Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Writing Theme at Language Symposium

by Ann Abbott

I received an e-mail today about the Language Symposium 2009 at Northwestern University. This year's them is "From The Quill to the Wiki: Writing Toward Fluency" and the keynote address is "Writing for Acquisition in Context-Based Foreign Language Classes" by Charlene Polio from Michigan State University.

I presented at this symposium several years ago and really got a lot out of it. It was a small forum, and people presented very innovative work.

Given the fact that reflection is such an integral part of community service learning, more work needs to be done to understand the ties between writing, language acquisition and experiential learning. How can we approach students' reflective writing in ways that integrate the best practices of second language acquisition combined with the best practices of community service learning? Here are some basic ideas, but I would love to hear other people's suggestions:
  • Make the reflective writing have an audience beyond the instructor. Perhaps through a public blog?
  • Make the reflective writing have a purpose. Could students write about their learning experiences as a way to promote the nonprofit they work in? Could the organization use those reflections in their marketing materials?
  • Provide sufficient vocabulary and grammatical scaffolding. Students really need a lot of support to know how to write basic things like "to volunteer" in Spanish. And they need that help over and over again.
  • Provide feedback that is useful for language acquisition as well as learning through reflection. That doesn't mean that we need to correct every grammar mistake!
What else would you put on the list?

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