Over a three-year period, from February 1997 – May 2000, the German Department at Georgetown University engaged in a comprehensive curriculum renewal project that is unique in college-level foreign language departments in the United States. In a highly collaborative approach, the entire faculty and graduate students developed a curriculum that is content-oriented from the beginning of instruction and explicitly fosters learners’ language acquisition until the end of the four-year undergraduate sequence. That is, the program of study is neither merely an aggregation of courses, as is otherwise customary, nor does it differentiate between so-called “language” courses and “content” courses. Instead, the curriculum presents an integration of content and language through oral and written textual genres throughout the undergraduate program.
The curriculum project, which we have called “Developing Multiple Literacies,” reflects a literacy orientation that recognizes that foreign language instruction of adult learners, as contrasted with second language instruction, is fundamentally about engaging these already literate learners in imagined textual worlds which provide the occasion for thought-full language acquisition. The curriculum draws its content and its socially situated language use for the acquisition of advanced competencies in listening, speaking, reading, and writing from a wide range of oral and written genres. These are sequenced in a principled way across the curricular levels, thereby contributing to program articulation. The pedagogies, too, are linked to genres, inasmuch as instructional tasks within the curriculum, in contrast with prevailing recommendations about task- or activity-oriented instruction, are themselves genre-derived, thus inherently linked to the socio-cultural context within which the chosen genres naturally occur in the German-speaking world.
The curriculum spans the entire four-year period of undergraduate study and is conceptualized to enable learners to become competent and literate non-native users of German who can employ the language in a range of intellectual, professional, and personal contexts and who can also draw from it personal enrichment, enjoyment, and formation.
This web site provides an overview of the project. It offers a summary chronology of its major stages, and presents information and documents on the background of this effort, its goals and major stages, and outcomes. It identifies the principles and approaches adopted with regard to curriculum construction in the context of U.S. higher education, and outlines the curricular progression that was developed. It provides detailed information about course syllabi (including goals and thematic units), about pedagogical considerations, and about assessment practices that bring this curriculum to life for our undergraduate students. Because the curriculum resides in a graduate program, it specifically addresses the role of graduate students in such an integrated instructional context and offers details about our mentored graduate TA development sequence. With an understanding that curricular work is continual, we document how we ourselves envision continued curriculum enhancement. The pages of this site also link the project to diverse research and dissemination efforts, especially in the area of assessing the development of speaking and writing abilities. Finally, we provide information on a number of action-research efforts undertaken in conjunction with a grant the Department received from the Spencer Foundation (2000-2002) under its Practitioner-Research Communication and Mentoring Grants Program.
We present this information because the need for curriculum renewal in college foreign language departments has recently been amply acknowledged in publications and in an array of professional fora. We provide it as well because of an urgent societal and global need for upper levels of competence in several languages. However, despite those internal and external needs, surprisingly little curricular work exists that deliberately takes account of the dramatically changed environment in terms of theoretical, research, and educational practice pertaining to adult foreign language learning and teaching and the dramatically changed goals for language learning. The latter, in particular, reflect shifts in a multicultural, multilingual, AND global environment, one that addresses linkages between the native language (L1) and additional second or foreign languages (L2). The foreign language field is challenged to access the rich discussion in instructed second language acquisition (SLA) research, specifically its insights regarding the complex relationships between meaning and form at various stages of language development. We are invited to rethink learning and instruction in a conceptual framework that is centrally functional and focused on contexts of use, and therefore meaning- and discourse-oriented, rather than formal. The far-reaching implications of that shift remain to be explored in many areas, but most particularly in the area of program building and curriculum development in higher education.
The German Department’s curriculum, Developing Multiple Literacies, attempts to address these interrelated issues innovatively for the benefit of our learners. Our own experience with curriculum construction makes one thing quite clear: it is an ongoing project. Even after six years of experience with this curriculum — or, perhaps more precisely, because of six years of experience with it — we do not claim to have the final answers to the many complex issues that fall under the above-named areas. But we continue to search for them deliberately in a community of practice, by no means a common occurrence. Given the urgency of such work in higher education in general, in foreign language departments in particular, we hope that our efforts might encourage colleagues at other institutions in their own curricular planning. We post this material as a way of inviting comments, both in terms of suggestions to us since our pledge to continued curriculum enhancement envisions further adjustments of our work, and in terms of experiences others might have had in their efforts to modify curricula. Please direct your correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 4, 2004; revised July 2011