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The Koblenz Model within Anglo-American Cultural Studies at German Universities
by Jody Skinner
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What's the best way to motivate listless, uninterested students? Simply turn them into teachers! The technique practised at several schools and universities, most notably at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and at more and more grammar schools in Germany is called Learning by Teaching and requires a radical shift in the traditional roles of teacher-learner. The results are overwhelmingly positive, especially in the field of foreign language instruction. Learning by teaching is not an exclusively modern didactic method. Seneca wrote 2000 years ago, docendo discimus: "We learn by teaching." At St. John's College, students teach each other philosophy and physics, ancient Greek and the integral calculus by using the "Great Books," the original works of Euclid, Shakespeare, Newton, and Freud. There are no textbooks and no professors; the "tutors," as they are modestly called, see themselves as guides who know what questions to ask and, more importantly, know when to listen. St. John's students are not extraordinarily brilliant, but they are extremely motivated and critical. By the end of the first semester at the latest, they realize that they themselves are responsible for the quality of the seminars and tutorials.

But can we expect average students who are used to being spoon-fed at school to take suddenly the responsibility upon themselves for their education? While not every institution of higher learning can make the demands on students that St. John's does, every foreign language class can profitably use the methods of learning by teaching, as Dr. Jean-Pol Martin at the University of Eichstätt in Germany has proved. Dr. Martin has done considerable research on a teaching technique he developed and named "Lernen durch Lehren," "Learning through Teaching." (Detailed description with bibliography (in German) available at He began by assigning German students in his secondary-school French classes small tasks such as asking in French for volunteers to complete exercises. The students already knew the expressions in French needed to complete these assignments and were speaking simple French to each other instead of passively responding to the teacher. Dr. Martin found that by turning the students into teachers he increased dramatically their motivation. They not only spoke far more in each class, by working together they also overcame their inhibitions more quickly. A feeling of solidarity developed, the division of the class into an authority, the teacher, and a passive audience, the students, evaporated. The teacher remained, of course, the final expert and could always interrupt and correct. The students assumed, however, many of the other tasks formerly routinely and unnecessarily carried out by the instructor.

For teachers who enjoy exerting a role of authority and hearing themselves talk this method requires, of course, a tremendous adjustment. The necessary energy and patience can be rewarded, however, by an astounding increase in motivation and efficiency on the part of the students.

The philosophy of a St. John's education and the idea behind Dr. Martin's didactic method can also be easily applied to university level courses of practically all sizes and in almost every subject. As a concrete example, I would like to describe to you my experiences in a three course module in Area Studies, where students are given the opportunity to improve their English oral, reading, and writing skills in addition to practice in teaching in a foreign language. Before I describe the Koblenz model to you in more detail, I'd like to very briefly give you a little background information about the status of cultural or area or regional studies at German universities in general.
Cultural Studies has not only become a very popular subject in the UK and the US but has also grown dramatically in German academia over the past ten years. Once considered only as an aspect of language practice in degree programs in English as a foreign language or confined within the narrow school subject Landeskunde (more or less superficial fact-based summaries of political and educational institutions), cultural studies - now often carrying the more academically reputable title Kulturwissenschaft or Landeswissenschaft or even Cultural Studies in German - has expanded into a subject in its own right with courses offered in classical cultural studies topics like feminist and queer theory, post-colonial pop culture and with more and more chairs and professorships. Sometimes Landeskunde, which is still taught at most German universities by British or American native speakers, has been turned into Area Studies or Regional Studies, where the emphasis is more on geography and history, education, political systems, religion and immigration, for example.

I have been teaching this subject with so many names like Landeskunde, Kulturwissenschaft and Landeswissenschaft now for the last 15 years in Germany and have been searching for a curriculum for almost as long. What makes the subject so fascinating for me is the lack of a fixed canon, the lack of an agreed-upon set of things to be taught and learned. Actually every university discipline, each academic subject, is faced with the same problem, if we think long enough about it: what exactly are the objects of study? If we teach literature or linguistics or practical language, then perhaps this problem of definition isn't so obvious because of a longer tradition and more textbooks. With cultural studies or area studies or American or British Studies, the problem is more obvious because these subjects don't yet have the same traditional more of less tried and tested background. When first told to teach Landeskunde I simply relied on my background (I began teaching just American Landeskunde in Bamberg in southern Germany as an exchange student from Georgia many years ago) and on whatever books I could get hold of. I also made use of my undergraduate education at St. John's College, and I came across the didactic theory of learning through teaching, especially as developed by Dr. Jean-Pol Martin. The combination of these personal experiences led to the development of the Koblenz Model of teaching Area Studies, which I would like to briefly describe to you now.

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