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A four-year undergraduate curriculum by design

The undergraduate curriculum of the German Studies Department at Emory is the product of several years of intensive efforts by the German Studies faculty to address and overcome the division between so-called "language" courses at the lower levels of instruction and so-called "content" courses at the upper levels. Long the norm for so many collegiate language studies programs throughout the United States, this counter-productive division is ill-suited to maximize the limited contact hours that mark the undergraduate language learning experience.

In contrast, a well-designed four-year curriculum that links the study of language and content at all levels of instruction articulates in a coherent way just how one curricular level builds on the previous level and prepares for the subsequent one, thus establishing a clear trajectory for achieving advancedness in the language in spite of the short amount of time available. While in theory the integration of language and content instruction is not that complicated - there needs to be systematic attention to linking the study of language and content from the beginning of the program until the very end, - in practice it becomes much more complicated. Two central questions that arise immediately during this process reflect the fundamental steps that need to be taken to unify a curriculum:

  • how to select and sequence content to be in synch with language acquisition goals;
  • how to structure language instruction in a systematic way, particularly at the upper levels, to support the acquisition of content knowledge;

The integration of form and content through the construct of genre

Starting in 2007-2008 the department embarked on a multi-year curricular reform project to address these questions. Guiding the faculty's efforts in thinking about the integration of form and content was the construct of genre. Defined as a staged, goal-oriented, socially situated communicative event (e.g., book review, service encounter, personal letter), genre has become for applied linguists an effective theoretical and pedagogical construct that exemplifies how language functions to make meaning. In their analysis of different genres, applied linguists have pointed out that each genre, as it unfolds in a particular situation, calls on specific grammatical and lexical items to realize its communicative goal.

Because each genre has identifiable textual and interpersonal properties, scholars have been able to categorize genres and place them along genre-based continua that then can inform the conceptualization of coherent, articulated curricular pathways. In the case of the Emory German Studies curriculum, the faculty agreed on a curricular trajectory that begins with a focus on the macro-genre narration at the lower level, shifts to explanation by the end of the second year of instruction, and concludes with argumentation at the upper-most level.

This trajectory from narration to explanation to argumentation then guided the selection and sequencing of content in the curriculum. Working collaboratively in level-specific sub-committees, the faculty determined the overall content focus for each curricular level. In their work they were guided by two main criteria: a) content that was culturally significant and of interest to both students and instructors; and b) content whose predominant textual manifestation reflected the discursive emphasis for that level. For example, the content focus for first-year German centers around specific roles or group affiliations that have an impact on one’s self-identity (e.g., student, consumer, traveler, family member) and, as such, provides topics that allow faculty to work consistently with students on the discursive focus of that level, namely, narration. As a comparison, the content emphasis in the second-year course is on factors that play a role in one’s coming of age (e.g., family, nature, school), which allows for more sophisticated attention to narration while also providing opportunities to practice the next major discursive focus, namely, explanation (e.g., telling a story about how and why schooling played a role in on one’s coming of age).

The four curricular levels

The curriculum consists of four levels. The first two levels (Levels I-II) are taken sequentially, Level III consists of several possible courses, two of whom (Süße Pein 301 & 302) are offered each year, and the final level (Levels IV) consists of electives whose topics change each semester and reflect faculty expertise. Levels I-III follow a similar structure in that an overarching theme frames each level and is broken down into sub-themes that comprise the specific instructional units:

  1. Level I:Wer ich bin: Das Selbstkonzept (Ich als Student_in, Hobbyist_in, Familienmitglied, Arbeitende(r), Reisende(r), Staatsbürger_in)
  2. Level II: Das Erwachsenwerden (die Rolle der Familie, der Natur, der Reise, der Schule, des Krieges und der Liebe beim Erwachsenwerden)
  3. Level III: Süße Pein (die Darstellung der Liebe in der deutschsprachigen Kultur der Gegenwart, des geteilten Deutschlands, des Nationalsozialismus, der Weimarer Republik, der Jahrhundertwende, des 19. Jahrhunderts, der Romantik, des Mittelalters)