Research interests:

second language teaching & learning; linguistic identity; bilingualism; teacher education

My latest project: Project-based learning in an advanced German class

Posted: May 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: academia, teaching | No Comments »

This Winter semester I took on a new teaching assignment: an advanced German class called Senior Projects in Language. The title is a placeholder. Each year the faculty member who teaches the course gives it a unique name. However, this placeholder name intrigued me and I decided that there was no better name for a senior course in German, especially if the focus of the course were project-based learning!

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.

My specific challenge for this class was the small enrollment (4 students), the lack of familiarity the students would have with project-based learning (PBL) and my own limited experience with PBL. 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!

In the end, my small number of students were a blessing since I was able to allow each student 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 semester’s course to be a success and can’t wait for a second opportunity to teach this course.

Update: I didn’t get a second opportunity to teach this class, because I got a job in a different faculty, but I did go on to work with the subsequent instructors in the design of the course. As well, I have a chapter coming out about that first experience. Stay tuned!