Project ICONE: Language and Culture in Real Time
I have designed a project specifically for the acquisition of Portuguese in the United States
and English in Brazil. The key ambition of this project is to create a language/culture situation that is truly intercultural and enables participants (students and instructors) to reflect on new cultural symbolisms and to reconstruct old ones. I have created this project based on the concept of Critical Pedagogy which is the foundation of my teaching philosophy.
The project is implemented through the use of technology. Students in the Duke Portuguese Language Program and students in the Center for English Studies at Universidade Federal do Para (UFPA), Brazil meet via live Skype sessions. I use technology to teach the language and culture of the two countries, Portuguese and Brazilian culture at Duke University and English and American culture at UFPA.The sessions occur within the Portuguese classes timeframe at Duke and as an extracurricular course at UFPA. The unique experience of being exposed in live conversation with an outside native speaker, thousands of miles away has produced phenomenal results as can be verified by the fast acquisition of fluency and growth in cultural reflections shown by our students.
A vast array of relevant critical topics surface as participants become familiar with each other during the project. These critical topics are carefully addressed as they emerge to help students be as successful as possible while they navigate both cultures with an open-mind and respectful demeanor. These topics are included in regular class discussions, so that participants can obtain full clarification, form opinions, or perhaps most importantly, use that information to instigate thought. Participantsâ€™ understanding that a careful analysis of cultural characteristics provides the groundwork for questioning the status quo, is key to this project. It also instills the passionate nature of intellectual curiosity. The topics that inspire critical thinking and challenging discussion vary from dealing with stereotypes, being aware of unilateral thinking, and avoiding a judgemental attitude. Some of the topics cited below (but not limited to) derive from a pedagogical foundation that instigates both their curiosity and their intellect.
The structure of Project ICONEâ€™s meetings must be simple and straightforward in order to allow students to focus on content and have a positive experience. Conversations start in English for the first 20 minutes and then switch to Portuguese the next 20 minutes. During this part students talk one-on-one. The final 10 minutes are off camera when students and instructors on each end wrap up with comments of that session. We comment on new words they have learned and taught, cultural traits they have shared, and most importantly, compare their ideas of a specific topic before the session and their first reaction on the same idea right after the session. The assessment continues in a take-home exam. Students write a composition describing the experience in-depth, articulating their thoughts, and using their newly acquired language structures. Duke and UFPA meet every Wednesdays and Fridays in the spring semester. I encourage students to extend their meetings outside class. This part is not mandatory, but it maximizes learning and students usually view it as a natural part of the project.
I have developed a pedagogical material to help students prepare for meetings, use during the actual sessions, the class discussions, and the written assessment. The content of the coursepack is organized into chapters:
Chapter 1: Conversational topics with a wide variety of guiding questions to ease the conversations during the actual sessions and to prompt the written assessment
Chapter 2: The grammar that is to be explored during the sessions
Chapter 3: The take-home written assessment
Chapter 4: The project schedule and participantsâ€™ Skype address
The course material and the experience provide the very essence of what a language/culture course should provide:
The surprising pleasure of understanding a native speaker
The rewarding pleasure of being understood in a foreign language
Visible improvement of students language skills during each session
The learning of a foreign culture: the differences, similarities, and the novelties
The deconstruction of beliefs, the reconstruction of oneâ€™s own opinions, and the construction of a new perception of life
This project has led both professors and students to develop original research and produce papers and conference presentation. Prof. Walkyria Silva is writing an analysis of Projeto ICONE entitled â€śMotivation and Language in Real Lifeâ€ť, I am currently writing an article entitled â€śProject ICONE: Language and Culture in Real Timeâ€ť which I presented in the ESL Conference in the University of Winnipeg, Canada in May 2015. Student Dayane Paixao has presented a paper she wrote on the project in the UFPA Language Conference in April 2015.
Project ICONEâ€™s great potential as vital linguistic and cultural tool comes from my very specific cultural knowledge of the U.S and Brazil, decades of classroom experience and a drive for innovation and challenge. The project encompasses the work of a language professor, a writer, a coordinator, an administrator for logistics and finances all in one person, but it is worth every effort when the outcome goes from surprising pleasures to life changing ideas.