Teaching & Pedagogy

Fully committed to promoting excellence in teaching, the German Department emphasizes the thorough pedagogical and professional development of Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs). All of our graduate students have ample opportunity to teach in a vibrant and innovative language program while receiving extensive training in teaching language and culture at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. The pedagogical issues raised reach beyond the language classroom to students’ future roles as professors of literature and linguistics. By reflecting on their own teaching practice and its relationship to current theory, our graduate students are prepared for a strong start on the job market and for continuous professional development throughout their teaching careers.

GSIs begin teaching one section per semester of a lower-division German course (first- through fourth-semester language instruction, usually beginning with German 1). Later in their careers they can also apply to teach courses in conversation, German for reading knowledge, and Reading and Composition. The latter courses (offered in English on German topics) are especially important after the QE, as they allow students to teach literature and devise their own syllabi. These courses also let them test out their ideas—often derived from their dissertations—with a small group of bright freshmen and sophomores.

Most classes meet 50 minutes per day, five days a week. Beyond daily classroom teaching, GSI duties include the following:

  • Attend regularly the weekly group meetings of all instructors and the course coordinator.
  • Develop your own lesson plans in accordance with the course syllabus distributed by the coordinator.
  • Share with your group whatever supplementary materials you develop for effective classroom teaching (visuals, grammar handouts, supplementary readings, charts, group tasks, etc.).
  • Design portions of the quizzes and the final exams.
  • Administer, grade, and return students’ work (homework and tests) in a timely manner.
  • Follow the grading criteria agreed upon by your group.
  • Attend a “post-mortem” meeting of your group at the end of the semester.
  • Read carefully the evaluations submitted by your students after you have submitted their final grades. These evaluations constitute valuable feedback on your performance as a teacher.

Evaluation of your effectiveness as a teacher will be based not only upon your classroom performance (as assessed by faculty and coordinator visits), but also upon your fulfillment of the above obligations. Your reappointment as a GSI will also depend upon your fulfillment of these obligations.

Distinguishing Features

Our core development sequence for professional development goes far beyond that offered by most graduate programs and includes the following components:

  • A three-day, interactive pre-semester orientation and workshop for all new GSIs.
  • One day of refresher workshops for continuing GSIs at the beginning of each semester.
  • Two three-unit pedagogical seminars on Teaching College German: German 350 and 351, which focus on the theory and practice of foreign language pedagogy.
  • Weekly practicum/coordination meetings in which issues related to syllabus development, lesson plans, assessment questions, etc., are discussed.
  • Peer, coordinator, and faculty observations on a regular basis.
  • A stimulating atmosphere of mentorship and collaboration through continuous professional development and innovation linked to a dynamic language program.
  • Unique opportunities for funded research and further professional development through the Berkeley Language Center and the university’s GSI Teaching and Resource Center.

Bridging Theory and Practice: Language Pedagogy Seminars

The first semester of the language pedagogy seminar (German 350, see sample syllabus) focuses on principles of teaching methodology, research in Second Language Acquisition, skill-specific techniques, assessment, roles and tasks in the classroom, teaching culture, and approaches to critical reflection. The second semester (German 351, see sample syllabus) looks toward the teaching of intermediate and advanced language/culture courses. Instructional technologies, teaching writing, teaching the literary text, and issues in curriculum design form the main topics, with a continued emphasis on current research and critical reflection. In addition, each course includes a practical component in which graduate student instructors relate the seminar principles to current classroom activities, receive guidance, exchange materials, and generally coordinate their teaching efforts.

Gaining Experience: Teaching Opportunities

In the course of their studies, graduate students have the opportunity to teach a broad range of courses. Generally, all GSIs will teach at least the first two years of German (German 1-4). This experience alone covers a range from communicative teaching of the basics to content-
based instruction with an emphasis on critical inquiry into the nature of language and culture.

Other teaching opportunities include conversation courses, German for Reading Knowledge, a German gender perspectives course, and the freshman composition courses R5A and R5B. The latter are taught in English and include extensive readings of German literature in translation on a topic developed by the instructor.

Supporting Professional Development: Courses and Centers

The campus offers a rich and unique support system for the professional and intellectual development of teachers. The GSI Teaching and Resource Center (director: Linda von Hoene) and the Berkeley Language Center (director: Rick Kern) offer a range of pedagogical workshops and lecture series which regularly feature world-renowned researchers in the fields of Second Language Acquisition and Applied Linguistics, as well as stimulating panel discussions and seminars on issues directly relevant to language teaching and learning at Berkeley and in other institutional contexts. In addition, the BLC offers up to six graduate research fellowships each year to conduct research on ways to improve instruction in any of the languages taught on the Berkeley campus.