Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2004


Published in Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German 37:1 (Spring 2004), pp. 17-25. Copyright © 2004 American Association of Teachers of German; published by Blackwell Publishing. Used by permission.


The past twenty years have seen a significant paradigm shift in foreign language pedagogy from measuring language achievement (based on a defined and finite curriculum, such as a textbook chapter or a grammar lesson) to measuring proficiency (general competence in the foreign language independent of a defined curriculum). Building on the work done previously in language testing by government language schools, the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (1986) sought to reach consensus about describing and measuring language abilities. These Guidelines give generalized descriptions of abilities at four levels of proficiency (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior). With the widespread recognition of these Guidelines have come far-reaching changes in our approach to foreign language instruction. Proficiency baselines have been put forward for the first years of college instruction, and some institutions have tied proficiency standards to their language requirement or to their major. Proficiency guidelines are also changing our approach to curricular design. By understanding the range of abilities at each level of proficiency, we can shift the emphasis of instruction as students progress to allow for the development of the recommended skills. This article will investigate the implications of the Proficiency Guidelines for second-year German curricular design, looking specifically at the standards for the Advanced level (narration of concrete and factual topics in paragraph length discourse). We will then consider how the development of this skill can become a central emphasis of the second-year curriculum by requiring students to summarize the texts they read in class. As text selection plays a critical role here, we will discuss recent research by cognitive psychologists on how we learn from texts, which points to the importance of text structure in facilitating recall. We will then give an overview of some of the materials we have developed for second-year German at the University of Nebraska, and present examples of the scaffolded activities we use in preparing our students to summarize the texts.