Russian History and Russian Language: One Model of Implementing Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum

William J. Comer, University of Kansas


A growing body of literature (Brinton, Snow and Wesche; Krueger and Ryan; Straight; Stryker and Leaver) describes the theory behind content-based instruction and the many varieties of its practice from bilingual education and immersion programs to Foreign Language Across the Curriculum (FLAC) initiatives. This literature contributes a wealth of useful information to our professional discourse concerning the implementation of content-based language instruction in different instructional and institutional settings. Each department (or individual instructor) who plans to experiment in content-based instruction knows that previous models will need at least minor modification to meet a given institution's organizational structures and pedagogical needs. Thus, while content-based instruction programs have much in common, each implementation of such instruction offers a new model for the language teaching profession to consider; each instructor's experience adds valuable insight into approaches for integrating content-based instruction into existing programs.

This paper will describe in detail all the stages involved in planning, implementing and evaluating one particular FLAC course for teaching Russian history to upper level Russian language students.

Institutional Challenges

In the given institution the language department and the history department had to work out a structural understanding of how to implement the FLAC offerings. Each department had its own vested interests: both wanted to keep enrollments in upper-level courses; both wanted the demands of their discipline addressed; and neither wanted to "lose" a course offering. The following compromise was worked out: the history department offered "Russia in the Twentieth Century" which the Slavic Department in turn made the theme of its fourth-year Russian language course "Advanced Conversation and Composition." Students with the requisite language background were encouraged to enroll in both courses simultaneously.

Instructional Materials Development

Beyond the institutional challenges, this paper will detail the selection and development of materials for teaching this course content while simultaneously developing students' language abilities in all four skills. Since the course was designed to replace our fourth year Russian course, course readings and assignments needed to be accessible and appropriate for learners who were at the ACTFL intermediate level, but are working on acquiring the extended narrative and descriptive functions typical of the Advanced proficiency level. A samples of course materials will be demonstrated and shared with conference participants.

Evaluation and Future Prospects

The paper will discuss the evaluation of this attempt at FLAC implementation in terms of student response to the structure and content of the course (as measured by their course evaluations) and the instructor's critical evaluation of the course materials and design. On the whole this model for implementing a FLAC course was successful, and it has been repeated with modifications using different subject matter at the same institution, although certain structural and pedagogical pitfalls (low enrollments, cultural differences in American and Russian academic writing styles, etc.) remain. One hopeful prospect for the future is that the content-based instructional materials developed for these courses can be shared with colleagues and students via the World Wide Web; a work-in-progress web site for these course materials will be demonstrated.


Brinton, Donna, Marguerite Ann Snow, and Marjorie B. Wesche. Content-Based Second Language Instruction. New York: Newbury House Publishers, 1989.
Krueger, Merle and Frank Ryan, eds. Language and Content: Discipline- and Content-Based Approaches to Language Study. Lexington, MA: DC Heath, 1993.
Straight, H. Stephen, ed. Languages Across the Curriculum. Binghamton, NY: SUNY at Binghamton, 1994.
Stryker, Stephen B and Betty Lou Leaver, eds. Content-Based Language Instruction in Foreign Language Education: Models and Methods. Washinton, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1997.