FLARE Graduate Student SLA Symposium: Language in Context

Note: videos will not be available until after the symposium.


April 19-20, 2013

University of Iowa


John Norris Keynote:

Understanding language learning in educational contexts: The role of program evaluation

Abstract: One goal of SLA research is to enhance our understandings of how and why learners develop varying degrees of multilingual competence through more-or-less planned instructional interventions. While robust research findings have accumulated over the years in several domains of instructed SLA inquiry, a common critique suggests that SLA research does not generalize to instructional practice. Indeed, the majority of research on instructed SLA has focused on discrete and short-term language learning occurring at the level of one or a few lessons. Language learning, however, is a long-term, complex endeavor, and language instruction consists of much more than a series of lessons. For most learners, educational programs provide the contexts within which language acquisition occurs (or does not occur, all too often), presenting a constellation of interwoven causal factors (e.g., learners and teachers, their identities and motivations, social settings, classroom and school affordances, educational designs, political circumstances, and so on). In this talk, I suggest that understanding instructed language learning requires a much richer understanding of the educational contexts within which it occurs. Though often narrowly construed as an external accountability mechanism only, program evaluation provides a fitting epistemology for capturing the complexities of educational contexts with the goal of understanding and improving instructional practice. On the one hand, evaluation helps us to focus on the logic of educational program designs and to illuminate how—and how well—resources are deployed, teaching practices are implemented, valuable learning experiences occur, and expected outcomes are achieved. On the other hand, evaluation provides pragmatic methodologies for ‘cutting to the chase’, that is, for answering high-priority questions about what works, how, and why in fostering language learning through educational actions. I present several examples of evaluation at work in language programs, highlighting its contribution to local educational decisions as well as more global understandings about educational effectiveness. I close by suggesting ways in which program evaluation offers a framework for future inquiry into instructed SLA, with the goal of achieving more generalizable claims about language learning in educational contexts.



Panel #1: Assessment in SLA




Kate Paesani Plenary:

Rethinking the role of language and literary-cultural content in advanced FL learning contexts

As has long been argued in applied linguistics research, undergraduate students entering advanced-level foreign language (FL) courses in U.S. institutions of higher education do not possess advanced-level language abilities (Byrnes & Maxim, 2004; Maxim, 2009). This gap is due to a number of factors, including the well-known and well-documented language-literature divide present in many collegiate FL programs (MLA, 2007); the nature of many advanced content courses wherein there is little explicit focus on language development (Donato & Brooks, 2004; Mantero, 2002; Polio & Zyzik, 2009; Zyzik & Polio, 2008); and a dearth of coherent frameworks for organizing curriculum and instruction across the undergraduate program (Byrnes, Maxim, & Norris, 2010; Paesani & Allen, 2012).

This talk contributes to discussions of FL teaching and learning in advanced contexts by focusing on the role of language and literary-cultural content in developing students' FL literacy. Specifically, I consider "reading-to-write" as a means of linking language development, interpretation of literary texts, and literacy practices and ground the discussion within the multiliteracies framework (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009; Kern, 2000; New London Group, 1996). Practical examples and empirical evidence from advanced courses in which students read literature to write creatively illustrate how the multiliteracies framework can deepen students' ability to interpret and transform FL texts and move them toward advanced-level language abilities.



Chuanren Ke Plenary:

L2 Chinese proficiency development in at home and study abroad settings

Abstract: This presentation reports data from an ongoing long-term research project investigating L2 Chinese proficiency gains in the United States and in study abroad contexts. This study is supported by The Henry Luce Foundation. Data collection of this project began in 2009 and will end by the end of 2015.  About a dozen programs in the United States and four programs in China have been participating in data collection of this project.  L2 Chinese learners take two standardized proficiency tests (one for speaking and one for the skills of listening comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and reading).  These two tests are administered twice: as the entrance language proficiency tests administered at the beginning of the learning program and as the exit language proficiency tests administered at the end of the learning program.  A questionnaire on language contact profile is also used to assess the extent to which learners in the study abroad learning contexts employ Chinese language outside their classroom experiences. Data from this study will provide information about L2 Chinese learning trajectories in both at home and study abroad learning settings and will thus provide crucial information for the field to make informed decision on the development of national standards for Chinese K-16 learning.



Panel #2: Technology in SLA