Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If I ran your language department, II

I blogged about this back in 2010. But I was thinking about it again today, well more recently. I would slightly change how I organised things. I will use Greek as my example below.

For the first year courses I would set them up like this:
11 hours nominal course load, worth about 3 credits on the US system.

3hrs contact with lecturer
2hrs for students to work in small groups with an higher-year mentor
3hrs set aside for target language reading & listening, and for homework
2hrs for students to work in pairs
1hr set for private revision, with suggested reading in English on the grammar covered.

Let me talk through how this might work.
1. The 'lectures'.
These shouldn't be lectures at all. They should be the primary teacher teaching the language communicatively. Whether through TPRS, or TPR, or WAYK, or a textbook, they should teach 2-3 times a week in a class setting. If the class is large, they will need to create some strategies for sub-division and delegation in order to ensure students are involved. Instruction should primarily, if not exclusively, be in the target language.

2. Small groups with a higher-year mentor.
This should have a similar structure to the primary lessons, but be more free-form. The mentor is there to guide, but also to teach specific things that might arise, and it should form part of their required hours for the upper level course (so I would have 2nd years mentoring 1st years, 3rd years mentoring 2nds, etc). This group would meet once a week, for a 2hr block, and be focused on active oral and aural communication.

3. Students work in pairs.
Students would also be required to work with a partner for an expected 2 hrs a week. How exactly they use that time is up to them, but I would provide some guided material week by week for the semester. All that I would require would be for students to sign off each week that they have done this.

4. Target language reading and listening
I would assign a reading text, something like my ongoing Ørberg translation for Greek, and expect students to read over the passage(s) during the week, listen to the audio files, and complete composition (not translation) exercises. This material would also form some of the basis for 2 and 3 above.

5. Private revision
I would simply suggest that students set aside an hour a week to review what they should have done in the other 4 segments. I would also suggest some reading in English (or an alternative), that covered grammatical explanation of the material covered in Greek.

I imagine that students would not actually do 11 hrs, that solid students could combine 3 and 4 to some extent, and that 4 would not necessarily take 3 hrs a week. I can also see that in the beginning stages (say, the first half-semester), material simply won't be of the volume to consume this many hours. But if you set this kind of expectation, you are establishing that students are learning a real, speakable language, and that a semester's workload is going to be in the order of 154hrs. That means first year is going to be 308hrs, which is a really decent number of hours to pour into a language. You can expect some really competency after one year of that.

Second year (10hrs)

2hrs communicative language
2hrs textual discussion
2hrs mentoring
3hrs set aside for target language reading & listening, and for homework
1hr set reading

In the second year I would integrate the subject with literature. For Koine Greek, you want to be tackling full length books and exegesis by the second year. So I would spend 2hrs of class contact time working through a passage and discussing it with students in the target language. I would spend a separate 2hrs a week building on the same approach as the first year, but solidifying especially more complex grammatical structures, discourse features, and developing the ability to discuss texts in the target language. Students would also be responsible for that 2hr mentoring block. 3hrs set aside for reading and listening - this might involve both a parallel reading text as well as the primary text for the course, and composition exercises. At this stage I would be asking students to compose short answers and full-page responses to texts. The set reading would be English or equivalent, including an intermediate grammar book or the like.

After two years our students have had 584hrs working with the language, specifically 528 working in the language.

Third year

1hr communicative language
2hrs textual discussion
2hrs mentoring
2hrs set aside for target language reading & listening, and for homework
1hr set reading

I would reduce some of the hours in the 3rd year, as students should need less exposure to the language. Textual discussion should be more free flowing. Set reading should include more complex texts, and composition work should likewise be more difficult. I would consider setting tasks including oral presentations in Greek and exegetical assignments in Greek.

By the end of 3rd year students have had 808 class hours, 752 in the target language. We could expect them to be operating at a B2/C1 level of proficiency on the CEFRL.

Fourth year 

Is probably elective. I would split the textual subject from an advanced language subject. I would require mentoring from either group, but not double-mentoring from students taking both. The advanced language subject would have an English set reading list dealing with linguistics and related subjects, but also deal with ancient literary criticism and rhetorical studies. Students would complete two minor assignments, one in English, one in Greek, and a final major essay in either language as they chose.

Setting up such a program would be taxing. Particularly as the primary teacher is going to have to fill the mentoring gap in one way or another until the 4th year. I don't think the teacher's own communicative fluency would necessary hold them back, provided they worked hard in the first year, because this kind of teaching would drastically improve their own ability. It would make it difficult for external teachers to come into your NT department and teaching stream though. I suppose one could split Greek and NT subjects in 2nd and 3rd year, but you would lose some of the effectiveness of my strategy. The solution would be to require all NT lecturers to undergo the same program, but with slightly less demands. Or run them through intensives. They only need to be a communicative level above the students.

Anyway, that's my current thinking of 3-4year university level curriculum design. This would easily be adapted to Hebrew, Latin, or Attic Greek, just with changes of texts.

1 comment:

Paul Nitz said...

Seumas, I need to come back to this post an pour through it more, but at first blush your thoughts look spot on. Group work, dialogical learning, communicative approach, strict structure... all great features. Σαῦλος