Teaching Russian Language and Cultural History through Socialist Realist Art

Nataliya Getmanenko, Brigham Young University

The principal pedagogical issue proposed for discussion by the author is the promotion of active interaction and integration of traditional classroom curricular activities and non-traditional out-of-class extracurricular teaching activities. The extracurricular activities here imply a university-level academic study activity that I encourage in out-of-class settings and that has a substantial educational and edifying value. I efficiently applied this method of instruction in the past four years in a course on the Cultural History of Russia taught in Russian to American university students. This method has yielded very good results.

The goal of the course is both to develop language skills and to increase the knowledge base and the cultural awareness of students who are already well advanced in general language skills. It is offered to third level (Sixth semester) students.

In the U.S. today, we observe a growing interest in the art of the Socialist Realist period. I and my students are trying to find out what causes this interest. In terms of pedagogy, the course is based on interactive classroom discussion and analysis. The key element of the course is a class session taught at the Springville, Utah, Museum of Art that displays a fine collection of Russian Socialist Realism. I began collaborating with the Museum in 2002. I involve art experts in teaching those classes. I follow up this class “on location” with further discussion of specialized issues. Our discussion is related to the original pieces of art displayed in the Museum; they are complemented by PowerPoint presentations. The students thus come by a unique opportunity to not only hear the experts, and see the art in question, but also participate in an interactive discussion and analysis in Russian language expanding their vocabulary as well as their speaking and understanding skills. Importantly, the discussion conditions them to internalize their understanding of the underlying history, ideology and mentality. Essentially, it is a variation of a method of learning by immersion.

Judging by responses from the students and colleagues, this methodology is good and has a good potential for foreign language and culture instruction in Universities. It also allows the use of local community resources in University instruction, and gives the students an opportunity to more actively participate in multi-cultural community-oriented activities. Our partnership collaboration resulted in starting an annual free seminar “Russian Art for Educators”, which is conducted by professors of the College of Humanities.

References: The Learning and Teaching of Slavic Languages and Cultures, ed. by O.Kagan & B.Rifkin with Susan Bauckas, Slavica, 2000; Oxford, R. Language Learning strategies around the world. Cross-cultural perspectives, Manoa: University of Hawaii Press, 1996; Bown Mathew C. Socialist Realism Painting, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998; Swanson, Vern. G. Soviet Impressionism, Antique Collectors Club, 2001.