An integrative syllabus for Second Language Acquisition

An integrative (and interdisciplinary)
syllabus for Second Language
Acquisition (SLA)
Joint Fellows Symposium 2013
Dominik Wolff (IIT Fellow)
Second Language Studies Program
What is SLA?
• Second language acquisition (SLA) is the
study of how second languages are learned
and the factors that influence the process.
• Different approaches: e.g. cognitive, sociocultural
• SLA is not inherently interdisciplinary
although that is sometimes the claim (taking
professors from different department does
not make it interdisciplinary)
The class
• Undergraduate students; mostly Education
majors (some language or TESOL minors);
mostly juniors/seniors
• Future teachers: content or languages (K-12),
some teachers want to teach English abroad
Syllabus: before and after
Motivation for upgrading the syllabus:
• Lack of value for the students (future teachers)
• Although the topic is fundamentally ‘learning’, it
makes SLA look abstract/unique/unrelatable
• Integrate knowledge from disciplines and also
from other sources, e.g. the students’ life
• Connect this knowledge with their future careers
How do we get there?
• Backwards design (Wiggins and McTighe,
• Usually used for curricular units and not
entire classes or programs (but it works for
Syllabus (OLD)
Materials: mostly SLA readings (articles)
Articles: mostly from a cognitive perspective on SLA (most TAs’ and professors’
preferred area of research)
Assignments: article presentations, quizzes, exams, (reflective) papers
Syllabus (NEW)
Syllabus: Additions/Changes
• Linguistic autobiography
• Comparative case study / L2 learner biographies
Syllabus: Additions/Changes
• More variety
• Articles yes, but not only of the academic kind
• Multiple disciplines represented: e.g. psychology, educational
psychology, teacher education
• Selected readings from:
– Atkinson, D. (Ed.). (2011). Alternative approaches to second
language acquisition. London: Routledge.
– Gibbs, R. (1994). The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought,
Language, and Understanding. Cambridge: Cambridge University
– Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers. New York: Little, Brown & Company.
– Kramsch, C. (Ed.). (2002). Language acquisition and language
socialization: Ecological perspectives. London: Continuum.
– Pinker, S. (2007). The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates
Language. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Previous Syllabus [Schedule]
A work in progress – what’s next?
• Get feedback from my current group of
students about both versions of the syllabus
• Try it out and refine it
• Could be adapted for variety of contexts and
classes (e.g. grad level; undergrad intro to
Special Thanks
Ann Chrapkiewicz
Colleen Tremonte
Lami Fofana-Kamara
Constance Hunt
Michael Macaluso
Linda Racioppi
Samantha Noll
Louise Jezierski
Emily Riley
Paula Winke
Baburhan Uzum

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