My name is Steven Wenz, and I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. This is my fourth year at the Center for Second Language Studies (CSLS). My primary research interests are 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century narrative in Argentina and Brazil, but I also publish on issues of translation, influence, and reception. I have taught a variety of beginning and intermediate courses at Vanderbilt, and this year I am teaching Spanish 201W, an intermediate writing course.
My main expectation for the classes that I teach is that they be dynamic. No academic enjoys sitting through a conference presentation delivered in a monotone, so it would be unreasonable to expect our undergraduate students to take interest in a lecture-dominated language classroom. My classes are task-based, and I introduce activities designed to improve different skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) and that require students to circulate and interact with their classmates. Taking a communicative approach to language learning, I encourage students to share information that is relevant to them within real-life contexts. Of course, especially in beginning courses, scaffolding is fundamental to my class design, with simpler and more direct activities providing the foundation for more complex and open-ended tasks. Although textbook materials form the basis for student work, I try to promote intercultural competency and global awareness by using authentic materials from the cultures that we study.
Most of the courses that I have taught feature presentations through the program Google Earth, in which students display a country or city on the screen and speak spontaneously about its weather, geography, and culture. Students enjoy this project because it gives them the impression of visiting countries that we have read about in the textbook. Of course, I also use familiar resources such as websites, YouTube videos, and Twitter to expose students as often as possible to the communities that we are studying. I especially enjoy encouraging students to make comparisons between these communities and their own. For example, I have asked students in my Spanish classes to think about the similarities and differences between Centennial Park in Nashville, TN and the Parque Centenario in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Finally, I feel that our primary function as language teachers is as cultural and linguistic ambassadors. For many of our students, their experiences with us and our colleagues in courses will be their only exposure to the cultures that we teach, and if we can motivate them to learn more, or at least counteract some stereotypes that they may have, we will have helped to produce more tolerant, globally aware citizens.