Editor’s note:The Russell N. Campbell Award is given each year to the top-ranked Doctoral Dissertation Grant (DDG) applicant in the annual DDG competition. The 2013 Russell N. Campbell Awardee was Kimberly Woo, who was interviewed by MaryAnn Christison, TIRF Trustee and Chair of the Foundation’s Research Advisory Committee. Commenting on the interview with Ms. Woo, MaryAnn said “It was a great pleasure meeting Kimberly at the Language Testing Research Colloquium (LTRC) in Amsterdam in June 2014. She is an educator and teacher at heart and also an excellent example of a young scholar doing important research in the field. It is wonderful to know that TIRF has played a role in moving her forward in her career. I hope you enjoy learning more about Kim and her research, and we also hope that getting to know a DDG awardee on a personal level encourages you to support young scholars in the future through your donations to TIRF.” Here’s the interview.
1. TIRF: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Ms. Woo: I come from a family of educators and had originally planned to be an elementary school teacher. Shortly after I began to teach, I realized I wanted to focus on working with English language learners. While completing coursework for ESL certification, I worked as a substitute teacher and found myself administering a variety of standardized tests across the grades. These experiences led to a growing interest in how English language learners in the early grades are assessed, which I then pursued in my doctoral studies.
2. TIRF: What were the main research questions for your study?
Ms. Woo: My study explored how standardized English proficiency tests and teachers of young English language learners respectively define and measure children’s social language. The study also examined how ratings of students’ social language compared when they were rated according to tests’ criteria or teachers’.
3. TIRF: Why is your research important to the field of language assessment?
Ms. Woo: My study is important to the field of language assessment because it highlights a population and a construct that aren’t often talked about. Especially in the context of standardized language testing, the needs of language learners under the age of 13 frequently aren’t discussed because they are believed to be too young to be assessed in a meaningful or valid way. However, this point of view overlooks the fact that in practice young language learners are regularly being assessed for a variety of purposes and that such assessments do inform some relatively high-stakes decisions. Furthermore, even though it’s recognized that learning how to engage in social interaction is important for young learners, the current educational landscape only places priority on language for academic purposes and this focus is reflected in assessment.
4. TIRF: What did you learn about doing research while completing your dissertation?
Ms. Woo: Completing the dissertation has shown me that research really is an ongoing process and that there is always more that can be done. Even though I have finished my dissertation, I am always thinking about my data and realizing that there are always more connections that can be made, more angles for data analysis and interpretation, and more questions to be asked.
5. TIRF: What plans do you have for the future?
Ms. Woo: I plan to revisit some of the data from my dissertation for publications and presentations and to look more closely at some of the unexpected findings that emerged. I am not only a researcher but also an educator and a teacher, so I would like to be able to both share my findings with teachers and also bring some insights from teachers into conversations with test developers.
6. TIRF: What advice would you give people who are thinking about pursuing a PhD?
Ms. Woo: I would tell anyone who is thinking about a PhD to consider research topics right away—topics that are important or meaningful on a personal level, as well as significant to the field. Working on a dissertation requires a lot of patience and persistence, and it helps to have questions that you are connected to and are invested in answering.
7. TIRF: How did you learn about the TIRF doctoral dissertation grants?
Ms. Woo: I learned about the TIRF doctoral dissertation grants through my advisor, Dr. Lorena Llosa, and from previous doctoral students who had applied for the grant.
8. TIRF: What advice would you give a Ph.D. student who wants to apply for a TIRF DDG (i.e., how can an applicant improve on his or her application)?
Ms. Woo: Students who are applying for a TIRF DDG should think about writing their application as clearly and directly as possible, especially in the area expressing what the study is trying to do, why it is important, and what makes it unique. Complete the application early so that you have time to seek feedback from peers and your advisor.
9. TIRF: What did receiving the TIRF Doctoral Dissertation Grant mean to you?
Ms. Woo: Receiving the TIRF Doctoral Dissertation Grant was a big honor. I felt so encouraged when I received the DDG Award. It represented the fact that others were interested in my work, considered it important, and saw potential value in it. The TIRF award was also a huge practical benefit, because it ensured that my qualitative and school-based research could be completed in a reasonable amount of time.
10. TIRF: What would you say to someone who is considering donating to TIRF? Why do you think it’s important for language professionals to support TIRF?
Ms. Woo: To potential donors, I would say that there are many young scholars and researchers in the field who need your support, and TIRF is one of the few places we can get it. The funding provided by TIRF is a valuable resource that helps young scholars pursue research and support professional opportunities that would otherwise be difficult or even impossible on a graduate student’s salary. Funding for even seemingly small things such as incentives for classroom-based research or hiring transcription services can be the difference in whether or not a study can be completed.