Teaching Cosmopolitanism through Transnational Literature in English

An Empirical Evaluation of Studentsʼ Competence Development in a Life-Writing Approach to Teaching Literature

by Mirja Beutel (Author)
Thesis 330 Pages


The book deals with the question how students in multicultural EFL-classrooms can be prepared for their role as world citizens. The author shows that teaching English offers important potentials for cosmopolitan education due to its role as a «lingua franca». The study develops the construct cosmopolitan communicative competence as a theoretical framework. It also presents a teaching approach that combines students’ life-writing with the discussion of literary texts to advance the associated knowledge, skills and attitudes. The potentials of this approach are evaluated through the assessment of students’ competence development.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Part I: Introduction and Research Context
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 The Cosmopolitan Challenge in the EFL-classroom
  • 1.2 Research Context: Cosmopolitan Classrooms in Germany
  • Part II: Cosmopolitanism in the EFL-classroom
  • 2. Cosmopolitanism in Education
  • 2.1 Approaches
  • 2.2 Cosmopolitanism in the EFL-classroom
  • 2.2.1 English as a Global Language: Varieties
  • 2.2.2 Revising the Ideal of the Native Speaker
  • 2.2.3 Hierarchization of Varieties and the Spread of English
  • 2.3 Cosmopolitanism and Personal Attitudes
  • 2.3.1 Identity Formation
  • 2.3.2 Cosmopolitan Attitudes and Identity Formation
  • 3. Approaches to Cultural Learning in the EFL-classroom
  • 3.1 Intercultural Communicative Competence
  • 3.2 Didaktik des Fremdverstehens
  • 3.3 Transcultural Approaches
  • 3.3.1 The Role of the Subject in Transcultural Approaches
  • 3.3.2 The Role of Culture in Transcultural Approaches
  • 3.4 Cosmopolitan Communicative Competence
  • 3.4.1 Cosmopolitan Communicative Competence: Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge
  • 3.4.2 Cosmopolitan Communicative Competence and Learners’ Dispositions
  • 4. Advancing Cosmopolitan Communicative Competence in a Life-Writing Approach to Transnational Literature in English
  • 4.1 Wolfgang Hallet’s Model of Discourse Spheres
  • 4.2 Transnational Literature in English
  • 4.3 Life-Writing Assignments
  • 4.4 Functions of the Model of First and Second Order Differences
  • 4.5 Kögler’s Hermeneutic Approach
  • 4.6 Cosmopolitan Communicative Competence and Reading Processes in the EFL-classroom
  • Part III: Assessing the Effects of the Life-Writing Approach
  • 5. Introduction
  • 6. Pilot Study
  • 6.1 Research Context and Objectives
  • 6.2 Development of the Intervention
  • 6.3 Development of Competences
  • 6.4 Research Methodology
  • 6.5 Findings and Effects on the Development of the Main Study
  • 7. Main Study
  • 7.1 Introduction
  • 7.2 Teaching and Assessing Cosmopolitan Communicative Competence
  • 7.2.1 Legitimacy, Aims and Mode of Assessment
  • 7.2.2 The Understanding of Competence
  • 7.2.3 Adaptation to Curricular Requirements
  • 7.2.4 Necessities of Teaching and Assessment
  • 7.2.5 Teaching Material and Tasks
  • 7.2.6 Assessment Tool
  • 7.3 Research Process
  • 7.3.1 Ethical Aspects
  • 7.3.2 Sample and Data
  • 7.3.3 Process of Analysis
  • 7.3.4 Organization of the Process of Analysis
  • 7.3.5 Data Analysis
  • 7.3.6 Summary Rules
  • 7.3.7 Explication Rules
  • 7.4 Use of Quantitative Data
  • 8. Hypotheses and Findings of the Main Study
  • 8.1 Hypotheses
  • 8.2 Levels of Competence Reached by Students
  • 8.3 Quantitative Data: Overview of Codings
  • 8.4 Qualitative Data: Case Studies
  • 8.5 Case 1
  • 8.6 Case 2
  • 8.7 Case 3
  • 8.8 Case 4
  • 8.9 Case 5
  • 8.10 Case 6
  • 8.11 Case 7
  • 8.12 Case 8
  • 8.13 Important Findings
  • 9. Discussion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix
  • Assignments Related to Student Data
  • Writing Stimulus Initial Assessment
  • Assignment Reading Log
  • Written Test
  • Assignment Story
  • Relevant Teaching Material
  • Autobiographical Essay Hanif Kureishi
  • Worksheet: Model of First and Second Order Differences
  • Autobiographical Essay Amitava Kumar
  • Documentation of Data
  • Position of Audio Devices
  • Overview of all Codings
  • Overview of Codings Sw 1
  • Overview of Codings Sm 2
  • Overview of Codings Sw 3
  • Overview of Codings Sw 4
  • Overview of Codings Sw 5
  • Overview of Codings Sm 9
  • Overview of Codings Sm 14
  • Overview of Codings Sw 16
  • Series index

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Part I: Introduction and Research Context

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1. Introduction

Abstract: This chapter introduces the reader to the research context1 that sparked the idea for the study. It defines the chances and challenges that arise from teaching English as a global language to culturally heterogeneous groups of students. The reader gets to know in what way the needs of different minority groups must be considered in a German context.

1.1 The Cosmopolitan Challenge in the EFL-classroom

A just measure of global progress requires that we first evaluate how globalizing nations deal with ‘the difference within’ – the problems of diversity and redistribution at the local level, and the rights and representations of minorities in the regional domain. (Bhabha 2004, p. XV).

This passage in the introduction to Homi Bhabha’s seminal work The Location of Culture sparked the idea for this study. As an English teacher at a North-Rhine Westphalian vocational college (Berufskolleg), I encountered highly heterogeneous groups of students on a daily basis. Among other aspects, this heterogeneity related to questions of cultural belonging. On the one hand, there were many learners who had strong ties to different countries and whose families were highly mobile. On the other hand, there was a large group of autochthonous students whose families had been living in the same city for several generations. This “difference within” led again and again to a palpable split in the classroom.

The students with a migrant background frequently understood themselves as characterized by cultural hybridity but had difficulties to communicate their specific experiences to their autochthonous classmates. The autochthonous students often had a static understanding of culture and clearly distinguished between themselves as Germans and other, non-German groups of people. This dichotomic thinking posed two difficulties in my classroom: First, it hindered the students with a migrant background from being able to express the whole scope of their personality because they appeared as the non-German others. Second, ← 13 | 14 → it prevented the autochthonous students from developing an understanding of culture that adequately mirrored social conditions in the 21st century.

In my role of teaching a global language to these students, Bhabha’s demand inspired me to reframe my classroom procedures from a cosmopolitan perspective. I started by addressing the question which competences students should develop in order to become successful citizens in a globalized world. My classroom observations led me to the conclusion that the students with a migrant background needed to develop the ability to make their voices heard in the discourse of the social majority. The autochthonous students needed to gain a more nuanced view of their own social environment. For both groups, this included an understanding of the interdependence of different life-worlds in a globalized world, as well as an acknowledgement of culture as a changing and open construct.

These pedagogical considerations led to the question whether the EFL-classroom was a suitable space for advancing these competences. English is a global language and thus should ideally contribute to facilitating the communication between people of different cultural backgrounds. Hence, advancing students’ intercultural communicative competence is an important goal in the EFL-classroom. Exactly this congruence between the need to engage in successful intercultural communication in the students’ direct social environment, and the EFL-specific goal of advancing intercultural communicative competence in the target-language, was promising for simultaneously advancing general pedagogic and EFL-specific objectives.

With regard to the means to reach these aims, two suggested themselves to me. First, a large body of literature in English provided important resources for discussing issues pertaining to the “rights and representations of minorities”, a highly relevant issue for initiating a meaningful exchange on questions of belonging between the students with and without a migrant background. Literary texts in English provide especially rich material regarding these topics due to the role of the language in a global context. While English is an important medium to facilitate intercultural communication, it is also a language whose present importance is closely linked to histories of imperialism and oppression (Gilroy 1993, Gnutzmann/Intemann 2008, Galloway/Rose 2015). The cultural role of English, the history and development of English-speaking cultures as well as cultural hierarchies have been addressed in many literary texts in English. Consequently, I saw an important chance of using these texts to critically interrogate the position of minorities in English-speaking countries.

Second, it was not hard at all to see parallels, similarities and links between the fates of the literary characters and the real-life experiences my students had made ← 14 | 15 → with comparable “problems of diversity and redistribution at the local level”. The ways in which cultural differences played themselves out right here, in their classroom often mirrored the plots unfolding in the narratives. Hence, I decided to use literary texts as starting points for making my students think and write about their own positions and possibilities in the place they live in. As a result, I developed the life-writing approach to literary texts in English sketched on the following pages.

The inclusion of students’ own experiences into the new approach was important for a number of reasons. First, students from disadvantaged families depend more than others on a positive personal relationship with their teachers (Calmbach 2016). Acknowledging personal experiences by making life-writing a part of classroom-activities was one way of contributing to such a relationship. Second, referencing personal experiences seemed a promising way to enhance communication concerning students’ different cultural belonging in the classroom. The inclusion of these experiences helped to make teaching content personally relevant for the students. Personal relevance is an important factor that has a positive effect on students’ motivation (Klauer, Leutner 2012). Third, drawing on students’ experiences helps to achieve the general pedagogic aim of supporting them in their process of personal development.

Connecting literary texts that focus on “how globalizing nations deal with ‘the difference within’ ” to students’ personal experiences with “the rights and representations of minorities” in the space of the EFL-classroom, established a meaningful connection between the everyday life of my students and some of the topics I was supposed to teach. By linking students’ life-writing with literary texts in English, I hoped to open both a local and a global perspective on questions of migration and the production of cultural hierarchies. The approach was designed to enable students to become competent cosmopolitans.

I used the basic ideas presented in this introduction to design a teaching unit that was entitled “South Asians Around the World”. I applied a number of different, rather informal assessment methods to evaluate the success of this pilot study. The results were promising, but I found that a lot more background work was necessary to provide an adequate theoretical framework and to evaluate the development of students’ competences more thoroughly. The results of the complete process will be presented in the further course of this study. The second part of this chapter presents an overview of important diasporic groups in Germany. It serves to provide a thorough understanding of potential group-specific needs that teachers should consider.

Part II of the study unfolds theoretical and methodological considerations pertaining to the development of cosmopolitan competences in the EFL-classroom. ← 15 | 16 → Chapter 2 develops an understanding of cosmopolitanism that is suitable for educational purposes. Chapter 2.1 discusses the specific contribution the EFL-classroom can make to cosmopolitan education, while 2.3 focusses on the importance of developmental processes for advancing cosmopolitan attitudes. Chapter 3 shows how theories of cultural learning need to be modified for modelling cosmopolitan communicative competence. Chapter 4 presents the different elements of the life-writing approach to transnational literature in English.

Part III deals with questions of competence assessment. Chapter 5 introduces the reader to the complete research process. Chapter 6 focusses on the different phases and results of the pilot study. Chapter 7 discusses questions pertinent to the main study. This includes general questions of competence assessment in the field of cultural learning, the development of a suitable understanding of competence and the development of an assessment tool. The chapter also refers to adaptations of teaching strategies and materials. Finally, the chapter introduces the research methodology for the field study. Chapter 8 presents the findings of the study in the form of overviews over the levels of competence students reached in different areas. The chapter also provides the detailed case studies that are based on the analysis of the data of eight different participants. Finally, the most important aspects are summarized. Chapter 9 shows to what extent the aims and objectives of the study could be achieved in the research process. The chapter discusses merits and limitations of the applied methodology and provides an outlook on potential further research.

1.2 Research Context: Cosmopolitan Classrooms in Germany

Cultural diversity is ubiquitous in German classrooms – about a third of the student population has a migrant background (Woellert 2009, Mikrozensus 2016).2 Yet, the educational system fails to consider the specific needs of these students adequately. A deficit-oriented perspective on students with a migrant background has persisted from the beginning of their schooling in the German educational system (Gogolin 1994, Gomolla/Radtke 2007, Leyendecker 2012, Woellert 2009, Yildiz 2009). While important developments have uncontestably taken place in advancing adequate pedagogical approaches and teaching strategies, many questions in the field of cultural pedagogy remain unresolved (Yildiz 2009, Hamburger 2009, Mecheril 2010a, b). In order to understand the teaching context of German ← 16 | 17 → EFL-classrooms and the social situatedness of students with a migrant background, a brief glimpse at the history of immigration to Germany and an analysis of the recent situation are helpful.

Whereas only 568 000 people holding a foreign passport lived in Germany in 1950, today 22,5% of the German population has a migrant background (Mikrozensus 2016). About 48% of these roughly 18,6 million people are foreign citizens, 52% are German citizens. The population with a migrant background has a lower age average than the autochthonous population. More than a third of the children under six have a migrant background (Mikrozensus 2015). This means that future student populations will include significant numbers of biculturally socialized learners.3 In Germany the three largest groups of immigrants and people with a migrant background are, the immigration of high numbers of refugees notwithstanding, still “guest workers” and their children, migrants from other EU countries and “Spätaussiedler” (ethnic Germans from Eastern European countries).

Significant immigration started in the 1950s when workers were needed for the booming economy. In 1955 Germany and Italy signed a contract regulating the immigration of Italian workers to Germany. From 1960 to 1968 comparable contracts were made with Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia. Until 1973 the number of foreign citizens in Germany rose to 3,9 million (Woellert 2009, p. 13). Most of these labor migrants – called “guest workers”4 came from rural areas that were characterized by a weak economy. Many of the workers did not have any kind of professional qualification (Bade 2011, p. 160; Woellert 2009, p. 13). German immigration policies were established under the presumption that the workers would soon return to their home countries (Bade 2011, p. 160; Woellert 2009, p. 13). All in all 14 million “guest workers” came to Germany between 1955 and 1973. In 1973 the “Anwerbestopp” (stop of hiring) ended this practice. Worsening economic conditions that led to a decrease of job opportunities were directly responsible for this change in politics. While 11 million “guest workers” returned to their former homes 3 million migrants stayed and became permanent residents in Germany (Bade 2011, p. 160). This group was affected more seriously by the economic crisis than the autochthonous population. Additionally, “guest ← 17 | 18 → workers” were seen as unwanted competition on the job market and in receiving social support. Meanwhile the “guest workers’ ” children were facing difficult conditions in the educational system. In school they had to use a language which was not their mother tongue (Woellert 2009, p. 13) and teachers were not prepared to support these children adequately.5 Consequently, the children of “guest workers” often faced a similar situation after finishing school as their parents had decades ago: they entered badly paid jobs that did not require high qualifications or they became unemployed (Woellert 2009, p. 13). Today 6,3 million people with a migrant background come from countries that formerly participated in the guest workers’ contracts. The largest group has a Turkish background, this group consists of 2,8 million people. People of Turkish descent are the largest national group of immigrants in Germany (Mikrozensus 2015).

“Aussiedler” (ethnic Germans) are another important group of immigrants in Germany. According to the “Bundesvertriebenengesetz” from 1953 the term “Aussiedler” refers to minorities of German origin or German nationality who live in Eastern Europe. Members of this group have the right to immigrate independent of their current nationality and they may also bring along non-German family members. “Aussiedler” as well as potential family members have a right to German citizenship. About 4,5 million immigrants entered Germany as “Spätaussiedler” between 1950 and 2015. In 2011 3,2 million of these were German residents. Up to 1987 1,4 million “Aussiedler” immigrated to Germany – most of them from Poland. In the wake of political changes in Eastern Europe the number of these immigrants rose steeply. Between 1991 and 2006 1,9 million “Aussiedler” immigrated to Germany. Unlike “guest workers” and their families this group of immigrants was originally supported relatively well by language classes and financial aid. In 2005 a change in legislation that rendered German language tests mandatory not only for the individuals that had a status as “Aussiedler” but also for their family members, was one of the factors that led to the decrease of the number of immigrants (Woellert 2009, p. 15). Today about 6000 “Aussiedler” immigrate to Germany per annum (http://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/zahlen-und-fakten/soziale-situation-in-deutschland/61643/aussiedler).

The largest group of immigrants is that of individuals from the other EU states. This group consists of about 6 million people (Mikrozensus 2015). Due to the law granting “Freizügigkeit” – free choice of residence within the EU 28 – these ← 18 | 19 → immigrants have a better status than many others. For example they may keep their original nationality if they choose to become German citizens (Bade 2011, p. 170). There are almost no restrictions concerning the employment of these residents. Immigrants from the EU 28 are a heterogeneous group concerning nationality and qualification levels (Mikrozensus 2015). They are often only temporary residents.

Biographical notes

Mirja Beutel (Author)

Mirja Beutel is a lecturer in teacher education at the Ruhr-University Bochum. She holds a PhD and has longstanding teaching experience in secondary schools. Her research interests are transcultural language learning, learning with digital media and Content and Language Integrated Learning.


Title: Teaching Cosmopolitanism through Transnational Literature in English