Category: EAP

ELT Research Bites

ELT Research Bites

Followers of my blog will know that I believe we, as language teachers, all need to understand the pedagogical underpinnings of what we do in our language classrooms. That’s why I aim in my blog posts to provide information on theoretical backgrounds and lesson materials which apply them practically. I would also love for more teachers to read the research and background articles for themselves. But I know that teachers are all busy people, who may not have access to or time to access publications on the latest developments and findings from language education research.

ELT Research Bites is here to help!contributors.JPG

As the founder, Anthony Schmidt, explains: ELT Research Bites is a collaborative, multi-author website that publishes summaries of published, peer-reviewed research in a short, accessible and informative way. 

The core contributors are Anthony Schmidt, Mura Nuva, Stephen Bruce, and me!

 

Anthony describes the problem that inpsired ELT Research Bites: There’s a lot of great research out there: It ranges from empirically tested teaching activities to experiments that seek to understand the underlying mechanics of learning. The problem is, though, that this research doesn’t stand out like the latest headlines – you have to know where to look and what to look for as well as sift through a number of other articles. In addition, many of these articles are behind extremely expensive pay walls that only universities can afford. If you don’t have access to a university database, you are effectively cut off from a great deal of research. Even if you do find the research you want to read, you have to pour through pages and pages of what can be dense prose just to get to the most useful parts. Reading the abstract and jumping to the conclusion is often not enough. You have to look at the background information, the study design, the data, and the discussion, too. In other words, reading research takes precious resources and time, things teachers and students often lack.

And so ELT Research Bites was born!  

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The purpose of ELT Research Bites is to present interesting and relevant language and education research in an easily digestible format.

Anthony again:  By creating a site on which multiple authors are reading and writing about a range of articles, we hope to create for the teaching community a resource in which we share practical, peer-reviewed ideas in a way that fits their needs.

ELT Research Bites provides readers with the content and context of research articles, at a readable at the length, and with some ideas for practical implications. We hope, with these bite-size summaries of applied linguistics and pedagogy research, to allow all (language) teachers access to the insights gained through empirical published work, which teachers can adapt and apply in their own practice, whilst not taking too much of their time away from where it is needed most – the classroom.

CHECK OUT ELT Research Bites here:

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ResearchBites

 

Review: Writing – Learn to write better academic essays

Review: Writing – Learn to write better academic essays

I teach a lot of EAP and particularly essay writing classes, but have as yet not found a textbook to work with that I’m entirely happy with. Ever on the look-out, I came across the Collins EAP series, winner of the ELTon 2014 Innovation in Learner Resources Award, and more specifically:

Van Geyte, E., Writing: Learn to write better academic essays (Collins, 2013)

As we can see from the title, this is actually a self-study guide (with an answer key), but it seemed suitable for my students as it’s aimed at those on pre-sessional EAP courses or in their first year of undergraduate study. The word ‘better’ in the title also highlights that this is a book aimed at building students’ writing skills, for example moving from tests like IELTS or TOEFL to ‘proper’ academic papers.

The book is set up so that students, or classes, can work through it from start to finish, or dip in to the chapters most relevant for their current learning goals. In total, there are 11 chapters, which cover various study skills related to academic writing and language points relevant for written expression. The chapters are consistently structured, which makes for easy orientation, each including brief aims, a self-evaluation quiz, information on the chapter’s writing focus, practical exercises, and key reminders. Throughout the chapters, there are also ‘Tips’, and some more advanced vocabulary is explained in glossary boxes. The author estimates that it would take about 3-4 hours to complete one chapter. There are also lists of useful phrases and annotated sample essays at the end of the book, which are authentic examples of students’ work from a variety of subject areas.

Overall, this book takes a process approach to composition, though it also includes sections on evaluating and improving essays as a product. There is a nice emphasis on the development of learning and growing as an academic, fitting writing in to the students’ progression through their degree. It’s also good that the author highlights the importance of students informing themselves about the requirements and expectations at their specific institution / within their specific department, and not merely relying on this book for reference. I find this particularly important with regard to certain conventions. For example, the ‘Thesis Statements’ shown in the book are more statements of intention and outline, which may not be in-keeping with some disciplines and stand in contrast to most American published writing textbooks.

Within the chapters, the practical exercises, e.g. re-capping key terms, analysing example texts, are neatly spread throughout the sections, so they’re not only at the ends of the complete chapters. Nonetheless, these exercises are sometime rather short and perhaps slightly too specific, so they don’t always seem to be checking understanding of the whole section. Many of the example texts included are students’ answers to IELTS/TEOFL-type exams, and are authentic student-written texts, though I worry that these are not necessarily the best models for the ‘real’ academic papers students will have to write at university.

From the very first chapters, the focus is on writing essays, thus mimicking the process students will likely follow when dealing with coursework writing tasks. However, paragraph structure is touched on only briefly, and elements such as Topic Sentences and ‘one main idea per paragraph’ are somewhat lacking emphasis for my liking. Likewise, the ‘narrowing down the topic’ in an essay’s introduction, or the functions of a good conclusion (vs. summary) are not really emphasized. I think this is where we can see that the book is really aimed at those students who have some initial academic writing experience, perhaps in their main language, and need to expand on this to be successful at university. For an introductory EAP course there may be too little emphasis on these aspects of writing, though this might be less problematic if the book is used to supplement other teaching materials, as it could then function as homework preparation or a summary of the points covered in class.

A definite advantage of this book over composition textbooks aimed at native-speaker undergraduates is the good level of focus on the language of academic writing. I particularly like the ‘modesty’ (=cautious language) section and the ‘Authority’ chapter, though students will need some understanding of the metalanguage used to talk about language in this way. I have to say, I’m not entirely convinced that the general ‘Accuracy’ chapter is necessary in a book on writing, since these are language points that perhaps belong more in general EFL textbooks or other reference works. Instead, the critical thinking section may warrant more attention, and it also is important to note that the ‘Reading Comprehension’ chapter focuses mainly on sentence structures. Still, the ‘Research’ chapter does a very good job at clearly explaining and demonstrating note-taking from sources and making decisions about what information to include in an essay. Similarly commendable is the chapter on ‘Integrity’, which takes a more positive approach to using sources effectively for one’s writing, rather than simply avoiding plagiarism. It frames citing, quoting, and paraphrasing as one of many academic conventions to follow, thus removing students’ fear of plagiarism.

At the end of the book, chapter 11  – ‘Essay process and presentation’ – came as a slight surprise, as the entire book leads the students through the process of writing, though it does include some further information on drafting (which could come earlier?) and using tutors’ feedback – though this last point is also covered in Appendix 2. Appendix 1 presents full sample essays annotated with positive and negative comments, which are undoubtedly useful models for students. In Appendix 3, we find a list of ‘Useful Phrases’. I’m not generally a fan of such lists, as I prefer to encourage students to notice useful language from the source texts they read in their field/subject area, though these phrases may provide comforting scaffolding for students writing their first academic papers.

In general, then, this book provides a clearly-written and practical guide through the process of writing a university essay. I’m not convinced that it would be most effectively employed as the main text of an essay writing class, though it definitely includes elements very beneficial helping students to develop into academic writers, and I would absolutely recommend it as a supplementary resource for EAP learners.

Learner-Driven Feedback in Essay Writing

Learner-Driven Feedback in Essay Writing

A recent focus of work into feedback in ELT looks at ways of increasing students’ openness to teachers’ feedback and how students can be stimulated to engage more thoroughly with the feedback they receive. Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) seems to be a promising practice here, and below is a summary of some research done in this area.

LDF is usually taken to mean responding to learners’ individual queries to make the feedback process more dialogic in nature, particularly in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) settings. For example, Bloxham and Campbell (2010)’s study of ‘Interactive Coversheets’, which require students to pose questions about their work when submitting essay drafts. Overall, they report good levels of uptake of the feedback provided, demonstrating that these Interactive Coversheets prompted their students to evaluate their writing in more detail, and that students responded positively to receiving this individualised feedback. Tutors in their study also found it quicker to give feedback based on the Interactive Coversheets, as students’ individual questions helped them focus their thoughts. However, Bloxham and Campbell noted that, if students had not put much effort into the draft or Interactive Coversheet, they were less able to make use of the formative feedback, for example if they only submitted an outline, or scribbled paragraph, instead of a properly formulated draft. This leads to the idea that the better organised or more autonomous students may be more likely to receive and engage with formative feedback, and Bloxham and Campbell thus note the limitation that this feedback procedure may merely help better students to perform even better.

Working within a similar framework, Campbell and Schumm-Fauster (2013) devised ‘Learner-Centred Feedback’, which also required their students to pose questions to direct tutors to give feedback on certain aspects of their writing when reading drafts, here in footnotes or as comments in the margins to their essays. They were interested in how students react to being asked/allowed to ‘drive’ the feedback they receive. Their survey showed that students were open to the dialogical feedback and reported finding it motivating and personal, and particularly helpful in working on their individual essay-writing weaknesses.

Studies on feedback on essay writing have also begun to explore the use of various delivery modes for feedback and has shown that this, too, may deepen students’ engagement with the feedback and may increase uptake. Technology-based modes can be used to deliver feedback on essays digitally, for example as in-text changes, as comments added to a document, as a feedback email, or as an audio recording. The focus here is on computer-mediated teacher feedback, i.e. not automated feedback.

In the field of language teaching, Cloete (2014) investigated the new multifaceted options for feedback which are afforded by EAP students submitting their work through online platforms. His study focused on the Turnitin platform, which his team of tutors used to give feedback by inserting comments into text’s margins or in separate columns, highlighting text in different colours, and recording audio feedback. Based on teachers’ evaluations of using Turnitin in this way, he notes that the time-efficiency of delivering feedback in electronic modes depends on tutors’ typing speed and general comfort with using the feedback functions of the software, but that the added value of such electronic modes stems from the scope and amount of multi-m feedback that can be given, and the option to provide feedback in various modes simultaneously. Students in his study also showed heightened engagement with the feedback they received.

My own, very recent, study (Fielder, 2016) focused on an LDF procedure I devised which combines and adapts these previously published ideas and allows learners to determine the feedback they receive. In my LDF, the feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‘drive’  how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various formats (e.g. hand-written, email, audio recording), and are required to pose questions about their work to which the teacher responds (e.g. on grammar, vocabulary/register, referencing, organisation). The study is an initial exploration of students’ receptivity towards Learner-Driven Feedback in EAP. The findings from the detailed survey data highlight a high level of student receptivity towards the procedure, and that students perceive it as a useful tool for improving their general language accuracy and study skills related to essay writing. However, it seems from the survey responses that the specific skills which can be significantly improved by my LDF may depend on which skills have already been trained by students’ previous academic experience.  Nonetheless, this and the studies described above demonstrate compelling reasons for piloting LDF on EAP writing courses; many of which may also justify trialling the approach in other ELT classrooms.

 

References

  • Bloxham, S. & L. Campbell, “Generating dialogue in assessment feedback: exploring the use of interactive cover sheets”, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol 35 (2010), 291–300.
  • Campbell, N. and J. Schumm-Fauster (2013). Learner-centred Feedback on Writing: Feedback as Dialogue. In M. Reitbauer, N. Campbell, S. Mercer, J. Schumm and R. Vaupetitsch (Eds) Feedback Matters (pp. 55–68). Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
  • Cloete, R., “Blending offline and online feedback on EAP writing”, The Journal of Teaching English for Specific and Academic Purposes, Vol. 2, No. 4 (2014), pp. 559-
  • Fielder, C., “Receptivity to Learner-Driven Feedback in EAP”, ELT Journal [Advanced access 2016 – print issue Maas, C. in 2017]

My Webinar: “Assessing and Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Involve the Learners”

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar (my first ever!) for IATEFL’s TEA SIG. For those who weren’t able to join in, here’s a run down and a link to the video!

Assessing  Marking Writing TEASIG PPT_002This talk provides teachers with time-efficient strategies for giving feedback on EFL learners’ writing which actively involve the learners. I present and evaluate several learner-centred feedback strategies that are applicable to giving feedback on written work in diverse contexts, by presenting summaries of published research which explores their efficacy. I also explain the mechanisms underpinning the strategies’ effectiveness, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups.

Watch the webinar recording here.

The webinar was followed by a live Facebook discussion. Check it out here.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Facebook discussion: 

Clare Fielder  Someone asked: Have you ever tried developing an online digital dialogue around feedback points? Not exactly sure what you mean here, I’m afraid. I’ve used Google Docs to get peer review going – is that something in the direction you’re asking about?

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I use wikispaces and learners can comment on specific points and then develop a dialogue. Here’s a quick clip of what I mean
Sharon Hartle's photo.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder This sounds like something similar to Google Docs with the comments function. I used that last year with my students, most of them liked it, but lost energy and motivation for it by the end of term… Maybe because it’s just one more platform that they have to remember to check?
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Once again, I think it is a question of guidance and structuring, as you said. If you limit it to asking them to comment on two posts, for instance, and then reintegrate it all into class it works well. It also remains for later reference, like now. 🙂
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Our VLP doesn’t have this kind of function (well, it doesn’t work well and is hard to use) which is why I opted for Google. I definitely like the idea, because then students get feedback from various peers, not just the one who was given their work in class on peer review day! Also, you can include LDF into that – students can pose their questions on their work when they post it there, and then all the group members can help answer them! That’s a great idea!
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I’ve also experimented with iAnnotate for ipad and Schoology, which is also good.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Yes, I agree, limiting it to two comments or so does help, but doesn’t encourage them to really engage in discussion and dialogue. But, as with everything in ELT, it depends! It depends on the students, context, goals, etc.
Where I am it’s all pretty low-tech. I still have chalk boards in my classrooms! 😀

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Well tech is only as good as tech does, isn’t it and there was a time when the blackboard was considered high tech 🙂
Clare FielderClare Fielder Only if you had coloured chalk! 😉
Sharon HartleSharon Hartle Thanks Clare, for staying around and developing this discussion, which is very interesting 🙂

 

For more information about IATEFL’s TEA SIG – Teaching, Evaluation & Assessment Special Interest Group – you can find their website here.

TEA-Sig

 

Help! Overwhelmed by research!

This is a short, rather personal post; a bit of a call for help! In my head, thoughts are flying around: researching, compiling bibliographies, literature reviews, not having enough time in the day to read everything properly, wasting time reading the ‘wrong’ things, and feeling swapmed and out-of-touch with the latest state of affairs…. And this is going to (hopefully) be an outlet that gets these thoughts out of my head and onto “paper” so that I can concentrate… Oh, and maybe get some tips from readers while I’m at it!!

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What my brain feels like. An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015. 

 

So, I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping up with the research regarding my areas of ELT. I subscribe to a couple of journals, am active on twitter and I read lots of blogs, so I feel like I’m in touch with big debates and what’s generally going on in the ELT world. 

But now I’m trying to get together some of the ‘best’ literature on the topic of correcting (EAP) students’ writing. I want to summarise the main work and findings in this area. But there is JUST SO MUCH!! I’ve got some key names and some meta-study articles have also been helpful. But I feel like I might be missing out on some other definitive contributions, key strands of work, relevant studies, contaversial issues, etc.  When I search my university’s library databases, the lists are endless of articles on peer review, using technology, to correct or not to correct, learner autonomy, and so on and on and on.

I can’t possibly read everything. I thought about reading through the Works Cited lists and trying to find sources that seem to be cited a lot… but even that would be so much work. 

And I wonder how anyone ever manages to keep up with it all. Whenever I think I’ve “finished” and have a suitable bibliography together, so another blog post alerts me to a new perspective on the discussion, or Google Scholar pops up with a few hundred more published articles… When is enough enough? When can I stop? It’s never going to be  truly finished, is it?!

#BridgingtheGapChallenge – Coping with Academic Reading

**GUEST POST**

As part of the #BridgingtheGapChallenge, here is a summary of: Hirano, Biana. ‘I read, I don’t understand’: refugees coping with academic reading. ELT Journal, Vol. 69/2, April 2015: 178-187. written by my dear colleague Carol Ebbert!

This study collected data over two semesters via interviews, class observations and written documents on seven refugee students who despite not being ‘college ready’ were attending a small liberal arts college in the USA in order to identify coping strategies they developed to deal with academic reading.

Findings
Overall, the students found many aspects of academic reading at the college level challenging. They were expected to read independently and to be able to apply what they had read, not just recite facts from the readings. The amount of reading was also challenging, as well as the language issues they had, often relating to vocabulary and older texts (such as Shakespeare or texts from the 18th and 19th century). Finally, many felt that they had insufficient background knowledge to understand the texts fully.

The students developed several strategies to cope with the readings, which included relying on the lectures and PowerPoint slides in lieu of completing the reading either because they did not see the readings as important, it was too complex, or they lacked time. They also employed selective reading strategies such as skimming, reading according to the PowerPoint slides, or reading according to the study guides (i.e. using either the PowerPoint slides or study guides to help them identify which sections of the readings were most important). Finally, they also worked on finding places that were conducive to reading, read with peers, used a dictionary while reading, reread texts after lectures, sought tutor support and asked professors when they had specific questions after reading.

These strategies had different levels of usefulness. After the first exams, the strategy of relying on the lectures and slides was found to have resulted in poor grades. Rereading texts and reading with dictionaries were considered to be too time-consuming and were therefore rarely done. Other strategies seemed to have helped the students succeed in their courses.

Conclusion
While this research was carried out with refugee students, it can be applied to all students who start higher education while still in the process of learning English. In a broader sense, EAP instructors can use these findings to encourage students to try out various reading strategies and to discuss with their students strategies that may be more effective than others at helping students master the course material and successfully pass assessments.

My Own Thoughts
Reading strategies are perhaps a skill often ignored in EAP teaching, as we perhaps assume that having finished secondary school, students will know strategies for reading (e.g. from reading in their native language) that they can apply to reading in English. This does not always seem to be the case. Students should be made aware of the role of reading in higher education, that they will not be able to rely solely on lecture content, and what strategies exist to help them master the complex texts they are being assigned.

Summary by C. Ebbert, Trier University.

Little Rant: How to Write a Rubbish Essay

So, it’s that time of the year when people are going to be writing final essays and term papers. So here’s my helpful list of How To Write A Really Rubbish Essay:

[And, yes, it is based on my frustration at the delightful essays I have just spent my weekend (free time!?!) marking!!]

– Write about a topic that you do not understand and can’t be bothered to research properly.
– Try not to make too much sense.
– Don’t worry about referencing – if you feel like it, maybe stick in a couple of hyperlinks.
– Throw in a few fancy-sounding words to create a ‘formal register’.
– Make the same kind of grammar mistakes you would have done in school, no matter how far along your are in your studies.
– Don’t get anyone to read through your essay before submitting. Or, if you do, don’t listen to anything they say which might improve your work!
– And, just to make sure that the lecturer really understands how little effort you have put in; ignore all of their instructions for how to format and submit your essay!

Et voila – it is ready: the Really Rubbish Essay !!!

How many other ELT or EAP teachers out there are feeling this??? 😀