The thrill of discovery: collaboration, literacies, and curricula

A key focus in my library this year is collaboration. I am currently teaming up with the world languages department and the school’s administration as they re-design curricula. As I participate in this collective endeavor, I am also learning a lot about literacies—another key focus for my library.

The world languages department is asking big questions about pedagogy, communication, and language learning. Several overarching goals of the department’s inquiry include: increasing opportunities for personalization, nurturing world language learners throughout all four years of their high school career, and advocating for the vitality of a world languages program in the face of an increasingly global context. The changes that our team make will allow for greater breadth and depth of inquiry, especially as students become upperclassmen and are potentially allowed to choose from a slate of college-level electives that suit their interests and abilities.

My role as librarian and director of teaching and learning resources has been to help research the state of the field. I am working to develop a shared understanding of the expanded horizons of world languages pedagogy. While I have found thought-provoking material about Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL), my most exciting discoveries have been in the field of literacies and language learning.

I have been interested in the work of the New London Group and their ideas about multiliteracies. While searching for connections between these ideas and the work of my curricular team, I was lucky to find a talk by Chantelle Warner at the Berkeley Language Center (BLC). Initially I found a webpage describing Warner’s talk, “Foreign Language Literacy: Affect, Aesthetics, & Ethics.” After a couple of emails to Dr. Warner and the BLC, I was able to obtain a PDF of the presentation slides and eventually view a streaming video of her talk.

In order to fulfill its mission, the BLC maintains a “library and media archive of materials for language teaching and research.” Having the PDF and video available online not only allows the spread of ideas beyond the events hosted at Berkeley, they also serve to inform inquisitive groups like my team. These documents present a wave of academic theory while serving a pointedly pragmatic purpose.

Dr. Warner’s talk explains how the field of language education strives to move beyond a sole focus on grammar to emphasize “living literacies.” She argues for a more nuanced look at language learning classrooms in a way that emphasizes affect or feeling. I don’t know how you studied language in high school, but my memory is dominated by the work of grammar and syntax. Sometimes it was hard to connect the dots and understand the stakes of learning beyond the sake of the rule.

My work is incomplete and I still have a lot to learn. But this is one of the great pleasures of our profession. We get to engage in study and model the thrill of discovery to our colleagues and students. I am branching out my review and am currently investigating a few of Dr. Warner’s colleagues (notably her dissertation advisor Claire Kramsch and the concept of symbolic competence). A clear sense of these ideas will help my team build essential questions, define pedagogical goals, and create robust curricula to support all learners in our schools.

How are you collaborating with your colleagues? What discoveries have you made and in what ways are you continuing to learn? Leave your comments below.


Author: Mark Dzula

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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