The 31st Second Language Research Forum
Building Bridges Between Disciplines: SLA in Many Contexts
October 18-21, 2012

Conference Program

Colloquium V: Developmental Perspectives on Second Language Writing

Organized by: 
Dr. Dudley Reynolds
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar

The traditional focus of SLA studies has been describing and accounting for the developmental patterns associated with learning a second language. The field of second language writing, on the other hand, has been more focused on describing and accounting for the unique characteristics and needs of individuals performing in a second language. This colloquium attempts to build bridges between the two disciplines and consider the implications of each discipline’s “heartland” for the other. Possible questions to be addressed include:
•    What are the implications of developmental perspectives on second language writing for curriculum development?
•    What can studies of second language writers reveal about advanced language development?
•    How does second language development impact second language writing performance?
•    What distinguishes a beginning second language writer from an advanced second language writer?

College Writing Development from a Systemic Functional Linguistics Perspective: Examining Differences in the Profiles of Advanced Language Learners
Silvia Pessoa
Carnegie Mellon University Qatar

Drawing on data from a 4-year longitudinal study of writing development at the college level of a cohort of 85 students, this paper presents the profiles of four advanced language learners, focusing on their literacy histories and writing development.  Previous work on writing development at the college level has been either largely qualitative or primarily text-based (Christie, 2002; Colombi, 2002; Leki, 2007; Ortega & Byrnes, 2008; Sternglass, 1997).  This study documents writing development using both qualitative methods in the form of surveys, interviews, and analysis of course materials, and text analysis of student writing using the tools of systemic functional linguistics (SFL) (Halliday, 1994).  We rely on the tools of SFL because it provides tools for the analysis of writing development.  For each student writer, texts written in three required courses and one course in their disciplines are analyzed in detail for indicators of writing development including lexical density, nominalizations, technicality, use of analytical and evaluative language, and students’ ability in meeting genre expectations.  This analysis is complemented with a detailed account of the literacy history of these students prior to entering the university and in the first three years of their undergraduate studies.  Putting these together, the presenter discusses how these experiences shaped these students’ literacy experiences, their challenges, and their writing development.  The findings suggest that although students enter the university with different academic experiences, through socialization, practice, and hard work student writing develops and student profiles become more homogenous.  Pedagogical implications are discussed.

Accounting for the lack of change in linguistic accuracy over time
Charlene Polio, Michigan State University
Mark Shea, Mount Holyoke College

This study uses a data set of 58 students writing at three points over a 15-week semester. Two prior studies using this data showed that while change was evident for some measures of linguistic complexity, no change over time was found for any of the nine measures of linguistic accuracy. Some measures of linguistic accuracy did, however, correlate with measures of writing quality.  Taken together, these findings suggest that in the short-term, complexity but not accuracy changes over time and that accuracy may be associated more with writing quality than writing development.  Here, we seek to examine more closely why there are no apparent group changes in accuracy by looking at a subset of writers that did and did not show change in accuracy.  Specifically, we look to see if there were differences, or lack thereof, in complexity that may have caused increases or decreases in accuracy measures for specific writers.

Evaluating development in EFL writing from multiple perspectives: measuring the effects of study abroad
Elisa Barquin
Pompeu Fabra University

This presentation addresses data collected within the context of a longitudinal study of the linguistic benefits of study abroad: academic writing produced by advanced EFL learners in Spain over the course of three trimesters.  In order to compare the effects of two different contexts of acquisition—formal instruction (FI) and study abroad (SA)— learners’ writing was analyzed from multiple perspectives.  First, writing was evaluated qualitatively by two ESL teachers using the analytic scale developed by Jacobs, Zinkgraf, Wormuth, Hartfield, and Hughey (1981), which encourages raters to focus on the overall communicative effect.  This revealed that learners’ writing improved significantly after the SA context, but not after the FI context, in terms of perceived quality. Writing was also evaluated from an SLA perspective, analyzing changes in quantitative measures associated with linguistic competence, in the domains of complexity, accuracy, fluency (CAF), and indices of cohesion, extracted using the computational tool Coh-Metrix, which have been associated with both writing quality and L2 competence in previous studies (e.g. McNamara & Crossley, 2010; Crossley & McNamara, 2012).  In this talk I will discuss the quantitative changes that occurred after FI and SA respectively and interpret these in relation to the perceived improvement in writing quality.  I will also discuss the relationships found between linguistic characteristics and essay scores in the corpus as a whole, and discuss which quantitative measures were the most relevant for identifying differences among learners at relatively advanced stages of proficiency.

Second Language Writing Development: Implications for Curriculum Development
Dudley Reynolds
Carnegie Mellon University Qatar

Leki, Cumming, and Silva (2008) argue that “little research and few models of L2 writing curricula have tried to relate curriculum content directly with L2 students’ writing achievement.” They attribute this in part to the probable impossibility of creating any generalizable model or theory for how L2 writing abilities develop. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that research on second language writing achievement and development within specific contexts should have implications for writing curricula. This paper begins with a content analysis of 3 curriculum standards documents for second language writers from distinct contexts (the Arizona Department of Education’s supplement to the U.S. Common Core Standards, Georgetown University’s undergraduate German curriculum, and the Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000 for adult ESL learners) with the goal of identifying motifs as well as issues that arise in operationalizing writing development for curriculum planning. The paper then considers the relevance of research such as that presented as part of this panel for informing curricular documents. Particular attention is paid to three issues: how development is measured/observed, rate of attainment/progress, and intra-group variability.

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