"In this book, Richard Kern explores how technology matters to language and the ways in which we use it. Kern reveals how material, social and individual resources interact in the design of textual meaning, and how that interaction plays out across contexts of communication, different situations of technological mediation, and different moments in time."
AUTHOR: Monika Budde, Susanne Riegler, Maja Wiprächtiger-Geppert TITLE: Sprachdidaktik SERIES TITLE: Akademie Studienbücher - Sprachwissenschaft PUBLISHER: Akademie Verlag GmbH YEAR: 2011
Daniel R. Walter, Department of Modern Languages, Carnegie Mellon University
“Sprachdidaktik” (“Language Didactic”) reviews a wide range of topics in language acquisition and focuses almost exclusively on the role of the classroom and teacher in the acquisition of German. This book is primarily concerned with first language acquisition of German, but does integrate some concepts for German as a second language within a predominantly German classroom setting. While the readership for this book may be limited due to the strict focus on German pedagogy within Germany/German-speaking countries, as well as the fact that the text is written in German, it is designed to introduce language teachers in Germany to the key concepts of language acquisition in a German classroom. “Sprachdidaktik” covers a number of topics, from theory of language acquisition to teaching communicative skills, and sets these topics within a clearly defined German context. Chapter 1, ‘Sprachdidaktik als wissenschaftliche Disziplin’ (‘language didactic as a scientific discipline’), outlines the development of language pedagogy. The authors emphasize that German language pedagogy was initially conceptualized for native-language German speakers, and only in recent years has multiculturalism and German as a second language begun to be researched and integrated into language classrooms. The first chapter also summarizes the transition from linguistically, form-focused classes to a communicative approach, as well as the importance of the strong influence of cognitive science on language didactic. The final section of the first chapter reviews the impact that the poor scores Germany received from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000 have had on recent developments in language pedagogy, specifically the focus on outcome- and competence-oriented activities. Chapter 2, ‘Ein Denkrahmen für den Sprachunterricht’ (‘a cognitive framework for the language classroom’), is delineated to the proposition of a refined and focused cognitive framework which is centralized around one main idea: reflective language use. The first two sections of chapter two show the relationship that people have to language and what the function of language is, respectively. The third and fourth sections attempt to connect this background information with the role that reflection and awareness have on language development. The authors argue that the main goal of a language classroom should be to foster reflection on language and that by developing an awareness of and reflection on language use, students’ understanding of their own language will increase. Chapter 3, ‘Sprachunterricht: Ziele -- Inhalte -- Komptenzen’ (‘the language classroom: goals -- content -- competencies’), covers three sub-areas, the current state of the language classroom, national standards and their impact on German as a subject area, and finally educational goals and competency acquisition. The authors describe the current state of the language classroom as one that has three distinct, yet interconnected categories of instruction: Speaking and listening, oral and written reflection on language use, and writing. With regards to national standards, there are four competency areas, 1) investigating language and language use, 2) speaking and listening, 3) reading and writing, and 4) working with texts and media. According to the national standards, the investigation of language and its uses is to be seen as the overarching competence which bridges each of the other competencies to one another. Despite the standardization of these concepts and competencies, the authors stress the point that the way in which each state implements these concepts is quite different and it is up to each educator to understand how the standards are implemented within his or her own state. The final section of this chapter attempts to provide some overarching goals that encompass the outline laid out in the national standards. Chapter 4, ‘Anfänge schriftsprachlichen Lernens’ (‘The beginnings of written language learning’), begins with a description of the challenges children face during the “learning to read” phase of their school instruction in order to get to the “reading to learn” phase of instruction (Chall 1983). Specific challenges include understanding the phonetic representation of the orthographic symbols and the memorization and internalization of those symbols as representations of spoken language. The authors’ describe this difficult instructional period for students as a developmental process which begins at a rough beginning stage of difficult processing of individual alphabetic symbols to one of autonimization. The final section of chapter four discusses the didactic issues involved with teaching writing and furthering students along their developmental process with written language. Chapter 5, ‘Sprechen und Zuhören’ (‘speaking and listening’), is divided into three sections, oral communication as a subject of learning, goals and competencies, and promoting speaking and listening. The authors discuss how oral communication is both a medium for learning, as well as a subject of learning. As a subject matter, learning about spoken language is broken down into three parts: listening, speaking with others, and speaking in front of and to others. The authors propose that the goals and competencies for spoken language instruction should include the abilities to contextualize, select a register, plan, develop verbal, as well as non-verbal, interactional competencies, comprehend spoken texts, and develop monitoring and evaluation skills. Teachers can achieve these goals through reflection on students’ language use, as well as creating a trusting classroom environment to facilitate student participation. Chapter 6, ‘Lesen’ (‘reading’), shapes reading as another element of the language classroom that is both a medium of instruction as well as a topic of instruction. The authors define reading as a complex mental process that is co-constructed via previous knowledge and linguistic knowledge, with three dimensions of reading in which competence must be acquired: the cognitive dimension, the motivational-emotional dimension, and the social-interactive dimension. The authors go on to focus on five essential skills to develop in students: 1) letter, word, and sentence recognition, 2) local coherence, 3) global coherence, 4) recognition of superstructures, and 5) recognition of representational strategies. Teachers can develop these competencies through pre-, during-, and post-reading tasks which target different skills. Chapter 7, ‘Texte schreiben’ (‘writing texts’), discusses how current pedagogy focuses on the process of writing. Above all, the authors stress the recursivity of the writing process. The authors then outline four functions of writing: a communicative, a memorative-conservational, an epistemic, and a reflective function. The authors suggest four competencies for instruction: the ability to set goals, activate previous knowledge and generate new ideas, formulate ideas clearly, and structure texts according to a plan. In order to teach these competencies, the authors favor a diverse array of writing assignments which are supported throughout the entire writing process. This support begins with training students on planning methods, such as mind-mapping, and continues past the final product to stages of revision, such as peer and teacher review. Chapter 8, ‘Richtig schreiben’ (‘writing correctly’), builds on the previous information about writing as a whole, but is limited to specific instruction for grammatical issues with writing. This chapter outlines different principles of teaching spelling and grammar, including phonographic, syllabic, morphological, and syntactic principles. For instruction, the authors advocate working with a starting point of student-generated content, including whole texts, or simply words and phrases students notice during reflection on their and others’ language use. Chapter 9, ‘Sprache und Sprachgebrauch reflektieren’ (‘reflecting on language and language use’), ties together the previous four chapters which had all alluded to the importance of reflection on language and language use. This chapter covers a number of topics for reflection, including grammatical, semantic and pragmatic perspectives of language reflection as well as philosophical inquiries into language, such as formal vs. functional approaches to language. The prominent competencies that the authors point out for students to acquire are an interest and awareness of language and its uses, metalinguistic knowledge, and knowledge of linguistic terms. In order to facilitate the development of these competencies, the authors’ encourage student-generated material to be the focus of classroom discussions on language and to order grammar instruction in a systematic way. Chapter 10, ‘Sprachunterricht in merhsprachigen Klassen’ (‘teaching language in multilingual classes’), is the first chapter of the final (third) section of the book. While it builds upon the previous didactic framework constructed in the first part of the book and the communicative competencies of the second part, the third part investigates specific topics in the language classroom. Chapter 10 examines the multilingual state of many language classrooms in Germany. The authors’ main point is that the inclusion of students from different cultures and with different first languages should be seen as a positive element for the classroom. Most notably, the authors discuss the possibilities for reflection on language and language use that the presence of speakers of other languages affords. For a more comprehensive discussion of second and foreign language learning issues in German classrooms, see Roesch (2011). Chapter 11, ‘Sprachliche Leistung beurteilen’ (‘assessing linguistic achievement’), discusses issues with the evaluation of linguistic achievement in terms of two functions. The first function, assessing where a student is, serves the purpose of understanding students’ starting points and finding the content and instruction necessary to move students to the next level. The second function, providing a grade, is important in understanding how much students have improved, as well as serving the administrative function of comparing students across classrooms, schools and states. Chapter 12, ‘Lehr-Lernprozesse im Sprachunterricht gestalten’ (‘constructing teaching-learning processes in the language class‘), frames the learning process as one that is socially co-constructed by the teacher and the students. Within this frame, the authors propose three important areas for development in the language classroom: Balancing construction and instruction, motivation, and cooperation. Chapter 13, ‘Aufgaben im Sprachunterricht’ (‘Assignments in the language class’), stresses the importance of contextualizing assignments. In addition to context, the authors also advocate systematically analyzing assignments in terms of structure and the level of challenge it poses to students to ensure a high quality assignment which supports the learning goals of the class. Chapter 14, ‘Sprachunterricht planen’ (‘planning the language class’), proposes a backward design for planning language courses. In this type of planning process, the instructor needs to focus first on long term goals and objectives. After these goals and objectives have been established, smaller units and then individual lessons can be developed. For more information on backwards design in course planning, see Wiggins & McTighe (2005). Chapter 15, ‘Serviceteil’ (‘Service section’), offers additional resources for teaching. Chapter 16, ‘Anhang’ (‘Appendix’), includes the cited literature, index, and glossary.
EVALUATION In sum, “Sprachdidaktik” puts forth a comprehensive overview of the issues involved in German language education in Germany. While the book’s examples lack a bit of concreteness, which would be especially beneficial for beginning teachers looking to practically implement the theoretical ideas discussed in the book, it does attempt to show ways in which theory can come into practice. In regard to theory, the authors do an excellent job of discussing important theoretical aspects of language teaching within a clearly defined context, namely the German classroom. One major theoretical aspect which is threaded throughout the text is reflection on language and language use, much is which is drawn from Ivo (1975) and Andresen & Funke (2003). The thread of reflection on language and language use is highly effective in penetrating the multiple levels of the language classroom, from the sociocultural (Ch. 10) to the solely linguistic (Ch. 8), and even to course planning and goal development (Ch. 14). While this theme appears throughout the book, it is integrated wholly into the authors’ framework and does not become repetitive, but rather refined and readapted as the book develops. For additional information on linguistic knowledge and language awareness in the classroom that focuses more on English classes, see Denham & Lobeck (2005). While “Sprachdidaktik” offers ample connections to other sources both within each chapter and in the service section, there does appear to be a dearth of connections between language instruction and more international sources. The text does cite some seminal works, such as Cummins (1979), but leaves out current research that has refined such work. For additional reading which covers a broader scope of international literature on second language acquistion, Omaggio Hadley (2000) provides readers with a more international perspective as well as one that focuses more on multilingual and second language classes. On occasion, the historical background becomes overly fore-fronted, especially if the focus of the reader is on current theoretical and practical topics, but current theories from mainly German sources are explained in an easily understandable manner. This book is a significant source of theoretical, historical, social, and practical knowledge for teaching language in a German classroom and would be highly beneficial for anyone intending to do research on or teach in this environment.
Andresen, H. & Funke, R. (2003). Entwicklung sprachlichen Wissens und sprachlicher Bewusstheit. In U. Bredel et. al. (Eds.) Didaktik der deutschen Sprache: Ein Handbuch (pp. 438-51). Paderborn.
Chall, J. (1983). Stages of Reading Development. New York: McGraw Hill.
Cummins, J. (1979). Cognitive academic language proficiency: Linguistic interdependence, the optimal age question and some other matters. In Working Papers on Bilingualism 19 (pp. 197-205).
Denham, K. & Lobeck, A. (2005). Language in the Schools: Integrating knowledge into K-12 teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Ivo, H. (1975). Handlungsfeld Deutschunterricht. Argumente und Fragen einer praxisorientierten Wissenschaft. Frankfurt a. M.
Omaggio Hadley, A. (2001). Teaching Language in Context. Heinle & Heinle.
Roesch, H. (2011). Deutsch als Zweit- und Fremdsprache. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Daniel Walter is currently a Ph.D. student in Second Language Acquisition
in the Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University, where
he teaches Reading and Writing for an Academic Context, as well as
Elementary German 1. His research interests include second language
acquisition (SLA), with a focus on second language syntax, second language
grammatical gender, and German as a second/foreign language.