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Dr. Jill Scott

[Jill Scott photo]


Associate Professor
Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures / 
Gender Studies

I had a professor who once said that as a teacher you have the license to do anything except to bore people. 

Jill Scott was captivated by foreign languages at a young age, when she heard her Grade 8 French teacher speak in French to another teacher.

"I thought it was so exciting. It was magic – being able to open your mouth and sound different. To know that they understood each other, but I didn't understand them, was so cool. I wanted in!"

When she had an opportunity to spend a year in Germany after high school, she grabbed it and hasn't looked back once.

"I actually didn't speak any German before I left. But eventually I pursued studies in both German and French, and then got my degrees in Comparative Literature. These days I work on questions of law, literature and restorative justice and am moving into questions of indigenous legal traditions."

Definitely hooked on languages, Scott would return to live in Germany at least three different times, for a year each time. "I wanted to really perfect my German. Now I actually dream in German!"

She hopes to pass on her passion to others who may have never spoken the language before. She teaches everything from beginner German to graduate courses in German and international studies (law, literature and human rights).

"Queen's is expanding its non-European offerings. If you only study European languages you are only halfway to being a global citizen. So we introduce students to the question of intercultural communication and what it means to work in an intercultural setting. These days, it's necessary to have some linguistic competence – even a smattering of a language will put you in someone else's shoes – and some cultural competence. Also, I think, every student should go on an exchange, because when we are in our familiar setting all the time, we don't push ourselves to learn in the same way."

Engaging all the senses...

"In my introduction to German course, I have to be the clown, the performer. I have a class of about 35, and the first day I don't speak English at all. And yet, you would be surprised at how much students learn in that first 50 minutes! After all, you don't learn a language by writing down verbs. Students can read about verbs outside the classroom. After five weeks it is remarkable what they can do, because the time in class is all about using the language."

"We move quickly and engage all the senses. I might bring things into the class like leaves, so we can talk about their colours, textures and shapes. Or students might have to move around the room and find someone with a green shirt. There is always something happening; a total physical response using the body and the senses."

"For language acquisition, it is also very important to focus on what you can do and not what you can't. After all, making mistakes often just shows that you are moving on to the next conceptual level. Students might get things wrong, but I keep encouraging them to use the language. The big question is always 'Can you make yourself understood?'"

Scott is not a fan of "front of room" and lets her students move around to work in groups. "Sometimes they even go into the hallway. If the chairs are fixed and they have to do group work, they just jump over the seats. If you make them do it, you bring life into your class."

Her third year International Studies course, needing few prerequisites, attracts students from all disciplines. The students work with short, tight writing assignments that they hand in each week.

"This past year I had the students do 150-word 'instant assignments' as preparation for their group work. There was some skepticism on the part of the students that this was too short and too frequent. However, over the course of the semester, I saw a remarkable improvement in students' abilities in this form as well as their attitude about the exercise. Students from a wide range of disciplines all began to see the benefits of this tight form."

Ideas, connections, extensions...

"I work with the ICE model – Ideas, Connections and Extensions. We work with ideas as the building blocks of knowledge (information and facts), connections (how we work with those and put them together to do things, to ask deeper questions) and extensions (when we extrapolate and create new knowledge)."

"If we are looking, for example, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, students might have to apply our questions to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It can be quite a stretch. Or if we were looking at a South African play about gross violations of human rights, they might be asked to create a human structure using all the people in the group to get at what is going on in the play. It inspires them to think further. It helps make meaning out of that which is senseless."

Scott also believes in developing a real community in her class and makes a class council so student volunteers can meet with her during the term to discuss how things are going. "I really believe that, to be a good teacher, you have to make yourself vulnerable to your students. We as teachers have to take risks if we expect our students to take risks. We have to invite them in. I got a letter from a student once that said, 'In four years of university, I never opened my mouth in a class, but I did in yours!'"

As Matthew Siddall, a chemical engineering student, recounts, "I consider her not just a professor providing instruction to a class but as a co-learner because she makes a great effort, through many innovative means, to improve her ability to engage and assist students. She also targets various learning methods that allow everyone an equal opportunity to excel."

Says Scott, "If you can become passionate about learning, then it is a value-generating thing that carries on throughout your life. You will become a lifelong, independent, responsible, passionate learner!!"

Profile by Patricia Henderson