Academic journal article Italica

The "Non-Level Concept" and Its Potential for Curricular Innovation

Academic journal article Italica

The "Non-Level Concept" and Its Potential for Curricular Innovation

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper reports on an exploratory study of an innovative approach to the teaching of content in a study abroad context using the 'non-level concept' (or NOLC) instruction. Based on triangulated data from classroom observations conducted over the course of a semester, instructor interviews, and student interviews and questionnaires, I present a qualitative analysis of the approach in terms of pedagogical practices, student-student interactions, and instructor intervention, as well as insights from instructor and student alike. Through this analysis I aim to provide a possible alternative to current curricular frameworks in the teaching of content courses in North America and beyond. Although certain modifications would be necessitated by a change in context, the implementation of the NOLC approach has the potential to be a viable and effective alternative or addition to current foreign language curricula.

Keywords: Content-based Instruction, study abroad, foreign language instruction, curricular change, non-level instruction.


In this paper, I report on an exploratory descriptive analysis carried out at Siena Italian Studies (SIS) in Siena, Italy during the Spring semester of 2018. SIS is a private, Italian-run study abroad program in Siena, Italy, whose primary goal is to foster the development of intercultural competence ( The teacher-researchers at SIS have developed their own innovative pedagogical approach called FICCS (Full-Immersion: Culture Content, and Service). The term FICCS was subsequently changed to EUFICCS (European Use of Full-Immersion Culture, Content, and Service) when the project received funding from the European Union and was used in Spain and Portugal to teach Spanish and Portuguese to second language learners. Essentially, the approach is used in combination with reflective education to provide a unique immersion study abroad experience with the goal of developing reflective intercultural competence. Through this reflective intercultural competence, they aim to help the student become "a globally competent citizen, capable of facing and interacting with different cultures throughout the course of his/her lifetime with awareness and sensitivity" (Biagi et al. 21).

One of the main components of the EUFICCS approach is 'Content.' At SIS, content refers to the different academic disciplines that are taught in their various course offerings (e.g., art history, literature, business, social studies, etc.). This particular feature is common to many study abroad programs. However, what distinguishes the approach to content within the EUFICCS methodology is their use of the non-level concept (NOLC) instruction. According to Biagi et al. (26), NOLC instruction is "a technique entirely unique to the FICCS approach and is employed in the instruction of the content courses at Siena Italian Studies." Fundamentally, it means that there are students of all different proficiency levels (from beginners to advanced) learning the same content (e.g., art history) entirely in a second language (in this case, in Italian). Such a division of students is not a common occurrence in most traditional language programs, especially at the university level in North America.

This research sought to move beyond the program description and rationale provided by Biagi et al. It is framed within the field of foreign language pedagogy and in particular the related area of content-based instruction (CBI). Principally, I set out to develop a detailed understanding of SIS's innovative approach--focusing specifically on the NOLC instruction--in order to understand how it was employed in terms of instructional practices, and to gauge how students from more traditional, North American university settings would adapt to this approach. In so doing, I aimed to contribute to the field by sharing my findings with fellow language educators involved in foreign language program development, thereby providing an alternative to current, traditional curricular frameworks. …

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