educational philosophy

My approach to Norwegian language and cultural education is influenced by my experiences as a learner, instructor, and curricularist.  My own language learning in Norwegian, S├ími, Old Norse, Spanish and German has taken place in immersion programs, choirs, high school and university courses, abroad programs, correspondence and online programs, as well as independent learning.  In addition to learning in these environments, I have also instructed and developed curriculum for most of these types of programs, and Elderhostel programs as well.  These experiences have all contributed to the formation of my educational philosophy.  Andragogic foreign language learning has taught me that there are multiple ways to teach a concept and more than one way to learn.  My approach towards foreign language learning and teaching is constantly evolving, as it is with many practitioners. It is continuously impacted by current research, student and peer feedback, observations, and my ongoing experiences as a learner, instructor, and curricularist. As an Applied Linguist, it is of utmost importance to see how theory and practice meet.

My teaching method is a balance of science and art.  To accomplish this, I believe it is necessary to have a solid foundation in multiple instructional methodologies; one teaching method does not work for every teacher or learner.  While part of this foundation is specific to the field of foreign language learning, many of my beliefs about teaching and learning are elements that I use in my English language courses as well.  This type of approach, built from a combination of theory and practice, involves complex judgments that unfold during the course of instruction. I believe that one of the most important parts about teaching is dealing creatively with the unexpected.

I cannot separate my interest in teaching from Norwegian; my interests go far beyond the language and culture, as it is my heritage and identity. Although no one in my immediate family speaks Norwegian, I have been involved with a variety of Norwegian language and cultural environments since the age of five. Each of the many programs I have been a part of offered a unique perspective of Norwegian-American and Norwegian cultures. These perspectives opened my eyes to the world of my ancestors and their way of life.

I demonstrate a passion for teaching Norwegian, and I believe that students will inevitably be affected by this energy and will engage themselves actively in the learning process.  As a teacher of Norwegian language and Nordic culture, one of my most important tasks is to introduce American learners to perspectives different from those they with which they are familiar, such as linguistic diversity, political systems, social worlds, and ideas and cultural expressions exhibited in Norwegian culture and of the non-native Norwegian individuals living in Norway. I thoroughly enjoy being an instructor of a heritage language because I have the opportunity to play an active role in helping a group of learners discover and make connections with their ancestry and developing their cultural identity.  For non-heritage learners, the challenge is to find reasons to learn a language or study a culture so unfamiliar. Often I do this by finding ways to connect the course content to individuals' educational interests and leisure activities.

Beliefs about learning
My beliefs about learning language are centered around security and acceptedness, andragogy & individual differences, autonomy & student-centeredness, and process-orientation.  These concepts are not specific to foreign language learning.

Security and acceptedness: Like the Linguist Stephen Krashen, I believe that all learning should stem from a feeling of security and acceptedness. When students walk into my classroom, I want them to feel as though their beliefs, backgrounds, and personalities are equally and unconditionally respected and accepted by me and their fellow students. Creating this environment can be challenging, but for true, meaningful learning to take place, affective factors must be minimized.  It is also important for me to know who I am teaching-- not merely a name and a face, but to understand my students' reasons for their interest in my class and their learning styles so that I can direct my teaching towards their interests and specific language-learning motivations.

Andragogy & Individual differences: Because I specifically teach adults and young adults, I find Knowles’ distinction between andragogy and pedagogy to be a very important, yet often overlooked, principle of how to approach teaching. I believe learning takes place at all times in life; anyone, at any age, can learn if given the appropriate tools. I expect learners to stretch their minds to their individual limits. Every student, regardless of their age or experience, contributes unique abilities, talents, and other valuable traits. Therefore, I encourage each student to actively participate in the classroom.

Autonomy & Student-centeredness: I feel it essential that learners be responsible for their own learning. This provides them the opportunity to become independent, resourceful, critical thinkers. Giving students a voice in the classroom and an opportunity to discuss content matter among among classmates proves to be both an engaging and meaningful experience. As learners become personally involved with the subject matter, the greater and longer-lasting their learning will be.

Process-orientation: Much like that of behaviorists, I believe that the skill of mastering a language is much like mastering any skill: it takes practice. I do not believe that most learners fully grasp everything the first time around. This is especially true for American students who, generally speaking, may not have a solid foundation in the linguistic structures of their first language. Therefore, it is important for learners to have several opportunities to work with the language before they are expected to have mastered new input.

Beliefs about teaching
Balance: One issue of debate is how much or how explicit various aspects of the language should be taught (form vs. meaning, written vs. oral communication, etc.). Research has shown that there is more than one solution to this challenge, but that the solution must incorporate balance. I believe that methods that have incorporated an either-or mentality or that have heavily weighted specific elements of the language have not been successful.

Culture: Language can never be separated from the context of culture.  A majority of my students come with various experiences and perceptions of Norway. My role is to affirm their past experience with the heritage culture—to refresh their memory by constantly having learners apply their knowledge—but also to expand their knowledge and present and discuss contemporary Norway, a culture often very different from what their grandparents and great grandparents are familiar with. I believe that authentic cultural contexts and connections deepens language acquisition.

Target language use: Because my time with my learners is limited, I strongly believe that modeling language is essential to develop my students’ language abilities. This process, largely based on first language acquisition models of instruction, immerses the student. Because the majority of students I teach have English as their native language, and Norwegian is so closely related in terms of sentence construction, I help my students identify strategies for understanding the language so that I can remain in the Target Language during the little time we have together.

Feedback: I strive to provide the type of individualized and constructive feedback that generates improvement and growth. I believe that feedback should not interfere with communication as Focus on Form advocates.  And similar to motivational psychologists Deci and Ryan, I believe that feedback can have a profound affect on one’s intrinsic motivation, so the more specific and constructive, the better.

New technologies: One last essential piece of my philosophy is to be attuned to technological developments for language learning.  A significant element of my teaching involves the use of technology in asynchronous, synchronous, and virtual language environments.  These new technologies offer exciting new resources and platforms, which, if used correctly, can lead to greater understanding of how language learning happens.

As current technology and research in new, unexplored or under-explored fields develop, and my experiences as a learner, instructor and curricularist continue to expand, I will continue to reflect upon and refine my educational philosophy.