Because of the time which has lapsed between the data collection and the completion of this study, my pedagogy has since had time to evolve as I reflected on the implications of my findings. After the initial data collection, but before the analysis of the data, I responded particularity to the resistance shown by Sarah. I also felt that the overt critical analytical stance of my pedagogy could irritate students as their main aim for this course is to improve their language skills, i.e. they do not feel they need to learn how to analyze a text. As a result, my initial response was to tone down my cultuurtekst approach, so that discussing texts in class is not seen as explicit ‘text analysis’, but instead as ‘talking about the text’, which is part and parcel of conversations building up linguistic skills. My cultuurtekst pedagogy initially became even more implicit than the one I described in this book.
However, since I have analyzed the data and completed the study, I have come to the conclusion that rather than making my approach less explicit, I should make it more so. In order to deal with the tensions thrown up by using conflicting perspectives in class, I should embrace rather than avoid them. Indeed, when looking at texts and carrying out tasks, I now explain explicitly from which view of text and criticality we are operating; whether we are looking at text structures, whether arguments are convincing and whether we focus on writing solidly argued texts ourselves, or whether, in contrast, we are engaging in discursive mapping. I do not tiptoe around the notion of discourses any more, but address these explicitly in class, if relevant. My pedagogy is still one of explicit heteroglossia; we read texts from a large variety of genres - each text including multiple voices and discourses - which we analyze whilst discussing the issues thrown up by these. This way, students adapt their writing more consciously to a variety of readers, drawing on discourses more consciously and explicitly.
The personal in language learning also needs to be embraced more explicitly. I now ask students on occasion to relate their own experiences to the texts we read and the tasks we do in class. I also ask students to reflect on their own interpretations of texts and how these relate, not only to their particular set of experiences but especially to their understanding of these experiences in relation to discursive forces. Moreover, I ask students to be reflexive about their own writing in relation to their own and the other (culture’s) context: why they have written a particular text in a particular way. Bringing the Self into students’ language tasks like this, resonates with the point that Sarah referred to in her interview: that the course should look at what makes individuals communicate the way they do. So far, I have only included this reflexivity as part of class discussions, but in future, I will embed this more thoroughly in the syllabus by asking students to write down these reflections in diaries.
Being explicit to students about the conceptual framework I use is not an insignificant point. It goes against the expectations students have about what a language class should be. Moreover, the concepts which are touched upon are possibly also in conflict with students’ views of what language, culture and communication are, and how they interrelate. Provided students feel they are at the same time gaining practical language skills, being open to students about the concepts and conflicting perspectives can avoid resistance such as shown by Sarah. In the end, it was not so much the fact that my course addressed notions with which she disagreed, it was the fact that I did not address these issues more explicitly and in further depth. If you touch on issues of communication, ‘real communication’, she asserted, you can’t leave issues hanging mid-air.
Even though my cultuurtekst pedagogy took a global perspective from the start, the notion of a Dutch articulation brought the nation back into focus. This particular notion, I showed, proved not to be that useful, and to be fully exploited also needs to be used explicitly for it to make sense to students without it leading to stereotyping. However, I have since only referred to the notion on very rare occasions. Indeed it has become almost an incidental part of my pedagogy. Students themselves tend to take cosmopolitan perspectives in class, as one of my examples of such a task below shows.
By linking students’ experiences with practical language tasks we can create opportunities in class for communicative encounters where students can engage their own beliefs and belongings to imagine themselves to have a real impact on the world – creatively and responsibly with an interest in and concern for their communicative partners.
My study consisted of only two lessons out of a whole year-long course where I focus on reading and awareness-raising. All the same, I have observed that that awareness of how language and culture interrelate also benefits students’ language skills, as they will learn to think about and consequently adapt their own language use as part of showing responsibility in communicative events.
Claire had said in one of her interviews that when reading in the foreign language, she was ‘reading with her eyes very very open, – with an alertness to cultural connotations. I am arguing that in using the cultuurtekst approach, students apply this awareness to the way they communicate in general – with an alertness to cultural connotations and to how relations are constructed discursively. I discuss here two examples of tasks which I am using now in my pedagogy where students write or speak ‘with their eyes very open’.
Whilst I reject instrumentalism in its focus on skills at the expense of personal development, ethics, and engaging with criticality, that does not mean that language classes cannot include work-related tasks. My examples below use work-related contexts and I illustrate how my approach differs from functionalist skills-based teaching. In instrumentalist-oriented language classes and textbooks, the task of giving an oral presentation, for instance, tends to be accompanied by advice on structuring, how to introduce and finish a presentation, and by providing some useful phrases. In a cultuurtekst-oriented approach, preparing students for an oral presentation could indeed include some of these aspects (after all, students need to know the conventions before they can choose whether they want to deviate from these or not), but emphasizes particularly the relational aspects of positioning themselves towards the audience. This means a reflection on how they are creating and conducting relationships. It is through evoking the personal that students can start looking at communicative situations critically.
In my advanced language class, I start preparing students for an oral presentation by asking them to reflect on their own previous experiences, either in a personal social sphere or a work environment where they have had to present information. This led to considerations of how their previous holiday jobs, for instance, such as working in the visitor center of London Zoo or being a tour guide for Dutch tourists in Notre Dame in Paris, had been instances where they had to consider and make decisions on their positioning of others, as well as their positioning of themselves towards their imagined ‘clients’. In this process, students recollected situations in which they had to make on the spot decisions on how to present information in ways that could be understood and showed concern for their communicative partners.
The next stage of this particular task is to look at other presentations found on the internet and students try and imagine themselves in the role of the intended audience. How do they feel they are being positioned as an audience? Do they feel they are treated with respect? How does the context inform the presenter’s style? Has he/she taken note of their possible viewpoints and previous knowledge? Are there particular assumptions which are underlying some of these presentations? When students prepare their own presentations in a work context of their own choosing, they try and get under the skin of the imagined role they have set for themselves and also that of their imagined audience, so they can decide what to present and how to do so. Elsewhere I describe how students engage creatively with this task from a position of justice, equality, and respect for one another – how they utilize their cosmopolitan empathy. They do not address an imagined monologic other, but a complex one which necessitates them using multiple voices (Quist, 2013). Their presentations feel authentic and do not employ the bland ready-made style which tends to be found in coursebooks using vocationally-oriented language tasks.
Another example in my current course is the task of writing emails or letters in a work-oriented situation. Students start by reflecting on uncomfortable writing situations they have experienced where they were unsure how to address their addressee or what tone to adopt. The writing task I give them has a clearly described context of relations, e.g. they have to imagine themselves to be the Head of a school who writes to parents to explain particular changes in the structure of the school. Students consider what tone to use, how to position themselves as the Head, and how to position the parents. Students then read out their finished work in class and receive feedback from the other students, who imagine themselves in the position of the receivers of the text. Students often comment on whether the text is too authoritarian to their liking or conversely too hesitant in its tone, and differences in opinion about this are discussed. Frequently, this leads to hilarity as students, unsolicited by me, start to relate these different styles and indeed discursive constructions, in this case, to do with education, to the individuals who wrote the texts. They often joke about whether this tone fits with the perceived personality of the text writer. In engaging in tasks such as these which combine the personal and the critical in very practical language tasks, students create dialogic spaces where they can discuss in intensely personal and intimate ways why they have chosen the communicative styles they have been using. This comes close to what Sarah had said she had wanted to gain from the classes.
My pedagogy is still evolving, but by reflecting on discourses, multiple voicedness, and on interpersonal and intercultural relations, we do not only offer chances for students to being intercultural, but also to being human - to use their sense of responsibility towards, and engagement with, others. This can be applied to all manner of genres and tasks using all manner of language varieties and purposes, from academic to journalistic to creative writing – all of which invite students to reflect on conscious linguistic choices and encourage experiencing the communication process. These reflections also bring to the fore the fluid process that communication is; it brings a realization of the changeability of communicative situations, the ‘ruptures’, the fragility of our own positions, and of text as culture. It also engages students’ cosmopolitan attitudes using their sympathetic imaginations (Quist, 2013).