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A writing/publishing project in a French class.

Abstract

The purpose of implementing a student-centered writing and publishing project in an intermediate French curriculum, was to give students an opportunity to engage in meaningful writing in the target language. In a survey, students assessed the value of this project and reported the benefits they derived from it. Results indicate that students overwhelmingly found this project to be more useful and interesting than other writing activities they engaged in during the semester.

Introduction

Implementing a student-centered writing and publishing project (SCWPP) can help solve two key problems in the beginning and intermediate foreign language (FL) classroom: 1) the lack of personal and creative writing opportunities, which makes it difficult for students to become engaged and value writing in the target language (TL) and 2) the dearth of interesting and meaningful reading materials for beginning and intermediate college FL students.

Writing in the intermediate FL classroom still too often remains a mechanic and controlled process that has all the "how's" without the "why's'. No research clearly supports the hypothesis that writing itself brings about language acquisition or literacy development. Acquisition of the conventions of writing, it has been argued, is a result of doing a great deal of reading, not writing (Flower & Hayes, 1980, 1981; Smith, 1988; Krashen, 1993; Hayes, 2001). Flower and Hayes (1980) note that good writers have a great deal of implicit knowledge about formal features of reader-based prose that they can draw from when needed. They indicate that "this may be one way in which extensive reading affects a person's ability to write; a well-read person simply has a much larger and richer set of images of what a text can look like" (p. 28). It is important to note however, that they are not making claims of a perfect correlation here. In other words, they are not saying that the more one reads, the better one writes but rather, that good writers have done a minimum amount of reading that has allowed them to acquire the code of written language.

While writing may not be a source of language acquisition and literacy development, there is evidence that a SCWPP which emphasizes the creative construction of language and communication rather than uniform, routinized, and unauthentic writing can benefit FL students in a number of ways.

In this article, I first propose a rationale for implementing a SCWPP in the intermediate FL classroom. Second, I present some general implementation guidelines. Next, I report on a study, which surveyed intermediate French students on the usefulness and interest of a SCWPP. Finally, on the basis of the reported survey results, I draw a number of conclusions and discuss potential implications for the intermediate FL classroom.

A SCWPP can benefit FL writers in multiple ways

When FL students are given the opportunity to write and publish their own stories to share with other readers/writers like them, they can reap many benefits. Evidence shows that ...

* language is best acquired when it is kept whole. It is through active interaction with authentic texts and communicative language experiences that students come to understand the conventions of writing (Fountas & Hannigan, 1989; Freeman & Freeman, 1998; Goodman, 1986; Smith, 1988; Weaver, 1990). In a SCWPP, students' attention is initially focused on the meaning-making of a whole text that fellow students will be interested in reading. They explore their ideas and write multiple drafts before focusing their attention on such editing details as spelling or grammar, which only become important when the book is about to get published.

* when projects are built around students' experiences and interests, their perceptions of the program's effectiveness are stronger, their self-confidence and self-esteem are boosted, their participation is improved, and their interest in staying in the language program is increased (Knutson, 2000; Pilarcik, 1986; Spanos, 1992; Wu, 2000). Giving students the opportunity to publish their own story so that other students can read it makes the curriculum truly student-centered (Freeman & Freeman, 1998). There are clear benefits for FL students to have access to student-produced texts. Many students, especially in the early stages of acquisition, may come to class doubting whether they can become successful. Seeing stories that other students like them have written provides concrete evidence that it can be done and may be a source of inspiration. In addition, students often find these stories more interesting and easier to read than published materials, because they deal with topics that are more closely related to their interests, and the language used is more accessible (Freeman & Freeman, 1998).

* students acquire language and use language to learn when they are engaged in meaningful endeavors (Freeman & Freeman, 1998). For a SCWPP to be meaningful, students must understand it, and they are more likely to understand it if it is built on their personal experiences and interests (Spanos, 1992).

* social interactions can play an important role in learning in that they can help boost students' self-esteem, self-confidence, motivation, and attitude (Spanos, 1982; Long & Porter, 1985; Rigg & Allen, 1989). In a SCWPP, students are given many opportunities for interactions with peers and instructor.

Implementation guidelines

In the past decade, a revolution in views held about how to teach writing has taken place, at least in the professional literature if not always in the FL classroom. A major change brought about by this revolution has been a shift in focus from the written product to the writing process (Knutson, 2000; Laviosa, 1994; Spanos, 1982,). It is with this shift in mind that the following steps for implementing the SCWPP examined in this article were taken:

* Creating opportunities for students to read: For this project, students had access to children and young adult texts in the TL. Such texts provide pertinent models, are a good source of comprehensible written input, and can help lower student anxiety about reading whole texts in the TL (Smith, 1983; Wu, 2000).

* Pre-writing: Before starting to write their own book, students had time to discuss the books they had read, present the aspects they liked and those they did not, suggest ways they felt the story and the writing could have been improved, etc.

* Drafting: At this stage, as students continued to explore ideas on paper, they were made aware that they were not expected to produce something polished. It is important that students be told for if they are coming from product-based writing classes, they would likely not know that (Barnett, 1989).

* Sharing and responding to writing: Throughout the semester, students had the opportunity to share drafts with their teacher and peers and receive feedback. Evidence shows that feedback is most useful when it is done during the writing process and not at the end (Barnett, 1989; Dvorak, 1986; Knutson, 2000; Laviosa, 1994; Semke, 1984).

* Revising: Students had several opportunities to revise their book throughout the semester using the feedback provided by their teacher and peers.

* Editing: It was not until students were about ready to publish their book that their attention turned to grammar, sentence structure, spelling and punctuation. Students edited their texts in pairs. The teacher did a final read through.

* Publishing: Using graphics and word processing programs or sometimes doing it by hand, students took an active role in getting their work published.

Students assess the SCWPP

The subjects Three sections of an intermediate (3rd semester) French as a Foreign Language course at a large public university in the south of the United States participated in this study. Each section was taught by a different instructor. All three sections met for three hours every week for fifteen weeks and followed a communicative syllabus. Video viewing, issues discussion, theme-related essay writing were integral parts of class instruction. Students also read a series of short books, which they discussed in groups. Finally, students participated in the SCWPP. Five 50-minute in-class workshops spread over the course of 15 weeks gave students time to plan, edit, illustrate and polish their work for publication.

The instrument It had been established early in the semester that none of these students had ever participated in a similar project. At the end of the semester, after having completed their book, students were invited to anonymously respond to a short likert-scale questionnaire seeking their opinion on the SCWPP in which they had participated. A place for comments was available after each question. Fifty-five questionnaires were returned.

The Procedure At the beginning of the semester, students received a handout informing them about the 15-week SCWPP. Krashen and Terrell (1983) recommends that students be informed about objectives, goals and benefits of projects in which students are asked to participate, as this will most likely lead to greater engagement.

The results Since a chi-square analysis of the responses of the three groups found no statistically significant differences between them, responses were combined.

What students say is more useful. A majority of the students (78%) indicated that the SCWPP was more useful than the other writing activities (exercises, compositions, etc.) in which they engaged in class. Twenty-two students commented on the fact that they liked having the opportunity to make use of their knowledge of French in a project over which they had a lot of control. One student wrote: "It gave me the opportunity to apply my knowledge of French to a project of my own". Another reported: "It was an opportunity to free play with the language and I thought it was really useful". It is like the book they wrote was a record of their past but also present and future accomplishments. Nineteen students noted that they had learned a lot about French vocabulary and grammar in the context of this project and reported that working on this project throughout the semester contributed to keep them thinking in French for long stretches of time. One student explained: "While working on the book, I was able to stay in a "French mode" of thinking for extended periods of time". As students worked with all aspects of language use, from effective genres and discourse structures to correct vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation, they were drawn into a meaningful relationship with the TL.

What students say is more interesting. A majority of students (85%) reported that the SCWPP was more interesting than other writing activities they did in class. Twenty-two students commented that what they valued most in the SCWPP was having the opportunity to choose their own topic and write a story in the way and format they wanted. One student indicated: "At first I did not like the idea of this writing project, but as I got more into it, it actually became a lot of fun. It was definitely more interesting than the other writing activities we did in class because I got to write on what interested me". Another mentioned: "This writing project was definitely more interesting. I was able to write on something that I chose, not something that someone else chose for me. French is not that interesting to me so when I get to work on my own project, it's really nice". Furthermore, because the project was interesting and relevant to them, nineteen students related that it made them care more about it. For example, one student wrote: "Because I was more interested in this writing project than other writing activities we did in class, I was more engaged and I applied myself more. I was determined to make this book perfect". Several students (7) commented that they appreciated to have the freedom to come up with their own story line and work on it for an entire semester. One student reported: "The book project was more interesting to me because it required more in depth and independent thinking. Having the entire semester to complete this project meant a great deal to me". When given time and the opportunity to write something they are committed to, students may be better able to produce work that is truly representative of what they can actually do with the TL.

What students say about being an author. A majority of the students (62%) related that creating books other students at a similar or lower level would read, contributed to help them develop a sense of authorship/ownership and pride in what they had written. One student commented: "It was interesting to see how I can write beautiful things in French. I did not know I could do that before this writing project".

What students say they liked and disliked. The students in this study liked a number of things about the SCWPP. Twenty-one of them indicated that this project was an opportunity to give "voice" to their creative and emotional self. One student, for instance, reported: "I liked the fact that the project let me express my own feelings in a productive way". Nineteen students mentioned that they liked having time to work on this project and receiving feedback when they felt they needed it. One student noted: "I really liked having so much time to work on this project. I could request and receive assistance, when I needed it, and write the best book possible". Ten students reported that they did not like having to draw illustrations for their books. Although the project guidelines indicated that students could call on peers to help them out, could cut out pictures or use computer-generated graphics, few actually did. If magazines or clip art CD ROMs had been more readily available and accessible, more students may have considered using these other options. Six students also indicated that while the project ought to be kept, it was a little too time-consuming. Only a couple of students mentioned that they disliked being graded on it. It is understandable given that the students in this study are at the university level and concerned about getting a good grade in their classes in order to maintain a high GPA.

Conclusion

The results presented here confirm those reported in studies conducted in first and second language contexts (Adrasick, 1993; Calkin, 1994; Graves, 1994; Freeman and Freeman, 1998, Weber, 2002) with young and adult students, namely that a SCWPP can have a positive impact on students' self-confidence, self-esteem, motivation, and attitude towards writing in the TL. It does so by giving students an opportunity to join the French literacy club and the club of users of the French and have their voices heard within and beyond the walls of their classroom. In addition, knowing that they are writing for beginning readers and readers at their level can send them a strong message about the importance of reading in foreign language development, a fact few intermediate students are aware of as indicated in a survey by Harlow and Muyskens (1994). There is no reason not to believe that the same outcomes could be achieved in a different setting with subjects studying another language than French.

References

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Hayes, J. (2001). A new framework for understanding cognition and affect in writing. In E. Cushman, M. Rose, B. Kroll, and E. Kintgen, (Eds.), Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook, (pp. 172-198), Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Knutson, E. (2000). Writing to think: Activities for teaching literature in a second or foreign language. Canadian modern Language Review, 56(3), 514-522.

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Laviosa, F. (1994). The Writing process of Italian as a second language: Theory and Practice. Italica, 71 (4), 484-504.

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Pilarcik, M. (1986). Tools for the classroom: Creative writing as a group effort. Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German, 19(2) 220-224.

Rigg, P., & Allen, V. (1989). "Introduction." In P. Rigg and V. Allen (Eds.), When They Don't All Speak English, (pp. vii-xx), Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Semke, H. (1984). Effects of the red pen. Foreign Language Annals, 17(3), 195-202.

Senior, N. (1982). Encouraging creative writing by students of a second language. Canadian Modern Language Review, 38(2), 315-320.

Smith, F. (1983). Reading like a writer. Language Arts, 60(5), 558-567.

Smith, F. (1988). Joining the Literacy Club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Spanos, A. (1992). Discovery writing: How to explore it, map it, and cultivate it well. Hispania, 75(2), 441-444.

Weaver, C. (1990). Understanding Whole Language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Weber, C (2002). Publishing with Students: A Comprehensive Guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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Beatrice Dupuy, The University of Arizona, AZ

Beatrice Dupuy is Associate Professor in the Department of French/Italian and a faculty member in the SLAT Ph.D program at the University of Arizona.
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Author:Dupuy, Beatrice
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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