Writing Development across the Curricular Levels

Level I Performance Profile

At the end of Level I, students are able to perform short writing tasks that reflect their emerging ability to tailor their use of the German language to audience, intention, and theme/topic. Among the key functions performed in their writing is

  • seeking and providing information pertaining to daily life (often on the basis of other written or oral information);
  • describing their personal and physical circumstances as well as that of persons known to them;
  • referring to different events and places

They are able to use the major patterns of German simple sentences that have such constituents as actor, goal, time, and place, and also show an awareness of the larger context of discourse by using varied word order arrangements and by exploring the possibilities of complex syntax. They can signal different levels of formality and informality in the use of German. In terms of accuracy, students’ emphasis is on word order, on the order of major syntactic constituents, and on the verbal paradigm, less so on the internal correctness of all aspects of the nominal paradigm (adjectives, case, gender, plural) although these must obviously be attended to. Some students attempt a greater range of syntactic patterns within the simplex sentence and reach into compound sentences. This enables them to signal a beginning awareness of the relationship between syntactic arrangements within a sentence and a larger discourse context. Such choices are good indicators of an emerging basic fluency in writing.

Level II Performance Profile

Within the central genre of this level, the story, students take a personally experiential and process perspective, most frequently in straightforward chronological sequencing.

In order to accomplish this, students plan language beyond the clause and sentence level, extending their writing into simple narratives and descriptions, and even basic expressions of opinion and/or position. Organization of their writing and their specific language use shows sensitivity to the nature of the audience (what the audience does or does not know, what it might need or want to know), locates the writer as the author, and marks the writer’s general communicative intentions (e.g., to tell a story, entertain, describe, inform, express an opinion, make a recommendation). As a result, students are able to create basic coherent and cohesive texts with clear paragraph structure, as contrasted with merely stringing together individual sentences. For this level, their performance is more persuasive the more they are able to handle the verbal paradigm in a fashion that allows them to mark actors, events, times, and the relationships among them unambiguously.

Accuracy focus lies on the sentence level and below the sentence level, in terms of syntactic constituents and word order. At the word level, students focus on the inflectional morphology of gender, case (including prepositions) number, tense, realis/irrealis, marking these features in a generally comprehensible way.

Level III Performance Profile

Students’ writing shows a noticeable facility with handling various forms of narration, now made more complex in terms of (1) various forms of sequencing and position of the author/narrator and various actors in events; (2) more frequent use of complex syntax in those narrations; and (3) beginning use of other ways of organizing information, e.g., more extended description, comparison and contrast, stating opinions, providing an evaluation and opinion.

This is manifested mostly by diverse markers of cohesion and coherence throughout the system (grammar, lexicon), of author position, intention, stance and some audience awareness. While these characteristics of student writing do not amount to major register shifts or fully elaborated public genres, they do make the crucial link from private narratives to public narratives and, in general, more public forms of language use.

Sentence-level syntax, while still fragile for some students, is largely in place in terms of major syntactic patterns. At the same time, morphological inaccuracies persist, particularly in terms of noun gender and plural formation and various modifications, particularly in the adjective paradigm. Subject-verb agreement continues to require attention, as do passive and relative clause construction.

Level IV (Text in Context) Performance Profile

At the end of the course, students are working in the two primary and complementary modes of constructing experience and giving meaning to it, the personal, often narrative, and the increasingly objectified and even abstract treatment of people, places, and events, now seen as problems, issues, decision-making spaces, instances of individual and societal judgments. Although this facility will continue to evolve over many years, students show a robust basic awareness of the appropriateness of one or the other form of perspective-taking and textual organization, in line with the nature of the writing task/genre. As a consequence, writing now shows considerable variation in accordance with task, genre, register, audience, and author intention. Increasingly, the author’s voice and individuality of expression emerge from this process.

The major textual organization as guided by the genre and task is readily identifiable. That is, an argument is broken down into major episodes that instantiate a major organizational pattern, as well as into subsidiary patterns. Both are expanded and supported by diverse textual passages (e.g., examples, historical considerations, comparisons, and summaries). These are well marked through various devices, particularly discourse markers but also through diverse syntactic devices that signal comparison and contrast, summation, and continuation of entire textual episodes. Students begin to maintain suitable metaphors, images and semantic and lexical fields throughout an entire text, thus creating rich forms of coherence and cohesion.

While inaccuracies at the sentence level continue to occur, they increase when students reach for complex forms of shaping their meaning (in content and syntax) and nuanced forms of expression, e.g., through low-frequency language forms and complex lexicogrammatical features that are still being acquired at this level, e.g., play with diverse forms of backgrounding and foregrounding information, comparing and contrasting, author positioning, extended attribute constructions, relative clause modification in complex verbal structures, nuanced forms of the passive, and deliberate shifts in modality to reflect different forms of evidentiality, credibility, likelihood and through various forms of assessment, evaluation, and judgment.

December 7, 2002

Back to the Curriculum Project