Role of Writing

In the German Department’s Developing Multiple Literacies undergraduate curriculum, writing plays a pivotal role in fostering:

  • language learning in all modalities (i.e., speaking and reading);
  • development of advanced foreign language literacy understood as the ability to use language in a variety of private and public social settings, including academic, institutional, and professional contexts;
  • development of substantial cultural studies knowledge through textual meaning making;
  • emergence of individual voice and personal meaning in the context of expected community standards.

Such an approach to writing is operationalized in the curriculum through the concept of genre (Martin 1985, 2009) as a staged verbal action performed to accomplish specific communicative goals in a particular social context. Understanding genre in these terms helps the program link specific textual language forms to the sociocultural contexts where they are likely to be used and is thus instrumental for overcoming the split between language and content learning/teaching.

The German Department fosters writing development by way of writing events that are integrated into all courses of the well-articulated curriculum and take the form of genre-based writing tasks. These allow learners to practice writing in a variety of genres that are sequenced in terms of three types of trajectories scaffolding learner attainment of advanced literacy:

  • the interpersonal trajectory: from personal, private and explicitly subjective to impersonal, public and implicitly subjective;
  • the semiotic trajectory: from genres congruent with experience to those reflecting about experience;
  • the generic trajectory: from narratives to explanations to argumentation.

Therefore, students in the program focus on the following genres as they progress through the five curricular levels:

  • at the beginning and intermediate levels (Levels I and II) –on narrative genres such as personal recounts that are realized through the verbal system and initially simple then more complex clauses and every-day vocabulary;
  • at the early advanced level (Level III) –on public biographical narratives, chronics and explanations realized through an increase in lexical density, syntactic complexity, range of discourse patterns (i.e., cause-effect) and more differentiated and abstract vocabulary;
  • and at the advanced levels (Levels IV and V) on expositions, discussions, and research-based discussions realized through a shift towards nominalized discourse, an increase in the range of collocational, syntactic and discourse structures (compare-contrast, thesis-evidence etc.) and domain-specific vocabulary.

Pedagogically, writing events are supported through various activities and tasks that surround the actual writing. These include:

  • textual and contextual analysis of the model texts from which the writing tasks derive;
  • presentation and discussion of the detailed assessment rubrics for the writing tasks that specify the kinds of task and content textual requirements linked to discourse-, sentence- and word-level language features that fulfill these requirements;
  • and the process writing approach that enables learners to revise their writing by submitting multiple drafts and getting detailed feedback on them.

The writing tasks in the German Department’s undergraduate curriculum also serve as an important instrument for program assessment and provide a basis for research on important aspects of student language and content learning (see a detailed account in Byrnes, Maxim, & Norris, 2010; Ryshina-Pankova & Byrnes, 2013; Ryshina-Pankova, 2015).

Byrnes, H., Maxim, H. H, & J. M. Norris. (2010). Realizing advanced L2 writing development in a collegiate curriculum: Curricular design, pedagogy, assessment. Monograph Series of The Modern Language Journal.

Martin, J. R. (1985). Process and text: Two aspects of human semiosis. In J.D. Benson & W. S. Greaves (Eds.), Systemic perspectives on discourse, (pp. 248-274). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Martin, J. R. (2009). Genre and language learning: A social semiotic perspective. Linguistics and Education, 20, 10-21.

Ryshina-Pankova, M. FL curriculum as a means of achieving humanities learning goals: Assessment of materials, pedagogy and learner texts. In J. Norris, J. Davis, & Y. Watanabe (Eds.), Student learning outcomes assessment in college foreign language programs. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Ryshina-Pankova, M., & Byrnes, H. (2013). Writing as learning to know: Tracing knowledge construction in L2 German compositions. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22, 179-197.