Academic journal article German Quarterly

Genres and the Standards: Teaching the 5 C's through Texts

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Genres and the Standards: Teaching the 5 C's through Texts

Article excerpt

This essay presents a heuristic designed to challenge both the language-teaching and the literature-teaching sides of a typical language-and-literature department by offering a reconceptualization of what it means to teach language and literature as texts in different genres, anchored in their cultures. This challenge is based on a document spear-headed by a joint committee of college and high-school teachers of foreign languages, under the leadership of the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), working together with its peer organizations under the aegis of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

That document is the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning,1 originally published in 1996, and funded by grants by the US Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and now expanded to include not only European languages, but also Arabic. That document has also largely been overlooked by teachers in post-secondary education; its principal use has been to local school districts, as a framework of principles against which they can develop their own.

This essay will attempt to counter this trend and open a bridge between the Standards project and the desiderata of the post-secondary curriculum - most particularly, a bridge between literature, culture, and language teaching in a post-secondary curriculum. The Standards emerge as a heuristic for interactions among the many aspects of the post-secondary curriculum, because they point the way to advanced literacies, beyond conversational language and past the marginalization of everyday culture often instantiated in traditional literary studies. Most specifically, the Standards outline how to join literary, cultural, and language studies and overcome the language/literature split in many a language program by stressing content-based instruction to be assessed for both content and language.

Such an experiment with the Standards can reframe how we think of language learning in the classroom. In them, we find a very complex and appropriate model of language that is not often (if ever) used to its full classroom potential, to set responsible learning goals for individual students. The Standards project offers benchmarks that can help any individual institution clarify its curricular objectives, particularly in creating connections across learning levels. At the same time, these Standards were never intended to present inflexible classroom norms, but rather to function something more like Bloom's Taxonomy2: negotiating stages in a learning sequence within local pragmatic constraints. My second goal in using the Standards is to open out what has become the increasingly narrow focus of literary studies in post-secondary curricula, the widening gap between lower- and upper-division learning, and the increasing access to media.

Today, curricula are often developed around materials and their presumed "difficulty levels," with books and media chosen for length and themes. The Standards take a broader view, inserting language use onto what Pierre Bourdieu called a field, an interlocked vision of cultural purposes, institutions, individual goals, competencies, and power that "native speakers" must learn to perform if they are to be considered culturally literate. The Standards, then, challenge us to pursue patterns of understanding culture and its texts or other artifacts: as communication, cultural literacy, and strategic competencies beyond a language's basic grammar and vocabulary. The Standards can render genres teachable, by delineating what must be staged, practiced, and comprehended in any teaching/learning sequence that empowers learners.

This essay will approach a familiar class of literary artifact: genres, here redefined as a set of literacies associated with texts and cultural performances, as higher-order, complex language acts with cultural value. Text genres model literacies expected within a group's communication, encompassing what traditionally has been known as rhetorical organization, content knowledge, and critical thinking, and can be taught and assessed as such. …

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