Redesigning an Intermediate Polish Language Course to Align with KU Core Goal 4.2 Learning Objectives Regarding Cultural Competence—Svetlana Vassileva-Karagyozova (2019)
An intermediate Polish class is transformed to align curriculum with KU Core Goal 4.2, which requires that students “be able to examine a variety of perspectives in the global community, distinguish their own cultural patterns, and respond flexibly to multiple worldviews.” For this course transformation, I designed three assignments to assess course efficacy in promoting progress among learners in the cultural competence central to 4.2.
PLSH 204 is an intermediate Polish language course that continues to introduce the basic concepts of Polish grammar and develop students’ listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills. However, PLSH 204 is more than just a third semester of Polish grammar and vocabulary; it introduces students to the products of Polish culture and its practices. Because PLSH 204 enrollment has always been in the single digits, my primary goal for nominating the course for the KU Core was to make it more appealing to a wider undergraduate audience. This has necessitated some changes in the course design to align the objectives more closely with the learning outcomes of Goal 4.2 regarding cultural competency. These changes included making more explicit the cultural content of PLSH 204, because lower-level language courses are sometimes viewed as heavily focused on grammar and drill.
Every lesson in the second-year Polish textbook provides an opportunity for raising students’ awareness and engagement with the Polish cultural understanding of community and invites interesting comparisons between the Polish and American hierarchies of values. In addition to the strictly linguistic activities that focus on the more implicit aspects of Polish culture, students write compositions in Polish reflecting on cultural differences that have triggered a reevaluation of their own cultural assumptions, participate in role-play activities practicing behaviors that may be encountered in everyday Polish culture, write a reflection essay on a book elaborating on some possible pitfalls in Polish-American intercultural communication, and do a presentation on a Polish object/custom/practice and its US equivalent.
I evaluate students’ attainment of Goal 4.2 learning objectives by scoring three types of student assignments (role-play, reflection essay, and cultural essay and presentation) against a rubric I have developed adapting the UCCC’s sample Goal 4.2 rubric. In the only iteration of the course since 4.2 approval in 2016, students performed well overall on the three assignments, with their lowest performance coming on the in-class role-play.
To address students’ performance on the in-class assessment, adjustments to the course were made to increase learning in some of the problematic areas. I will teach the course for the first time in its transformed form in Fall 2018 and will have the opportunity then to reassess the efficacy of the strategies for teaching and assessing 4.2.
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PLSH 204 is an intermediate Polish language course designed for students who have successfully completed the elementary Polish sequence. The course continues to introduce the basic concepts of Polish grammar and develop students’ listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills. The course also aims to expand students’ vocabulary and improve their communicative competence in Polish. .
However, PLSH 204 is more than just a third semester of Polish grammar and vocabulary. It introduces students to the products of Polish culture (historical facts and actors, artifacts, etc.) and its practices (beliefs, traditions, attitudes, ways of living) through activities that engage learners in comparing how languages conceptualize and express such culturally tinted categories as agency, time, space, motion, gender, and how cultures create their hierarchies of values. Students learn about Polish society through texts in the broadest sense (e.g., dialogues, stories, websites, articles, videos, songs, advertisements, menus), and the texts are accompanied by various level-appropriate activities that facilitate students’ understanding of how language forms shape meaning and structure narratives. The formal analysis is always followed by an examination of the cultural values and beliefs explicitly or implicitly embedded in the texts.
Polish is a less-commonly taught language, and KU students rarely venture to study it unless there is a compelling practical reason for it. The usual audience for the course consists of Slavic graduate students who need to fulfill their second Slavic language requirement, or graduate students from other departments (history, geography, etc.) who need Polish for their dissertation research. Also, there is a consistent cohort of undergraduate students of Polish heritage usually majoring or minoring in Polish.
Because PLSH 204 enrollments have always been in the single digits, my primary goal for nominating the course for the KU Core was to make it more appealing to a wider undergraduate audience. This has necessitated some changes in the course design to align the course’s objectives more closely with the learning outcomes of Goal 4.2. These changes included making more explicit the cultural content of PLSH 204, because lower-level language courses are sometimes viewed as heavily focused on grammar and drill. Since its approval for the Core in January 2016, PLSH 204 has been taught only once, in Fall 2016, by a graduate teaching assistant. There were two students enrolled in the course that semester.
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Every lesson in the second-year Polish textbook Hurra po polsku 2 is devoted to a different topic: describing people, work, family history, future plans, education, city life, or country life. These topics provide an opportunity for raising students’ awareness and engagement with the Polish cultural understanding of community and invite interesting comparisons between the Polish and the American hierarchies of values. In addition to the strictly linguistic activities focusing on the more implicit aspects of Polish culture, students participate in in-class discussions and write compositions in Polish reflecting on cultural differences that have triggered a reevaluation of their own cultural assumptions.
To introduce students to possible pitfalls in Polish-American intercultural communication, I assign biweekly readings from Laura Klos-Sokol’s collection of essays Shortcuts to Poland. An American sociolinguist who has lived and worked in Poland for many years, Klos-Sokol offers an educational and entertaining record of her wrong assumptions and faux pas when coming into first contact with certain aspects of everyday Polish culture. Every other Friday (what we call cultural Friday), we analyze and discuss the cultural differences highlighted in the assigned essays as well as various strategies for negotiating cross-cultural situations. At the end of the semester, students write a reflection essay in English summarizing their new understanding of the eventual traps in Polish-American intercultural communication. The book is equipped with two quizzes, which I assign as a homework activity, that test readers’ grasp of cultural differences.
To raise students’ awareness about various elements of the culture that differ from their own cultural assumptions, I have created an assignment which asks them to research an object/custom/practice in Polish culture and compare it to an equivalent object/custom/practice in US culture. Students produce an essay and an oral presentation in Polish analyzing the similarities and differences between the Polish and the US object/custom/practice.
To encourage students to participate in improvised behaviors that may be encountered in Polish everyday culture, I have developed various thematic role-play activities. By using this drama technique, students experiment with language structures and test their communicative competence in a judgment-free environment. They receive feedback regarding pronunciation, fluency, coherence, word choice, cultural appropriateness, etc.
The described teaching methods and learning activities aim to sensitize students to the varying nature of human beliefs, behaviors, and practices due to cultural differences and to develop students’ confidence in negotiating cross-cultural situations.
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I have selected three assignments to measure students’ attainment of Goal 4.2 learning objectives. I have also adapted the sample UCCC rubrics for assessing Goal 4.2 for all three of the assignments, which are listed below:
- An oral exam after every two lessons consisting of a role-play with the instructor in which the student is asked to negotiate an everyday situation, such as grocery shopping, filing a complaint, applying for a job, ordering in a restaurant, or renting an apartment. Example prompts include:
- You want to rent an apartment. Talk to the realtor and explain to her/him what you are looking for. Ask four or five questions to find out everything you need to know.
- You are having a job interview for an office manager position at a small company. Ask your interviеwer questions about your working hours, work responsibilities, office space, vacation time, and salary.
- A 1,000-word reflection essay written in English on Laura Klos-Sokol’s collection of essays on Polish-American intercultural communication that addresses such questions as: What Polish values, beliefs, practices, communications styles described in the book made a strong impression on you and why? Give 3-5 examples.
- Did the knowledge about Polish culture gained from Klos-Sokol’s book have an impact on how you view your own culture? Did this knowledge lead to any adjustments to your worldview or behavior?
- If you had to live in Poland for a period of time, which Polish values, beliefs, practices, communication styles, etc., would be the easiest for you to get used to and which ones would represent a real challenge for you? Describe some strategies you would use to avoid faux pas and cultural misunderstandings.
- A cultural essay and an oral presentation delivered in Polish for which students are asked to research an object/custom/practice in Polish culture and compare it to an equivalent object/custom/practice in US culture.
Both students in the 2016 iteration of the course performed well on the three assignments, achieving results between “meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations” on the adapted 4.2 rubric. They demonstrated the highest level of attainment of Goal 4.2 objectives in the reflective essay and the lowest in the oral test.
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Despite the small sampling size of the 2016 iteration of the course, students seemed to respond well to the changes in the course and performed well on aspects related to Core Goal 4.2. To help the students struggling with the oral test, I have developed more detailed prompts and have incorporated additional speaking activities in each lesson to scaffold students toward a more fluid and Polish-like oral communication, which was the greatest difficulty in the oral assessment.
In Fall 2018 I resumed teaching PLSH 204, my first time since its redesign and approval for the CORE in 2016. This gives me an opportunity to observe the effects of the changes on students’ attainment of the course goals and students’ overall reaction to the deeper emphasis on cross-cultural learning in the course.
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