Natalie Berkman is a dedicated educator whose courses teach students to master rules of grammar, prosody, and rhetoric in order to break free of them and engage deeply with different cultures and ideas. To this end, she makes use of three types of creative activities that prepare students to move beyond mechanical aspects of speaking, reading, and writing in the target language and consider what is truly at stake in intercultural communication.
1) Creative Reading: At every level of their studies, a structured approach to reading texts allows students to overcome the distinct challenge of working in both their native and target languages, building on skills they have already mastered to allow for analytic insights. In her language teaching (English, French, Italian), Natalie aims to help students gain rhetorical insights that allow them to address, analyze, and converse fluently about contemporary society, politics, and their own interests. In her digital humanities teaching, Natalie helps students explore new strategies for computer-assisted text analysis by selecting a corpus, encoding it, and making use of analytical tools and data visualization techniques to understand their topic better and draw new insights.
2) Creative Writing: Similar to such structured reading activities, creative writing allows students to master mechanical rules while gaining awareness that such rules are secondary to questions of communication and reception. When confronted with examples of experimental literature such as Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (a text which rewrites the same story in 99 different ways), writing their own variations using targeted grammatical points can help students to discern how meaning and style are interrelated. Exercises in creative reading and writing can also be combined to allow students to be better critics of their own work. When having students reread their own essays, Natalie asks them to summarize the goal of each paragraph on post-its, which they then assemble and rearrange, discovering through this tactile, visual process the logical progression of their argument and analysis. Such task-based approaches develop students’ analytical tools that can be used in literary, historical, and cultural analysis as well as in their own academic writing.
3) Creating Connections: To allow students to foster connections between her classes, other disciplines, and the world at large, Natalie introduces both textual and multimedia cultural artifacts that students decipher using diverse methodologies. For instance, when targeting spelling and phonetics, students interpret the phonetic humor of a series of viral memes mocking the French spelling reform of 2016, inferring pronunciation rules and voicing their own perspectives. In advanced seminars, a focus on diverse cultural objects within broad, thematic units allows students to pursue a wide range of interdisciplinary independent work. Natalie has also engaged students across disciplines outside of the formal classroom setting as an Independent Work Mentor, designing structured workshops to support undergraduate research in collaboration with departments and centers such as the Center for Digital Humanities.
Here, you will find information about Natalie’s pedagogical training, courses taught, and original pedagogical materials, which have resulted in enthusiastic evaluations, continued enrollment in French classes by former students, and her being awarded the Alfred Foulet Teaching Award.