When I asked Sarab Al Ani to tell me what inspired her approach to the teaching of Methodologies of Modern Language Teaching (SPAN 790), she cited Mark Van Doren’s view that “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Indeed, the art of teaching is built on continual learning and reflection, which can give way to discovery about the assumptions we bring to our teaching, how think of what we teach, how people learn, our role in the profession, the relationship between pedagogy and scholarship, and the communities to whom we are accountable.
In approaching the task of creating a new methods course, we envisioned the course as a foundational one in graduate students’ training in the teaching of foreign languages (FL) and second language acquisition (SLA). In our conversation about the course with Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, Director of the Center for Language Study (CLS) at Yale, we all agreed that graduate training is an ongoing process that begins with the methods course and continues throughout graduate students’ education.
The course offers solid familiarity with the main approaches, methods, and principles that have been widely used to teach second languages in the 20th and 21st centuries. The syllabus includes study of foundational notions in SCT, TBL, CBI, and CLT following the learning of twentieth-century SLA theories, to which the latter pose a reaction. Successful completion of the course prepares students to pursue the CLS Certificate in Second Language Acquisition, which offers instruction in cutting edge pedagogies that include post-communicative and multiliteracies approaches.
The collaborative endeavor of creating a new course was the outcome of Al Ani’s extensive knowledge of SLA and my learning and experience with course design. (Thanks to the folks at CLS for this year’s amazing Brown-bag series on curriculum design!) Using Backward Design, Al Ani and I began by determining the goals and student learning objectives (SLOs). The latter were informed by research I carried out on methods courses in forward-looking programs at Yale and at peer institutions. Al Ani selected the majority of the readings, and I designed the assessments in alignment with the SLOs.   
Among the innovations of the course is a weekly journal, the purpose of which is student development of conceptually coherent notions of teaching and learning. In the course of the semester, students select at least 12 key concepts from the readings, explain them in their own words, and reflect on how they “mesh or clash with their beliefs about and experiences of FL and second-language teaching and learning” (H.W. Allen).1 After carrying out “fieldwork” – two class observations – students reflect on the ways in which theoretical frameworks and assumption shape the practice of FL teaching. Framing the class observations as “fieldwork” encourages everyone to adopt an anthropological point of view toward the practices in which we (and soon, they) engage when teaching.  
I borrowed the conceptual coherence journal idea from Heather Willis Allen’s critical discussion of the disconnect between professional development of FL TAs and the calls for action articulated in the MLA 2007 Report. She observes that the Report “makes no mention of the need to transform professional development practices or to set new standards for graduate education” (178). Allen identifies a number of challenges in FL TA training. One of them is the narrow focus of methods courses (e.g., focus on the teaching of language, with little attention to the teaching of literacy); a second challenge, which is one we began to tackle, is conceptual confusion about teaching and learning. She attributes the latter to instruction in methods courses informed by “notions of FL learning and teaching based on an amalgam of language-learning and teaching experiences characterized by disparate pedagogical approaches and theoretical concepts” (185). A methods course that consist of sundry approaches, methodologies, principles, and techniques in the absence of a coherent theoretical framework through which to make sense of that knowledge risks confusing our students. Therefore, whenever possible, our discussion of the fundamentals in SLA pedagogy was seen through the lens of multiliteracies.
The challenge was designing a methods course offering knowledge of the fundamental theories in SLA, while creating the conditions for development of conceptual coherence. Allen’s work provided direction: have students write weekly journal reflections in which they make sense of the interrelation among concepts and theories in their experience as language learners and teachers. The conceptual coherence journal assignment aligns with SLA Sociocultural Theory (SCT) principles in teacher training in that “Professional development is seen as a conceptual process, wherein teachers’ own everyday concepts (their personal notions about what language is, how languages are learned, and how they should be taught based on their own language-learning experiences) encounter scientific concepts (i.e., research and theory encountered in academic coursework and professional settings) about language, learning, and teaching, creating the potential for reorganization of experiential knowledge and formation of new knowledge” (184).
When asked what she had discovered in our class, PhD student Daniela Jara said: “The course has given us the opportunity to create a solid theoretical and methodological toolkit that will inform our pedagogical practice in the near future. I would think of it as a scene of reflection and theorization on L2 learning and teaching, as well as a pedagogical lab within which we became the designers of learning experiences in which language and culture are conceived as a whole.”
Thank you, Sarab, for the inspiration and knowledge you generously shared with our program.
Originally published in Issue 3 of the Yale Spanish and Portuguese Program Newsletter
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