Perspectives on curriculum construction at the post-secondary level:Contexts, approaches, principles
February 10, 2002, under publication consideration.
©. Copyright: Please do not cite without permission
"A curriculum is an attempt," wrote Stenhouse a quarter century ago (1975, 4), "to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice."
If one applies that notion of curriculum to the foreign language field in general, and to second- or foreign-language learning in U.S. colleges and universities in particular, one is immediately confronted with a dilemma: how can we speak of "the foreign-language curriculum" at the college level when we know that a principled approach that is open to scrutiny and that builds on the key feature of the educational proposal in question, namely the long-term nature of second-language learning within an intellectually appropriate environment, does not exist, conceptually or in practice?
With no curricular "there" there, we realize that much of what passes for curriculum discussion at the college level is something quite different. Primarily, it is either a discussion of more or less interesting, more or less connected individual courses that aim to teach "language" or it is a broad discussion of content to be covered where that content is severed from its contexts and origins in the second language. Alternatively, deliberations putatively focused on curriculum have focused not on curriculum but on diverse approaches to teaching, particularly to the teaching of language, a focus that, in addition, creates the erroneous impression that pedagogy is not also a pressing concern in the so-called content courses,
From these existing practices it follows that a genuine discussion of curriculum requires a thorough rethinking of current collegiate foreign-language teaching and learning. The initial goal of that reconsideration is to enable us to develop a course of study that is publicly available (and thus "open to critical scrutiny"), that involves both content and pedagogies in support of language learning for all four undergraduate years, and that takes account of issues of implementation that are peculiar to the college context. A more comprehensive benefit of an explicitly curricular perspective is its promise of engaging us in a critical interpretation of our past and of exploring an innovative vision of our future. Given the unfamiliarity of the topic in collegiate foreign language circles, such a perspective may not be easy to accept and adopt. But it is necessary if foreign-language education is to be both intellectually and socially accountable in an age of proliferating demands for multiple identities and for competence in more than one language.
A crucial way in which the field can practice the requisite professional fidelity, as Shulman (2000) phrases it, is to abandon the current "curriculum by default" (Byrnes 1998) in favor of a curriculum by design that pursues an educational vision that is particular to the foreign language field: it links content and second language acquisition to produce extended language learning opportunities that deliberately aim toward high performance levels in the second language in order to enable learners to be competent users of more than one language in all walks of life.
I will treat three issues. First, I will highlight several aspects of the context in which foreign languages are taught at the post-secondary level. Although these aspects are not directly curricular they nevertheless have a strong influence on curriculum construction in higher education. Second, I will provide a brief overview of general approaches to curriculum building. Third, I will sketch out some principles of curriculum construction that can help chart a future of great challenges but also of great promise for the foreign-language profession.
The contexts of curriculum construction
Several features of the context in which foreign languages are taught at the post-secondary level have implications for curriculum building.
Much second language instruction takes place at the postsecondary level
In the U.S. system--in contrast with most other industrial countries--tertiary institutions are responsible for an unusually high share of foreign-language teaching and learning. This is so because foreign-language instruction is not part of the educational core in primary and secondary schools (Pufahl et al. 2000), and also because of the status of English as the world's lingua franca. At the same time, most faculty members teaching at the college level are unprepared for meeting these expectations. By and large their educational background and professional interests lie in literary-cultural studies that are increasingly conceived as language-independent, abstract, and theory-driven (Byrnes 2002 a) and, therefore, as separate from language acquisitional issues and foreign-language pedagogy (Byrnes and Kord 2001).
By contrast, a curricular approach asserts the centrality of the link between language and the creation of meaning and knowledge in all human endeavors. It affirms the essential connection between, on the one hand, the acquisition of the second language and, on the other hand, the academic content and educational aspirations of a foreign-language department's program. When it implements that connection through an explicitly designed curriculum it constitutes, perhaps, the best way in which the profession can begin to overcome the disjuncture between valued faculty work, existing faculty expertise, and needed educational practice (Byrnes 2001b), a mismatch that threatens the functional capacities and even the very existence of collegiate foreign-language departments (Schneider 2001).
Consensual and reflected, such a curriculum proposal also provides the all-important intellectual-academic justification for the structural contexts in which foreign languages are taught in higher education. Here I am referring to the question why institutions should maintain separate and comprehensive foreign-language departments and why departments as academic units should resist internal and external urges to spin off their language instructional component. True, the language centers that have recently appeared across the country usually reflect the inability or unwillingness of the faculty of foreign-language departments to take seriously the curricular and pedagogical work that is here advocated (Bernhardt 2002). In that sense they can constitute an advance over the status quo of (benign) neglect. But for all the benefits such language centers might return to an institution in terms of language instruction, they can also detract from the intellectual merits of the remainder of the foreign language program and even subvert the essence of foreign-language study as a whole. All too easily their presence can reduce the language learning enterprise to service and skill status and, from the administrative-structural standpoint, can justify relocating the study of the literature and culture of that language area into English or comparative literature departments or area studies programs. It goes without saying that the learners' likelihood of attaining upper levels of second-language ability and sophisticated cultural knowledge and insights, abilities gained through extended and reflective engagement with content as particular second language discourse communities handle it (e.g., academics in a variety of disciplines, business people, policy makers, lawyers, engineers, health care providers), is thereby seriously endangered.
In sum, developing a curriculum in collegiate foreign language departments constitutes a much needed answer to numerous intellectual and systemic-structural concerns that arise in conjunction with adult foreign language learning in the U.S. Indeed, it could be called an indispensable, informed, and forward-looking counter-proposal in the face of restrictive, at times even adverse realities .
U.S. institutions must respond to the demand for language instruction in multiple languages
Although English has become the international lingua franca, assuming the role that Latin played for a good thousand years of Western civilization, there is good evidence, particularly in K-12 enrollments, that globalization has also caused an increase in the demand for foreign-language knowledge by native speakers of English. Private and public interest is rising for a citizenry that commands advanced language abilities in more than one language, a kind of "multiple literacy," both to respond to economic globalization and to satisfy people's search for individual and societal multilingualism and multiculturalism. As a result, American educational institutions must find ways to accommodate instruction in numerous languages that are politically or culturally important to the United States or that are widely spoken by immigrant populations. This contrasts with the situation in many other countries, which can put their educational resources into teaching two or three languages, the dominant one almost always being English.
Given the financing of public secondary education in the United States and the many societal goals the secondary curriculum must meet, it is unlikely that pre-collegiate students will have the opportunity for multiyear, consecutive study of more than one language. One may bemoan that fact. But one may also interpret it as an extraordinary challenge to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in the limited second language learning opportunities that do exist, -- whenever the system is able to offer them and whenever and for whatever length of time students are able to seize them. As previously stated, colleges bear an unusually heavy burden in that regard. They are asked to present curricular proposals for accomplishing, in a carefully considered way, expansively conceptualized forms of efficiency and effectiveness in light of expansively conceptualized notions of what constitutes knowing a whole range of second languages.Spanish requires particular consideration
Most of the recent increase in K-12 foreign-language instruction has occurred in Spanish, in a fashion that, to some, threatens the other languages (Goldberg and Welles 2001). One way of avoiding the trap of seeing the flourishing of Spanish as dangerous competition would be to place the demand for Spanish outside standard foreign-language instructional considerations and reinterpret it in terms of an incipient societal bilingualism--in other words, to make it more akin to English-language instruction throughout the curriculum, a phenomenon that is already strong in the South, Southwest, and West.
Two questions arise. First, what differences would then characterize the teaching and learning of Spanish--as a quasi second language--and also that of other languages? Currently a research project undertaken by Valdés, and Fishman (2001) examines how direct instruction in heritage/immigrant languages can be used to reverse or retard the process of language change and language shift. Second, how do we ensure that instruction in the other languages is, indeed, well sustained? An enlightened curricular perspective would offer one way of addressing both questions.
The less commonly taught languages must be part of curricular planning
A curricular frame of reference might enable reconsideration of yet a fourth feature of the country's language context--the need to assure instruction in what are called the less commonly taught languages.
Here I suggest that any program that aspires to bring students from no knowledge to usable, preferably advanced, levels of competence within the four-year confines of American undergraduate education should be thought of as a program in a "less commonly taught language." By rethinking the status of "the less commonly taughts" and understanding them not in terms of nationally aggregated enrollment numbers but in terms of particular institutional settings and student learning demands we would sharpen our ability to understand central features of the requisite curricula in any language, -- in Japanese, Chinese, and Russian as in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. In other words, when previous high school language instruction cannot be presumed or when students wish to acquire a third language during their college years, curricular planning becomes crucial. Only with a curricular proposal in place is there a reasonable and justified expectation that they will achieve high levels of competence in a particular language in a particular institutional setting and subsequently as opportunities for continued learning arise.
Far from being an inconsequential semantic game, such a reconceptualization asserts that curriculum construction is not an option but a critical systemic concern because of demands for efficiency and effectiveness that, in turn, are the consequence of the restricted time ceded to the complex task of language learning. If extended periods were regularly available for language learning, we could afford to make mistakes. As it stands, we do not have that luxury. Indeed, not developing well-designed curricula may well be the most serious omission the foreign-language profession has permitted. Although curricular neglect seems to hold as well in other parts of the academy, it is debilitating in the language field because of the field's already marginal status and because of the kinds of competencies learners are increasingly interested in attaining even in a short period of time. Taking a literacy view of learning goals and outcomes can overcome narrow disputes
Finally, any description of the contexts for curriculum construction must include a discussion of learning goals and outcomes. Much of the conversation about foreign-language goals in higher education has been trapped in its own taxonomies and historical structures, so that precious time and energy have been expended on unproductive (because false) dichotomies. Among them are deliberations whether one should prefer communicative or grammar-based teaching or whether one should teach literature vs. language, or use literary texts vs. nonliterary texts from a range of subject matter areas, - as though these stood in any substantive opposition to each other or really addressed the kinds of learning goals higher education has to espouse.
These arguments are artifacts of our professional history that have little to do with the foundational trajectory in instructed language learning for literate adults, -- its progression from private, familial or transactional discourses to a range of situated public discourses so that learners may attain an encompassing second language literacy. For all its innovativeness communicative and proficiency-oriented instruction has failed to incorporate this trajectory into its frames of reference and its preferred metaphors (Byrnes 2002c). This is all the more noteworthy as there is strong evidence that elaborated literacy practices have to be explicitly taught in the second language, just as they are in the first (Gee 1998). Facility in the discerning use of public discourse requires speakers to engage in forms of semiosis, that is, in forms of meaning making that are different from the contextually embedded private or personal (usually oral) discourses that are our heritage as humans. By comparison, public discursive abilities are enhanced through reflective work, such as when learners understand how the social and institutional contexts surrounding business, medicine, science, and technical fields (for example) shape the discourse that people use in those environments--the business negotiation, the medical consultation, the scientific report, the engineering proposal - and, consequently, how they as non-native users would locate themselves within them. As Hasan (1999, 75) states, developing such a habitus by working with a discourse and literacy pedagogy "would yield a benefit without parallel, as it would enable one to decipher the world, to read closely the propositions one is confronted with."
Giving collegiate foreign language programs a literacy trajectory potentially stands at some distance from the current emphasis on learner needs as driving curriculum building, a focus that is primarily expressed through task-centered language teaching (Long to appear, Long and Crookes 1992, 1993, Nunan 1993). For colleges needs-based curriculum construction is complicated because, in general, neither institutions nor individual learners can know, in any substantive way, students' future language needs. Language learners tend simply to want to learn to "speak the language well." Only in big state institutions with multiple tracks or in targeted, professionally oriented programs (such as the German and engineering program at the University of Rhode Island) would a real needs-based approach to curriculum construction seem to be practicable. In the meantime departments are challenged to build from the learners' unspecified notions of what knowing a language means a programmatic context that allows for the possibility, if not necessarily the reality, of an encompassing second language literacy: being able to use a second language comfortably and competently both in their private lives--in family, neighborhood, and community, in leisure and social interaction--and, at least for some, also in their working lives, whether these are lived in a well-defined local community or in the professional environment of the globalized economy.
In my view collegiate programs can meet that challenge only by creating curricula that focus on the programmatic implications of the fact that language learning for literate adults is long-term interlanguage development toward a second language literacy that encompasses the above-mentioned primary and secondary discourses of a culture and language. For curriculum construction this means that they must incorporate broad insights about long-term language learning in instructed settings for literate adults, knowledge that is at present rather spotty and, in any case, insufficiently discursively oriented (but see McCarthy and Carter 1994, Kern 2000). These understandings about the goals and the paths of 'good' adult instructed second language learning must then be negotiated in terms of what is institutionally and programmatically possible and what is pedagogically realizable. Finally, such a plan should respond to the larger interests of society and to the particular interests of individuals. This is the agenda of curriculum development at the college level; this is what a curriculum would be designed to accomplish.
Approaches to the notion of curriculum
Given the paucity of curricular thinking it is reasonable to argue that the process would have to begin by clarifying central notions of curriculum so that curriculum construction itself may come to be accepted as good educational practice at the college level. Thereafter public proposals can be entertained that explore what the construct stands for and how it would be implemented in particular programmatic contexts.
Any curriculum development builds on principles of selection and sequencing, both inherently highly interpretive choices. In addition, the need for curriculum construction in the foreign-language context is most pressing under two conditions: first, if the program is so constrained that it must make up, through careful conceptualization and planning, what it lacks in time, and second, if adult instructed learners are to attain upper levels of performance in their second languages.
Wording the issue from the perspective of would-be curricular planners one could say that a faculty group contemplating the demanding and labor-intensive task of curriculum construction should be united by a strong sense that its instructional goals--even in languages that are not cognate to English and often have completely different literacy practices and writing systems--reach beyond basic interpersonal communicative abilities. This is so since any reasonably competent language teaching, even with a relatively uncoordinated aggregation of courses, is generally able to bring students to basic interactive language performance, irrespective of the language. Indeed, American foreign-language instruction has, by and large, been remarkably successful on that score.
However, if one takes a more expansive perspective of what it means to know a language, "success" becomes considerably more elusive and will be even more elusive in the future as expectations rise for both cognate and non-cognate languages. This is so since, for all its variation, language learning and teaching that targets upper levels of performance and incipient second-language literacy must recognize that situated, purposive, meaningful language use is the fundamental condition for language learning by literate adults. As research and practice are beginning to show, those characteristics can be made particularly salient in a text-based approach to curriculum development, more specifically a genre-based approach supported by a genre-based pedagogy (Feez 1998, Martin 1999). Far from disregarding sentence-level accuracy, a text-based approach incorporates sophisticated appreciation of the interplay among accuracy, fluency, and complexity of language learning at each stage of the learning process, and of continued and carefully balanced development of accuracy, fluency, and complexity over time. (For a discussion of processing issues, see particularly Skehan 1998 and the contributions in Robinson 2001).
Such a curricular framework also allows us to address issues of pedagogy. Specific pedagogical decisions become motivated not on the basis of general methodological dictums but through thoughtful awareness of the long-term consequences of certain instructional interventions over a learner's course of study (Byrnes 2000). Conversely, a curricular proposal can be publicly queried for its soundness as it comes to life in a pedagogy of informed choices that considers short- and long-range performance outcomes (Doughty and Williams 1998). Viewed within a curricular framework, the traditional preoccupation with the perfect method turns out to be misguided. It does not exist because it cannot exist because appropriate pedagogies are always situated choices within a long-term learning trajectory. Recognizing the importance of a curricular context for decision-making contrasts both with unbounded methodological eclecticism and its extreme postulate that instruction does not matter, -- it does, as Norris and Ortega (2000) have elaborately researched. By reversing priorities, from methods to curriculum, we can strive for optimal learning outcomes since pedagogical interventions are now contextualized instances of teacher decision-making that are informed and supported by a previously developed educational context, the curriculum. Providing a publicly knowable and shared context, based on consensually arrived decisions regarding selection and sequencing, is a rarely mentioned, yet crucial contribution that curriculum can make to teaching and learning.
In sum, presenting a curriculum is proposing a sequence of educational opportunities for learners that builds on internal relations and continuities among the major units of instruction. Central considerations pertain to the selection of content and its sequencing--the what of the curriculum--and its delivery in both the larger educational environment and the particular instructional setting--the how. At the same time, a curriculum is also a critical act of defining the role of the learner and, by extension, the act of learning (see Byrnes 1998, 265-66). Finally, a curriculum is a policy decision about the purpose and nature of education.
Exploring principles for curriculum construction
In arguing for the importance of curriculum construction I have already referred to a number of desirable characteristics, all derived from the centrality of meaning in adult instructed foreign-language learning. In the following section I explore the connection between curriculum and the adult's well-known meaning focus more explicitly and posit some broad principles for curriculum construction.
The centrality of meaning in adult instructed foreign-language learning
Having noted that adults focus on meaning rather than on language form, SLA researchers frequently offer that observation as an explanation for why adult learners find it so difficult to acquire the formal inventory of a second language to an acceptable level of accuracy, fluency, and complexity. While the conclusion is true in a general way it is not particularly insightful. In fact, it has the potential for being misleading if it is interpreted as justifying an old-style or even new-style sentence-level, meaning-divorced grammar instruction--an all-too-frequent occurrence (but see Kern 2000 and McCarthy & Carter 1994). Instead, the meaning-driven nature of language behaviors should alert the foreign-language profession to the need to rethink how knowledge (or meaning) and language are at all related and, by extension, how they can and should be related in adult foreign-language learning and in adult foreign-language instruction.
To a significant extent, current practices assume the validity of a normative and essentialist model of knowledge and language, where knowledge and language are viewed as independent of each other and knowledge pre-exists "out there," as it were, in an idealized, even God-given metaphysical realm. Language is reduced to being, prototypically, the act of naming the pre-existent givens and learning becomes the application of largely arbitrary rules or the build-up of a formidable array of one-to-one correspondences in vocabulary (with differences construed as deviations from that expectation).
Contemporary thinking, by contrast, favors the possibility of considering language as a culturally embedded form of human meaning-making, in short, of language as a social semiotic (Halliday 1994, Lantolf 2000). Here knowledge is understood as being intricately linked to the language patterns of situated language use, where the very use of language is a way of knowing and a way of being that is historical in origin and directly related to social action.
In the former Soviet bloc, Bakhtin and Vygotsky in particular explored such an approach. In the West it tends to be part of the research focus of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, at times pragmatics, and primarily focuses on the analysis of native language phenomena. Where it is concerned with language learning, native and second or foreign language, it has been dubbed "functional" and is particularly associated with the British-Australian linguist Halliday. He and his followers emphasize a symbiotic relationship between human activity and language with, as Hasan (1995, 184) puts it, "the very existence of one as the condition for the existence of the other."
By investigating key constructs of systemic-functional linguistics-- context of situation, register, text, and text structure--it is possible to arrive at principles for curriculum building that exemplify that role of language in human life. Thus, Halliday turns on their head the notions of language and grammar that prevail in language instructional contexts. Instead of considering language to be "a system of forms, to which meanings are then attached" he considers it to be "a system of meanings, accompanied by forms through which the meanings can be realized" (1994, xiv). In particular, two central meanings are addressed by language, namely "(i) to understand the environment (ideational), and (ii) to act on the others in it (interpersonal). Combined with these is a third metafunctional component, the 'textual', which breathes relevance into the other two" (xiii).
Dramatically different from a structuralist grammar, which is a grammar of syntagmatic linearity, this is a grammar not of normative rules but of choices and relations, where "the grammatical system as a whole represents the semantic code of a language" and "the context of culture determines the nature of the code" (Halliday 1994, xxxi). Thought provoking for our concern with adult instructed foreign-language learning is Halliday's statement regarding child language learning: "As a language is manifested through its texts, a culture is manifested through its situations; so by attending to text-in-situation a child construes the code, and by using the code to interpret the text he construes the culture" (ibid.).
To sum up, the relationship of language and knowledge is that "language as social semiotic praxis . . . should be seen unequivocally as a construer of reality, not just as its representer . . . It does not represent reality; it simply construes a model of reality" (Hasan, 1999, 53). Therefore, while language as a system may be considered arbitrary with regard to the species-specific potentialities of human language-making capacity, the relation between meaning and that level of the language code that Halliday labels its lexicogrammar is far from arbitrary but, instead, constitutive.
Making content the foundation of collegiate language curricula
What does this mean for our concern with curriculum? How might it affect curriculum construction? I suggest that some of the theoretical insights and the practical experiences gained in a Hallidayan approach are eminently worthy of exploration if we wish, at long last, to integrate language and culture--or language and knowledge--in more than trivial ways. Assuming that collegiate foreign-language curricula must address both the acquisition of knowledge and of language--in both the first and second languages and in their relationship to each other--then one important task is to treat content not as an afterthought, but as constitutive for language acquisition. To create a curriculum that is content-oriented, the foreign-language profession must go beyond what has generally been described as content-based instruction in the primary or secondary grades and beyond what has been described as the language-across-the-curriculum project at the college level (see, for example, Adams 1996, Krueger and Ryan 1993, Met 1998). In my estimation it must also go beyond what the Standards Project launched in 1996 has proposed because, deep down, it either continues to rely on a normative grammar and a form-focused paradigm that separates language use from knowledge (Byrnes 2002c) or has no viable proposal for linking knowledge and language acquisition, one that would support its thematic content goals of communication, culture, connections, communities, and comparison and language acquisition. Differentiating the proposed curricular project from these dominant models is another important step.
Next, we must acknowledge that content for adult second language learners, contrasted perhaps with younger learners, is not inherently sequencable. There is no independently motivated way of deciding whether they would be better served by fist learning about the geography or the history of the target area culture or read about its contemporary political decision-making processes or by first learning how to meet and greet people at a cocktail party or make hotel reservations over the telephone, a situation they might never encounter. One can, of course, imagine any of these learning scenarios as meritorious. But in general curricula a decision on how to sequence them can be motivated only in light of aspects of language acquisition that correspond closely with content considerations which themselves are closely connected to genre.
"Genres are how things get done," says Martin (1985, 250), "when language is used to accomplish them. They range from literary to far from literary forms: poems, narratives, expositions, lectures, seminars, recipes, manuals, appointment making, service encounters, news broadcasts and so on." As defined by Christie (1999, 760) genre is a "staged, purposeful activity" that serves important social goals. To Gee (1998) genres are "ways of being in the world."
In that case, the kind of interactive, situated, phatic or transactional language use that is implied by the party encounter or the traveler's inquiry is indeed likely to be more appropriate beginner fare, much as communicative language teaching has presented it. But it is that not because of content preferences but because the language use characteristics that are most closely associated with historical summaries or with policy debates in oral or written genres are beyond the reach of beginners and even intermediate language learners from the standpoint of acquisition, and that means from the standpoint of processing.
Beyond the early proposals to rethink curricula, presented most convincingly by Long (1994) and Long and Crookes (1992, 1993) we need more fine-grained decision-making criteria for selection and sequencing. For that purpose I take the approaches developed in systemic-functional linguistics to hold particular promise. Initially a theoretical alternative to structuralist notions of grammar, systemic-functional linguistics has the necessary theoretical apparatus as well as longstanding pedagogical commitments. Together these provide principles, constructs, and examples for linking content or knowledge and language form. Specifically, in concentrating its analytical potential beyond the sentence-level and focusing on language use in public life, especially in educational settings, it has established the notion of genre as an apt construct for elucidating the relationship between socially situated knowledge and language and, therefore, for language learning (Eggins 1994, Freedman and Medway 1994a, 1994b). While its insights have thus far been primarily applied to the first-language context (Martin 1999), most especially in multilingual and multicultural Australia, it is gradually being considered as well for second-language education, primarily in upper level ESL instruction (Jones and others 1989, Hyon 1996).
The larger intent in promoting functional grammar and genre is to create the possibility of "a grammar for purposes of text analysis: one that would make it possible to say sensible and useful things about any text, spoken or written, in modern English" (Halliday 1994, xv). Through a rich understanding of genre we can come to understand that "language is not a domain of human knowledge [but] the essential condition of knowledge, the process by which experience becomes knowledge" (Halliday 1993, 94, emphasis in original).Reconsidering foreign-language educational goals in terms of multiple literacies
Considering genre as an appropriate foundation for curricular selection and sequencing also forces us to reconsider our larger goals, a welcome development since it places foreign-language learning in proximity to the goals of education. At heart these are about developing an expanded literacy (Gee 1998, Hasan 1999, New London Group 1996). The impact of such a move would be most striking with advanced levels of language ability. Here an interpretation of language and of language use and language development as being discursively realized semiosis is particularly felicitous because a genre provides a "model of text in context, of discourse in relation to grammar and lexis and to those semiotic systems which language itself realizes" (Martin 1985, 249).
On that basis the relationship between meaning and form can be explored in three key dimensions: in terms of the field, which refers to particular content or subject matter areas; in terms of tenor, which acknowledges the dynamics of particular communicative settings with a range of participants and participant relationships; and, finally, in terms of mode, the particular construal of processes, participants, circumstances, and relations that a speaker employs and that affects the nature of the entire text, even as the text itself is affected by the communicative channels being employed (oral, written, interactive, monologic).
For collegiate foreign-language programs in literary-cultural studies it is noteworthy that Halliday's systemic-functional grammar shows a striking similarity to the dialogic approaches chosen by Bakhtin (1986) as a way of explicating the phenomenon of language use in society, expecially through the notion of genre. Taken together, the analytical capabilities of a Hallidayan functional linguistics and an awareness of the societal situatedness of stable forms of linguistic action as Bakhtin has developed it in his speech genres offer a way of imagining second-language performance within the conceptual framework of a developing multiple literacy, regardlesss of content emphasis. Such an orientation is also akin to Cook's (1992) notion of multicompetence as an appropriate goal for foreign-language learning, a way of relating first- and second-language capabilities to each other rather than aiming at an ersatz native-level performance.
Reconsidering pedagogies through genre
Thus far, I have highlighted the potential of genre as a principle for organizing curricula. But given the intimate relationship between curriculum and pedagogy, we should explore as well the potential of a genre-based pedagogy. My experience with "Developing Multiple Literacies," a curricular project in the German Department at Georgetown University, shows the genre-based pedagogies developed in Australia to be eminently transferable to the adult instructed foreign-language context, with gratifying results across all modalities of language use (see www.georgetown.edu/departments/german/).
I offer two further considerations for the assertion that a genre approach can enhance both the interpretive comprehension and the situated choices in language production that characterize competent and versatile first-language learners and users (Street 1999, New London Group 1996) and also advanced second-language learners. If it is true that "to use a genre freely and creatively is not the same as to create a genre from the beginning: genres must be fully mastered in order to be manipulated freely" (Bakhtin 1986, 80), then foreign-language instruction is about teaching learners to make meaning-driven choices within the framework of genres. Learners who can make such choices can indeed find their voices and identities in second-language genres and can celebrate their status as multicompetent speakers in the other language, something that, echoing Bakhtin, I have called emerging heteroglossia (Byrnes 2001a). That same phenomenon can be expanded from specific language tasks, such as writing, to the entire phenomenon of non-native learners acquiring high levels of competence in a foreign language (Byrnes, Crane, and Sprang 2002, Cook 1999). Within the context of the Developing Multiple Literacies program at Georgetown a group of teacher-researchers is investigating, with Spencer Foundation support, the connection between a genre focus, a genre-based pedagogy, and upper levels of acquisition (see Spencer Grant).
While genre, through thematically arranged texts, can serve as a macro-organizational principle for a curriculum, with obvious implications for pedagogy, it is the notion of task that is likely to be most useful for imagining and planning specific pedagogical interventions at different stages within a curriculum. Critical here is the potential of task to provide ways of guiding students through a balanced development of accuracy, fluency, and complexity over long instructional sequences (Byrnes 2002a). As stated above, a task-based approach has been advocated for some time, particularly in the ESL literature. However, since the preponderance of such work focuses on the early stages of second language learning and, quite remarkably, can even advocate an a-textual approach (Doughty and Long 2002), much translation is necessary before its insights can be profitably transferred into a literacy and discourse based curriculum and pedagogy that are suitable for U.S. colleges.
Conceptualizing foreign-language curricula in relation to other language-learning settings
Earlier in the paper I suggested that curriculum construction takes place at an in-between-level, as it were. It must consider the adult learners' second language learning characteristics and interests just as it must consider institutional contexts, negotiating one against the other. But it must also observe other relations to the extent that higher education is not the sole purveyor or sole possessor of the sites within which a second language is learned. In fact, colleges are part of an increasingly socially distributed environment for knowledge creation, with all the implications that has for higher education, and particularly for second-language learning. (For an interesting discussion of these issues, see Gibbons and others 1994.) As a result, those responsible for collegiate foreign-language instruction must learn to link creatively different educational settings in order to bring about contexts that are maximally conducive to continued language learning.
A well-conceived curriculum will make it easier to forge those links and to address the following related challenges:
· Developing articulations between secondary and postsecondary instruction, and between undergraduate and graduate programs (the latter being necessary to ensure that nonnative graduate students attain the kind of high-level abilities in the second language that the job market demands of them)
· Linking learning inside the classroom with concurrent learning opportunities outside it, whether or not these opportunities are directly tied to the instructional program (for example, course-based discussion-groups contrasted with informal opportunities for developing conversational abilities)
· Linking learning during the academic year with learning in various settings during the summer, in the United States or abroad
· Connecting study abroad, with or without a formal instructional component, to an instructional program in the United States--before and after the sojourn abroad
· Finding ways to accommodate different entry and exit points for language learning
· Using technology, either directly in instruction or as a way to allow individual learners to push their learning into other performance environments or into more comfortable levels of performance
· Assuring the possibility of lifelong engagement with language learning, not merely as an ideologically desirable notion, but as a real possibility for people whose personal or professional circumstances make such an engagement desirable or necessary.
It would be foolish to believe that curriculum construction will magically address all of the shortcomings of foreign-language learning in the United States. But I am convinced that a good many of the impasses in the field can be directly traced to our inability or unwillingness to adopt a curricular perspective for instructed foreign-language learning and teaching. In that sense any movement toward a curricular approach would promise a brighter future.
Standards for foreign language learning: Preparing for the 21st century. 1996. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press.
Adams, T. M. 1996. "Languages across the curriculum: Taking stock." ADFL Bulletin, 28 (1): 9-19.
Bakhtin, M. M. 1986. "The problem of speech genres." In Speech genres and other late essays. M. M. Bakhtin, ed. C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bernhardt, E. 2002. "A language center director responds." Modern Language Journal, 86 (2):
Byrnes, H. 1998. "Constructing curricula in collegiate foreign language departments." In Learning foreign and second languages: Perspectives in research and scholarship, ed. H. Byrnes. New York: Modern Language Association.
Byrnes, H. 2000. "Languages across the curriculum. Intradepartmental curriculum construction: Issues and options." In Languages across the curriculum: Interdisciplinary structures and internationalized education, ed. M. R. Kecht and K. von Hammerstein, Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University, National East Asian Languages Resource Center.
Byrnes, H. 2001a. "Authorial stance and the 'reader-in-the-text': Advanced second language learning as emerging heteroglossia". Paper presented in the session "Language in Literature Teaching." MLA, New Orleans, December 29, 2001.
Byrnes, H. 2001b. "Reconsidering graduate students' education as teachers: It takes a department!" Modern Language Journal, 85 (4):512-30.
Byrnes, H. 2002a. "The role of task and task-based assessment in a content-oriented collegiate foreign-language curriculum." Language Testing, 19 (4).
Byrnes, H. 2002b. "Toward academic-level foreign language abilities: Reconsidering foundational assumptions, expanding pedagogical options." In Developing professional-level language proficiency, ed. B. L. Leaver and B. Shekhtman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Byrnes, H., and Kord, S. 2001. "Developing literacy and literary competence: Challenges for foreign language departments." In SLA and the literature classroom, ed. V. M. Scott and H. Tucker. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Byrnes, H., Crane, C., and Sprang, K. A. 2002. "Nonnative teachers teaching at the advanced level: Challenges and opportunities." ADFL Bulletin, 33 (2).
Christie, F. 1999. "Genre theory and ESL teaching: A systemic functional perspective." TESOL Quarterly 33 (4):759-63.
Cook, V. 1999. "Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching." TESOL Quarterly 33 (2):185-209.
Doughty, C., and Williams, J. (eds). 1998. Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Doughty, C., and Long, M. H. 2002. "Optimal psycholinguistic environments for distance foreign language learning." Paper presented at the conference "Distance learning for less commonly taught languages," Arlington, VA, February 1-3, 2002.
Eggins, S. 1994. An introduction to systemic functional linguistics. London: Pinter.
Feez, Susan, with Joyce, H. 1998. Text-based syllabus design. Sydney: Macquarie University National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research.
Freedman, A., and Medway, P. (eds). 1994a. Genre and the new rhetoric. London: Taylor and Francis.
Freedman, A., and Medway, P. (eds). 1994b. Learning and teaching genre. Westport, CT: Heinemann.
Gee, J. P. 1998. "What is literacy?" In Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures, ed. V. Zamel and R. Spack. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., and Trow, M. 1994. The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.
Goldberg, D., and Welles, E. 2001. "Successful college and university foreign language programs, 1995-99: Part 1: Profession 2001:171-210.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1993. "Towards a language-based theory of learning." Linguistics and Education 5 (2): 93-116.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1994 (2nd ed.) An introduction to functional grammar. London: Edward Arnold.
Hasan, R. 1995. "The conception of context in text." In Discourse in society. Systemic functional perspectives: Meaning and choice in language: Studies for Michael Halliday, ed. P. H. Fries and M. Gregory. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Hasan, R. 1999. "The disempowerment game: Bourdieu and language in literacy." Linguistics and Education 10 (1):25-87.
Hyon, S. 1996. "Genre in three traditions: Implications for ESL." TESOL Quarterly 30 (4): 693-722.
Jones, J., Gollin, S., Drury, H., and Economou, D. 1989. "Systemic-functional linguistics and its application to the TESOL curriculum." In Language development: Learning language, learning culture, ed. R. Hasan and J. R. Martin. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Kern, R. 2000. Literacy and language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Krueger, M., and Ryan, F. (eds). 1993. Language and content: Discipline- and content-based approaches to language study. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.
Lantolf, J. P. (ed). 2000. Sociocultural theory and second language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Long, M. H. 1994. "On the advocacy of the task-based syllabus." TESOL Quarterly 28 (4): 782-90.
Long, M. H., (ed.) to appear. Second language needs analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Long, M. H., and Crookes, G. 1992. "Three approaches to task-based syllabus design." TESOL Quarterly 26 (1): 27-56.
Long, M. H., and Crookes, G. 1993. "Units of analysis in syllabus design: The case for task." In Tasks in a pedagogical context: Integrating theory and practice, ed. G. Crookes and S. M. Gass. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Martin, J. R. 1999. "Mentoring semogenesis: 'Genre-based' literacy pedagogy." In Pedagogy and the shaping of consciousness: Linguistic and social processes, ed. F. Christie. London: Cassell.
Martin, J. R. 1985. "Process and text: Two aspects of human semiosis." In Systemic perspectives on discourse, ed. J. D. Benson and W. S. Greaves. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
McCarthy, M, and Carter, R. 1994. Language as discourse. Perspectives for language teaching. London: Longman.
Met, M. 1999. Content-based instruction: Defining terms, making decisions. Washington, DC: National Foreign Language Center.
Met, M. 1998. "Curriculum decision-making in content-based teaching." In Beyond bilingualism: Multilingualism and multilingual education, ed. F. Genesee and J. Cenoz. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
New London Group. 1996. "A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures." Harvard Educational Review 66 (1):60-92.
Norris, J. and Ortega, L. 2000. "Effectiveness of L2 instruction. A research synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis." Language Learning 50 (3):417-528.
Nunan, D. 1993. "Task-based syllabus design: Selecting, grading and sequencing tasks." In Tasks in a pedagogical context: Integrating theory and practice, ed. G. Crookes and S. M. Gass. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Pufahl, I, Rhodes, N, C., and Christian, D. 2000. Foreign language teaching: What the United States can learn from other countries. Report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education's Comparative Information on Improving Education Practice. Working Group 4, Policy Priority: Foreign Language Learning. ED-00-PO-4609. Downloaded from the web site of the Center for Applied Linguistics: www.cal.org/ericcll/countries.html, January 27, 2001.
Robinson, P. (ed.) 2001. Cognition and second language instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schneider, A. 2001. "A university plans to promote languages by killing its languages department." The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, 2001, A14-15.
Shulman, L. 2000. "Conclusion: Inventing the future." In Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning, ed. P. Hutchings. Menlo Park, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Skehan, P. 1998. A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stenhouse, L. 1975. An introduction to curriculum research and development. London: Heinemann.
Street, B. V. 1999. "New literacies in theory and practice: What are the implications for language in education." Linguistics in Education 10 (1):1-24.
Valdés, G.//Fishman, J. 2001. "The teaching of Spanish as a heritage language: Towards the development of a coherent language-education policy." A three year project funded by the Spencer Foundation. http//www.stanford.edu/dept/SUSE/Spencer_PRproject/index.html, February 10, 2001.
Vygotsky, L. 1978. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes, ed. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- German Majors Receive Fulbright Teaching Grants
- Prof. Heidi Byrnes Receives 2013 Nelson H. Brooks Award
- Anna Zimmer Has Defended Her Dissertation with Distinction
- Jason Ager Has Defended His Dissertation
- Comparative Literature Major Wins Vista Higher Education Learning Contest