Curriculum Development in the F&M German Program, 2009-2018 

In 2008-2009, the Department of German and Russian at Franklin & Marshall completed a self-study and underwent an external review. At that time, the F&M German program had experienced 10 years of low enrollments in upper-level German courses and small numbers of majors; from 1999-2009, it had graduated on average 1.5 majors per year. In order to address this issue and reinvigorate the program, the external review team recommended that the F&M German faculty implement an integrated, theme-and-text (or “multiliteracies”)-based German curriculum.

A multiliteracies approach to foreign language pedagogy offers an alternative to (or enhancement of) the communicative approach that has long dominated collegiate foreign language instruction in the United States. In a multiliteracies curriculum, instructors focus not (only) on the development of students’ oral skills in functional contexts (such as ordering a meal in a restaurant or buying a train ticket) but, from the beginning of the curriculum, on students’ ability to make meaning in the target language “through the acts of interpreting and creating written, oral, visual, audiovisual, and digital texts.”[1] In this way, language skill development is integrated with content and engagement with cultural themes as students move through each level of the curriculum. In every German course at Franklin & Marshall, students engage with increasingly sophisticated texts and cultural contexts to which they respond in a variety of modes: through class discussion, formal oral presentations, daily writing assignments in a “reading journal,” and essays in a number of genres. Texts serve as a jumping-off point for contextualized practice of linguistic structures, which are spiraled through the curriculum to serve students’ expanding proficiency in the language.

In 2010-11, the German faculty began introducing new multiliteracies-based materials and themes to German courses at the first, second, and third year levels. Because fewer and fewer students were entering the College with significant background in German (over the last decade, between 10 and 20 students per year in each incoming class of over 600 first-year students - 2-3% of the first-year class - have taken a placement test in German), it was important that the curriculum allow students to begin their study of German during their first two years at the College and still potentially complete a major in four years. The new F&M German curriculum accomplishes this goal.

The German curriculum development project continued through 2013-14 and is now complete, although the faculty assesses student learning and refines the curriculum on an ongoing basis. Below is a summary of this work:

  • Authentic materials in first-year courses. Although we use a commercial German textbook at the first year (German 101 and 102), we defined a set of sub-themes for the courses (in German 102, for example, themes include “Stories and Fairy Tales,” “Food, Cooking, Dining Out,” and “Outsiders in Germany”). We integrated authentic texts and accompanying materials (films, songs, youth novels) on each theme into the courses, which meant cutting and reorganizing much of the material in the textbook. Rather than complete the entire sequence of German grammar in the first year (which most commercial textbooks aim to do), followed by a complete review of that same sequence in the second year, we now have a single integrated grammar sequence across four semesters, with planned review and spiraling of the most important structures (such as past tense forms). This allowed us to make room for more reading, discussion, and oral/written communication than was possible in the past.
  • Theme-based second-year courses. We restructured the third and fourth-semester German courses (201 and 202) around new themes. In the third semester, students’ work now addresses the broad question of “What is home?” (Was ist Heimat?), which allows us to consider issues of friendship, family, and personal and national identity against the backdrop of German (and American) culture. In the fourth semester, our lens widens to encompass the history of twentieth-century Germany, from the 1920s to the immediate postwar years, divided Berlin, and German unification. Instead of a traditional intermediate textbook, students in both courses now engage with youth literature, films, and other authentic materials. We have developed grammar exercises and other written and oral assessments for these courses that are fully integrated with the texts and films under discussion.
  • Integrated, theme-based third-year courses. In most foreign language curricula, the fifth semester is a “conversation and composition” course, while the sixth is an introduction to literature. Our third-year sequence integrates these two types of courses within the context of two new themes. German 301, “The Legacy of National Socialism in Germany,” addresses the need to educate students of German about the Third Reich and its ongoing impact on German national identity. German 302 takes a wider view, introducing students to key historical moments and literary movements of the last two centuries through texts and films on the theme of “Murder, Mystery, and Madness.” Both of these courses introduce students to German literary texts in a wide array of genres. At the same time, students continue to work on advanced oral and writing skills, key grammatical structures, and the acquisition of sophisticated vocabulary.
  • A complete redesign of the advanced (400-level) course offerings in German. The German faculty collaborated on the creation of six new advanced courses: “The Meaning of Work in German Culture,” “German Cinema,” “Contemporary German Culture,” “Germans in Love,” “Legends and Tales,” and “Depictions of Women in German Literature and Culture.” These genre and theme-based courses replaced advanced German courses that were structured around surveys of German culture, authors, and literary periods. Although we continue to address literary history and canonical works in the new courses, the unifying themes allow us to make intercultural connections and underscore the relevance of German Studies for twenty-first century students at an American college. Because we can offer only one 400-level course per semester, we offer the six courses in a three-year rotation so that every student, even those few who begin taking advanced courses as sophomores, always has a new 400-level course to take.
  • Senior Capstone Literature Course. This course, which is required of all German majors, is offered in English every fall and cross-listed with Comparative Literary Studies. The capstone features a major research paper, an assignment that allows students to engage with longer works of literature and prepares interested students for graduate studies in German.

Students completing majors and minors in German are well positioned to achieve the department’s learning goals. This fully integrated and scaffolded curriculum arguably puts Franklin & Marshall’s German program at the forefront of collegiate language programs in the United States today.

Impact of the New German Curriculum

The new German curriculum has been successful by several measures, including number of majors, retention rates from the third to fourth semester of the curriculum, demonstrated student language proficiency, and students’ post-graduate achievements.

Number of majors

Four years after the full implementation of the new curriculum, enrollment data shows that this work has yielded positive results: we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students majoring in German. From 2006-2010, there was an average of 4.4 declared German majors at the College in the spring of any given year. From 2011 to 2013, that average more than doubled, to 10.6 declared majors. In the last five years (following the full implementation of the new curriculum), the average number of declared majors has increased again, to 16.6 declared majors a year, a nearly 400% increase over ten years. 

Retention rates

Because few students enter the College with a background in German or even the intention of learning the language, the German faculty must recruit nearly all German majors from students who are enrolled in lower-level German courses at F&M with the intention of completing the language requirement. One key to our success in recruiting majors has been the retention of students from German 201, the third-semester course that students must take to complete the language requirement, to German 202, the fourth-semester course. Once students have made the decision to continue German into the fourth semester, most of them go on to declare a major or a minor in German. The following table documents the success we have had in retaining students in second-year courses:



Fall –

GER201 enrollment

Spring – GER202 enrollment

Retention rate






























German language proficiency

Assessment data also points to the success of the new German curriculum. From 2012-2014, we administered the listening, reading and writing portions of the internationally recognized Goethe Institute B1 exam in German 302.[2] Student language proficiency at the third-year level is borne out in the 100% passing rate on the exam, as shown in the table below. On average, three-quarters of the students scored at or above 80%, which is an indication that students have actually exceeded the B1 proficiency level. The success on the B1 exam is important because it indicates that the development of students’ language ability in German does not suffer because of the time spent on authentic materials rather than explicit grammar instruction.


B1 EXAM SCORES IN GER302, 2012-2014


Average Score

2014 (N=7)

Average score 2013 (N=9)

Average score 2012 (N=10)



26.5 / 30

26 / 30



23/ 30

25 / 30



25/ 30

24/ 30

Total Average

76/90 (84%)

74.5/90 (83%)

75 / 90  (83%)

# of students scoring at/above 50%

7/7 (100%)

9/9 (100%)

10/10 (100%)

# scoring at/above 80%

5/7 (71%)

7/9 (78%)

8/10 (80%)


Students’ post-graduate achievements

Five F&M graduates have received Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Grants to Germany in the last five years. Three students (from the classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016) were accepted into Ph.D. programs in German Studies (at Georgetown University, University of North Carolina/Duke University) and University of Oregon) with full support packages.

[1] Kate Paesani, Heather Willis Allen, and Beatrice Dupuy, A Multiliteracies Framework for Collegiate Foreign Language Teaching (Prentice-Hall, 2016), p. 23.

[2] B1 proficiency is described globally as follows: “Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken.  Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.”