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NAATPl Panel on (Re)Using Old Polish Textbooks at 2024 AATSEEL Conference

The North American Association of Teachers of Polish (NAATPl) marked its presence at the 2024 American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) conference in Las Vegas with a critical pedagogy discussion on Polish-language textbooks. The panel, “New Approaches to the Old Discourse: How to (Re)Use Old Textbooks in Today’s Polish Language Classroom,” featured presentations by six Polish teaching professionals from American and Polish universities.



The idea behind the panel was to share insights and offer suggestions on how old textbook materials can be used—and reused—to foster valuable discussions in Polish-language classrooms. The presentations and the discussion that followed shed light on past and contemporary practices in language textbooks, inviting attendees to critically assess their content and coverage to reflect and respond to the needs of twenty-first-century language pedagogy.

 

Dr. Justyna Zych (University of Warsaw) discussed the representations of contemporary Polish lifestyle in Polish-language textbooks, noting how they typically show upper-middle-class families with elitist pastimes, and how many of the Polish traditions presented, including food, are related to Roman Catholic rituals.

 

Dr. Krzysztof Borowski (University of Wisconsin–Madison) examined the issue of social class bias, pointing to the implicit assumption about students and their social capital in Polish textbooks, which tend to present the pursuit of knowledge and the arts as the superior goals.

 

Dr. Ewa Małachowska-Pasek (University of Michigan and panel convener) explored the evolution of women’s portrayal in Polish textbooks, noting a profound transformation of women’s role in Polish culture over the last several decades, including a departure from the stereotypical role of women as mothers, wives, and homemakers. At the same time, Dr. Małachowska-Pasek noted a visible lack of women in leadership positions and the prevalence of men as main textbook characters.

 

Dr. Tony Lin (Boston College) discussed the representation of ethnic minorities, suggesting that while they have become more visible in Polish textbooks, the presence of characters from different parts of the world (such as Asia) is still limited compared to the overrepresentation of European countries and their residents.

 

Dr. Christopher Caes (Columbia University) presented on the intersection of numerals and gender, suggesting that Polish numerical complexity is an example of diversity and grammatical egalitarianism with its gender-neutral collective pronoun constructions such as Jedna z nas ‘One [neuter] of us’, Dwoje z nas ‘Two [neuter] of us’, Które z nas? ‘Which [neuter] of us.’ Dr. Caes encouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns in language games (e.g., Które z nas to ma?) as a way for Polish to participate in the gender-neutral global movement for gender equality.

 

Finally, Dr. Izolda Wolski-Moskoff (University of Illinois Chicago) discussed the incorporation of Polish heritage speakers into the language classroom without stigma. Dr. Wolski-Moskoff stressed the need for individualized instruction and metalinguistic discussion about Polish dialects in Poland and the United States, suggesting creating a Heritage Polish dialogue as an exercise for students to increase students’ awareness of their linguistic competence.

 

Below is the full panel abstract submitted to the conference organizers.

 

New Approaches to the Old Discourse: How to (Re)Use Old Textbooks in Today’s Polish Language Classroom


Language textbooks have long served as representations of culture, values, and ideologies, consciously or subconsciously. The roundtable discussion will focus on strategies for working with old Polish textbooks (texts, recordings, visuals) to facilitate meaningful discussions and promote critical thinking among students.


The old textbooks are often obsolete in their portrayal of contemporary Polish society, ranging from topics such as traditional cuisine, rapid changes in technology, living standards, and ending with different forms of inequality and traditional gender roles. Yet, the textbooks provide a historical perspective, allowing students to explore the evolution of the Polish language in its cultural context. The roundtable participants will focus on activities that encourage students to explore changes in the world and compare them with the content of the old textbooks. By analyzing current events, social issues, and cultural transformations in Poland, language instructors can engage students in discussions that extend beyond the limitations of the textbook. A comparative approach to the context of the old textbooks shows which cultural values are timeless and deeply ingrained in Polish society and which are fluctuating. The roundtable participants will also discuss strategies for addressing potentially uncomfortable issues in the classroom, thereby preparing language learners for challenges they may face in real life, not exclusively in the target country.

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