PALL stands for Pro-Active Language Learning, which suggests that someone creates or controls a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened. In this project, the goal was for both university teachers and students to become pro-active: the teachers in gaining skills and pedagogical insights, so that the students can become more pro-active in their own language learning.
In short, we wanted to accomplish the following: an approach unique to Groningen – one that makes students enthusiastic to study a foreign language in the European Languages and Cultures (ELC) programme with strong multi-media and intercultural components, for example by using film. To do so, we needed to have a strong team that regards itself as a community of shared learning and practice. Building on the concept of flipping the classroom, we pursued two aims: we wanted to increase students’ exposure to the target language with technology-integrated learning and, at the same time, reduce the teachers’ workload.
The team of language teachers met regularly over the past year to discuss good practices and attend workshops of various kinds, for example on IT skills in Just Do IT workshops. In addition, they observed each other’s teaching and worked in smaller teams on a mission statement, learning outcomes and the redesign of Nestor modules. I think that one of the strongest outcomes of this project is a stronger team of language professionals who share ideas, observe each other’s classes and help each other with technical challenges. In short, they know how to find each other!
However, before we could really start to develop materials and implement technical innovation, we needed to develop a shared vision on what language learning is and what form good foreign language pedagogy should take. This was the most difficult and time-consuming part, as beliefs and teaching habits are hard to change. Many language teachers draw on the concept that ‘rules’ drive the language system, and that knowing these rules helps learners to acquire the language. Therefore, grammar and accuracy is often the focus in the language classroom and students are tested on it. More recent views on language acquisition argue that language is an array of conventionalized constructions that have to be learned through repeated exposure and use. In other words, listening to the language and using it is key to language learning. The idea is that if you use language meaningfully, the form (and accuracy) will be learned mostly implicitly.
To provide a meaningful context for language learning at ELC, it was agreed that all language learning (LL) courses integrate ELC content (e.g. literature, culture, politics and society) related to the target language; in other words, ELC content drives each course unit, so that the LL learners are motivated to engage in the speaking, discussion, debate and writing assignments. Students are then evaluated on how effectively they communicate the information in speaking and writing, with a primary focus on content, reasoning and other twenty-first century skills. Language assessment is intended to be functional and to evaluate how well students are able to use the target language to communicate effectively.
Even though we have accomplished a great deal in the first part of the project, we still need to work on some remaining issues. The most important is redesigning assessment practices and aligning them with the new learning outcomes, including continuous assessment, peer- and self-assessment and automatic, computer-based grading. In addition, although there are now a couple of course units that have been redesigned completely, it will take a few more years before the whole curriculum is completed and IT support is implemented, as redesigning courses takes a substantial amount of time, especially since pedagogical practices have changed so fundamentally.
Finally, despite the fact that the project will reduce the workload for lecturers in the longer term, this has not yet been the case. Reworking the course units is very time-consuming and it will take a bit longer for the extra work to pay off in reduced lecturers’ workload.
Would you like to have more information or do you have a question about this project? Please, contact Marjolijn Verspoor.
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