Joint 2011 Christopher Brumfit Award winner Dr. Guanfang Zhao provides a summary of her prize winning work

Scroll down to read the judges’ comments!

Cecilia-Guanfang-Zhao

Dr. Guanfang Zhao

The Role of Voice in High-Stakes Second Language Writing Assessment—A brief Introduction:

The concept of voice in writing is addressed in almost all the US states’ learning standards, high-stakes writing assessment rubrics and composition textbooks. It is believed to be one of the key ingredients of good writing. However a thorough literature review shows that while theoretical conceptualizations of voice in written discourse abound, no empirical study has yet been done to translate any of these theoretical, often also rather abstract, conceptions of voice into research-friendly instruments or pedagogically useful tools that writing researchers and teachers could employ to either facilitate empirical research or inform writing pedagogy for the teaching and learning of voice. In fact, despite its prevalence, voice remains a concept that is only loosely defined in the literature and impressionistically assessed in practice.

My dissertation research, therefore, seeks to fill identified gaps. Using a mixed-method design, I first developed and validated an analytic rubric that measures voice strength in L2 argumentative writing, and then examined the relationship between voice and text quality in the context of a high-stakes L2 writing assessment. Factor analysis of ratings from six raters on voice strength in a total of 400 TOEFL® iBT writing samples, together with qualitative analysis of four raters’ in-depth think-aloud and interview data, points to an alternative conceptualization of voice that sees authorial voice in written discourse as being realized primarily through the following dimensions: (1) the presence and clarity of ideas in the content, 2) the manner of the presentation of ideas, and 3) the writer and reader presence in the text. The presence of this three-dimensional analytic rubric, with its identified dimensions and language features, can therefore help demystify the seemingly intangible concept of voice for both writing instructors and student writers. Using such a rubric, teachers could better help their students, especially L2 students, to construct a strong voice and use that voice appropriately in their writing.

Dr. Guanfang Zhao completed her dissertation at New York University under the supervision of Professor Lorena Llosa.

Judges’ comments:

We consider this to be a PhD dissertation of extremely high quality which shows distinctive flair and originality in exploring a relatively under-researched area to date. The study makes a significant and original contribution to knowledge and understanding of the field concerned. The quality of presentation is highly accomplished and the work is undoubtedly worthy of publication. Congratulations! 

Read more about the 2012 Christopher Brumfit Award including deadlines for entry

To follow…

Friday 3rd August – Dr Catherine van Beuningen, the joint winner of the 2011 prize,  discusses her thesis ‘The effectiveness of comprehensive corrective feedback in second language writing

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