Benjamin Rifkin: The Art of Teaching Russian

November 2, 2020 / 5 mins read

Perhaps never in the history of the teaching of Russian in North America have we, teachers and professors of Russian, been so challenged by change. In addition to the linguistic, social, political, cultural, and economic changes in the Russophone world—which we must authentically represent in our classrooms—we are also in the midst of significant pedagogical change in the teaching of world languages more generally at the same time that we, as individuals and communities, are reckoning with discrimination and bias. We must add to all these changes the rapidly evolving use of technology in the classroom—software that can bring the culture alive to our students and immerse them in it—and the fact that some of us are compelled to use new software to connect with students near and far, in part due to the pandemic. The pandemic, we hope, will in the course of a few months fade into the past, but it will leave a wake of trauma behind it. Some of us will have gotten sick, some members of our communities will have, some will have lasting health consequences, and many will face lasting economic impact. The global trauma of Covid-19 will not go quietly into the night when a vaccine is found: it will haunt us for at least a generation.

Many of us have adapted our teaching to address some or more of these changes in the world. Some of the innovations we have created for our language and culture classes, developed and implemented under the gun as it were, will ultimately find long-term application in the post-Covid era. I have seen many educators tweet about learning tasks they have developed that will work with online or hybrid classes, and it seems obvious to me that many of them would work quite well in a face-to-face context. And, so, I raise this question to you:

What new approaches to the Art of Teaching Russian Language and Culture have you adopted in this challenging time that you might imagine using after the Covid19 crisis is over?

Whether technology-based or not, your ideas, shared with the community, will help us all learn from one another, a grand peer-mentoring exercise whose impact will be multiplied with the release, later this year of The Art of Teaching Russian, edited by Evgeny Dengub, Irina Dubinina, and Jason Merrill, featuring chapters by some of the best-known scholars in the field of Russian-language pedagogy.