Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Policies and Practices in Foreign Language Writing at the College Level: Survey Results and Implications

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Policies and Practices in Foreign Language Writing at the College Level: Survey Results and Implications

Article excerpt


This article contains results from an online survey that asked 66 college-level language program directors of French, German, and Spanish in the United States about policies and procedures governing foreign language writing at their respective institutions. Survey categories included (1) general information, (2) information regarding practices and treatment of drafts, (3) policies and procedures regulating instructors' response to students' writing, and (4) mechanisms for providing feedback. Results indicate that the size of the program and the professional level of the instructors were the primary factors influencing how writing was treated. More specifically, larger programs-in particular those with teaching assistants-were more likely to have established policies and procedures regulating treatment of foreign language writing. The article includes survey implications and pedagogic recommendations.

Key words: ESL writing, foreign language writing, treatment of revisions, writing feedback, writing policy and procedure

Language: Relevant to all languages


If one were to ask foreign language educators on college campuses in the United States to articulate their primary academic objectives for students, likely responses would include the promotion and enhancement of students' foreign language competency and performance. Indeed, it seems reasonable to assume that the goal of most language departments, as well as individual language instructors, is to provide learners with knowledge about and the ability to use the languages they study. But what exactly does the promotion of foreign language competence look like? Should one expect that similar academic objectives result in comparable practices across institutions and across languages in any given institution? Is it reasonable to assume that procedures and polities that inform foreign language practice are more similar than dissimilar?

Using survey findings and references to the extant literature, this article addresses these questions. A survey was created with a focus on writing, one of the four modalities specific to college-level foreign language study. Writing practices were chosen because, unlike speaking, reading, and listening, students' written work generally is solicited in more or less calculated amounts, is not usually produced spontaneously, and most importantly, is created in a substantive form, which is to say, in black and white. The very concreteness of writing affords researchers and instructors the opportunity to interact with students' work in a manner quite unlike speaking, reading, and listening; that is, written language can be scrutinized and objectified before it is ultimately evaluated. In fact, it is the very issue of evaluation, or instructors' feedback, that is of interest here. More specifically, a primary objective of this survey was to assess consistency across institutions regarding how-and even if-instructors respond to students' foreign language writings. In addition, survey questions were intended to measure the amount and type of guidance that instructors receive that enables them to respond most effectively to students' written work. Of additional interest was how the practice and response to second language (L2) writing have been institutionalized so that students' foreign language learning potential is maximized.

Literature Review

Prior to looking at the survey and its results, the article discusses areas of L2 writing research that pertain to survey questions. These areas include: (1) the amount and location of foreign language composing, (2) drafts and grading options, (3) policies and procedures associated with foreign language writing, and (4) types of feedback typically given to foreign language writing students.

Amount and Location of Composing

Most English as a second language (ESL) and foreign language writing practitioners agree on one basic point in relation to writing in a nonnative language: Writing in and of itself increases language competency and proficiency regardless of the subsequent treatment later received (Chandler, 2003; Fathman & Whalley, 1990; Frantzen, 1995; Polio, Fleck, & Leder, 1998; Robb, Ross, & Shortreed, 1986; Semke, 1982). …

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