Vive le français!: An inspiring French professor remains a student at heart

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Take a seat in one of Stacey Weber-Feve’s French classes and you may feel like you’re joining a business meeting instead of sitting in French 304.

Creating opportunities for critical thinking and genuine discussion as well as the development of professional skills are what drive her instruction plans. It’s this student-centered approach to teaching that inspired the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) to award her the 2015 Nelson Brooks Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Culture – a prestigious national award that celebrates foreign language educators who “have contributed significantly to the teaching of culture in the foreign language classroom.”


Weber-Feve is an associate professor of French in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. Her research expertise lies in French and Francophone Cinemas, but she also teaches an array of French language, literature, and culture courses. In each of her courses, she instructs a wide variety of students – from those who are majoring in French to those who need to fulfill a University language requirement and even those just wanting to take French for fun.

“My goal is to make students talk, think, and discuss more than I do in class,” she said. “It challenges my students to engage so purposefully and personally with the material, but their smiles and head nods throughout the class tell me that they enjoy the challenge and find it very rewarding.”

In challenging herself to make every class engaging to every student, she achieves her biggest goal: Inspiring her students to expand their minds beyond superficial understanding of the French language and culture.

“Awareness is a big part of my teaching,” she said. “When students take any of my classes, they are learning to reflect that proverbial mirror back upon themselves. They recognize cultural differences not just in the visible aspects of culture (its products and practices) but also in the latent invisible aspects (its perspectives and values) that shape the visible cultural differences as well as the similarities. Students can apply this awareness to a variety of academic and professional contexts, including fostering self-awareness by understanding themselves better as individuals as well as members of their own culture.”

In addition to teaching a variety of students, Weber-Feve has also challenged herself to teach in a variety of ways. Recently, she reorganized her instruction plans to teach select courses online. Instead of simply filming herself lecturing, she spent a year researching how to simulate and sustain the dynamic and organic exchanges taking place in a face-to-face classroom experience in an asynchronous online environment. She also researched and experimented a good bit with how to deliver traditional content in an engaging and personalized manner but specifically for the “faceless” computer-mediated environment.

“I wasn’t going to be satisfied by simply filming a lecture and class discussion and then asking quiz questions in Blackboard,” she said. “I challenged myself to embrace the opportunities an online course environment provides and explore how to make my teaching relevant and meaningful in this unique new environment.”

She also redesigned the French for Global Professions course with a strong cultural studies theoretical framework by focusing on how “everyday culture” impacts the French workplace and French-American intercultural exchanges and business practices, including an extension of these notions to other French-speaking business environments in Québec, Europe, and West and North Africa.

Weber-Feve takes teaching seriously. Her students notice this, as do her peers. Her teaching combines theory and practice, all the while making the content accessible and the learning process fun, which is why her students are engaged in the classroom and remain engaged in their careers.

“I respect my students and take their learning seriously. Students receive this well and are willing to experiment new teaching techniques and approaches alongside me, especially after I explain the pedagogical theory informing what we’re doing. For the most part, my students are patient and overlook my missteps. Ultimately, they want instructors who care about their learning and invest themselves in their teaching, and they feel empowered when they take ownership in or help contribute to each lesson,” she said. “I truly believe that the trick to remaining a successful teacher is to remain a successful student. If I’m constantly challenging myself to grow and learn, my students will thrive.”

The Nelson Brooks Award will be presented to Stacey Weber-Feve at the 2015 ACTFL Annual Convention Awards Ceremony in San Diego in November.

The Nelson Brooks Award recognizes the contributions of a preeminent author and teacher whose work and writings changed the course of our profession. Although best remembered for his writings on the role of culture in foreign language education, his articles and books on the audiolingual approach to teaching foreign languages, published during the 1960s, contributed significantly to a movement that dramatically influenced second language instruction.

The award was established in 1978 as a memorial to Nelson Brooks.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Stacey Weber-Feve, French, Jess Guess, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications,