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Profiles in Language Teaching at UT: Blake Atwood

Blake Atwood (PhD, University of Texas at Austin, 2011) is an assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and the coordinator of the Persian language program. He teaches all levels of Persian language as well as courses on cinema and visual culture. He is also the coordinator of the Persian Summer Institute and has taught Persian online as part of UT’s Online Persian Institute. He is currently at work on two research projects. The first examines the relationship between cinema and notions of political reform in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the second seeks to evaluate the effect that video technology had on Iranian and Lebanese cinemas.  

Teaching Philosophy
As an instructor of the Persian language and Middle Eastern cinema, I teach students to communicate both across cultures and within new cultures. My success as a teacher manifests itself in my students’ communicative language skills and their ability to think critically and to express complicated and nuanced ideas about different cultures. My own experiences learning Persian position me well to relate to students and to create new approaches to teaching Persian studies. I strive to make the Persian language and its affiliate cultures accessible and exciting while also treating course material with intellectual and methodological rigor. In an increasingly interconnected world, one in which Iran continues to play an important role, my work teaching Persian is crucial to creating well-rounded and globally-mindful citizens.

My teaching philosophy hinges on the idea that students learn best when they are pushed to make associations and inferences on their own. My role as an instructor, then, is to create opportunities for students to make and articulate connections. This approach requires a dynamic and flexible methodology that comprises a variety of in-class assignments. While the exact nature of these tasks depends on the course, they all share two characteristics. First, I design tasks that capitalize on students’ knowledge of language, culture, and the world to make new connections. Second, they involve the negotiation of meaning, which requires students to incorporate their ideas into a larger set of concerns. The result is a student-centered classroom, in which learning takes place at the precise moment that students claim ownership of the material.

Teaching is an act of adaptation and revision. By staying in touch with the needs and personalities of the individual students, I remain an effective instructor. While I constantly refine and redefine my methodologies, the basic thrust of my teaching philosophy remains the same. Anyone can learn Persian, and as a teacher it is my job to communicate my enthusiasm for Persian to my students.

Material Development
Persian of Iran Today, which I co-authored with Anousha Shahsavari, is an innovative multi-media curriculum that draws on the latest trends in language pedagogy and interweaves grammar- and vocabulary-building exercises with narrative elements in order to engage and develop students' abilities in Persian. Persian of Iran Today is a proficiency-based resource that gives equal weight to the development of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and encourages students to use and create with the language from the very beginning. The textbook and audio-visual material are available as open-source files at www.laits.utexas.edu/persian_teaching_resources and the textbook can be purchased as a print volume here: http://www.amazon.com/Persian-Iran-Today-Volume-Edition/dp/0578130025


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