This paper will present the results of an experiment investigating the hypothesis that the breaking down of the disparate linguistic elements (syntax, accuracy, text type, cohesive devices) in an advanced-level speaking class, can raise the students’ consciousness level, leading to the ability to handle tasks associated with advanced-level oral proficiency. The case studies describe the integration of tasks in a proficiency-oriented syllabus (as defined by Omaggio-Hadley 2001), as well as self-critiques during the basic course of instruction (1440 contact hours). The case studies focus on adult learners of Russian and conversion students from Russian to Serbian/Croatian.
Studies by Leont’ev (1991) and Rubinstein (1991) have focused on the development of oral discourse in spontaneous Russian usage. The study by Thompson (1996) has demonstrated that the majority of college graduates in Russian achieve only intermediate-level oral proficiency after four years of foreign language instruction. Recent SLA research into output-focused instruction by Rifkin (1998) and the use of authentic materials (Sokolova, 1998; Rifkin, 2000) have demonstrated preliminary success in raising the students’ abilities to narrate and describe in at least minimally-cohesive, paragraph-length discourse in all time frames on a consistent basis. American students converting from Russian to Serbian/Croatian face some proficiency-related challenges similar to those experienced by learners converting from Czech to Serbian/Croatian, as documented by Corin (1997). The purpose of this paper is to suggest alternative approaches – including the use of computer technology – that might help improve advanced-level speaking proficiency.
The authors of this paper propose to describe briefly an experiment in digital speaking portfolios. P-O-R-T (Portfolio of Oral Russian Tasks) was written to familiarize the student with the ILR proficiency guidelines. (Franke, 2002) It includes examples of tasks that elicit narrations in three tenses (past, present, and future), descriptions, reports of current events, giving directions, and role plays – the seven elements required of ILR level 2 speaking proficiency. (Interagency Language Roundtable, 1999) In addition, cohesive devices play an integral role in the speaking portfolio. The students record themselves throughout the year in a computer laboratory and evaluate their own recordings. In the speaking portfolio, the student reflects on his/her learning. Examples of successful OPI probes are shown to the students as speech patterns. The presenters will then compare the experimental group with a control group (students unfamiliar with the framework of an OPI). Finally, the presenters will conclude with brief comments on the data and consider suggestions for further research on questions related to proficiency-based conversation classes.
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