Month: June 2015

The Role of Wikipedia in EAP – Take Two

I realised after publishing my previous post, and turning on my critical thinking brain a little too late, that I had actually written about using Wikipedia in university/academic essays – and had (*embarrassed cough*) actually ignored the EAP aspect altogether. So I sneakily changed the previous post’s title… and am writing this new post now to address the EAP issues in the Wikipedia debate!

So, what are the aspects of using Wikipedia that might be specific to EAP students?

In the previous post, I made the point that Wikipedia can function as a good starting point for some initial research. However, EAP students are perhaps more in danger than other students of not continuing their research from Wikipedia to proper academic sources; depending on their educational and cultural background, and English language competence, they may see no reason, or also no way for them to find further, more academic sources for their work. I don’t think a ‘one size fits all’ explanation works here, and each teacher will know their own students and the potential traps or hurdles they might face. From my own experience and a few stories from colleagues, I can share the following possible dangers of Wikipedia for EAP or EFL students:

– Some students use it somehow as a translation tool, believing that the article on their research topic in their native language is simply a translation of the English article. This, as you can imagine, can cause all sorts of problems, and can make students’ essays practically unreadable!

– Some students see the fact that there is no author stated as a free ticket to copy and paste as much as they like (–> “It’s not plagiarism because I haven’t stolen another author’s work” !!) [Note: I have only experienced this with students who have a weak understanding of plagiarism anyway, and who come from a culture where it is regarded somehow as less serious.]

– Some students, perhaps those really new to academic study in a culture that values critical thinking and students’ own voice in their writing, believe that the summary of published research provided by Wikipedia is so good (i.e. it makes the key concepts in the area clear to them as non-experts) that they don’t need to read the original sources and can ‘blindly’ trust Wikipedia to give them the information that they need.

– Some, perhaps lower-level, EAP or EFL students may be impressed by how ‘well written’ the Wikipedia article is and think that they could never hope to do a better job, especially with their limited language skills, and therefore end up over-relying on the wording of the Wikipedia text when writing their own work.

– It may be hard for some students to find academic sources such as journal articles due to limited vocabulary: in order to use a library catalogue or search a digital article database successfully, it is helpful to know a few key items of vocabulary on your topic, but also synonyms for these words that might also have been used in titles or tags – this may represent a challenge for EAP students.

– Some EAP students understand (sole?) the purpose of their EAP classes to be improving their English language skills, and not study-skills which they intend to learn within their degree subject/discipline. Therefore, they prioritise the actual writing of their essay (for example) over doing sound, academic research, when it comes to assignments for their EAP classes. It may be the case that they know how to research properly and that Wikipedia is perhaps not ideal as a source, but for these ‘minor’ (?) assignments which will usually not count towards their grades, they choose to take the ‘easy route’ when researching, and concentrate on writing an essay in their best English.

 

Reading this list of students’ difficulties, mistakes and misunderstandings highlights once again, I think, the actual root cause of the problem: Lack of Understanding. Some of the points above bear witness to some students’ misunderstanding of the aims of academic work as ‘knowledge gathering’, rather than striving to understand arguments and engage with the evidence in order to critically assess it. Moreover, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of what Wikipedia is and aims to do. That is the point that I also wanted to make in my first blog post on the topic – that it is important to know what Wikipedia is and to use it accordingly. You can find the previous post explaining that here.) EAP tutors have an important role to play in nurturing this understanding; especially if working with students from academic cultures and traditions where critical thinking is perhaps not stressed as strongly as in Anglo-American academia.

In an ideal world, then, perhaps we as teachers would not be banning Wikipedia with no explanation of why, but bringing Wikipedia into the classroom and encouraging our students to explore, and critically assess its usefulness and limitations for their work. I would say that Wikipedia is perhaps even more useful as a research starting point for EAP students than for native or proficient English speakers, as they can use the article not only as an introduction to the topic, but also to the vocabulary and language used to talk about the topic. Once they have encountered these vocabulary and langauge items in the Wikipedia article and understood them in context, they will be in a better position to access and comprehend academic sources on the topic of their research.  In fact, EAP tutors could even plan to employ Wikipedia articles in this way – though introductory text-books also do the job of introducing vocab, they don’t open the door for the discussion on using Wikipedia in academic work; and that, to me, seems to be the key aim that has emerged from my ponderings and posts on the role of Wikipedia in academic writing. 

The Role of Wikipedia in Academic Essays

My essay class are doing their first assessed essay this week and they’re a bit nervous. They’ve got lots of questions. But one question really struck me. A student asked ‘Is it OK to cite Wikipedia?’ My standard answer is, ‘if you use it, you should cite it’ – as with any source. But this simply prompted the next question:

‘Is it OK to use Wikipedia for a university essay?’

The answer to that one is slightly longer and requires a bit more cautious language! This question, and a few blog posts I’ve read recently on the topic, inspired this post; on understanding role of Wikipedia in academic essay writing.

I’ve often heard stories of colleagues who ‘ban’ students from using Wikipedia. The argument I hear most commonly against using Wikipedia for essays is that ‘anyone can write anything they like on Wikipedia’. Well, yes, that is true, it is a community-written and community-edited resource; but really I think the number of people reading Wikipedia means that any nonsense will quickly be edited out, so actually the risk of finding incorrect information is probably comparatively low.

For me, the bigger issue that anyone (Especially students!) using Wikipedia needs to understand is that it is not an academic source. Wikipedia even says this about itself! (See ‘Wikiepdia: Academic Use’) And students (and teachers) need to understand why not:

it’s an encyclopaedia!

As far as encyclopaedias go, it’s actually probably a pretty good one; with up-to-date information and a huge variety of entries, presumably (although that in itself is of course a problem) written by people who know something about the topic. But just as we wouldn’t expect academics to cite the Encyclopaedia Britannica, because its target audience is not academics in a certain field but the general public wanting a brief introduction to a range of topics, so we rarely find academics citing from Wikipedia. There are of course some more specific encyclopaedias aimed specifically at certain academic audiences, where the question of being an ‘academic source’ has different considerations, but Wikipedia is not one of these. No matter how good, an encyclopaedia is not necessarily the best source for academic writing; it can’t substitute for reading the original research and discussion publications in the field.

–  it (usually) presents things as fact:

One of the fundamental bases of academia is that published academic sources are basically all arguments, i.e. the authors are arguing in favour of their approach/view/procedure/findings/etc. As text-books and encyclopaedias are generally expected to do, Wikipedia presents ‘neutral’ (well, ish) overviews or summaries of topics, which are often presented as fact, but which are arguably always an interpretation of the original arguments by the person who has written the overview or Wikipedia text. If an essay, or any piece of university work, is to engage in and contribute to academic discourse, it needs to demonstrate an analytical treatment of the previously published arguments, which can really only be achieved through a close, critical reading of the original sources, and not from an encyclopaedic overview.

– it lacks systematic review:

Academic publications are usually subject to some sort of editorial process or peer review by other experts in the field before they are printed or published. This is especially true of journal articles, where peer review aims to ensure that the most sound, best-quality research and scholarly inquiry is published. Now, you could argue that this quality control is given in Wikipedia, as other users edit articles to remove ‘incorrect’ information. The problem is rather that we can never be sure whether the version of the article we are reading has been written and reviewed by an expert in the field – and that is a fundamental criterion for a source to be considered as academic.

it lacks attribution:

The ides in an academic source can be attributed to certain authors, and most academics would agree that the value of uncredited information is rather dubious. Since there is no named author of a Wikipedia article, it doesn’t fulfil the criteria of an academic source. That said, most Wikipedia articles do a good job of citing their sources and linking to further reading (actually, quite an academic quality for an encyclopaedia; praise where it’s due!), and so can provide a wealth of resources that are more suitable for academic writing.

It therefore comes down to not WHETHER Wikipedia can/should be used, but HOW it should be used. People need to understand what Wikipedia IS, and then make informed decisions about how to use it for their work. In my view, a ‘ban’ does not lead to a full understanding of the points I’ve made here (and probably ineffective anyway, since students will probably continue to use Wikipedia, uncritically, despite any ban!). Wikipedia can/should be used as what it is: an encyclopaedia. Encyclopaedias, just like text-books, can function as a starting point when someone is researching a topic new to them; they can provide a good place to start finding the key debates or latest research and ideas in the field.

And yes, I think it is OK for an academic essay to cite from Wikipedia, if there is a justified reason for doing so, and if the author does so in full understanding of the points above. This may not yet be particularly common in published academic articles, but it is not unheard of. But it is important to remember, though, that Wikipedia should  not be cited as an academic source, but perhaps used for background information or a rationale for discussing the topic. Just as dictionary definitions can be used to delimit the scope or approach to a certain topic (e.g. ‘aggression’ – are we including in our definition and essay only verbal, or also physical aggression?), so Wikipedia, and perhaps more interestingly the edits, can be used to demonstrate the actuality, relevance, and/or controversial nature of the essay’s topic. The fact remains, though, that it is not an academic source in our general understanding of the term and its usage in academic work should be limited accordingly. 

 

FURTHER READING

This website provides a great demonstration of things to look for in an academic source before deeming it suitable for scholarly work: “Anatomy of a scholarly Article”

For more discussions on Wikipedia and other ‘myths’ surrounding EAP, see here: “20 Myths about EAP”

#BridgeingtheGapChallenge: The role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction

Guest post by Don Watson

Based on 

de la Fuente, M. J. (2006). Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction. Language Teaching Research 10, 3. pp. 263–295. Retrieved from: http://www.lrc.cornell.edu/events/past/2006-2007/fuentes.pdf

I assume anyone reading this blog has at least heard of Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT). But as with any approach/method etc. the thing we all, as teachers, want to know is: Does it work and how do I use it best? The study Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction attempts to answer this question when using TBLT to teach vocabulary.

Interestingly, this study also addresses another age old ELT question of (when) is it ok to talk about the language. It’s pretty well agreed that classroom interaction should be predominantly communicative in nature i.e. we use the language we are trying to teach in order to communicate, but when is it ok to explicitly discuss things like grammar or vocab. The study calls this a “focus on form” and cites Swain to argue that if learners notice certain aspects of the language they are exposed to and then compare this with their own language production, then language acquisition is more likely.

Ok, great. Let’s focus on form. But, as always, there is a but. This being a journal article, however, there is actually a however (see Lockman & Swales, 2010). And here it is: “Skehan (1998), however, remarks that it is not advisable to intervene during tasks.” He suggests that it is preferable to “intervene” after the task is complete as then it is more likely that “form–meaning relationships and pattern identification are not transitory… but are still available for attention and so more likely to be integrated into a growing interlanguage system”.

So now we have an idea of what to do and when to do it, so how does this study help? The authors describe the study as a “classroom-based, quasi-experimental study,” focusing on, second language “oral productive vocabulary acquisition of word meanings and forms”. As it’s an experiment there is a control and experimental group. In this case the “control group” is a traditional PPP (that’s Presentation, Practice and Production just in case you don’t know) lesson. So I guess in this case the PPP stands for PPPlacebo. No, that’s mean; let’s stick with “control”. So they compare a traditional PPP lesson with two versions of a Task based lesson. The first task was “a one-way, role-play, information-gap task with a planned focus on form and meaning. The task required students to use the target lexical forms while keeping attention to meaning, in order to achieve the goal of ordering food from a restaurant’s menu”. The second Task based lesson had the same first two stages as the first task based lesson, however, instead of a task repetition, “a teacher generated, explicit focus-on-forms stage was incorporated”. The “focus-on-forms” stage was designed “to explicitly clarify morphological, phonological and spelling issues.”

The study then tested the students’ ability to “retrieve” the target vocabulary immediately after the lesson and again one week after the lesson. No statistically significant difference was found for the immediate retrieval of words (although the Task based lessons were better, just not better enough) however after one week, the Task based lessons did produce significantly better results. The authors suggest that this is “due to the fewer opportunities for targeted output production and retrieval that PPP lessons offer, and to its inability to effectively focus students’ attention on targeted forms”.

And as we know, learning vocabulary is much more than simply learning the definition of a word. And this is where the real advantage of this Task+Focus-on-Form idea is because it results in “not only acquisition of the words’ basic meaning, but also of important formal/morphological aspects of words.”

So the take away from all this is: If you’re doing tasks, and I guess most of us are, don’t interrupt the task and be sure to explicitly clarify the target language after the task is complete.

References

de la Fuente, M. J. (2006). Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction. Language Teaching Research 10, 3. pp. 263–295. Retrieved from: http://www.lrc.cornell.edu/events/past/2006-2007/fuentes.pdf

Lockman & Swales (2010). Sentence Connector Frequencies in Academic Writing (and Academic Speech).  Retrieved from: http://www.readbag.com/micusp-elicorpora-files-0000-0253-sentence-connector-kibbitzer-1

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford University Press.

Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In Gass, S. and Madden, C., editors, Input in second language acquisition. Newbury House, 235–53.

My Son the Fanatic – Various Tasks

A lot of teachers like to use fictional texts in their teaching. Sometimes, finding accessible texts for classes is difficult, especially as they are often long, and would take up too much lesson time. One option is to use abridged versions of the texts. Another idea I’d like to advocate is to work with the text over a number of lessons, using it to teach/revise a variety of langauge points and as a basis for all different kinds of activities.

As an example, this post is a treasure chest of tasks and activities you can do with your (B2-C2) learners based on the text “My Son the Fanatic” by Hanif Kureishi. The story centres on Parvez, a Pakistani-born taxi driver living in the UK, who is a tolerant, secular Muslim. The crux of the plot occurs when his son, Ali, converts to fundamentalist Islam, which leads to a family breakdown and social conflict.
The full text can be found here. The version I use is an excerpt  I have adapted from “Cross-Cultural Encounters: 20th Century English Short Stories” published by Reclam (1997). The book can bought from Amazon and my excerpt can be found here: Excerpt My Son the Fanatic. My excerpt from the story only goes up to the point where Parvez first notices his son’s conversion to a radical Muslim. The tasks below are based on this first part of the story; the web boasts a whole host of other activities which make more use of the rest of the plot.
For more background information on the story, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start! The screenplay has also been adapted into a film

Example Tasks

Grammar Focus

General Grammar Analysis

Advanced learners, or trainee teachers, can be asked to explain certain grammar points which appear in the text. This is a task that trainee secondary-school EFL teachers in Germany often face in their exams: Certain words or phrases are underlined, and students are required to explain the verb forms, word order, etc. The task aims to train them to explain grammar points in a concise manner, whilst still ensuring that the explanations distinguish this use of a word/verb form from other uses. The focus of the grammar analysis can be adapted to cover langauge points recently learnt/practised, or to include a variety of langauge points as a akind of revision test or endof-course task. Here is an example worksheet of this type that I have made (with answers):  Gram An My Son the Fanatic with answers

Logical Deductions (with modals)

1) Learners read the first three paragraphs of the excerpt (up to “Where had he gone wrong?”), which gives them a description of the problematic situation Parvez is facing regarding his son, Ali. They are then asked to suggest ideas as to what the problem might be. Learners can be encouraged to brainstorm ideas and then discuss how likely the suggestions are, i.e. how certain they are that this is the most logical explanation, and then formulate sentences to express their logical deductions using various modal verbs to show their level of certainty.
OR … 2) Learners read the first three paragraphs of the excerpt (up to “Where had he gone wrong?”), which gives them a description of the problematic situation Parvez is facing regarding his son, Ali. The next couple of sentences set  out the situation that Parvez is discussing the problem with his work-mates. Learners can be asked to write the dialogue, and/or act out the scene as Parvez’ colleagues suggest possible reasons for Ali’s behaviour. Again, learners should be guided to express the colleague’s logical deductions using various modal verbs to show their level of certainty.

Second Conditionals

1) Learners read the first five paragraphs of the excerpt, and discovering what Parvez’ colleagues think the problem is with his son, they can be asked to provide advice for Parvez, to answer the question ‘What could Parvez do now?’. If the focus is on using the second conditional to give advice, they could be guided to start their sentences with “If I were him/you,…”. Alternatively, groups could make up ‘chains’ of sentences, with each student providing a further sentence to develop the scenario, based on the preceding sentence – this can also involve using various alternatives to ‘would’ in the result clause, e.g. might, could, etc. For example: If I were Parvez, I would ask Ali if he is taking drugs. If Parvez asked Ali whether he was taking drugs, they might have an argument. If they had an argument, …
AND / OR … 2) After reading the whole excerpt, and finding out what exactly the ‘problem’ is with Ali, students can be asked ‘What would you do, if you were Parvez?’ which will lead them toproduce second conditional sentences. This task may also lead to some lively discussions about the role of religious fanaticism, but  – watch out! – it may be a rather sensitive (or even taboo) subject in some settings! 

Vocabulary Focus

Literary Studies Terms

Working with a text in class provides a good opportunity to teach / revise the vocabulary for discussing literature (e.g. narrative perspectives, literary devices, etc.). This may be particularly helpful if students are going to be working with more texts in future, or in settings where they are going on to English study literature, perhaps at university. A procedure I like, is to give the students some of the key literary studies terms, or the ones I think they’re still unsure of, and ask them to research and find their own definitions. They should then find examples from the text excerpt to demonstrate their understanding. As a slightly larger project, different groups of learners can be given different terms to work on, and can produce a way of presenting (teaching) these to the rest of the class, e.g. in poster form. Some terms that may be appropriate to study with regard to My Son the Fanatic: protagonist/antagonist, first-person narrator/omniescent narrator, tension/suspense.

Adjectives – For Feelings

If you read the full text with your class, students  can be asked to create a flow chart / time-line of Parvez’ & Ali’s feelings towards each other. Either individually or in groups, they can be given a certain part of the text to work on. You can use the task to train their dictionary skills: They can brainstorm adjectives they think describe the feelings and relationship (they could also do this in their L1), find synonyms in a thesaurus, and check the meanings and usage in a mono-lingual dictionary (e.g. OALD, aimed at learners), and perhaps a collocations dictionary, before agreeing on the most appropriate and fitting adjectives. Then, people who have worked on different sections of the text can put their adjectives into the whole diagram depicting the devlopment of the whole story.

Adjective vs Adverb – For Feelings vs Behaviour

 Work can be done on distinguishing and using adjectives and adverbs, using any part of the story (or my excerpt). Students are asked to make a time-line to show the development of Parvez’ feelings and behaviour. I like to encourage them to write adjectives above the time-line to show “Parvez is / feels…”, and use adverbs (they can be the adverbs of the adjectives) to show “Parvez acts/behaves…” below the line. The procedure for finding the most appropriate adjectives/adverbs and training dictionary skills can run the same as that described above (Adjectvies For Feelings) 
Within the excerpt, there are very few adjectives and adverbs describing Parvez and his behaviour; students could be asked to add them in to the appropriate places in sentences, to explicitly describe feelings and behaviour in cases where this is only implied by the text.

Freer Production

After reading the whole excerpt, learners can be asked to write or tell an anecdote from their own life, where they thought something was the case but it turned out to be different and had a surprise ending. These can be as long or short as suits your class, and will also depend on whether you set this as a homework task or do it (perhaps orally) within a lesson. For example: My boyfriend was being very distant and quiet, and kept taking phone calls in a different room. I thought he was no longer happy in the relationship and maybe he was cheating on me. But it turned out that he was planning a surprise birthday party for me!
Other creative tasks might be asking students to write a diary entry from Ali’s perspective, so show how he sees things, or to create ‘info boxes’ which could be added into or around the text to give the reader certain information more explicitly which is only implied in the text.
Students on EAP programmes can use this text to write an essay or a literary analysis. This will train them in the skills of citing secondary sources, and interpreting and using examples from a primary text. Below are some example essay topics I’ve come across (Note that some of them are based on the full text, not simply my excerpt).

– Analyse how Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” represents and explores conflicting notions of modern British identity.

– Analyse the role of religion in the conflict-ridden relationship between Parvez and Ali.

– Compare and contrast Parvez’ and Ali’s philosophies of life.

– Argue that Parvez is more of a ‘fanatic’ than Ali.

– How likely are Parvez and Ali to resolve their differences in the future?

Research / Projects

I feel that the themes in this short story lend themselves to some larger research projects, which students can do in groups. They should be given / choose a format in which to present the information which they find out, for example posters, presentations, booklets, videos, wikis, etc. and other members of the class should be encouraged to engage with the new information in some way, so that the effort of the research project really pays off. One idea would be to divide research topics up among groups, but the make the final product a whole-class effort; this would probably require a format such as a booklet or wiki, which each group can contribute to. Some of the smaller products could also be created individually, such as posters or oral presentations. Below are some topics I have used previously when working with this text, some of them are also appropriate as pre-reading projects, which would provide learners with some more background information to help them understand the themes in the text.

 – Muslims in the UK/your own country (e.g. history of Islam in the UK/your country, links to immigration [in the UK esepcially the British Empire/Commonwealth], status of Islam, realistic view on how Muslims integrate into British society, etc.)

 – The image of Islam in the media (e.g. how are Muslims presented in national/international media, how this has changed over time [maybe post 9/11?], how accurate this image might be, etc.)

 – Islam the religion (e.g. basic tenets, beliefs and customs; holy texts; role of prayer; role of Mosques; comparison to other religions [in the UK e.g. Christianity]; etc.)

 – Drug Addiction (e.g. data about the problem in the UK/your own country, how governments/health services attempt to tackle the problem, ‘symptoms’ of drug abuse, consequences of drug abuse, how to help some you know who is affected, etc.)

 – Immigration & Culture-Clash (e.g. lives/challenges of young people whose parents immigrated, problems of culture clash – maybe examples in the news, generational conflict, etc.)

 – Stereotyping (e.g. stereotypes of Pakistani immigrants in the text, how true are they, what steretypes do you hae of other nations, where do they stem from, how accurate are they, etc.)

 

If your students read the full text, not only my excerpt, they could also research into topics of prostitution, parenting methods, fanaticism (e.g. Parvez vs Ali)

Online, there are lots of other tasks and activities, as well as interpretation guides for the full story, for example:

– Korff, H. & Ringel-Eichinger, A. (eds), One Language, Many Voices: Inhaltsangaben und Interpretationen, Themen und Wortschatz, Musterklausuren (Cornelsen, 2011). [Written in English, don’t worry!]

Also, please see another of my blog posts for more general ideas on working with fictional texts: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/practising-english-through-reading-fiction/

#BridgingtheGapChallenge Hand-Written vs Emailed Corrective Feedback on Writing

As part of the #BridgingtheGapChallenge, here is a summary of:

Farshi, S.S. & S.K. Safa, ‘The Effect of Two Types of Corrective Feedback on EFL Learners’ Writing Skill’, Advances in Language and Literary Studies, Vol 6/1, February 2015.

This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of giving hand-written or electronic (via email) feedback on EFL learners’ written work.

Participants & Procedure

Thirty-five adult participants were involved in the stud; Azeri-Turkish speakers, who were learning English at a language institute in Iran. They were divided into three separate class groups, which met twice a week for 7 weeks and taught by the same teacher. All groups covered the same material in class and were given a writing task each week based on the lesson’s focus. Depending on which group participants they were in, they received feedback on their work in a different format: Group A: Submitted paper-versions of their work and received hand-written feedback. Group B: Submit their work by email and received their feedback electronically. Group C: Submitted their work either on paper or by email, but received no feedback from the teacher. Groups A and B revised their paragraphs using the feedback they received. Before the study, students completed pre-test writing tasks (writing two separate paragraphs), graded by three teachers, and the KET proficiency test and were found to have comparable levels of proficiency in English. They post-test score was also based on two written paragraphs, graded by three teachers. The pre-test and post-test scores were given in numerical format, on a scale from 0-20 (where 20 is good).

Findings

A paired-samples T-test (test of significant difference) was used to compare participants’ pre-test and post-test scores. On the pre-test scores, there was no significant difference between the three groups. On the post-test scores (i.e. the grades students achieved on the assessment after having received the various feedbacks on their work for 7 weeks), both Group A’s and Group B’s scores were significantly higher than those of Group C, who had received no corrective feedback on their writing. The researchers conclude that both hand-written and electronic feedback therefore have a positive impact on students’ writing skill. The key finding, though, is the significant difference between the improvements shown by participants in Groups A and B; where Group B (who had received electronic feedback) scored significantly higher than Group A (hand-written feedback), which would seem to show that feedback received electronically is more effective at improving students’ writing than hand-written feedback is.

My Own Thoughts

I can postulate various explanations for the benefit of giving feedback electronically: it feels more personal to the students, the teacher can perhaps include more detailed feedback, it is motivating for students to use their electronic devices for the English learning, etc. It would have been interesting to see what the researchers thought were the explanations for their findings.

It would also be good to know what kind of level their learners were at in their English proficiency – perhaps the effectiveness of certain feedback formats depends on level?

And also, what kind of feedback exactly was given – actual corrections? simply underlining? Comments to start a dialogue? Use of a correction code? I wonder whether these differences might have an even more significant effect on students’ improvement than simply the mode of delivery of the feedback?

Today’s Frustration: Why don’t students do their homework?

I am frustrated. Probably not the best time to write an insightful blog post, but I need to get this off my chest. And maybe your ELTers out there will have some calming wisdom for me!!

Today I went off to teach my (C1, EAP) essay writing class. We are doing ‘features of formal language’ at the moment, and they had had homework to look online or in relevant textbooks and find various tips for making their written language more formal and academic. The homework was posted on our online platform and had been there for two weeks (since last week as a kind of ‘half term’ holiday). My plan was for the students to share what they had found out, and to add any more points I thought were important, before practising identifying features of formal writing in an example text, and then writing their own text as homeork for next time. To my utter frustration, though, only about five of them had done the homeork, and about twenty had not. Of those twenty, about half had printed out the homework sheet but not done it, and the others hadn’t even downloaded the worksheet! So that was the lesson plan done for!! 😮

I gave them a bit of a pep talk, trying not to sound as angry as I felt, and then asked them for the honest reasons why they had not done the homework. Here’s what they said, well those that answered and didn’t simply stare at their desk/out of the window/into space!!  (Oh, and in brackets are my, often not said outloud, responses!)

I didn’t think to check the online platform (but we use it every week, and I even said at the end of the previous lesson that the homework was posted there…!)

–  I forgot to do it (really? although there is homework every week, and I reminded you last lesson?!)

The document wouldn’t open on my PC (OK, a problem, but not unsolveable – the uni has plenty of computers and printers you can use. And you could have emailed me about it and asked to have the document in a different format…!)

I thought it was a worksheet to do together in class (really? Although it was labelled on our online platform as ‘Homework’, with the information ‘Complete by week 07 and bring your notes to class?!)

– The homework is too easy, just repeating what we did at school, so I don’t feel that I need to do it. (This would be an indicator of bad judgement on my part, if only the student who had said it would prove that she could do these things by producing good written work or contributing insightful points to the lesson. Which she can’t.)

So what do you think, my dearest ELTers?? Am I over-reacting? Are these valid reasons? And how can I encourage them to do their homework and take it seriously in future?? Heeeelp!!! 🙂