Reflection 10: Cultural Studies

Reflection based on chapter 3 En Cultural Studies-tilgang til kulturmøder og interkulturalitet by Lone Krogsgaard Svarstad in Daryai-Hansen, P., Søndergaard Gregersen, A., Jacobsen, S.K., Von Holst Pedersen, J., Svarstad, L.K. & Watson, C. (2018), Fremmedsprogsdidaktik. Mellem fag og didaktik, Hans Reitzel Forlag.

Since 2013, English as a subject in the Danish schools has changed status to a global lingua franca and cultural communication language, thus intercultural competence has become central for foreign language teaching.  But the biggest recent change within foreign language teaching began in the 90s; an increased focus on the learner’s personal development and intercultural competencies, and an educational focus on internationalisation. Especially Michael Byram’s model of intercultural communicative competence (1997) put its mark on how we understand individual intercultural competence today. The dimensions of the model include knowledge, skills, attitude and critical cultural awareness, supports the teacher’s and the learner’s work with developing intercultural communicative competencies with the purpose of building bridges between cultures. The model has been criticised for having an essentialistic view on cultures in which comparison is central, yet Byram’s recent work on intercultural citizenship and Autobiography on Intercultural Encounters (2008 & 2009) has a more dynamic view on culture. Nonetheless, Byram’s work is still at the core of the Danish common objectives framework and globally within the cultural studies. Since the 2000s, Karen Risager (2003) has argued for a transnational view of culture and linguaculture (also languaculture) as general understandings of foreign language teaching. Additionally, Fred Dervin (2016) has, fighting essentialist views through changing discourses, introduced the term othering as a way of enabling students to act critically and ethically towards othering-tendencies such as racism and social injustice. Lone Svarstad (2016) concludes that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to obtain a metalanguage of cultural understandings, not only to teach students intercultural communicative competence but also to be able to choose objectives and material. Risager (2018) has looked at material for teaching interculturally within foreign language teaching and has found 5 different perspectives, that each offers different potential:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Post-colonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Even though these perspectives might overlap, Svarstad argues the importance of the teacher’s ability to make conscious choices. She presents from one of her own studies, a cultural studies-approach. The knowledge foundation for such an approach can support the work of a complex and dynamic view of culture. Cases of pop culture can be used to analyse media representations (intersectionality) i.e., how themes or people are represented in the media. Linguistic analyses of discourses presented in different texts can enhance the students’ awareness of interculturality and othering-processes for example by using Liddicoat and Scarino’s (2013) 4-step model for interaction-processes; notice, compare, reflect and interact, and/or incorporating Svarstad’s (2016) metalinguistic term subtextuality in order to find hidden cultural perspectives or discourses.


References:

Byram, M. (1997): Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. (2008): From Foreign Language Education to Education for Intercultural Citizenship: Essays and Reflections. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. /w. Council of Europe. (2009): Autibiography of Intercultural Encounters. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Education Department, Language Policy Unit.
Dervin, F. (2016): Interculturality in Education: A Theoretical and Methodological Toolbox. London: Palgrave Macmillian.
Liddicoat, A.J. & Scarino, A. (2013): Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
Risager, K. (2003): Det nationale dilemma i sprog- og kulturpædagogikken. Et studie i forholdet mellem sprog og kultur. København: Akademisk Forlag.
Svarstad, L.K. (2016): Teaching Interculturality: Developing and Engaging in Pluralistic Discourses in English Language Teaching. Ph.d.-afhandling, Aarhus Universitet.

Advertisements

Reflection 6: The Creative Platform

This reflection is based on my knowledge of The Creative Platform – a didactic approach for unlimited application of knowledge in interdisciplinary and intercultural groups (Byrge, C. & Hansen, S., 2009).


BACKGROUND

There are an expectation and a goal on a national scale for Denmark to become the Scandinavian (or even European) hotspot for innovation and entrepreneurship. Following the Danish Innovation Strategy “Denmark – The Country of Solutions”, the reform of the primary and lower secondary school in 2013, stated that entrepreneurship and innovation had to be included in all subjects. But how do we teach innovation and entrepreneurship? First of all, we need to establish learning environments that foster creative thinking. The Creative Platform (Byrge & Hansen, 2009) offers a suggestion of how to do so. Albert Einstein, though undocumented, is given the credit for once having said: “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. The creative platform is both a didactic approach, but also presents a model with four pillars necessary to uphold that platform (a mental state). I will get back to the model and its four pillars later.

Firstly, Byrge & Hansen (2009) defines creativity as:

  • An unlimited application of knowledge
  • To play with knowledge in the search for other possibilities than the ones our pattern thinking normally would make us aware of
  • The mean to cut across the limiting boundaries of subjects, professions, scientific, ‘not scientific’ knowledge, truths, lies, understanding and misunderstanding
  • The discipline of sharing and applying knowledge across all professional, social, disciplinary and cultural boundaries.

When we want to create something new, we need for people to be creative. To create is at the top of human capacity. It involves the unlimited application of knowledge, that a person has gained through life. So why is it so difficult to come up with new ideas? The thing is; we create patterns in our brains — to cope — to save energy — (&) to save time. As we know it from habits, or the morning routines, that we perform with ease even though we are half asleep. Patterns also control our perception and thinking, which makes it difficult to perceive information in new ways, to conceptualise differently and to think and do differently. The key to the unlimited application of knowledge is to remove judgment from the learning process, that is done by:

  • Skipping the dominating norms of communication: Examples of that could be: logical argumentation, the positioning of ideas, professional or personal persuasion, judgment, evaluation, criticism, praise, acknowledgment and other traditional discussion behaviours.
  • Secondly, but additionally, we need to remove no from our vocabularies: In most learning situations, students experience fear of judgement, fear of saying or doing something wrong. So removing judgement from the learning environment is necessary for an optimal session of idea generating.

When teaching creativity, we need a learning environment that focusses on experience, because experience is the only place where our perception is not controlled by our pattern thinking. In experience, all our knowledge is at our disposal. The creative platform offers such a learning environment. The creative platform is a mental state, only achievable if held up by 4 pillars: Parallel Thinking, (being) Task Focussed, No Judgement and Diversified Knowledge.


THE FOUR PILLARS OF THE CREATIVE PLATFORM


Parallel Thinking
Parallel thinking encompasses, that during group tasks:

  • all group members must only have the current subtask in mind
  • all potential disturbances must be eliminated or removed
  • there must be deadlines for the subtasks

Additionally, all subtasks ends with a presentation. If you do these things, should be totally absorbed in your work, i.e., achieve the sense of flow, as described by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi.

Task Focussed
To be task focussed entails, that the creativity must be controlled, there has to be some rules to the task, that the students are engaging in. Thus, the importance of having a faiclitator (the teacher) becomes even more important, because someone has to make sure everyone is working within the frames/rules of the given task.

No Judgement
During a normal academic discussion, members often introduce themselves or their opnions, which leads to individual reflections. Social interactions easily leads to an atmosphere of judgement, thus should be avoided. When teaching according to the creative platform, introduction happens by small activities to create shared experiences (3D Cases). No judgement is allowed, bad nor good.

Diversified Knowledge
We know that 95% of “new problems” have already been solved, probably many times over (Altshuller, 2003) and that, the solutions are usually found within disciplines or industries that you didn’t even know existed. Studies also show, that the intersection between all disciplines, cultures and domains is, in fact, the only place where new knowledge is created (Johnsson, 2004). Therefore, the creative platform is only really doable, when interculturality and variety of skills and knowledge are 


TASKS TO REACH (THE MENTAL STATE) THE CREATIVE PLATFORM 

Using energisers to change energy-level within the classroom
Example: 

Find someone with the same kind of shoes as you, raise right hand, when I say 1 — you clap your right hands together — raise the left hand when I say two, you clap your left hands together — when I say three, clap both hands together!

3-Dimensional Cases (3D-Cases) using both attitude, body & brain to create shared experiences
Example:

Find someone with similar or the same hair as you. Now you close your eyes, you will be given 30 seconds to think about your childhood dream. After the 30 seconds, the one with the biggest hands will start explaining their biggest child hood dream, afterwards, and when both of them are done — let them make name tags with their childhood dreams on (instead of the normal way of having your name and/or occupation/title) on there. The reason for this certain 3D-Case, is to give an example of a way to create a non-judgemental introduction of the participants (compared to traditional introductions).


FURTHER REFLECTIONS

The next step has to be figuring out, how to adapt or include the creative platform within the foreign language classroom. The reason for my interest stems from a sincere interest in the theory, but multiple failed attempts of finding any sources of implementation in foreign language subjects. To be continued (not here, but in life).

Discourses of Othering

Reflection based on Fred Dervin’s paper Discourses of Othering (2014) in International Encyclopedia of Language and Social Interaction (WILEY-BLACKWELL).

“It’s easier to split an atom than a prejudice” – Albert Einstein

Because of students’ increasing intercultural contact in this globalised world, Fred Dervin is leading within the postmodern need to question and re-evaluate everything, and examines the concepts of culture, identity and collectivity and how to deal with these subjects in education. Out current education which is full of examples of historical labels of othering. E.g. Colonisations, indigenous people in Australia, Human zoos, South Africa’s Apartheid, etc. Where the othering identity markers include nationality, race, language, religion, gender, ethnicity, etc. Naturally, our educational institutions are only a representation of the current society, norms, and values thereof, and in there, exists a large variation of othering, both national and cultural:

  • Essentialism
  • Racism
  • Neo-racism (for which culture serves as a proxy for race)
  • Culturalism (culture as an explanation for all)
  • Ethnocentrism sexism
  • Exoticism
  • Islamophobia
  • Occidentalism (Dervin & Gao, 2012)
  • Orientalism

The other is been at the core of Human and Social Sciences (Interdisciplinary concept par excellence; psychology, sociology, philosophy – especially ontology, anthropology, linguistics, theology, archeology, history and gender studies).

Othering (sometimes written as otherising) is an interdisciplinary notion/topic that refers, amongst other things, to differentiating discourses that lead to a moral and political judgment of superiority and inferiority between ‘us’ and ‘them, and within groups. Critical approaches to mothering examine its construction in social interaction and take into account both power relations and the intersectionality of different identity markers. Researchers increasingly pay attention to their own contribution to othering. Othering can lead to racism, sexism and/or bigotry, thus has to be discussed, banished and fought against in educational discourses. Othering discourses that have led to acts such as hatred, killing, terrorism, slavery, genocides, etc., but in daily life show themselves as prejudice, power imbalance, discrimination and patronising attitudes.

Social representation (concept by psychologist Moscovici, 1961) is a system of values, ideas and practices that are shared by people and that enable them to grasp their world but also to interact with others — which is exactly what bothering allows in social interactions.

Thus being aware of the discourses of othering is important and relevant when teaching today’s students any subject, not just history.

“I emphasize in it [my Orientalism] accortdingly that neither the term Orient nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability; each is made up of human effort, partly affirmation, partly identification of the Other.”
―Edward Said