So there we were at AUT for the symposium on all things intercultural. I was surprised it wasn't better attended, as I felt it was very worthwhile. I had come with expectations of getting a stronger handle on what intercultural pedagogy looks like on a practical day-to-day basis. The weekend reminded me once again that mind-shift is an iterative process, requiring repeated exposure to the same ideas, albeit expressed slightly differently each time, in order to be able to move beyond the theory to its incorporation into your practice.
Tony Liddicoat's Friday evening keynote speech covered his intercultural principles which I felt were somewhat more explicit than Newton's. He described processes of
- Active construction
- Making connections
- Social interaction
- Accepting responsibility
He shared his four-way process for treating texts (be they written or visual) with which I was already familiar (the flow diagram of NOTICING > COMPARING > REFLECTING > INTERACTING, elaborating on each of these phases.
On Saturday he kicked off with a work-shopped exercise which put us in the position of learners, approaching a series of authentic texts / images in a language we were unfamiliar with, and inviting us to approach them (in pairs and groups) according to the four stages above. The subject was 'school' which is an obvious choice of theme for intercultural exploration. The process necessarily involved no use of oral target language (because we didn't have any of course), and I am still somewhat dubious about the possibility of conducting this sort of activity in target language, especially at junior level. In another session we discussed the development of a target language repertoire in which the same expressions could become part of the transactional repertoire. I mentioned that such expressions could be the subject of a table mat specifically for intercultural discussion.
As I see it, what this pedagogical shift requires is a complete overhaul of the sort of materials teachers commonly still use in their classrooms, much of which offers very limited scope for intercultural exploration and reflection. It would be really good to develop a bank of material suitable for generating 'discovery'. I don't mean detailed 'fiches pedagogiques' with their predetermined learning outcomes, but just a lot of authentic material stored according to theme, which teachers could draw on to get students actively noticing, comparing, reflecting and interacting.
My hopes of finding ways to seamlessly integrate language acquisition with intercultural exploration are still largely unfulfilled, I must admit. When I look at the amount of language that needs to be acquired before students are NCEA-ready, I just can't see how it can be done by consistently basing your teaching around this model. At some point the students need to be drawn to reflect on the linguistic aspects of the language, as much as the cultural, if the aim is to enable them to communicate. I can't quite see how they can be done simultaneously, although the same texts could be used for both cultural and linguistic exploration, I suppose. Images are great for developing intercultural competence. Maybe the language acquisition could come out of the observations that the students make. Au fur et à mesure. I can imagine that a lot teachers would find that approach to language acquisition too ad hoc, although I don't think I would have a problem with it. I'm just thinking aloud here. I know from my own language learning experience, I tend to pick up and retain language better if it hasn't been handed to me on a plate but has arisen out of necessity through an authentic situation and has been followed by my own reflection. But is this because I'm already a competent language learner? How much do I rely on those early years of language learning that took me tediously through the basics, which I now find indispensable to my understanding of how languages work? Is there any way of providing students with a sound linguistic basis, in other words some rule-based competency, without boring them in the process? (Or do I really mean 'without boring myself in the process' :-D ?) I'm rabbiting on here. Must be the influence of that pink dude above.
In addition to Tony Liddicoat's sessions there were presentations by AUT staff on teachers' understanding and implementation of iCLT principles, leading to their production of a matrix which I can share later, and which teachers may find valuable for focusing their intercultural pedagogy. It looks at what students are able to do, what teachers need to provide and a series of questions to guide discussions (which could possibly be framed in target language).
They followed this up with a session on LIA awards, based on analysis of their report to the Ministry on the effectiveness of LIA awards. It led to some interesting discussion at which I aired my views, of course!
After lunch, in language specific groups we focused on our own experiences of intercultural misunderstandings which was fun and wide-ranging.
It was a well-run, well-catered event and we were made to feel very welcome at AUT. And it was free!!!!!