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Robin Harvey proposes her dissertation!

Robin Harvey at her dissertation proposal. From left: Raoul Roberts (student), Dr. Frank Lixing Tang (committee member), Robin Harvey, Dr. Joan Lucariello (committee member), Dr. Patricia Brooks (committee chair), Jessica Brodsky (student)


CONGRATULATIONS to PhD Candidate Robin E. Harvey for successfully proposing her dissertation titled: “Impact of Text Messaging through Pinyin Input System on Written Language Skills of Elementary School Dual Language Learners of Chinese.”

Dissertation Proposal Committee Chair:

Patricia Brooks, Chair, Professor, Educational Psychology, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Dissertation Proposal Committee Members:

Joan Lucariello, Professor, Educational Psychology, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Frank Lixing Tang, Research Professor, Multilingual Multicultural Studies, New York University


Children learning to read and write in Chinese face the challenge of an opaque orthography that has no clear connection between spoken language and written characters. This challenge is heightened in L2 Chinese learners, who often learn to read and write simultaneously. As more and more elementary school Chinese dual language programs are established, it is important to investigate reading and writing in Chinese.

Hand-writing of characters consumes a great deal of learning time for both first and second language learners of Chinese. The pinyin romanization system uses the Latin alphabet to represent the sounds of oral Chinese. As such, it creates a bridge between oral language and written characters, linking phonology, or the pronunciation of Chinese, with the orthographic system. Typing in pinyin requires typing the letters representing the syllables and then choosing the character that represents that syllable from a pop-up menu of homophones. In China, the pinyin input system has been used to facilitate young students’ self-expression in writing before they have command of the characters required for such writing (Ge, Ruan, & Lu, 2011).

The proposed study will investigate the effects of an online book club discussion group curriculum using the Pinyin input system on the expressive writing abilities of learners of Chinese as a second language. The semester-long experiment will take place in four fourth-grade classes in a Chinese immersion school in a city in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Students in two classrooms will participate in a 6 week online book club curriculum in the Chinese classroom, while two control groups will continue business as usual with oral book club discussions. Pre-experiment free-writes, teacher-assessed reading levels and 3rd grade Chinese standardized test results will serve as baseline assessments of student proficiency. Measures of phonological and homophone awareness, computer and hand-written free writes, and a writing attitudes survey will be completed both pre- and post-curriculum.

Analyses of results will consider the length and vocabulary in student free-writes in relation to student reading levels and curriculum, as well as changes in reading level, attitudes towards writing, and strategies used in writing. Regression analyses indicate that end of the semester free-writes (length and vocabulary) were strongly associated with Chinese reading levels. Texting was found to be negatively associated with end-of-semester writing, after controlling for reading levels and pre-experiment free-writes. Children who texted showed lower self-efficacy in writing in Chinese, but the effect was marginal after controlling for Chinese reading levels. Online and oral book club discussion transcripts will be further analyzed for linguistic, regulatory and social strategies.

It is hypothesized that participation with classmates about contextualized, meaningful topics and for meaningful communicative purposes using pinyin input system in online book club discussions will strengthen connections between oral and written language and improve the free-writing abilities of L1 English students writing in Chinese, and that the opportunity to work in online book clubs with classmates will increase student motivation and confidence in writing.

Specifically, it is hypothesized that 1) free-writes of students in the online book club (pinyin input) group will feature use of more diverse vocabulary than the free-writes of the control group; 2) free-writes of the pinyin input group will be longer than those of the control group, in both characters and pinyin; and 3) free-writes of the pinyin input group will include more pinyin and characters.

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