Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Redefining Writing in the Foreign Language Curriculum: Toward a Design Approach

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Redefining Writing in the Foreign Language Curriculum: Toward a Design Approach

Article excerpt


Today, writing is central to personal experience, professional life, and social identities (Hyland, 2011). The everyday experience of writing has dramatically expanded in the past decade, due in large part to the use of handheld devices for writing on social network sites and text messaging integrated with photographs, videos, and other media (Kalantzis, Cope, Chan, & Dalley-Trim, 2016; National Council of Teachers of English, 2016). In addition to writing's augmented presence and multimodal nature, the notion of effective writing has grown more complex, requiring one to move between genres, demonstrate audience awareness, think critically in new writing tasks, and identify and improve areas of weakness (National Council of Teachers of English, 2008).

Several 21st-century skills meant to maximize students' workplace readiness relate to writing; these include articulating ideas effectively in varied contexts and forms, using multiple technologies and evaluating their effectiveness, and communicating in diverse environments (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2016). In addition, writing relates to critical-thinking and problem-solving skills mentioned in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning framework, such as analyzing and evaluating evidence, claims, and beliefs; analyzing and evaluating alternative points of view; synthesizing and making connections between information and arguments; and reflecting critically on learning experiences. Evidence that these skills are highly valued in the workplace is found in two recent reports on the perspectives of chief human resource officers (World Economic Forum, 2016) and technologists, scholars, and education leaders surveyed by the Pew Research Center (Rainie & Anderson, 2017). In both reports, writing is called a core requirement for work success. In particular, the Pew report named "journalistic skills, including research, evaluation of multiple sources, writing and speaking ... [and] storytelling using data" among the job-readiness capabilities that are crucial in an age of artificial intelligence and robotics (p. 14).

Like writing, in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning framework, foreign language (FL) study was named as a subject whose mastery is essential to student success after graduation. Language learning was also called "a persistent national need" by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, whose 2017 report stated that "[t]he ability to understand, speak, read, and write in world languages ... is critical to success in business, research, and international relations" and to meet the needs of "individual citizens who interact with other peoples and cultures more than at any other time in human history" (p. viii). Although FL study may represent an ideal means for developing 21st-century skills, the role of writing in U.S. FL education is less clear.

As Byrnes, Norris, and Maxim (2010) pointed out, writing should figure more centrally in FL study, because it "provides a maximally functional means for introducing learners ... to the integrated nature of language and cultural content" (p. 197). Kern (2000) further described the benefits of FL writing, as it allows

learners [to] develop their ability to think explicitly about how to organize and express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in ways compatible with envisioned readers' expectations. Working deliberately toward making one's thoughts understandable to others who may not share similar backgrounds is ofcourse at the heart ofcommunicative ability. (p. 172)

Although it is not clear to what extent FL educators view writing as a transferable skill with relevancy not only for students' immediate use in coursework but also in other personally and professionally meaningful contexts, FL writing can be viewed as such: learners' FL writing habits and dispositions can positively inform first language (L1) writing, and research has confirmed this bidirectional transference, showing that multilingual writers generate more complex, culturally sensitive writing than monolingual counterparts (Schultz, 2011). …

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