Assessment Report: French Discipline 09/10

 

2009/10 Plan (submitted summer 2009)

 

From UMM’s Academic Catalog:

 

“Objectives--The French discipline teaches the skills necessary for communicating with a variety of French-speaking peoples and for understanding their rich cultures, ideas, institutions, and writings, past and present. It invites students to think critically about the target cultures and their own and to understand the value of diverse philosophies of life and art.

 

This year, the French Discipline is focusing on the latter part of this statement of objectives, that is, on students’ abilities to think critically about the target cultures.

 

Our goal: Students should be able to write intelligently about French and/or Francophone cultures: social and political histories, literatures, and/or philosophies.

 

Method of assessment: Each professor will select two assignments at random from each upper-division elective course he or she teaches. These will be read and discussed as a discipline.

 

 

2009/10 Report

 

Over the past several years, we have implemented the above objectives thanks to a three-pronged organizational approach, dividing upper-division electives into Early Modern (French) studies, Modern (French) Studies, and Francophone Studies (which covers the rest of the francophone world but especially West Africa). We require students majoring in French to take one course in each of these three areas, and we find this to be an effective way to organize our objectives, both in terms of breadth and depth.

 

We reviewed two papers, selected at random, from three of our upper-division courses:

Fren 3011: Introduction to Literary Analysis (required for major and minor)

Fren 3028: Female Authorship and Medieval Cannon Fodder (elective)

Fren 3041: Francophone Worlds (elective)

 

We decided to review these six papers using the guidelines relating to the acquisition of culture included in the National Standards for Foreign Language Education that have been developed by the American Association of Teachers of Foreign Language (ACTFL). These guidelines highlight three iterations of the target culture for analysis: what are the differing perspectives, products, and practices of the target culture? We would have benefited from the same kinds of rubrics that ACTFL has developed to discern writing and oral proficiency. Without some sort of rubric, we had a difficult time deciding how much culture represents enough culture at each level. Our task is complicated by three factors:

1)     Students in 3011 may be in only the second college-level course of their major or in their sixth, depending upon point of entry in the program. At UMM, we teach culture as an integral part of language instruction from the outset but have no control over what students acquire in high school or at previous institutions. Knowledge students bring to a particular course varies greatly.

2)     Since elective courses are not sequenced, a student who is taking the final course before 4901 capstone is learning right alongside students who may be taking 3011 concurrently. There may be no parity whatsoever among students in the same course.

3)     Some students in a course have extensive experience in francophone countries; others do not.

 

These variables, combined with the lack of a viable rubric, make it difficult to benchmark the acquisition of culture. We nonetheless discern significant progress in students’ ability to identify and articulate target culture between Fren 3011: Introduction to Literary Analysis (the front-door course) and the electives. Papers in the upper-division course articulate the target culture with greater specificity as well as a broader understanding of its significance within a particular context (for example, as it relates to other elements within a novel). Nonetheless, we were struck by how simplistic some students’ grasp of culture seems to be. This is certainly due in part to the fact that they are recording (taking notes) and expressing their understanding of a cultural artifact in a second—or third—language, a fact that always seems to shape (and limit) content and precludes any comparison with a paper on a comparable topic written in English. Moreover, whereas a student learning and writing in English and on an artifact from their native culture naturally draws upon all sort of knowledge from the world around them, a student in a world literature course may well be starting from absolutely or nearly zero.

 

Our discussion also prompted us to reflect upon how we teach culture and how we can better articulate our expectations for mastery. Berberi consistently uses historical context and author biographies to introduce a new work; Buchanan uses historical context and student presentations on film-makers and authors to contextualize a work both theoretically and historically. Martin situates readings and discussions within the history of their socio-economic and economic production. We also discussed how helpful a well-chosen anthology can be in providing the backdrop for a particular work or culture. Berberi worked this past year in French 3035: French Women Authors to promote mastery by adopting Powerpoints as a way of organizing, sharing, sharing material. These presentations, developed by both Berberi and students in the course, were stored on a course site in WebVista and accessible to all students. Creating this archive made it much easier to implement a mid-term and final exam and facilitated student success on these assignments.

 

Assessment Plan 10/11

We intend to repeat the same assessment plan as in 09/10 with one change, based on the hypothesis that our students begin a course with virtually no firm knowledge of culture relevant to the course.

 

This year, the French Discipline is focusing on the latter part of this statement of objectives, that is, on students’ abilities to think critically about the target cultures.

 

Our goal: Students should be able to write intelligently about French and/or Francophone cultures: social and political histories, literatures, and/or philosophies.

 

Method of assessment: Each instructor will create a pretest for each upper-division elective, to be administered in the first week of the course. Each instructor will randomly select two examples of the pretest in each elective course and compare individual pretest results to the papers/projects produced by these students at the end of the semester. These will be read and discussed as a discipline, particularly in light of pretest results.