CUREENT PROJECTS AND INTERESTS
Along with William J. Comer (Portland State University), Alla Smyslova (Columbia University) and Jonathan Perkins (University of Kansas), deBenedette is a co-author of a new online introductory textbook that incorporates a focus on language input and vocabulary acquisition with a variety of focus-on-form activities. In 2014-15 Между нами (Between You and Me) is in its second year of being piloted, this year at Brown, Portland State University, The University of Kansas and University of California Berkeley, and is slated for public rollout in August 2015.
How do we focus in foreign language education on the traditionally regarded "building blocks" of language study (including instruction in grammar), in newer communicative learning environments? Traditional approaches have remained largely mechanical, involving rule memorization and application of rules, often in exercises that do nothing to ensure that a grammatical form (a case ending or tense marker, for example) has been mapped correctly to the meaning it encodes. Meanwhile research in language acquisition has established that neither rule memorization nor mechanical drilling leads directly to competent interaction in a foreign language. Structred Input and Processing Instruction (VanPatten, 2004) seek to remake grammar instruction by focusing on the places where learners process forms incorrectly. Activities require students to demonstrate comprehension of new forms used in some meaningful context before pushing them to use the forms in speaking or writing themselves. SI and PI activities now exist in quantity for Spanish and French, but research on how best to create these activities is only beginning in less-commonly taught languages like Russian.
A recent Modern Languages Association report called for us to "situate language study in cultural, historical, geographic, and cross-cultural frames." At Brown deBenedette collaborated with colleagues Beth Bauer and Shoggy Waryn to establish Russian, Spanish and French versions of the online intercultural exchange "Cultura" (originally developed at MIT for French). Cultura draws on constructivist approaches to language learning, and the social network created by the exchange allows for a community of multilingual and -cultural participants (US students of Russian at Brown / Russian students of English in a Russian city) to explore the cultural "baggage" even the most basic terms carry, both for individuals and groups.