Project-based learning in the second language classroom

Project-based learning in the second language classroom is not new. It has been used in second language classrooms for over thirty years. In German, the term is handlungsorientierter Unterricht (action-oriented teaching). It speaks to the active learning that takes place when students are involved in projects. Experiential learning provides concrete ways for students to learn the language while pursuing topics of interest.

Group work and technology are typical elements of project based learning

In the Winter 2015 semester, I took on the challenge of teaching a project-based learning class to an advanced German class with an enrolment of 4 students. To give the class structure, I had each student create a video, a multimodal presentation and a website. The students co-created the rubrics for these assignments in German at the beginning of the semester. I supported them with class sessions on web 2.0 tools, activities to improve their German and lessons on pop culture. We profited from the support of a teaching assistant who taught lessons on translation and comic books. These classes were interspersed with peer feedback sessions in which the students reviewed each others’ work. While this was new to them, they caught on quickly. Most of all, they thoroughly enjoyed exploring their own topics and sharing their learning with their classmates, an audience of other German learners (another advanced class) and the wider world (since their videos and websites are on the internet). They learned to talk about their projects, their learning, and what they felt made a good final product – all in German!

Strong project-based second language learning courses share ten criteria. Friedricka Stoller, in her 2006 book chapter, outlines these ten criteria as:

having a progress and production orientation
being defined, at least in part, by the student
extending over a period of time
encouraging a natural integration of skills (technology and communication)
holding a dual commitment to language and content learning
having students work in groups and on their own
requiring students to take some responsibility for their own learning
resulting in students and teachers taking new roles and responsibilities
producing a final product for a larger audience
concluding with student reflections on process and product

Curiosity drives student interest in the project they are pursuing.

I used their ten criteria to assess whether my Senior Projects in German course was truly a strong project based learning course. Reflecting back, my small number of students were a blessing since  each student was able to pursue the project s/he chose. Their lack of experience with PBL was quickly overshadowed by their strong passion for their projects. The experience of designing a project-based learning course helped me to expand my teaching repertoire. Looking back, I can see things that I would like to have done differently, knowing now that some students need more structure than others and students work best when the class lessons directly support their projects. Overall, however, I consider the design of this  course to be a success and have adopted this pedagogy for other courses I have taught since.

You can read more about this experience here:

Dressler, R., Raedler, B., Dimitrov, K., Dressler, A., & Krause, G. (2020). Project-based learning in the advanced German class. In G. Beckett & T. Slater (Eds.), Global perspectives on project-based language learning, teaching, and assessment: Key approaches, technology tools, and frameworks (pp. 69-84). London: Routledge. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/113124

Stoller, F. (2006). Establishing a theoretical foundation for project-based learning in second and foreign language contexts. In G. Beckett & P. C. Miller (Eds.), Project-based second and foreign language education: Past, present, and future (pp. 19–40). Information Age Publishing.

This post is an update from the original in May 2015

Organizing your family photos: A metaphor for data analysis

Raw data, like raw film, takes work!

This summer I revisited a neglected personal project: organizing family photos into albums. My mother always dutifully printed off her films, wrote on the backs of pictures, and put them into albums. For a while, I did the same, dividing pictures into albums for me and my husband as well as each of the children. Then came the advent of digital cameras and after that, camera phones. Now everyone was taking pictures, but few were printing them off. At first, I tried to keep up with printing and putting into albums, but eventually gave up. I took the few pictures I had printed, and those people had mailed me, and shoved them into a photobox. Years later, I discovered this box again, full of pictures without homes that I need to make decisions about.

The decision making around those pictures is metaphor for the data analysis each researcher must do. For some photographers, each photo is precious and needs to be kept. For some researchers, every answer to every survey or interview question carries important information. However, to report the raw data, unanalyzed, would be akin to filling up a photo album with pictures in the order you pick out of the box. No rhyme, no reason. From the viewpoint of the researcher, this may seem valuable, but research is meant to be read and understood, so analysis is key.

Depending on the methodological framework, some data analysis is straightforward and follows given steps. However, for many researchers who embark upon thematic or content analysis, the structure is less obvious. Consider your research questions? Are you looking for specific themes or content as dictated by understandings developed by previous researchers? Then decide what those are and sort the data accordingly. If the data were pictures, you might consider sorting chronologically, by occasion, by holidays, or by featured people in the pictures.

Data is easier to work with once analyzed.

Next consider how salient the data is. Do you have some aspects that only occur once? Does that make them stand out as memorable and important or suggest that they are of lesser importance and may not contribute to the larger argument. Using the picture metaphor, do you have a picture of a long-lost relative that is important to keep because it is the only one that exists of that person or is this someone no one knows and therefore the picture would seem out of place on the album?

While this very general discussion might not alleviate all of a researcher’s questions about data analysis, it may shed light on why data analysis can be challenging. We want to keep all the data or we get overwhelmed by the decision-making, sometimes having to take the time to consider what our rationale is for our choices, so that we can feel confident in enacting them.

Completed data analysis is like a well-curated photo album.

Looking at your salient data, how clearly does everything fit within the theme? Does it appear that what you first thought was one theme adequately covers the data within it or does it need to be split into more themes? Consider if you were making an album of cousins and realized that you had too many for one album. Would you split the pictures up further in some way? Grouping them by family of origin or those closest to you? There often is no one right way to sort the data, but you will need to consider what your rationale is for making these decisions. My mother might argue that family of origin makes most sense, but then, she knows everyone in the pictures. My children might argue that they only want to see the cousins they actually know because otherwise the album is full of pictures of strangers. The importance is in having a sound rationale for deciding what fits into a theme, just as one decides what fits into an album.

Working with undergraduate student researchers

This blog has been updated from one published in 2019.

Another summer has come to an end and for the third year in a row I have had the opportunity to work with an undergraduate student researcher. We are fortunate at my institution to have funding for students to apply to do research over the course of their four month summer break. This has been especially important this year with students not being able to find work due to Covid-19 challenges.

For summer research, students need to come up with a proposal and be supported by a supervisor. Beyond that it is very open-ended as students can work on projects in a wide variety of fields. Initially, the list of accepted students were primarily from the sciences, working in the summer in established labs with sub-projects under the supervision of a faculty researcher. More and more education students are seizing the chance to learn about research through doing.

This year (2020) Nancy Liu explored the linguistic landscape of Bilingual Program schools and their surrounding neighbourhoods to examine how their external signage reflects the languages spoken in the neighborhood. Last summer (2019), Lisa Anderson explored language learning and music through the context of a school-based action research study I am doing on the application of intensive weeks of language instruction to a bilingual school program: “Intensive German Weeks for Bilingual Education: Investigating Practices for Oral Language Development.” She chose to disseminate knowledge from her research at a student teacher conference and an academic conference. The first summer (2018), Janessa Bretner  interviewed graduates of our pre-service study abroad experience to find out how their teaching practices were influenced by their volunteer teaching abroad in my project: “Reflective Writing for Sojourn Preparation, Reflection, and Debriefing.” I mentored all three students through the processes of ethics certification, data collection, and data analysis.

Here are some tips for working with undergraduate student researchers:

  1. Welcome them! I like to take them out for lunch and celebrate their achievement in receiving this highly competitive funding. In the case of the second student, I made a formal introduction to the principal and staff of the school where she would be collecting data. With my third student, I asked a colleague, whose work she had read, to join our Friday Zoom meeting to discuss her methodological choices.
  2. Help them with logistics – After they have their ethics certification, I make an ethics modification that includes their proposed work. I enroll them in my shared drives for the research, advocate for them to get office space and printer access, and make sure they know how to get support for the various aspects of their research. I share my knowledge of effective use of Twitter to disseminate blogs.
  3. Make things explicit – for undergraduates, almost everything we do with research is new, so we met regularly to go over aspects of research. To facilitate the lit review, I ask students to read and take notes on at least one article a day. I ask them to blog about their learning each week and we work on accurately citing using APA. When we meet, we go over data collection and later analysis. Depending on how the student would like to disseminate the findings, I assist them in articulating their results through their writing and presenting.

What does a researcher gain from working with undergraduate student researchers?

  1. Whether you see this as teaching or service, you are mentoring a current undergraduate who may do research in the future as a part of graduate or professional work.
  2. Making research explicit allows you to reflect upon your own practices and clarifies your own understandings of ontology, epistemology, and methodology.
  3. Since the student is pursuing a related but new idea, your work together allows you to experiment with a new direction for your research.

Based on the work with these three undergraduate student researchers, I have pilot research for a study that was recently funded (in the first case) an expanded understanding of the work I am doing with teachers (in the second case), and a co-authored article in the works (with the student as lead author). I have an appreciation for the enthusiasm and creativity of this emerging scholars and, because I get them to document their learning, I have a wealth of resources to share with the next undergraduate to come along.

Going to the grocery store: A metaphor for writing up results and discussion

Academics and graduate students sometimes struggle to write up the results and discussion sections of their articles and dissertations. When they receive feedback like “too descriptive”, “need to synthesize”, or “where are your conclusions?”, they wonder what they can do to improve their writing.

During a recent discussion on how to guide our students in writing up their results and discussion, a colleague shared with me a metaphor that she uses: going to the grocery store. She explained how she used it and I have expanded it here to demonstrate how to think of the results and discussion sections of articles and chapters in a dissertation.

When you go to the grocery store, you enter the produce section (research context) and see tables of all kinds of produce imaginable (raw data). You decide what you want based on particular criteria (your research questions) and fill your basket. When you get home, you empty your shopping bags and the phone rings with a call from your curious friend. She asks,“what did you buy?”. You could answer with a list (unsynthesized data): apples, eggplant, bananas, celery, bean sprouts, and a watermelon. However, if you do that, she might say “what an odd assortment! You must not like round foods, because most of what you bought is not round”. Based on what you told her, she has drawn a conclusion.

However, it is unlikely that you went to the store buying foods based on their shape. By providing her unsynthesized data without drawing conclusions, you have left her to draw her own, in the same way that writing up results by only presenting the raw data, you leave the reader to draw his own conclusion.

Perhaps instead, you answer “I bought three kinds of fruit and three kinds of vegetables”. Here you have synthesized your data by grouping the food according to type. What type of conclusion do you want her to draw from this? You add “I wanted a variety of both fruits and vegetables”. Your friend is now much less likely to criticize what you bought because she has been presented with synthesized data and a conclusion and can better follow your rationale. She goes on to ask you about the rest of what you bought, and you present your shopping her in a similar way: “I also bought flour, sugar, and milk. Now I have all the ingredients needed to do some baking” and “I bought lentils, quinoa and rice. Now I have different grains in my pantry”. The results of your shopping trip as presented to your friend on the phone parallel the presentation of your results in your article or dissertation. This may seem obvious, but it is very common for novice writers (I still do it sometimes) to present the synthesis, but forget to draw a conclusion, because to them, it is obvious, although not always to your readers.

Now on to the Discussion: Your curious friend is momentarily satisfied as she hears your results, but then she asks “why?” She may be wondering if you plan to do try some new recipes, cook or bake some old favorites, or go on a raw food diet. The Discussion section of your article or dissertation is where you satisfy the ‘why’ of the reader. You might answer your friend “I chose these items to buy because I am expecting a lot of company and the guests have different food preferences, so I want to cook a variety of foods from scratch”. Now she has an overall idea of what your rationale was.

Now you have her interest as you break down the results with reference to previous supporting literature. “I can cook using the lentils and quinoa. Lentils are naturally gluten-free (Smith, 2020) and a favorite among vegetarians because they are quick to cook (Jones, 2019). Quinoa is considered a highly nutritious ancient grain (Thoms, 2018) and cooks up easily in the pressure cooker, so I want to try that as well. With lentils and quinoa, I have the two quickest cooking grains for those who are vegetarian or gluten intolerant”. With these four sentences you have 1) recapped your results briefly 2) tied your results to the previous literature (which should appear in your lit review) 3) drawn a conclusion demonstrating critical thinking, rather than just description. Ok, you may not do that in real life, but in academic writing, that is exactly what we are called to do.

This last element, demonstrating critical thinking, is crucial to your Discussion conclusions. You need to identify significance, timing, or suitability; structure evidence in order of importance; evaluate significance or strengths and weaknesses; or argue a case. To help my students with the distinction between descriptive and critical writing, I refer them to a useful chart found on p. 12 in the book listed below (Cottrell, 2012). Recently one of my students shared a video that also addresses this aspect of writing. Once you have a sense of what the difference is between critical and descriptive writing, you may find it helpful to create your own chart to post near your writing area as a regular reminder.

The Results and Discussion writing are the parts of our academic writing where we get to share not only what we found in our research, but what it means for answering our research question. That is why I often structure my Discussion by revisiting the research question. By keeping it at the forefront, it reminds me, as well as the readers, what I was hoping to learn from the study, while I situate it in the larger field in which I am writing.

Having a clear concept of the Results and Discussion will strengthen your writing, in the same way that shopping with particular criteria in mind, while not obligatory, will make your grocery shopping more purposeful (but less likely to result in your bring home potato chips 😊). Carrying a metaphor this far may be an overextension. I welcome you to test it out and let me know in the comments if you feel it works!

(Please note that Smith, 2020; Jones, 2019; and Thoms, 2018 are invented citations for the purpose of illustration). If you wish to share this post as a pdf, please cite it as:

Dressler, R.. (2020). Going to the grocery store: A metaphor for writing up results and discussion. University of Calgary. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/112375

Cottrell, S. (2012). The study skills handbook. Palgrave Macmillan.

Refugee education in Germany: A document analysis

Boy in classroom Munich Bavaria Germany

When the Syrian refugee crisis hit the news headlines in Canada, I couldn’t help but notice the news that Germany would be providing asylum to large numbers of refugees. As part of my research program looking at second language teaching and learning through the lens of pre-service and in-service teachers’ understanding, I embarked on a comparative international education project on responses to refugee education. As a first step, I worked with Sabrina Lohmann, a bilingual in-service teacher to help me with a document analysis.  We wondered: how did the German education system respond to the sudden increase of school-aged children needing to learn German and what can that response teach us, as Canadian educators?”

Refugee migration in Canada and Germany is quite different. Canada is often considered a country of immigration (Triadofilopoulos, 2012). Refugees are accepted with permanent resident status that can lead to citizenship. In early 2016, the Canadian federal government announced the acceptance of 25 000 Syrian refugees (Molnar, 2016). The selection was limited to women, complete families and single men from sexual minority groups, who were vetted prior to their entry into Canada. Children are enrolled in school upon arrival. Schools usually provide full or partial integration into a mainstream classroom, often coded as ELL (English Language Learner). While this integrated approach is not universal across schools, it represents a typical approach to refugee education in Canada.

In contrast, immigration policy in Germany does not have a path for refugees to become citizens, but because of the geographical location asylum seekers arrived in large numbers and could only request refugee status upon arrival. In 2017, 1.4 Million asylum seekers came to Germany (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2018). These included families, single individuals and even unaccompanied minors. With large numbers of people housed in temporary housing, local school authorities arranged for introductory language instruction on site. These classes are often run by volunteers. Once children are in school, they spend one year in sheltered classes focused on learning German. Students who do not have basic literacy spend an additional year in those classes. After these 1-2 years of sheltered instruction, students are integrated into mainstream classes. This sheltered approach is relatively uniform across Germany.

With the large numbers of students and the focus on sheltered instruction in Germany, we wondered what Canadian educators could learn from the German situation. As a researcher, I looked at what documents were readily available for teachers in Germany and what the key messages were in those documents. As a teacher, Sabrina wanted to know what practical tips these documents could offer. Together we conducted a document analysis of 16 documents we found online between 2017-2019. The preliminary searches were done in Hamburg, Germany during my three research visits: June 2017, June 2018, and May 2019. Since Google searches are localized, it was important to conduct the searches in German, in Germany, in order to find the types of documents a local teacher would find.

We read the documents for what they could tell us about second language learning, intercultural communication, and trauma-informed pedagogy as these topics emerge in research done in Canada (Dressler & Gereluk, 2017). Second language learning in this case referred to learning German, but the theory and practical tips are applicable across languages. Intercultural communication refers to information provided to teachers about how to communicate with families as well as specific backgrounds of their students, in many cases, Arabic-speaking children from Syria.Trauma-informed pedagogy would include any messages about how the situation of fleeing one’s country, experiencing war and trauma, and the reality of interrupted schooling might necessitate interacting differently with these students than with other immigrant or local students. The documents represent what teachers might find if doing an online search under the topic refugee education, but serve to provide  a picture of German refugee education in general.

Five key messages emerged from the documents:

  1. Language learning involves immersing the student in meaningful social and academic language. Since language learning needs to happen quickly for students to communicate on a daily basis, the documents advocate for an “immersion in the new language”. This immersion can be facilitated by a whole school approach in which all teachers, regardless of subject-area or teaching assignment, are part of the team that supports the students in learning the new language. 
  1. Literacy instruction involves the awareness of different writing scripts as well as the effects of interrupted schooling. SLIFE (students with limited or interrupted formal education) is an acronym used in the English-speaking world as shorthand for the situation of many refugee children described in the documents. Some will have lost years of formal schooling due to migration, time spent in refugee camps, or temporary living situations in one country where formal schooling was restarted, but not continued. As well, for students learning German or English who have learned to read and write in Arabic, there will still be an adjustment of getting used to different alphabets, writing direction and writing styles.
  1. Trauma-informed pedagogy can mitigate student stress while learning. Teachers who  know the signs of trauma can avoid triggers that might seem innocent to outsiders. A school assembly with loud music and cheering might be frightening to students who have experienced bombing and raids. While our school system prizes choice, some refugee children respond to choice with confusion and anxiety. For them, structure in the school day may provide greater safety and comfort.
  1. Language learning can occur through music, art, and drama. These modes of learning support language development. They also connect students socially, creating trust and safe spaces. These modes allow students to express themselves in ways they might not be able to do through speaking.
  1. Family involvement can enhance the efforts of teachers. Informing families about the process of integration in school, language learning goals and how these will be targeted can provide families with reassurance that their children are learning. Families that feel supported can be free to be more involved in their children’s schooling.

In reviewing all of the documents, an overarching message is the importance of teaching children the societal language (German in this case, but French or English in Canada) as quickly and as well as possible. To their credit, several documents not only convey this message, but provide concrete lesson plans and teaching activities that work toward this goal. These activities are useful in the Canadian context for those who can read German as they can be used in German bilingual schools or translated into English for use in ELL classrooms or mainstream classrooms with high ELL populations. Especially in a setting where differentiation usually occurs through streaming lower-achieving students into a school route that limits post-secondary educational choices, learning the language of school instruction is closely linked to academic success. Similarly, in Canada, ELLs represent a large group of early school leavers Thus, a focus on second language learning is not misplaced here either.

The learning from the German situation has implications for teachers and administrators in Canada. Teachers can improve their practice by considering the importance of language learning in the mainstream classroom in all subject areas. Administrators can consider the time, class structure and support refugee students needed in order to thrive in schools. The strength of our school systems is in how they serve those who need them the most for making their home in a new country.

Dressler, R., & Lohmann, S. (2020). Refugee education in Germany: A document analysis. University of Calgary. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/112214

Ethics Applications – Here and Abroad

Ethics applications involve negotiating expectations of the researcher and the IREB.

Academics sometimes use the term “ethics” to refer to the application process with a given institutional research ethics board (IREB). So, one may overheard the comment “Country X doesn’t have ethics” and wonder what the state of research ethics is in said country. Ethics meaning “the fair dealing with participants during the research process” exist, whether or not a given country or institution has an IREB, as ultimately fair dealing is the responsibility of the researcher. However, in my recent research in Germany, I experienced what IREB approval entails there in comparison to how I experience it generally in Canada, which draws attention to the many aspects of research that are not always apparent at first glance.

In 2016, I embarked on a research project exploring responses to linguistic diversity, primarily the influx of refugees to the school system in Hamburg. I envisioned a very full month of data collection: document analysis and interviews at various institutions. For this, I applied for, and received, IREB approval from my home institution. This is a familiar process that involves answers a large number of questions in a specific institutional portal, creating the accompanying forms, translating those into German, running my translations by a native speaking friend, and hitting submit. After a 57 day review with some questions to answer mid-way, I received approval.

From previous casual conversations with German academics, I was under the impression that school-based research was not yet requiring IREB approval. However, to be sure, I asked my host to share corresponding ethics information for both the university and the school board that I was interested in doing research with. While there was no application procedure at the university at that time, my host was able to share with me a website link regarding research in Hamburg schools. Although my German is relatively advanced, I found the website she pointed me too was a challenging read. Once through it, I concluded that classroom research required IREB approval equally complicated and time-consuming as what existed in my institution and that I did not have adequate time to prepare for such data collection during my first visit. For the initial stay then, I opted to focus on publicly available documents so I could learn more about the IREB processes before endeavouring to branch out to interviewing.

While planning to return to Germany this year with an expanded project, I decided it was time to pursue approval to interview instructors who work directly with pre-service teachers in order to find out how their university teaching education prepared them to teach refugee children. I learned that the university did not require an IREB process as I was familiar with, but because of new regulations, my consent documents did require a vetting with regards to data security.

Data security means giving consideration to where research data is stored and how private or safe it is. While my university’s IREB process requires me to stipulate how my data will be stored securely, the degree to which the German process focused on that was much more. Data security falls under the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU, which came into effect May 25, 2018.  Coming from Canada was a privilege, as it was considered a secure third country with adequate levels of protection. This meant that I could securely transfer research data back to Canada. Still, I was required to create parallel German documents to the ones I had from Canada, vetted by the university’s data security office, which handled my queries in a speedy manner. I am grateful for the patience of the data security officer as I endeavoured to make sense of the legalese German on the website, tip sheets, and template. In the end, two weeks into my one month stay (having begun before leaving Canada), I had approval.

I was excited for the opportunity to interview university instructors and, after a whirlwind recruitment cycle, eight agreed to participate. Erring on the side of caution, I had participants sign both sets of forms. Looking forward, I would still like to interview teachers in the school system, but that is for a future visit. Based on my experience this round, I am cognizant that I will need to start early on getting IREB approval.

Visiting Scholar – Take 2

I am back at the University of Hamburg for a month – this time as a visiting scholar under the German Academic Agency’s (DAAD) Short-term Research Stay program. I will be continuing my research into how the University of Hamburg is preparing pre-service teachers for working with refugee children. This research has expanded to a comparative study of the US and Canada with two international colleagues: Drorit Lengyel and Barri Tinkler.

I have three main goals while I am here:

  1. continue the document analysis I started two years ago and getting it ready for publication
  2. (tied with that) pilot a document analysis workshop with graduate students here and if successful, offer at home and at a US institution
  3. interview university instructors regarding their work with pre-service teachers in this area.

I am still waiting for clearance to do #3, but the ball is rolling for that.

I have a few personal goals to expand my German repertoire:

  1. take in some movies at the Abaton Kino which offers lesser known titles in German (as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters)
  2. make use of the university fitness studio where I just bought a guest membership for the month
  3. try out a few new restaurants to add to my list of favourites (and pictures on Instagram)

So far, other than jetlag, I have also had to deal:

  1. with temporarily losing the ability to do bank transfers with my German account (long story – even longer to settle)
  2. accidentally walking into the mens’ change room (can’t I read German?)
  3. converting my personal training program from mph to km/h (didn’t I learn to convert in school?)

Stay posted for progress reports.

Bilingual identity revisited

During my candidacy exam, I was asked about my conceptualization of my bilingual identity. I wrote a very brief blog post about it then, but I would like to revisit the topic in light of a book I recently finished, Becoming multicultural: Immigration and the politics of membership in Canada and Germany by Triadafilos Triadofilopoulos. This well-written, well-researched book looks at the evolution of immigration policy in the two countries in which I am a citizen: Canada and Germany. The main argument for looking at these two case studies is that both country’s policymakers have changed the respective country’s immigration policies dramatically over the course of the last 100 years due to pressures to align their policies with their collective image of the countries as liberal democracies. Reading this book has provided a strong background for the work I am currently doing in understanding how universities prepare teachers for refugee education, starting with research I did as a visiting scholar at the University of Hamburg in June 2016.

The book also confirmed many observations I had growing up. As a child of immigrants, I always had a sense of Canada’s immigration history. My dad was sponsored by distant relatives who had come decades before, so I was familiar with Canada’s recruitment of strong labourers and land sales in an effort to cultivate the land prior to WWI. My dad came in 1950 and my mother came in 1961. Both represented a different wave of immigrants who were leaving war torn Europe, but who encountered strong negative feelings against Germans post-WWII. Later in my work I met newer immigrants from a variety of different countries, so over the decades I got a sense of how Canadian immigration law had changed.

My encounters with German immigration laws were more sporadic and timed with my personal trips to Germany. As a child, I met a young “Turkish” girl, who was actually born of Turkish parents in Germany at a time when her citizenship was not recognized by either country, rendering her stateless. This was my introduction to the German policy of jus sanguinis – citizenship based on descent. What I didn’t realize at the time was the my father’s German citizenship, despite having been born in Poland, was also a result of this policy. He had always explained that Catherine the Great had wanted workers for Poland and promised the Germans she recruited that they could keep their language and their religion, but I didn’t realize that they also kept their citizenship as Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). Years later, I discovered a document among his old papers that indicated his family still had to be naturalized upon resettlement in Germany after World War II, but I have not investigated how rigorous that process was.

Unbeknownst to us, but consistent with jus sanguinis, I inherited German citizenship at birth. My parents became Canadian citizens in 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday, like many others. For them, that meant they automatically gave up their German citizenship, but as a baby, already born with Canadian citizenship, my German citizenship remained. Had I known, I could have avoided getting a visitor’s visa when I lived in Germany after high school. However, it wasn’t until one of my children was going on study abroad that someone asked me the right questions to discover my claim on German citizenship.

Interestingly, I inherited only from my father. Sometime in between my residence abroad in the 80’s and my children’s in the 2010’s, the law that allowed German citizenship to be passed on only through the paternal line was changed. Not only did my children inherit citizenship, European at that, I was offered the opportunity to purchase birth certificates for them. Imagine, they weren’t even born there, but they hold a birth certificate AND a passport from a country they have only visited.

This experience of dual citizenship, unearned and very beneficial, has provided me with empathy toward those without a home, citizenship, and a place to feel secure. I see my own research as a small part of learning what it takes to create a new home, new citizenship, and a new place to feel secure for those who seek refuge among us.

 

The Neurolinguistic Approach – oral modelling steps for the second language classroom

The neurolinguistic approach to second language teaching has gained popularity with the successes achieved by the Intensive French program in Canada. First introduced by Canadian researchers Claude Germain and Joan Netton, it has taken off as teachers and parents have noticed that their children learn to speak the second language as a result of an emphasis on oral communication in the classroom. A colleague, Katherine Mueller, and I are beginning research in a German Bilingual School where the teachers want to develop their emphasis on oral language. For the purpose of this research, my colleague developed the following German examples:

 

My thanks go to the native speakers who helped us refine our examples. Here is one article we have published from our research thus far:

Dressler, R. & Mueller, K. (2020). Strategies for purposeful oral language use in the second language classroom. Réflexions, 39(2), 15-17. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/113053

Research Update: Reflective Writing for Sojourn Debriefing

How do we know if international teaching sojourns are more than a great travel experience? That is the question we have asked ourselves for the past three years as five of us have researched sojourn preparation, reflection and debriefing. The term “sojourn” refers to a period of time spend abroad. In the case of this research, the sojourn is the time the BEd students in our Teaching Across Borders program spend volunteer teaching and living abroad. While our larger project examines reflective writing in the preparation and time away, this research update focuses on reflection upon return home.

Sojourn debriefing – usually we like to begin at the beginning, but in the first phase of our research we started where most research, and programs, do not even venture – the end. We designed a reflective writing model that we used during a reflective writing workshop the participants attended after they had been back home for two months. We wanted the participants to reflect deeply on one significant event from their time away. The model provided quite effective as students were able to use it to think and write about this event, starting with descriptive writing, but moving on to descriptive reflection, dialogic reflection, and in some cases, critical refection (These are four types of reflective writing described in other research as levels of depth of reflection).

What did we learn?

First, we learned about ourselves as researchers who have also each spent time abroad. In designing the model, we tested out three widely known models on ourselves: Gibbs’ (1988) Reflective CycleRolfe, Freshwater, and Jasper’s (2001) Reflective Model; and Johns’ (2010) Model for Structured Reflection. We met, tried writing based on each model, and then discussed which aspects of each we felt should go into a hybrid model we would use for our program participants. Through sharing our writing and developing this process, we became more aware of the strengths each of us brought to the project. We found this method effective for helping us design a model we could envision using, because we had lived the experience of assembling it. The new model was more than a sum of its parts because we added to it from our own insights. We have written about our design of the model in this scholarly publication:

Dressler, R., Becker, S. Kawalilak, C., Arthur, N. (2018). The cross-cultural reflective model for post-sojourn debriefing. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 19(4), 490–504. doi:10.1080/14623943.2018.1530207

Second, we learned about reflective writing and our participants. Reflective writing forces writers to think about their experiences and consider what they might learn from them. Some of the experiences were difficult ones: experiencing homesickness, encountering systemic racism, questioning one’s career choice (in this case, teaching). Others were poignant: reaching out to a misunderstood student; seeing the historical, political significance of the place one was living, surprising oneself with language and intercultural competence that was previously unnoticed. While not all students reflected to the degree of dialogic or critical reflection, each had the opportunity to reflect, grow, and make sense of their experience.

We have recently submitted an article about these post-sojourn reflections and anticipate writing more about them when we look at the cases of individual participants over time.

Looking back at our work summarized so succinctly does not do it justice. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming year.