Perspective-Taking and Meaning-Making through Engagement with Cultural Narratives: Bringing History to Life in a Foreign Language Classroom
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/L24110010
The MLA Report (2007) accords considerable weight to the role of culture in a transformed approach to language education in the U.S. and outlines “one possible model” for developing transculturalunderstanding that involves the interpretation of the “cultural narratives” inherent in all forms of cultural representation (p. 238). How exactly students might be engaged in interpreting cultural narratives in the foreign language classroom, though, remains to be further specified, imagined, practiced, and studied. Moreover, expanding this model of culture-in-language education to include active production and negotiation of meaning around cultural narratives, in addition to interpretation of these, has important pedagogical and learning implications. This paper highlights how engagement with historical narratives is a natural site for the kinds of interpretive and meaning-making practicesthat foster the deep cultural learning discussed in the MLA’s report. Reporting data from an ethnographic, discourse-analytic study of a university-level French classroom, this paper illustratesthat through the instructional environment created by the teacher and through the students’ engagement in class activities, many rich opportunities for perspective-taking from multiple points ofview were made available to students, ultimately weaving a dense web of meanings around French experiences of World War II. Close analysis of excerpts from classroom interaction show how aconstellation of instructional features and patterns of student engagement allowed the class to access the repertoire of more or less plausible storylines attached to this historical period and to practice with interpreting perspectives embedded in cultural texts. Interview data further highlight both the challenges and great potential of inviting multiple perspectives and voices into culture pedagogy in the foreign language classroom.