The University Record, April 15, 1997

Language program, not just classes,
recommended in LS&A report

By Jared Blank

"We want students to move away from the attitude of just getting the language requirement out of the way," said Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education David Schoem in introducing a report on second language instruction presented at last week's LS&A Faculty Meeting.

The report, written by the LS&A Joint Faculty-Student Policy Committee at the request of LS&A Student Government, sought ways to improve language instruction and motivate students who are required to take language courses. The majority of students, Schoem noted, are in favor of language study even if it is not required of them.

Recommendations were focused on the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, as 60 percent of the 5,000 students who take a language are enrolled in that unit.

 

Key recommendations in the report include:

 

Creating a language program, rather than a series of disconnected language courses.

 

Revising placement tests when necessary.

 

Improving classroom instruction and academic support services.

 

Offering a wider range of courses to fill the language requirement.

 

Increasing the number of students involved in study-abroad programs.

The report notes that success depends upon the implementation of these recommendations by "departmental leadership and an interdepartmental faculty advisory board (comprised of faculty involved in language instruction from various departments as well as directors of language support services faculty)."

William Paulson, chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, says that this report, coupled with an internal and external review of the Department, will lead to a number of changes, including "the creation of cultural topics courses in the fourth semester, many of which will be taught by professorial faculty, the adoption of credit incentives to encourage more effective language study in secondary schools, a course-by-course updating of the structure and coordination of our existing language sequences, and the creation of new course options that offer alternate methods or rhythms of language study." Paulson adds that the Department is implementing steps to improve the working conditions of graduate student instructors and lecturers, who teach most of the language course sections.

In the past, the report states, there has been little coordination between departments when initiatives have been proposed. For example, Language Across the Curriculum courses have been limited to offerings in just a few languages and have had low student enrollment. Also, the report adds, "good ideas for more innovative travel-abroad experiences and service-learning projects abroad go undeveloped."

The report also suggested that the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures use smaller units, such as Asian Languages, Classical Studies, German and the Residential College, as role models for language instruction. "Across these units," the report notes, "the Committee found examples such as a department chair intimately involved in instructional innovations, tenured faculty doing some of the language teaching, a faculty who considers language instruction to be a core component of the curriculum, and departments in which there is a much clearer sense, comparatively, that language instruction is an integral part of departmental business."

Paulson says that while the creation of new language study options will help motivate many students, "it's unlikely that the kinds of changes we can make in the curriculum will have much of an impact on the relatively small minority who strongly resent the LS&A language requirement."

LS&A Dean Edie Goldenberg added that the issues presented in the report are already "very much under discussion."