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Review of  Sprachdidaktik


Reviewer: Daniel Walter
Book Title: Sprachdidaktik
Book Author: Monika Budde Susanne Riegler Maja Wiprächtiger-Geppert
Publisher: Akademie Verlag GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 23.2131

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Review:
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

SUMMARY

“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.

REFERENCES

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.

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