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Curriculum Action Notice


Academic Affairs Committee


April 9, 2007

This is a bulletin from the Academic Affairs Committee concerning proposed curricular actions. Please forward any comments or concerns in the next 10 days to the AAC chair, Teri Doerksen, G04C Belknap Hall, ext. 4588.

Curricular Action Notice: English and Modern Languages Gen Ed Proposal


Among the changes made to the previous General Education requirements was to merge English and Modern Languages into one block. Students who opted to take two language courses to fulfill the newly approved languages and literature requirement were allowed to take these courses in two different languages.

The Department of English and Modern Languages proposes that students who opt to fulfill their language and literature requirement with modern languages be required to take two consecutive courses of the same language. It also proposes that students who have studied a language in high school be strongly encouraged, if not required, to begin with the second or the third semester of the language, not with the first.


The present system serves nobody well.

  • The large majority of students who take one semester of a language have already had two or more years of study in that language in high school. They make an easy “A” but learn little, if anything, because they have already mastered what must be taught in the first semester. They complain of being bored.
  • Students who have not studied the language in high school, “true beginners,” are frustrated to be mixed in with experienced students who do not need to work to learn what is being taught. They complain that the system is unfair to them.
  • Neither the experienced students nor the true beginners learn enough in one semester to even approach being functional in the language. And since they know they will not be continuing with another semester, many of them do not work hard to learn the language, especially toward the end of the term.
  • First-semester language courses have huge enrollments, so students do not receive the degree of individual attention the language faculty yearns to give them, is trained to give them. Second- and third-semester classes are much smaller. Experienced students would learn more in these more advanced classes and true beginners would learn more in the resulting smaller beginning classes. All students would be better off.
  • If after a few weeks a professor discovers that an experienced student in a second- or third-year language class is genuinely not able to cope with the level of language being taught, it is comparatively easy to switch that student to a lower-level class, because the student can probably pick up the easier material that had been taught in the first weeks. But it is difficult to move a bored experienced student into a higher-level class after the semester is underway because the student will then have missed the review of concepts usually done at the start of each semester.


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