A Critical Approach to non-F2F Language Teaching

Face-to-face language courses tend to use in-class time mostly for lecture and language practice. Such instructional modes are difficult when, as in our current public health crisis, teaching and learning must be done online. What are the specific challenges for teaching language courses at CUNY in an online format?

To be fully effective, language instruction must take into account the social, cultural, and political contexts in which a language is produced. This pedagogical approach goes beyond the acquisition of the core linguistics skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) and the basic approaches that cover grammar, vocabulary, and culture, and must address the metalinguistic issues and the socio-political nature of language.

How can such an approach be pursued effectively in an online environment? This workshop will help participants identify concrete challenges of teaching a language course online, with particular attention to assignments that proceed from a critical perspective. Participants will workshop strategies and/or assignments that will help us overcome these challenges in an online environment being aware of our limitations and constraints. We will consider and adapt the language course and expectations having in mind material that speaks to our students’ experiences directly in order to keep them motivated and engaged.

This workshop was developed by Inés Vañó García for the Teach@CUNY 2020 Summer Institute.

Learning Goals

    • Identify and discuss the challenges of teaching a language course completely online or in a hybrid mode.
    • Examine models for fully online and hybrid language courses
    • Review and adapt language courses and expectations – what are the course requirements that will be the most challenging to address?
    • Considering a critical approach to language teaching, Identify and workshop approaches and/or assignments to overcome the discussed challenges.


Required reading: Teaching Languages@CUNY. A disciplinary guide.

Although you should know by what course you are teaching, you may not yet have access to the teaching materials for your course. If this is the case, make sure to contact your department and ask them about the requirements – even if the college cannot grant you access yet, the textbook publishing company may give you access ahead of the semester. Elementary and Intermediate language courses @CUNY often assign a compulsory specific textbook and required assignments.

These language textbooks are normally supplemented by an online platform that provides activities, homework, quizzes, and exams. When you contact your department and/or your language coordinator to find out about the required textbook(s) and assignments, you may ask about the flexibility you have to adapt and make changes to the content of your course. Sometimes flexibility is limited since language courses sometimes have an obligatory common midterm and/or final exam administered by the department, and you have an obligation to prepare your students to be successful in this task.

However, there may be other arrangements and spaces accessible for you to incorporate a more critical approach to language teaching. Remember that even if you are required to teach with a specific textbook and use an online platform where students complete weekly assignments following a more traditional grammar-based approach, you can find other spaces to make an impact. For example,

• if the selection of readings available in your textbook do not foster inquiry and critical thinking, you may want to work on a selection of readings that deal with the political, racial, and cultural issues of our current times, and provide a context with them in your course along with a series of scaffolded assignments where students also produce some writing (lower, medium and high stakes);

• you may also discover that the material provided is text-based heavy and you would like to add other types of multimodal input in your language course by incorporating podcasts, images, zines, among other sources. Students could also become producers of these materials after having had enough exposure and input (instead of a more traditional writing assignment and/or presentation);

• even if you are teaching an elementary or intermediate language course, you can create spaces to integrate your research into your teaching. Yes, this takes more planning ahead of time, and the sources will have to be in English. However, the conversations and discussions about language could be very productive and insightful, and you will be able to address the metalinguistic issues and the socio-political nature of language that fit into the arch and approach of your language course. This Visible Pedagogy post illustrates this experience.

• … and more! 🙂

[Step 1] Identifying possible challenges

Let’s take a moment and reflect on your course, your learning objectives, your requirements, and the overall structure. Take a moment to share your thoughts and concerns by answering the following questionnaire that will help you to identify some challenges that you envision in your language course. Participants will have access to the excel sheet here with the contributions from all the participants.

Although you may envision many concerns and the challenges while teaching a language course in a hybrid/online mode, during this workshop you will be able to address ONE challenge. However, as a community, we will be able to share all of them, and your colleagues could be addressing challenges that you will be able to revisit later on. Please share your questions, comments, concerns, and more with the rest of the participants through the “A critical approach to non-F2F language teaching” in the Institute’s Slack channel.

**A synchronous meeting can be established for the week of June 22 if participants desire. To request a meeting use the Slack channel, and let us know your availability.

**Remember that the goal of this workshop is not to create a course from scratch, only to adapt a specific challenge and/or assignment to your future (online/hybrid) class that adopts a critical approach to language teaching.


Active Component

[Step 2] Addressing a challenge

Once you have identified and selected the challenge that you would like to address during this workshop, let’s scaffold your work/assignment in order to integrate it into your language course. This section could take many different forms depending on the challenge that you have picked, however, remember the critical approach to language teaching. The following short (blog type) readings could be great resources to help you start framing your work in this workshop:

• For a concise, clear and straightforward understanding of what we mean by a critical approach: Rosen, J., & Smale, M. (2015). Open digital pedagogy = Critical pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy.

• For issues of how to deal with the linguistic practices and students’ linguistic background in our critical approach to language pedagogy, check these Visible Pedagogy posts: “Driving Through the “Inclusion jeapordizes Rigor” Rationale: A Travel Guide to Keep from Stalling,” “Questioning nuestras prácticas lingüísticas,” and “My Journey Toward a Socially Conscious Pedagogy for Language Teaching.”

• Check the resources/bibliography section at the end of the page for additional resources including more theoretical articles.

Once you have reviewed the critical approach to language teaching that you are incorporating into your course, the following questions/steps could be useful to think about the design, scaffolding, and context while you approach your challenge and design an assignment and/or work around this challenge:

What are the learning goals?

By adopting a critical approach to your language teaching, the learning goals will expand beyond the core linguistics skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing). Make sure that you adapt the learning goals of your course to this approach, and your pedagogy (what you value in the language learning process) is communicated clearly to your students from day one. If you are designing a specific assignment, make sure that the goals of the assignment meet the arch and goals of the course.

What type of input and/or models are you providing to students?

Remember that language learners require comprehensible input (check Teaching Languages@CUNY. A disciplinary guide). You cannot ask them to produce something, if they have not been exposed to several examples and models. The selection of these models is directly related to the critical approach to language learning: your models need to foster the knowledge and inquiry that you envision in your course. If the models provided by the textbook don’t relate to this approach and/or your students’ experience, you can pick and collect external models, or you can approach these models with a more critical and questioning perspective than the one suggested and adopted in the textbook itself.

How are you going to scaffold the assignment?

Besides providing models, students need clear and detailed instructions of the steps they need to follow while completing an assignment, even more in an online/hybrid environment. Let’s not forget that language learning does not happen overnight, and you are teaching a semester language course that could meet (maybe) twice a week, and require between 4 to 8 hours of weekly work (always acknowledging the current situation of this coming fall semester). Be honest and transparent of how much students could accomplish under this time and these constraint conditions. Be conscious of building several lower and medium stake assignments that help students acquire and improve their linguistic skills at the same time that they develop their critical thinking skills.

*Please, do share your assignment design with the rest of the participants and TLC community. This process could be very straightforward for you, but not for the student. Another set of eyes and colleagues’ feedback is extremely helpful.

Output: How are the students producing/creating the final artifact?

consider flexibility and accessibility while teaching a language course in an online/hybrid mode: from specific issues such as regarding the “correct” accent spelling while typing with an English keyboard, to the possibility of using a language-translation tool to complete a writing assignment. Students will have the opportunity to work synchronously and asynchronously during the semester, and there are many online tools at hand. Before discarding and/or prohibiting their use, consider their affordances and constraints (why not using your online dictionary, word grammar spelling check and/or translation tool for a writing assignment?) Having a conversation about the technology ethics in your language course could establish a base of what you value, and how you envision students as knowledge producers. Of course, there is more than writing when we talk about production/output in a language class, and we must be creative! Thus, remember to incorporate space for feedback (not just from the instructor) in every step.

Questions? Please share your questions, comments, concerns and final draft created using Google Docs with the rest of the participants through the “A critical approach to non-F2F language teaching” in the Institute’s Slack channel.



By the end of this workshops, participants will

      • Explore and discuss the challenges of teaching a language course completely online or in a hybrid mode
      • Examine models for fully online and hybrid language courses
      • Review and adapt language courses and expectations – what are the course requirements that will be the most challenging to address?

Additional Readings and Resources

[This list is currently under construction, please share your contributions with us through Slack so we can build this space as a community]

Recursos antirracistas en español (by Dra. Gabriela Kovats Sánchez): https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1DbS6Q9oSfLbShmkNrkTgaDVHGedpYrCI-Pq6RDUcYrY/mobilebasic?urp=gmail_link

Apps para aprender español: https://airtable.com/shrA3HcTaqOjF8SGV/tblvRf7YTfKWE6XaG/viwmuxnvSLrpLAQiR


Language Resource Institutions:

Institute for Language Education in Transcultural Context (ILETC), ar esearch and resource center for language education at CUNY: visit its online teaching resources: https://iletc.commons.gc.cuny.edu/materials-resources/online-teaching/

Online Language Pedagogy site (https://nflrc.hawaii.edu/projects/view/2018B/) from the National Foreign Language Resource Center at The University (NFLRC) of at University of Hawai’i at Mãnoa.

The Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL), one of the sixteen National Foreign Language Resource Center‘s institutes (LRC’s), is focused on the creation and dissemination of OER.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) has made available a site with resources and tips to teach remotely, and another one is collectively been created with antiracist resources for teaching.


Critical approach to language teaching:

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: the critical study of language. London; New York: Longman.

Janks, H. (1991). A critical approach to the teaching of language. Educational Review, 43(2), 191. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/10.1080/0013191910430207

Jhangiani, R. & DeRosa, R. (2018). Open Pedagogy and Social Justice. Hybrid Pedagogy. https://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/open-pedagogy-social-justice/

Kramsch, C. (2006). From Communicative Competence to Symbolic Competence. The Modern Language Journal, 90 (2), 249-252.


Spanish OER textbooks/assignments:

Libro Libre. Beginning Spanish: https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:9b5bf3d4-9a1e-4511-a91f-a1ef35a9627d#pageNum=1

Spanish 001 PSU New Kensington: https://psu.pb.unizin.org/spanish001mvs/

Hola a todos: Elementary Spanish I: https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/languages-textbooks/3/

Empowering learners of Spanish: https://sites.google.com/a/cas.uoregon.edu/els/home

Margarita Casas – Spanish for Heritage Speakers: http://www.oercommons.org/courses/spanish-for-heritage-speakers/view


French OER textbooks/assignments:

Language Pedagogy: https://languages.commons.gc.cuny.edu/

Les Conversations Mises à Jour: https://cmaj.coerll.utexas.edu/