Research has been a strong component of the curriculum renewal project since its inception. Reflecting the different needs and opportunities for research we have undertaken different projects, as an entire department and as individual faculty members and graduate students.
- * During the implementation phase of the “Developing Multiple Literacies” curriculum renewal, from fall 1997 – spring 2000, our primary research focus was to ascertain that the direction we were taking was connected to the curricular goals we had established in our institutional context with our student population.
- This interest took a number of forms, from internal surveys of students and faculty about perceptions regarding the curriculum project itself as well as attainment of the stated curricular goals, to more informal calibrations to assure coherence between the curricular levels. The chronology of activities gives a flavor of these primarily formative and action-research oriented practices.
- Formalized research during that time period addressed two areas: the creation of a new curriculum-based placement test, which required creation of both a new testing instrument and testing procedures;
- This involved all the usual steps of conceptualization (e.g., determination of the components), creation of the instrument and its components (including pilot testing both during our study abroad program and at the beginning and end of our curricular levels), fine-tuning of the instrument by adjusting cut-off scores, and triangulating the results with both student self-assessment and the GST results. The placement test portion of the web page provides details about this project, including the use of a C-test to “represent the textual processing expectations of each curricular level” (Norris: “Development and evaluation of a curriculum-based German C-test for placement purposes,” in Rüdiger Grotjahn, ed, The C-test: Theory, Empirical Research, Applications. Frankfurt: Lang, 2004).
- See also an outline of the presentation given by Hiram Maxim at the 2003 ACTFL conference “Enhancing intradepartmental articulation: Curriculum-based placement testing administration of the German Speaking test (GST), a simulated Oral Proficiency Interview, to ascertain learning-outcomes in a curriculum-independent fashion.
- Graduate students were trained and certified in GST rating through the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), pilot speaking samples were taken from the beginning and the end of the semester of levels I ? III, during the fall of 1999, and the GST was administered to students from all classes in levels I ? III during the spring of 2000.
- Both projects were conceptualized, planned, and supervised by John Norris, a visiting researcher and assessment specialist, whose counsel has continuously been available to the department since January 1999 even after his departure from the Washington area in fall of 2001. Peter Pfeiffer, department chair from 1997-2002, was instrumental in assuring that these projects, just like the entire curriculum renewal, had the necessary administrative support and leadership. He has since continued supervising the periodic data gathering of SOPIs and has published the results in a joint article with John Norris, to appear in Foreign Language Annals, ?Exploring the uses and usefulness of ACTFL Guidelines oral proficiency ratings in college foreign language departments.? The assessment page provides results of the first data take.
- See also a summary of the presentation given by Peter Pfeiffer at the 2003 ACTFL conference “Curriculum-independent language assessment.”
- John Norris’ presence in the department resulted in research that is likely to be unique: the department’s changing assessment practices were the focus of research that was conducted during the curriculum reform itself and subsequent to it. It informs Norris’ dissertation, entitled “Validity evaluation in foreign language assessment” ( University of Hawai’i at Manoa, 2004). A presentation given by him on October 16, 2003, highlights both the approach and some of the results of this research (Assessment).
- Collection of writing samples at the end of curricular levels, which began during the spring of 2000 and which was formalized with the completion of the department?s focused work on developing writing ability in the spring of 2002, has laid the groundwork for the most comprehensive research project currently underway. Entitled “Prototypical Performance in Writing by Curricular Level: Stages in L2 Literacy Development,” it investigates the development of writing abilities across all curricular levels, but particularly the sequenced courses in Levels I – III and Text in Context. It is supported by a grant from the College Curriculum Renewal Project.
- During the spring of 2000, the Department received a grant from the Spencer Foundation (2000- 2002) under the “Practitioner Research Communication and Mentoring Grants” program (2000-2002). Entitled “Supporting Teacher-researchers in a comprehensive curriculum renewal project in a college foreign language department,” the grant explored specific aspects of the Department’s Developing Multiple Literacies curriculum. Under the mentorship of Heidi Byrnes, John Norris, and Lourdes Ortega, now both at Northern Arizona University , three teacher-researcher teams were formed in the German Department. Respectively, these teams, primarily made up of graduate students, researched TA development in the Department’s content- and genre-oriented, task-based curriculum, explored the role of genre in that curriculum, and prepared guidelines for materials development for upper levels of acquisition and instruction for college-level learners. Its impact on the further refinement of our curriculum with a strong genre orientation, on our pedagogical approach, and on our entire departmental culture can hardly be overstated. The Spencer web page includes details of this two-year project (e.g., Year One Report, Final Report) and its findings.
- In October 2002, faculty and graduates students of the German Department submitted an application to the NEH Exemplary Education Projects grant opportunity.
- “Linking Cultural Literacy and Language Learning: A Curriculum Dissemination Project”. While this proposal was not funded, informal dissemination activities continue to take place as colleagues from other institutions visit the department to get a first-hand look at the curriculum in action and as various faculty members are invited to give presentations and workshops elsewhere.
- The use of technology to enhance upper levels of acquisition is the focus of a project in Text in Context. It explores how various forms of web-based textual markup and enhancement tools and related technologies might contribute to two central features of advanced language learning: first, a heightened awareness of the nature of text organization, and, second, the acquisition of complex webs of nuanced vocabulary within specialized themes and topics, particularly “chunks” and collocations.
- Beyond such department-wide research projects, both individual faculty and graduate students have conducted research that uses data from our classes and, therefore, our curricular context.
- Professors Heidi Byrnes and Hiram H. Maxim are coordinating the above-named investigation of writing development.
- Professor Hiram H. Maxim , who holds the position of Curriculum Coordinator, is investigating the effects of narrow reading and explicit instruction on intermediate-level students’ interlanguage development. Specifically, he is studying whether explicit instruction of genre-based textuality in a narrow reading approach affects both students? use of genre-based features of language (macro-features) and lexicogrammatical features, like collocations (micro-features) in both written and oral language use.
- A number of graduate dissertations are also based on the unique curricular context which facilitates longitudinal investigations, the explicit literacy orientation of the program, and its focus on advanced levels of acquisition.
- Katherine A. Sprang: “Vocabulary acquisition and advanced learners: The role of grammaticization and conceptual organization in the acquisition of German verbs with inseparable prefixes.” 2003
- Cori Crane: “Expanding the learner profile: Evaluative choices in advanced L2 writing in three genres.” Expected completion, summer 2004.
- Olga Liamkina: “Acquisition of the German Dative case by advanced instructed language learners.” In progress
- Marianna Ryshina-Pankova: “Construction of coherent discourse in written texts by American learners of German: Towards attainment of advanced levels of literacy in a foreign language.” In progress.
- Finally, our considerable dissemination efforts in the form of conference presentations and workshops testify eloquently to ongoing action research that is posing specific questions pertaining to the nature of adult instructed learning by college-level learners and seeks to answer them within our unique programmatic context.
November 26, 2003; revised July 2011