Tag: Essay Writing

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]
Worksheet: Writing a Synthesis

Worksheet: Writing a Synthesis

This worksheet guides learners step-by-step through the process of writing a synthesis in a group. Learners thus train the skills of careful reading, note-taking, paraphrasing/summarizing, and critically synthesizing information from different source texts. Collaborative team-work is also practiced.

Example texts (~C1 level) are given on the topic of native vs non-native speaker English teachers; a topic of relevance to all language learners which also has potential to spark lively debates and discussions among students.

The guide worksheet can also be used with any other source texts on topics of interest/relevance to learners, adapted to their current language level.

The procedure is self-explanatory.

Students’ worksheet, click here.Writing a Synthesis Step by step

Sample texts, click here. Writing a synthesis sample texts

Teachers’ notes, click here.Writing a Synthesis Teachers Notes

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Student worksheet: click here.

Teacher’s notes: click here.
AIMS: By working through this worksheet, which can be done independently or in class, students will be guided to notice some key features of definitions, in terms of content and language, and be able to replicate these in producing their own definitions.  Through the specific examples in focus, students will also practise talking about prejudices in a neutral manner and further develop their intercultural communication skills.

 

RATIONALE:

1 – Particularly in EAP, students often need to define terms used in their field of study, usually in order to clarify the term’s meaning to non-experts or to indicate which definition they are working with, and sometimes also to demonstrate understanding to an examiner.

2 – Because prejudices and biases are controversies often discussed, and perhaps even faced, in academic contexts, the focus here has been consciously placed on defining and discussing potentially controversial/taboo topics, in order to increase intercultural communication competences.

 

LANGUAGE FOCUS: defining relative clauses, some vocabulary for prejudices with -ism, some vocabulary for definitions.

 

LEVEL: B1 upwards.  According to www.vocabkitchen.com profiling, the texts of the definitions should be easily understandable for learners at/above the B2 level on the CEFR; I would suggest they could also be used with B1-level learners if vocabulary support is given or dictionaries allowed. (Words above B1 level: belief, treatment, wealth, social standing, superior, arising.)

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

 

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

On the Materials Design itdi.pro course I’m currently doing, our tutor has prompted us to discuss:

When using an authentic audio or video it is important to use only English native speakers?

For me, the most problematic word here is ‘only‘. (Problem #2: Define ‘native speaker!) And so my answer would be a flat out No.

But that’s not much of a discussion! And so I’ve decided to re-formulate the question a bit, into: When should Non-Native Speakers be used in ELT audio & video materials?

And as with most things ELT… my answer is: It depends! 

And as always, it is important and interesting to look at what it depends on…

256px-CEFR_and_ESOL_examinations_diagram.svgStudents’ language level. Some commentators say that only NS (=Native Speaker) accents should be used with beginner students, as NNS (=Non-Native Speaker) accents can be harder to understand. I can see some value in the point that accents which are deemed harder to understand for a certain group of learners should maybe be introduced once a good level of grammatical and lexical understanding has been achieved and they have been well prepared for the listening task.. But, I think we have to remember that NS also have a huge variety of accents and don’t always speak clearly, so I’m not convinced that ‘hard to understand’ is a NS vs NNS difference….

Language Learning Goals & Motivations. For me, this is the key argument regarding listening comprehension: If the students are learning English (or whatever language, really!) in order to be able to communicate with native speakers, for example moving to live or study in a country where English is the main language spoken, then it makes sense to expose them mainly to NS accents and dialects through audio/video material. If they will mainly be communicating with other NNS, then it is rather more important to expose them to these when training listening skills. Indeed, in today’s globalised society, it is becoming less and less realistic to prepare English learners only to communicate with NS, as something like 75% of all interactions in English are between NNS (see Crystal 2003).

Evaluation_seminar_8063712I believe students should learn by using materials that are authentic for the contexts in which they are going to need to use English. A case from my own experience: I teach EAP, and when I think about preparing students to participate in seminars at a university in the UK or USA, for example (most popular countries among my students), then I definitely need to prepare them for the fast-paced, messy, interrupted, overlapping discussion, which will probably also involve cultural norms of turn-taking, etc. And it seems to me that the best material for this kind of thing would be authentic recordings of speakers in exactly this kind of seminar setting. However; find me a British university seminar that doesn’t include at least one NNS… probably rather rare these days! So really, when I think about it, it’s probably the NS + NNS combination that makes most materials most authentic!

Having said that, simply exposing learners to different accents, dialects or varieties of English will probably not suffice to really help them learn and understand – they will need training in listening out for and understanding differences. Though, again, this is not an NS vs NNS point!

Megaphone-Vector.svgSo far, I’ve mainly been coming at this topic from a focus on listening comprehension. But there is also another factor in this debate; the speech production side. With this in mind, there is the claim that …

Students’ need NS pronunciation model. I’ve recently heard several comments to this effect, and indeed I agree somehow intuitively with the feeling that an NS pronunciation model is better for beginner learners to learn to imitate. But then I do sometimes (when involved in discussions like this) wonder why?

As a basic and overarching goal of any language learning/teaching, I’d take communicative ability and intelligibility. For the sake of the latter, I think maybe learners should not learn to pronounce new vocabulary in their teacher’s accent; if this becomes combined with their own accent, it might render the words incomprehensible to speakers with other L1s! However, several researchers, especially in the area of ELF, have suggested that we shouldn’t necessarily take NS pronunciation/native-speaker-like-ness as the overarching goal of ELT anymore. Still, I do still think that many learners see this as their ultimate goal, and thus it may we what we’re paid for – our job to help them reach it? And besides, the question that then remains for me is How will NNS be mutually intelligible if they’re not taking some kind of vaguely common standard as their starting point? – But maybe I haven’t read enough ELF research to understand this…

(Also, I wonder what the ultimate goal of language learning would be if it’s not to be as competent in the L2  as in our own native language …?)

Facilitating Peer Feedback on Essays

Facilitating Peer Feedback on Essays

Some teachers struggle with setting up Peer Feedback, especially getting learners used to and comfortable with giving and recieving feedback on their work from their peers! Research has looked into how teachers can increase students receptivity to peer review, and what kind of training and guidance can help to make it effective. 

Based on these insights, I designed these guidance worksheets and tested them with my C1-level, MA students on EAP programmes – the worksheets guide students to review a peer’s drafts of parts of a general academic essay and are easily adaptable or useable at other levels – exactly how to employ them in your context is up to you!

Peer Feedback Worksheet: For Introduction / Essay Outline: peer review introduction outline

Peer Feedback Worksheet: For Body Paragraph(s): peer review body paragraphs

Peer Feedback Worksheet: For Conclusion: peer review conclusion

Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Challenge the Red Pen’s Reign – IATEFL 2016

By popular demand…

My handout from my presentation held at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham, with the above title.

Clare IATEFL 2016 presentation

Abstract:

This talk provides teachers with time-efficient alternatives to traditional ‘red-pen correction’, by demonstrating and evaluating several effective feedback strategies that are applicable to giving feedback on writing in diverse contexts, and presenting summaries of published research which explores their efficacy. Issues including learner autonomy, motivation, and the role of technology are also briefly discussed to underpin the practical ideas presented.

Handout can be downloaded here: IATEFL 2016 conference Clare Fielder Works Cited handout.

Clare IATEFL 2016 presentation 2

IATEFL 2016 Birmingham – What I’m hoping for

I didn’t go to IATEFL’s annual conference last year.  I just somehow thought that I’d been to so many conferences and just wasn’t getting enough out of it; no value for money, so to speak. To be honest I think I felt a bit jaded: always trying to ‘make the most’ of attending conferences, writing copious notes, and scratching my brain for ways to include all of this new input into my teaching for the next term. I wanted to hear as many talks as possible, get as many inspection copies as possible, try to make as many “innovative” changes to my planned courses as possible, network, and of course at some point eat and sleep. Actually it was quite exhausting when I look back. Not only, but also. 

This year I have decided to attend, and present at IATEFL again. Because it is now clear to me that I was lacking a focus. And that is why I’m making this ‘list’ if you like, of my aims for IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham, so that I can use my time more effectively and start moving towards some of my longer-term goals. And maybe some you will join me along the way!

So what is it that I’m hoping for from IATEFL 2016?

  • A successful presentation

My talk is on Friday 15th April, 11am, in Hall 10a: “Marking writing: feedback strategies to challenge the red pen’s reign.”

I’m hoping for a good level of interest, no matter how many or few people are in the audience, and I hope that at least one thing in my talk will be new to them, inspire them, get them thinking, and open up space for conversations on the topic of correcting EFL students’ written work. I would love for this to lead to in-depth discussion, exchange and networking, and maybe even research collaboration beyond the conference week.

  • Meeting publishers

I have come to realise that I love writing materials, worksheets, lesson ideas, teachers guides, etc., and that one of my longer-term goals would be to do some paid work in this area. I’d love to engage with publishers’ representatives in Birmingham (or otherwise!), to hear about what kinds of directions their companies are moving in regarding future publications/materials, what kinds of  writers they’d be looking for, and just in general how I might start to make a move into writing for publication.

If any publishers are reading this: I’ll be at IATEFL with my CV and would love to meet you! My areas of expertise include EAP, academic/essay writing, presentation skills, grammar, and translation (German-English).

  • Meeting materials writers

As is clear from the bullet point above, I’m looking to start getting into writing  for publication, and would love to get to know fellow teachers who have made this move or somehow got their foot in the door, so to speak! I’d love to hear about your experiences, and (maybe… if I ply you with coffee/wine/beverage of your choice) your secrets and tips on how I could follow in your footsteps!!

  • Meetings new EAP contacts and friends

One of the biggest benefits of attending conferences like IATEFL is all the networking! I have made some good friends and contacts by striking up a conversation after a presentation, or over the free tea & coffee! And I hope to continue this tradition and expand my circle of friends and colleagues, and my online PLN. I’m particularly looking forward to sharing experiences and stories about EAP in different contexts, or from budding academics like myself, and just in general enjoying the evenings in Birmingham in a nice relaxed manner with colleagues and friends on a similar wave-length!  So please do say “hi” if/when we see each other next week!

So, all that’s left to say is…

Have a safe journey, and I hope to see you in Birmingham!

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!!

IMAG0494
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?!