Literacy: An Organizing Principle for Russian Curricula?

William J. Comer, University of Kansas

In the past 5 years, a small group of researchers in the more commonly taught languages (Byrnes, Kern) has been engaged in moving the curriculum in undergraduate foreign language study from a narrowly-conceived approach based on "communicative language teaching" to an integrative curriculum that places literacy at its core. Kern describes literacy as "a collection of dynamic cultural processes" that are used in "the creation and interpretation of meaning through texts" and that are "'critical', involving a spirit of reflective skepticism." (44). As an approach, a literacy-oriented curriculum focuses on "linguistic, cognitive, and social relationships between readers, writers, texts, and culture; between form and meaning; between reading and writing; and between spoken and written communication. By organizing foreign language teaching around literacy, we assert the importance of textual analysis S<caron> to include a range of written and spoken texts that broadly represents the particular signifying practices of a society" (Kern 58).

A literacy-focused curriculum offers the possibility of establishing a unifying core for the whole of the undergraduate curriculum-- from the initial language course through upper-level literature and culture courses taught in the target language (see Georgetown University German Department1s comprehensive curriculum

While Slavic languages tend to suffer less from the divide between lower-division "language courses" and upper-division "literature" courses, what could a literacy-based curriculum do for students of Russian in terms of making them better readers and interpreters of text, focusing their attention on the close linkages between grammar, syntax, culture and meaning in texts of all kinds? How would a literacy-focused curriculum realign the places of reading, grammar, vocabulary and syntax n virtually all Russian textbooks?

In my presentation, I will describe one attempt to apply the "literacy" principle in redesigning the intermediate-level Russian course, illustrating this changed curriculum with samples of retooled and newly developed materials.


Kern, Richard. 2003. “Literacy as a New Organizing Principle for Foreign Language Education,” Reading Between the Lines: Perspectives on Foreign Language Literacy. New Haven: Yale UP. 40-59.

Byrnes, H. 1998. “Constructing Curricula in Collegiate Foreign Language Departments,” Learning Foreign and Second Languages: Perspectives in Research and Scholarship. NY: Modern Language Association. 262-295.