling, written prompts on the board or projector screen, and speaking with one another,
students are being introduced to the L2 as well, discovering accommodating cognates such as Name
and gut, as well as familiar phrases like Hallo and Auf Wiedersehen. By exploiting top-down
processing, students can recognize the observational and interpretive tools they already possess in the
first day of language learning. Through this I seek to encourage a student-centered classroom culture
of active participation in the target language.
The naivete of the student, to whom the difficult and formidable seems good enough, is wiser than the adult pedantry
that admonishes thought with a threatening finger to understand the simple before risking that complexity which
alone entices it. Such a postponement of knowledge only prevents knowledge. – Adorno
Perhaps students have unrealistic expectations for their language learning. Whether this is the
case or not, I seek to harness their curiosity and desire to learn in the triadic communicative model.
As an instructor, I seek out authentic cultural materials that are comprehensible and interesting. The
accessibility of a text is not determined by the content itself, but rather the task assigned to the
student when working with the text. This allows for rich input that reflects not only a variety of
genres and registers, but also cultural differences within German-speaking communities themselves.
When studying Austria this past semester in a beginning German class, we drew from
sources such as a Youtube video of an event from Otto von Habsburg’s 2012 burial, music from a
young band promoting Tirolian dialect, and photos of Slovenian-Austrian bilingual road signs in
Carinthia. Guided exploration of texts from various communities using the target language can
broaden students’ understanding of bilingualism and break down the often discouraging and certainly
misleading construct of the “native speaker.” While our tasks pertaining to these texts were
exclusively in the target language before and during our investigation of the material, often times our
post-reading or post-listening tasks would include reflecting on questions as a class in English. This
not only allows for more ready articulation of thoughts, but also reminds students of the importance
of cross-cultural studies in their homeland and abroad.
Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible. – Paul Klee
Second-language learning is a process of discovery, and one that reveals not only new
cultural and linguistic worlds, but also internal possibilities like unfamiliar modes of thought.
Recognizing how reading and writing function in both the L1 and L2 allows the instructor to better
define educational goals and construct effective assignments. Honing writing skills themselves may
be the object of an assignment, or writing may be used as a tool for learning the target language.
Andrea Weatherman
Likewise, reading tasks may be oriented toward increasing student awareness of monitoring skills or
perhaps the emphasis of an assignment is on the linguistic characteristics or cultural content.
Some early “writing to learn” activities other than descriptive essays that I’ve found to be
successful include creating poems, composing letters, and constructing riddles. However, learning to
write is a life-long process and may be pursued in second language study as well. Seeking to share
ideas brings with it a critical attitude, as one considers not only a text’s audience, but also the content
and form to be presented. It is believed that one “translates” ideas into words when working in the
mother-tongue, but ideas must be derived from words when composing in the second language. This
inversion is more than simply a cognitive challenge. It is an opportunity to encourage more deliberate
reflection on the connection between language usage and thought in composition, and this
complements exploration of the final two rhetorical modes: argumentation and exposition.
Additionally, early introduction to literary texts for reading is both possible and worth the effort of
constructing appropriate tasks for beginning students. I often use excerpts from texts by Erich
Kästner and Peter Bichsel for these activities. As stated above, I sometimes include forumdiscussions in the L1 for questions raised by the narrative or implications of the text’s world.
In youth we learn in age we understand. – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Vocabulary plays a central role in communication, whether in the first or second language, an
interpretive or expressive resource. It allows for meaningful communication early on in the process
of language learning and can be a part of rich input and output in multiple literacies. Not only does
vocabulary serve as the semantic foundation for second language acquisition, but it also parallels the
cognitive pattern of a native speaker’s lexicon. Because both native speakers and second language
learners store words in the declarative memory structure as described by Ullman’s
declarative/procedural model, it is comparatively easy to acquire and retain. Grammar is semantically
significant as a framework, but vocabulary is critical throughout the language learning process.
Although many curricula continue to stress grammar as the primary organizational feature and object
of assessment, recent research has shown that grammar is the first aspect of language learning to
atrophy and true understanding comes through indirect exposure to syntactical structures in
meaningful contexts. I think it is necessary to provide adult learners with explicit grammar rules at
times, but both effective rule to example sessions and guided-inductive lessons depend upon active
student participation.
The charm of a theory is its refutability. – Nietzsche
Many of the approaches I’ve describe above are based on a socio-cultural understanding of
learning and may be considered forms of Communicative Language Teaching. However, as shown
by my opening remarks, I believe in incorporating teaching techniques that draw upon earlier
pedagogical traditions like the Audio-Lingual Method as well. And, while I think it is essential to
primarily facilitate class-time in the target language, deliberate and purposeful use of students’ L1
creates space for educational opportunities otherwise unavailable to learners. Because of this, my
teaching approach is not static from student to student and class to class. Just as I see sound affective
factors as the foundation for a successful semester, I am equally convinced that responsive and
respectfully flexible teaching methods are needed to serve students. The exception proves the rule,
and I understand the most important teaching principle to be that of adaptation. Ultimately, I hope to
provide students with an awareness of the larger global community, the interdependence of language
and culture, and the means they have to explore and consider their role in the world.