Michael J. West
Teaching Professor of French and Francophone Studies, Modern Languages
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Ave,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Nearly all foreign language educators will say that they strive to create a student-centered class. Nearly all university-level educators will say that they try to incorporate their research into their teaching. For over 20 years I have been extremely fortunate to work with both highly capable students and highly productive scholar-colleagues. Being student-centered means that I expect my students to teach me something, either through independent research or by providing insights into how they learn French. My colleagues and I constantly challenge and inspire each other through demonstrations and discussions of new research and new pedagogies. This is a highly talented environment, and it is a both a privilege and a challenge to live and work in this department. All of us are committed to fostering the growth of skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) while at the same time helping to develop critical thinking and expression (oral and written). Our efforts are focused on the development of different competencies, from the linguistic to the cultural. We take a broad definition of culture ranging from "large-C" culture (literature and fine arts) to more broadly based forms of popular culture (newspapers and magazines, current films, internet media).
In my classes I try to foster a spirit of curiosity, often beginning with an assessment of students' existing knowledge and then building on that. No student comes to the class as a blank slate; everyone has something to say and something to contribute. Everyone brings the sum of past experiences interacting with different cultures. In my language-oriented courses, we look at grammatical structures always in the context of communication. Students want to be able to do something with their language, whether it's to talk to new friends or explore internship possibilities in different countries. My goal is to help them to become more familiar with French-speaking cultures, and at the same time acquire a set of skills to help them keep learning when they're outside the classroom. In my upper-level "content" courses, students focus on longer discourses (novels, plays, films, artworks) with the goal of acquiring critical thinking skills and advanced communicative skills to illustrate their analyses. I am personally interested in history and the ways in which historical knowledge is produced and represented, and so many of my advanced seminars will be grounded in a solid understanding of history.