Project: Using Internet Short-Texts to Teach Foreign Language Composition and Conversation Courses.
Dissatisfied with current textbooks for teaching university-level German foreign language composition and conversation courses, I experimented with Internet texts of some 200 words. The results were astounding. Students reacted enthusiastically to contemporary culture and new vocabulary. I benefited enormously as a non-native German speaker charged with staying current with German culture and language. Two insights came at once. The textbook I had long sought was in front of me on the Web. Too, I could exploit a technology with which all students are conversant, at the same time making learning fun.
I developed a model, whereby for composition assignments students summarized the Internet short-text, first imitating the syntax, then commenting in German on the passage chosen. Another variant was to base translation sentences on an Internet short-text: that is, I translated passages of the text into English, and students re-translated them into German, thereby demonstrating textual comprehension and the ability to manipulate German syntax. These short-texts, which span the spectrum from celebrity news to weather reports, served as conversation springboards. Students eagerly talked about what interested them. Motivation increased significantly, as class members began to share their discoveries with me. Note that in each instance I used a blend of 1960s and 1990s technology: short-texts downloaded on a printer, and a Xerox machine to duplicate the results.
As I explored the ways creatively to use these short-texts in, and out of, class, I wondered whether a method that had proved successful in German couldn't be extended to other languages in the curriculum. Preliminary results show that it can. In the fellowship period I propose, first, to examine and index Web resources for foreign language teaching (including Latin). Preliminary examination shows there are significant, and pedagogically adaptable, Internet short-texts in Arabic, Asian languages, English as a Second Language, French, German, Latin, Russian and Spanish-to mention only some of the languages in the curriculum. One Website, www.dw-world.de, has no less than 30 languages represented by short-texts, in addition to radio and television programming. Second, proceeding from a newly created Teachers' Resource Website which ideally would contain exercises for using Internet short-texts productively in instruction, I would like to share methodology and resources with instructors (high schools, colleges and universities) in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The teachers will work together as a collaborative group, aiming to promote improved teaching of foreign-language conversation and composition with Internet resources. I plan two on-Grounds workshops, at which teachers can share ideas, refine the method and access how best to make use of the Teacher's Resource Website.