Tag: Essay

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

Time for a little advertising! 😉

On October Thursday 5th October at 4.25pm UK time, I’ll be giving an online talk as part of the LTSIG /OllREN online conference and would be delighted to see you there!

LTSIG Presentation Clare Maas

Exploring efficient ways to give sustainable feedback on L2 writing is important because providing meticulous correction of language errors and hand-written summaries can be time-consuming and often seems less effective than desired. For feedback to be sustainable (i.e. effective long-term), it should be formative, interactive and impact on students’ future work (Carless et al 2011). Thus traditional, hand-written feedback practices may be inefficient at effecting sustainability. Integrating technology into feedback delivery has been shown to have potential in alleviating the situation, by stimulating students to engage with feedback they receive and enabling dialogues about their work.

Combining work into feedback on L2 writing with ideas promoted in higher education, I devised the Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) procedure, where feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‘drive’ how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various digital delivery modes and are required to pose questions about their work to which the tutor responds.

In this talk, I will summarise some recent literature which supports both the use of technologies such as email, audio recording, and text-editing software features, and responses to students’ individual queries in feedback procedures, before practically demonstrating LDF. I will refer to my own recently published article on LDF in EAP, and discuss my evaluation of its application in my teaching, providing compelling reasons and practical suggestions for its employment in various language teaching contexts. These discussions will also explore potential mechanisms underpinning the efficacy of multimodal approaches to making feedback more sustainable, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups. This includes topics such as learner autonomy, motivation, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualisation.

The talk is thus a combination of practical demonstration and theoretical background, of interest and relevance to a broad audience.

 

Reference: Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., Lam, J., 2011. Developing sustainable
feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36, 395–407.

Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

I’ve been looking back over my notes from IATEFL 2017 to find inspiration for another blog post. I’m a bit late now to just summarise talks, but I’d like to come back to one of the questions that was posed at a talk I attended. It was “Building bridges: the disciplines, the normative and the transformative” by Catherine Mitsaki. 

Catherine’s talk looked at the EAP/Genre-based and Academic Literacies models of academic writing instruction and assessed the pedagogical potential of the different approaches, whilst sharing her experience from teaching for UK and international students. As I said, I don’t want to summarise her whole talk here, just one key question she raised. Students from her classes gave feedback suggesting they would prefer to have been taught the specific academic writing skills required for their assignments (within subject classes) right at the time they were working on those assignments. Catherine calls it “just in time” teaching, and she asked us what we thought.

I have to say, I can’t embrace the “just in time” teaching concept fully when it comes to academic writing. There is just too much that students need to know. It might be more appropriate if students entered university programmes with a strong foundation of writing skills, which could then be honed by focussing on the relevant points and skills for each assignment. But this is usually not the case, at least not where I work. I always feel I’m squashing in a huge amount of input and practice into our essay-writing modules, and they run for 14 weeks! With all of the competencies that are involved in producing good academic writing, I find it is much better to give students the chance to digest the input and practice applying the skills to their work over a period of time so that everything can really ‘sink in’. They need time to practise actually transferring the transferable skills we’re teaching them, especially at undergraduate level!

Also, as Catherine pointed out, “just in time” teaching would seem to contradict Academic Literacies models which aim to promote criticality towards established norms as a productive way of growing academically. As she puts it in personal correspondence, “There is no room for questioning well established models if one is struggling to deal with the norms as they are.”

So I’m not convinced that doing what students want or think is best (easiest?) for them is the best approach here. Perhaps a better option is explaining the rationale for our writing courses to the students, in an attempt to increase the receptivity to the classes we teach.

What do you think? Could “just in time” teaching work where you are?

Making Marking Colourful

Making Marking Colourful

Anyone who’s been following my blog and conference presentations for a while will know that I have a healthy obsession with marking and giving feedback on L2 students’ essays! This is partly due to the huge numbers of essays I have to mark each term, and the number of new marking techniques this allows me to try out!

Having just finished (phew!) marking a class load of B2+ level discursive essays, I’ve got time to share some ideas on using different colours for marking and giving feedback, which may serve to make it more effective, and, if not exactly fun, at least somewhat visually pleasing!

You might have seen or heard about my talk on ‘Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Challenge the Red Pen’s Reign‘ where I discussed a variety of ways to make marked work seem less, well, red. Red is the colour of aggression and warnings, so I’m not sure why it has come to be the typical colour for giving feedback on students’ work. Looking back at some work I’ve marked before, I just see a sea of red, used for everything – even ticks for good aspects of writing! This time around, then, I decided to use different coloured pens to show different kinds of comments. Language errors were corrected in red, good aspects were ticked or commented on in green, and other advice or comments (e.g. on content, structure or referencing) were written in blue. Even just at first glance, these papers look a lot more balanced in terms of feedback given, and can hopefully avoid that sinking feeling when students get their work back. Some have even told me that this kind of visual distinction of comments helps them to engage with the feedback as they can go at it aspect for aspect. So, for an easy way to make marking more colourful and potentially helpful for students, just add two new colours to your usual stationery repertoire, and off you go!

If you have more colours to hand, or are marking work electronically, another colour-coding approach I’ve used before is a bit more specific. Here, I use different colours to mark different categories of language mistake. You can also do it with highlighters (or the highlighting function in your word-processing programme). For example, pink is incorrect vocabulary, blue is incorrect verb form, green is for other grammar problems, and orange is for punctuation mistakes. You can vary your colours and categories as relevant to your learners and their writing. I suspect that this kind of colour code makes it even easier for students to work through the feedback they receive, and also serves to highlight the most common problem areas in their work – which will be useful for you and them! Definitely worth a try, if your pencil-case allows!

sandy 2.PNG

A final idea I’d like to share is one I’ve borrowed from Sandy Millin. This colourful approach focuses on priority areas for review and improvement. After marking all of the langauge errors in a student’s text, pick three areas of language that you feel need the most work, e.g. prepositions, vocabulary, and word forms. Then pick one colour highlighter to show each of these three areas – highlight all of that category of errors in the student’s text, and highlight the words/phrases in your feedback telling the student what to work on. I’ve included excerpts of images Sandy provided to show what this would look like in practice.

sandy 1.PNG

I’ve recently used this kind of colour-coded feedback with advanced-level students to highlight why I’ve made the suggestions I’ve added to their work. For example, I might suggest more formal vocabulary items or add in hedging phrases. I then write in my feedback comments something like ‘Try to use more hedging to avoid overgeneralisations’ – I highlight the word ‘hedging’ in yellow, and then highlight all of my hedging suggestions in yellow throughout the student’s text. Students have told me they liked this because it made them realise that they hadn’t necessarily made a mistake or done something wrong when I added a suggestion on their text, but could see why I’d added it and how it might improve their writing. And so, if your staionery budget is not yet exhausted, I’d recommend investing in some highlighters and trying out Sandy’s approach, too!

SO what have we learnt? Well, marking doesn’t need to be dull, and it definitely doesn’t need to be a red-pen-only affair! These ways of including colour in marking students’ work can alter how students percieve the feedback they’re given, and may in the long run make it more effective – and thus more worth our valuable time! 🙂

What Postgraduates Appreciate in Online Feedback on Academic Writing #researchbites

What Postgraduates Appreciate in Online Feedback on Academic Writing #researchbites

In this article, Northcott, Gillies and Coutlon explore their students’ perceptions of how effective online formative feedback was for improving their postgraduate academic writing, and aim to highlight best practices for online writing feedback.

Northcott, J., P. Gillies & D. Caulton (2016), ‘What Postgraduates Appreciate in Online Tutor Feedback on Academic Writing’, Journal of Academic Writing, Vol. 6/1 , pp. 145-161.

Background

The focus of the study was on helping international master’s-level students at a UK university, for whom English is not their first/main language. The study’s central aim was investigating these students’ satisfaction with the formative feedback provided online by language tutors on short-term, non-credit-bearing ESAP writing courses. These courses, run in collaboration with subject departments, are a new provision at the university, in response to previous surveys showing dissatisfaction among students with feedback provided on written coursework for master’s-level courses. Participation is encouraged, but voluntary.  The courses consist of five self-study units (with tasks and answer keys), as well as weekly essay assignments marked by a tutor.

The  essays are submitted electronically, and feedback is provided using either Grademark (part of Turnitin) or ‘track changes’ in Microsoft Word . The feedback covers both  language correction and feedback on aspects of academic writing. These assignments are effectively draft versions of sections of coursework assignments students are required to write for the master’s programmes.

Research

The EAP tutors involved marked a total of 458 assignments, written by students in the first month of the master’s degrees in either Medicine or Politics. Only 53 students completed all five units of the writing course; though 94 Medicine and 81 Politics students completed the first unit’s assignment.

Alongside the writing samples, data was also collected by surveying students at three points during the writing course, plus an end-of-course evaluation form. Focussing on students who had completed the whole writing course, students’ survey responses were matched with their writing samples which had received feedback, as well as the final coursework assignment they submitted for credit in their master’s programme, for detailed analysis.

Findings

Analysing the feedback given by tutors, the researchers found both direct and indirect corrective feedback on language, as well as on subject-specific or genre-specific writing conventions and the academic skills related to writing. Tutors’ comments mostly refered to specific text passages, rather than being unfocused or general feedback.

Student engagement with feedback was evidenced by analysing writing samples and final coursework: only one case was found where ‘there was clear evidence that a student had not acted on the feedback provided’ (p. 155). However, the researchers admit that, as participation in the course is voluntary, the students who complete it are likely to be those who are in general appreciative of feedback, thus this finding may not be generalisable to other contexts.

In the surveys, most students’ reported feeling that the feedback had helped them to improve their writing. They acknowledged how useful the corrections provided were, and how the feedback could be applied in future. Moreover, comments demonstrated an appreciation of the motivational character of the feedback provided.

Summing up these findings, the researchers report:

It appeared to be the combination of principled corrective feedback with a focus on developing confidence by providing positive, personalised feedback on academic conventions and practices as well as language which obtained the most positive response from the students we investigated. (p. 154)

The students’ comments generally show that they responded well to this electronic mode of feedback delivery, and also felt a connection to their tutor, despite not meeting in person to discuss their work. As the researchers put it, students came to see ‘written feedback as a response to the person writing the text, not simply a response to a writing task’ (p. 156).

Take Away

The findings from this study highlight that simply using electronic modes of feedback delivery does not alone increase student satisfaction and engagement with feedback on their written work. Instead, the content and manner of the feedback given is key.

From the article, then, we can take away some tips for what kind of feedback to give, and how, to make electronic feedback most effective, at least for postgraduate students.

  • Start with a friendly greeting and refer to the student by name.
  • Establish an online persona as a sympathetic critical friend, ready to engage in dialogue.
  • Don’t only focus on corrective feedback, but aim to guide the student to be able to edit and correct their work autonomously, e.g. provide links to further helpful resources.
  • Be specific about the text passage the feedback refers to.
  • Tailor the feedback to the student’s needs, in terms of subject area, etc.
  • Give praise to develop the student’s confidence.
  • Take account of the student’s L1 and background.
  • Eencourage the student to respond to the feedback; especially if anything is unclear or they find it difficult to apply.

This post is part of ELT Research Bites 2017 Summer of Research (Bites) Blog Carnival! Join in here.

What library research skills training do EAP / undergrad students really need?

What library research skills training do EAP / undergrad students really need?

Colleagues and I have long since been aware of the lack of proper research and appropriate source use in our students’ EAP and academic essays. We decided to offer a one-hour workshop on researching in the library at our university, and enlisted the help of an expert – the library representative for our subject area.

We thought it was a great idea!

But students were not so impressed. And their work didn’t improve much, either.

After the session, students’ feedback centred on the following points:

  •  the session was quite like a lecture, but not very interactive or with any opportunities for them to try things out for themselves1000px-Logic_Gates.svg.png
  •  they were bored and confused by the explanation of possible search filters they could implement with Boolean search strings
  • the MLA Bibliography they were introduced to “only gave them references but not the actual articles”
  • that “there weren’t (m)any books on their topic”
  • the searches of databases etc. don’t work “properly” at home.

So what do students new to library research really need to know?

  • What an academic text is. (I recently asked MA-level students to bring in an academic journal article on our overall topic, and many of them turned up with texts from news sources like BBC, or from magazines like Time!)
  • The fact that searching a database of academic texts is not like an internet search; i.e. you shouldn’t ask the catalogue your question (“Ok google, what are the differences between British and American spelling?”), but search for keywords or tags related to the topic.
  • The fact that their specific topic may only be dealt with in a chapter within a book, which may not be searchable (unless the library has digitalised contents pages) and so they may need to search for more general terms.
  • The difference between bibliographies and databases.
  • The fact that many published sources are not available for free on the internet and so you can only access the full texts if your institution subscribes to that publication and you access it through their server. (Yes, this might mean, dear students, that you will actually have to physically go into the library!)
  • The difference between reports of original (empirical) research and meta-studies or other summaries, and the importance of reading the primary work.
  • The importance of using up-to-date sources, especially in areas where research and understandings have developed significantly in recent years.
  • How to use keywords  / tags, and articles’ abstracts, or skim-reading, to judge a source’s relevance and appropriateness for their work.
  • That something is not a fact just because it has been published – most academic work is about stance!books-1015594_960_720.jpg

And so, I’ve come to the conclusion that a one-hour session might not be the best way to introduce students to the academic research community. A quick introduction to the specific institution’s library is a good idea, but that this clearly needs to be further supported within our teaching.

Over to you!

What kinds of tasks and activities do you get your students to do to help them to develop and train their researching skills? Please leave your ideas and tips in the comments below!

Reading Support Worksheets for EAP

Reading Support Worksheets for EAP

Much is said in published literature about the necessity of EAP students reading authentic academic texts, and also about providing scaffolding and support for them to do so. I believe lecturers and academic tutors teaching their subject content in English and/or on a CLIL-based approach will also need to help students digest the readings for their classes.

Still, I often hear complaints from teachers that they set preparatory reading, but then found in the lesson that students were unable to discuss or work with the ideas from the reading, despite their claims that they did actually read the text. 

One way I’ve found to help students engage with the texts they are asked to read, then, is what I call ‘Reading Support Worksheets’. 

Reading Support Worksheets can help students to focus on the parts of a text or the ideas and concepts mentioned, so that they are better prepared to discuss or work with these in their lessons. Also, directing students’ attention to what the tutor deems the key concepts, the things they want to focus on in their lessons, the reasons they chose this reading text, can ease the load on students to comprehend every detail in a text and perhaps ease their frustration at the time and effort needed to do so. 

So how do I set up a Reading Support Worksheet?

I divide the text into manageable, logical sections, and pose questions or set quick tasks to guide students in the notes they should make whilst reading each section. Here are some of the question and task types I’ve used so far:

  • What is the central claim presented in the introduction?
  • What are the guiding questions and approach that this article is working with? How are these justified?
  • Paraphrase the quote by xyz.
  • Summarise the overall argument / point of paragraph xyz.
  • What do these abbreviations stand for: x, y, z ?
  • Give examples of xyz’s categories.
  • Copy the diagram/table on page x and add two more examples of your own.
  • Define xyz’s concept of xyz in your own words.
  • What are the key terms used by xyz?
  • On page x the example “xyz” is used to illustrate xyz. Explain the claim/theory/concept in your own words and add an example.
  • Note the break-down into 5 steps/categories here. 
  • Contrast xy’s idea/claim/theory with yz’s.
  • What is an xyz? Why is this important to understand?
  • Draw a diagram to illustrate xyz.
  • How to xy’s categories/ideas/key terms relate/compare to yz’s?
  • Make a time-line in note form, charting the development of xyz.
  • Name and describe in your own words two views on xyz.
  • What is special about xyz’s model?
  • Outline some of the measures taken to address xyz.
  • What are the reasons stated to support the claim that xyz.
  • Draw a flow-chart illustrating the structure of this section of the article.
  • How is the data presented in this section? What central claim is the data used to support?
  • What data analysis method was used in this study, and why?
  • For each graph in this section, write down I) what it plots (i.e. what the x-axis and y-axis show) and II) what trends are illustrated by the data presented.
  • What do you know about the “xyz” mentioned here? (If not much – find out more!)
  • Extension: Choose one source from the bibliography of this article to read as your next source on input on our topic xyz.

I believe that this type of scaffolding helps the students to get to grips with the content of a text at a mainly descriptive level, leaving activities which require higher-order thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation for the lesson time.

Of course, the number of questions or tasks should be suitable for the length of text – remember, students should have the feeling that the worksheet is helping them to digest the text, and not adding extra work!

In EAP, questions or tasks can be added to get students to focus on the langauge or other academic skills as they are demonstarted in the text. For example:

  • Write the bibliography entry for this text.
  • Why do you think the title of this section is pluralised?
  • Find transition words/phrases in this section that show xyz. Note their position within the sentence.
  • Find synonyms in this section which mean x, y, z.

Why not try it yourself? You can share your questions/tasks in the comments below, and let me know how it works out with your students!

Competency-based planning and assessing

Competency-based planning and assessing

Earlier this week, I attended a workshop on competency-based (or competency-oriented) planning and assessing held by Dr Stefan Brall at Trier University, and would like to share some of the insights here.

The workshop was aimed at university-level teachers from various subject areas, and so concentrated generally on Competency-Based Education (CBE). According to Richards and Rogers (2001), the principles of CBE can be applied to the teaching of foreign languages (-> CBLT: Competency-Based Language Teaching), making the topic of interest to ELT professionals.

What is a competency?

In everyday language, we talk of people being ‘competent’ when they have the knowledge, qualification(s), or capacity to fulfil the expectations of a particular situation. They have the ability to apply the relevant skills appropriately and effectively. In the area of education, then, these skills are the individual competencies that students need to acquire and develop. Another important distinction here is between declarative knowledge, the theoretical understanding of something, and procedural knowledge, the ability to actually do it. In language teaching, I would argue, our focus is necessarily on the procedural side of things, on getting students to be able to actually communicate in the target langauge. The overarching goal of  CBLT is for learners to be able to apply and transfer this procedural knowledge in various settings, appropriately and effectively.

Literature on CBE explains how the approach can enhance learning, by

  • Focusing on the key competencies needed for success in the field
  • Providing standards for measuring performance and capabilities
  • Providing frameworks for identifying learners’ needs
  • Providing standards for measuring what learning has occurred

What are key competencies?

In the realm of tertiary education, a useful study to look at here is the Tuning Project. This is an EU-wide study which explored the most important competencies that students should develop at university. Although the specific ranking of the competencies may be debated, some of the capabilities that came out as very important include: the application of theory, problem solving, the adaptation of procedural knowledge to new situations, analytical thinking, synthesising information, and creativity (Gonzalez & Wagenaar, 2003). These kinds of skills are those often found at the top ends of taxonomies of learning. Compare, for example, with Bloom’s taxonomy:

bloom

Other taxonomies of learning use comparable sequential units to describe cognitive learning. For example, the SOLO model (Structure of Observed Learning Outcome, see Biggs & Tang, 2007) includes a quantitative phase of uni-structural and multi-strucutal learning (e.g. identyfing, describing, combining), and then a quantitative phase of relational (e.g. comparing, analysing causes, applying) and extended abstract learning (e.g. generalising, hypothesising). Seeing these important skills in a hierarchically organised scheme highlights how they build upon each other, and are themselves the products of mastering many sub-skills or competencies.

In language teaching, people have long since spoken of “the four skills”, i.e. skills covering the oral, aural, reading and writing domains. To this we might also add learning competencies. In CBLT, language is taught as a function of communicating about concrete tasks; learners are taught the langauge forms/skills they will need to use in various situations in which they will need to function. Scales such as the Common European Reference Framework for Languages help to break down these skills into distinct competences, whereby learners move up through the levels of mastery in each skill area, from elementary performance in a competency to proficient performance.

cefr

Competency-based Learning Outcomes

If we take scales of learning as the foundation for our planning, then, formulating statements of learning outcomes becomes quite a straightforward process. We will of course need to know the current level and needs of our students, especially in terms of competencies still to be learnt and competencies requiring further development. Associated with such learning taxonomies, we can easily find lists of action verbs which denote the skills associated with each developmental level of thinking skills. Based on the SOLO model, for example, we might find the following verbs:

Level Verbs
Uni-structural learning (knowledge of one aspect) count, define, find, identify, imitate, name, recognize, repeat, replicate
Multi-structural learning  (knowledge of several, unconnected aspects) calculate, classify, describe, illustrate, order, outline, summarise, translate
Relational learning (knowledge of aspects is integrated and connected) analyse, apply, compare, contrast, discuss, evaluate, examine, explain, integrate, organise, paraphrase, predict
Extended abstract learning (knowledge transferred to new situations) argue, compose, construct, create, deduce, design, generalize, hypothesise, imagine, invent, produce, prove, reflect, synthesise

Based on our understanding of students’ current learning levels, students’ needs, and the general framework within which our lessons/courses are taking place (in terms of contact time, resources, etc), and with these action verbs, we can then formulate realistic learning goals. In most cases, there will be a primary learning outcome we hope to reach, which may consist of several sub-goals – this should be made clear.

For example, an academic writing course aimed at C1-level students (on the CEFR) might set the main learning outcome as:

By the end of this course, students should be able to produce a coherent analytical essay following the Anglo-American conventions for the genre.

A couple of the sub-goals might include:

  • Students should be familiar with Anglo-American essay-writing conventions and able to apply these to their own compositions.
  • Students should understand various cohesive devices and employ these appropriately within their writing.
  • Students should understand the functions of Topic Sentences and Thesis Statements and be able to formulate these suitably in their own writing. 

Formulating clear learning outcomes in this way, and making them public, helps students to reflect on their own progress and may be motivating for them, and helps teachers to choose activities and materials with a clear focus, as well as helping to devise assessment tasks and grading rubrics.

Competency-based Assessment

Of course, most teachers will need to aim for economical assessment, in terms of time and resources. As far as possible, CBE advocates on-going assessment, so that students continue to work on the competency until they achieve the desired level of mastery. Competency-based assessment may thus require more effort and organisation on the part of the assessor – but it is able to provide a more accurate picture of students’ current stage of learning and performance.

Take multiple-choice tasks, for example; they can be marked very economically, but in reality they tend only to test the lower-level thinking skills, which may not have been the desired learning outcome. To test competency-based learning, we need to base our assessment tasks on the learning outcomes we have set, perhaps using the same action verbs in the task instructions. The focus is shifted to learners’ ability to demonstrate, not simply talk theoretically about, the behaviours noted in the learning outcomes. Still, especially in the realm of langauge teaching, there are some tasks we can easily set in written assignments which will also allow us to assess the higher levels of competencies more economically than oral presentations or practical assignments. If our learning outcome is the ability to apply a theory, for example, we could set a question such as ‘Describe a situation that illustrates the principles of xyz‘. Or, if we want to assess whether learners can discuss and evaluate, we might set a task like ‘Explain whether and why you agree or disagree with the following statement.‘ These kinds of tasks require learners to apply their acquired or developed competencies on a more qualitative level.

To enable objective assessments of students’ learning, we will need to devise a matrix based on the various levels of mastery of the competencies detailed in the learning outcomes. As a basis, we might start with something like this:

Grade Description
A An outstanding performance.
B A performance considerably better than the average standard.
C A performance that reaches the average standard.
D Despite short-comings, the performance just about reaches the minimum standard required.
E Because of considerable short-comings, the performance does not reach the minimum standard required.

For each sub-skill of the competencies we are aiming for students to achieve, we will need to state specifically, for instance, which ‘short-comings’ are ‘considerable’, e.g. if the students cannot demonstrate the desired level of mastery even with the tutor’s assistance. Also, it is important in CBE and CBLT that students’ performance is measured against their peers, especially to ascertain the ‘average standard,’ and not against the mastery of the tutor.

To return to the essay writing, example, a student’s composition might receive a B grade on the sub-competence of using cohesive devices if they employ several techniques to create cohesion in their work, but occasionally use one technique where another might be more effective. A student’s essay might receive a D grade on this competency if they repeatedly use the same cohesive device, or employ the techniques indiscriminately and inappropriately. An E grade might mean that the student has not tried to employ any cohesive devices. In this manner, the primary learning outcome is broken down into sub-skills, on which students’ performance can be objectively measured using a detailed grading matrix.

In a nutshell, then, CBE and CBLT aim for ‘Yes we can!’ rather than ‘We know’. Competency-based teaching and learning have become a staple in further education and language instruction in many places around the world. If you would like to implement the approach in your own classrooms, I hope this post has given you some useful insights on how to do so!

References

Biggs, J. & C. Tang, Teaching for Quality Learning at University (Maidenhead: Open University, 2007).

Brall, S., “Kompetenzorientiert planen und prĂźfen”, Workshop at Trier University, 21.2.17.

Gonzalez, J. & R. Wagenaar, Tuning Educational Structures in Europe: Final Report Phase One (Bilbao, 2003)

Richards, J.C. & T.S. Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Cambridge: CUP, 2001).

“What is the CEFR?”, English Profile, Cambridge University Press, http://www.englishprofile.org/the-cefr, accessed 24.2.17

British Council Teaching for Success – My Webinar

British Council Teaching for Success – My Webinar

Here are the slides (inc. references) from my talk yesterday as part of the British Council’s “Teaching for Success” online conference. This talk takes research into feedback practices & translates it into practical ideas for classroom application!

Click here for Slides.

Link to the recorded talk: http://britishcouncil.adobeconnect.com/p424b8xlubb/

Abstract: Providing meticulous correction of errors and hand-written summaries on each student’s text can be time-consuming, and often seems less effective than desired. However, many teachers cannot access relevant publications discussing alternative feedback strategies, and remain unsure about which more time-efficient procedures might be applicable in their context. For this reason, this talk aims to discuss various strategies for assessing and giving feedback on EFL learners’ written work, which I have collected from recent publications, have applied and evaluated in my own teaching, and would like to share with fellow ELT practitioners.

This talk will demonstrate practicable strategies including ways of marking learners’ errors (underlining, correction codes, margin comments), as well as conducting successful peer review, delivering feedback with technology, and making the student-teacher feedback dialogue more constructive and efficient. For each strategy demonstrated, I will summarise recently published relevant research on its employment in various contexts, and briefly present discussions from the literature on the mechanisms underpinning its efficacy, with the main aim of aiding teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific learners and contexts. These factors include learner autonomy, motivation, learning styles, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualism.

The talk therefore encourages CPD within the British Council’s professional practices rubric of ‘Assessing Learning’, a topic of interest and relevance to a broad audience, provide practical ideas which can be immediately trialled in a wide range of teaching contexts, and will encourage open discussion on feedback practices among participants.

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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]