Tag: Essay

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

 

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#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.

#BridgingtheGapChallenge Hand-Written vs Emailed Corrective Feedback on Writing

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

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

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

Participants & Procedure

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

Findings

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

My Own Thoughts

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

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

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

Introductory Paragraphs: How to teach and write them

When writing academic essays in English, students need to be aware that they will not only need to focus on their language accuracy (as well as tone, register, etc), but also that there may be differences in conventions of structure and logic. In EGAP, the introductory paragraph is an important part of any essay, and it is here that some of these differences may become apparent. Below is a brief guide to teaching learners how to write a good introductory paragraph for an EGAP essay – the guide can be used by students themselves, or by teachers who need some tips and examples for teaching this aspect of essay writing. 

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First, we need to be clear on the functions of an introductory paragraph

  • Attracts readers’ attention
  • Gives a BRIEF background of topic
  • Includes NO detail of support/evidence/examples
  • Narrows down the topic
  • Hints at the organisation of the essay
  • Guides the direction of the essay
  • Controls the essay’s scope
  • States the essay’s main message/point in the THESIS STATEMENT (more on this later!)

To encourage learners to ‘notice’ these features, it might be a good idea for the teacher to provide some good examples. These can be found in EAP course books, or from published essay-like articles, or by using previous students’ essay which had a particularly good introductory paragraph. Once this has been clarified, it makes sense to start at the beginning of the paragraph and walk through how the features can be realised.

The first couple of sentences are important for introducing the topic area as a whole and gaining the reader’s attention and interest.

There are various ways to open the introductory paragraph:

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General statement

e.g. Every day, the newspapers, and television and radio news programs are flooded with stories about the tragic results of drug addiction.

Question

e.g. Are standardized tests a fair measure of academic potential?

Statistics

e.g. The latest census shows that 75% of the population of the USA are Christian, but only 12% send their children to religious schools. 

Quote (famous person)

e.g. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  Mark Twain’s famous quote highlights the heart of the debate about home-schooling in the USA.

Relevant anecdote

e.g. The British Queen finished her recent tour of Australia today by meeting a survivor of the Indian Ocean tsunami, whose story prompted a discussion of the precautionary measures that are appropriate for protecting the population from such natural disasters

 

To practise interesting opening lines, students can either look at example paragraphs and identify which approach the writer has taken, and/or pick one topic and practise writing opening lines using various techniques from the list above. Topics can be of general interest (like the examples above), or specific to the students’ fields of study. Of course, EAP teachers are not always experts in all of the fields of study their students are working in, but a quick look over the contents page(s) of an introductory textbook can provide a nice list of topic areas – or ask the students themselves for input here.

After the opening sentences, we need to structure the rest of the paragraph.

I find one of the easiest ways to present the structure of an introductory paragraph is showing that its shape mimics that of a funnel, filtering down from the general opening to the specific focus of the essay, and culminates in a thesis statement, which states the overall message of the essay and answer to the task question. This can be demonstrated in a number of ways which can be memorable for students, either visually (see below), or with hand gesture (rather like a flight attendant!), or by bringing your kitchen funnel to class as a prop!

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Whichever technique is employed to demonstrate the shape of a paragraph, it will probably be necessary for students to see the ‘funnel’ form in action, so to speak. To do this, example paragraphs which can be analysed into component parts are the most effective. Here are some examples (from general EAP) of how this “funnel” can work in practice (my own work – not necessarily amazing, but clearly demonstrating the ‘funnel’, and I’ve analysed the component parts to exemplify what I mean by this activity).

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Students should notice in the examples that there are usually a few sentences between the opening ‘attention catcher’ and the thesis statement. These narrow down the topic, giving more information about the context and the rationale  – They include information to answer the following questions:

Why is this an important / interesting topic to write about? Who is involved in the topic? Whose are the strongest voices in discussions on this topic? Which aspects of the topic are the focus of this essay?

And then we reach the final sentence of the introductory paragraph –

arguably the most important in the whole essay: the THESIS STATEMENT. 

Of all  of the functions on an introductory paragraph, the thesis statement can take over most of them, but the vital thing for students to do in their Thesis Satements is to state the essays’ overarching message or argument. If worded expertly, the thesis statement can also hint at the organisation of the essay and the kinds of evidence that are going to be presented.

Depending on the discipline the essay is being written in, it may or may not be a good idea for the author to state what you are going to do in the essay to ‘prove’ the argument expressed in your thesis statement. As an EAP teacher, this may be a point where some input from a subject teacher may be helpful! Nonetheless, I think it is important to make students aware that trite phrasing such as ‘This essay will attempt to” or “This paper aims to” is rather dull to read, and some of the readers’ attention the opening sentences so dynamically attracted may be lost. Students can be guided to try replacing them with statements such as “It is important to” or “An interesting approach is to” – OR, and this is what I personally prefer, they can include information about what they’re going to do whilst stating the overarching thesis or argument. That means that they would not explicitly state your intention (as you would in, say, a longer term paper or dissertation), but hint at it through some clever phrasing. Here are some good examples of thesis statements which employ this strategy:

  • An evaluation of the validity of the evidence for this view demonstrates that it is questionable, and highlights that the Supreme Court is right to ban the teaching of the Christian creation story as a part of the biology curriculum.
  • From the analysis of examples of countries throughout the world, considering economic, social and psychological indicators, it becomes clear that the division of countries into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ needs re-examining. 

To practice formulating this kind of Thesis Statement, I would ask students to first think about what they are planning to do in the essay, e.g. evaluate, analyse, compare, etc – and then use these words to lead in to the overall message/point they are trying to demonstrate within the essay. I think it is clearly exemplified above, but again subject-specific examples could be a help here. Also, teachers could devise practice tasks which include a topic and two verbs for what the writer aims to do, and then ask students to write the Thesis Statements for those essay. For example: Devise a Thesis Statement for an essay that aims to do the following:

  • evaluate evidence for critical period hypothesis (for learning languages)
  • focus on examples of deaf and feral children
  • argue overall: there’s probably a sensitive period, but not stringent critical period

–> Example Thesis Statement –> An evaluation of the evidence supporting the critical period hypothesis, primarily that provided by case studies of deaf and feral children, demonstrates why it may be more appropriate to talk of a ‘sensitive period’ rather than a stringently restricted critical period for the acquisition of language. 

Another good hint is to remind students that the thesis statement should summarise their answer to the task question in just one sentence. Here is a clear example:

Task/Question: Why has use of the English language expanded so much over the last 1000 years?

Thesis statement: Following key periods in the expansion of the English language over the last 1000 years highlights how these coincide with major world events and trends, including the British Empire, globalisation, international cooperation and the advent of the Internet, which can be identified as causes for the expansion of the language to a world language.

Once the introduction has some opening lines to attract readers’ attention, and some ‘narrowing down’ including information on the rationale, scope, etc, and a clear Thesis Statement, it is basically finished – although it might be a good idea to remind students to review the introduction once they have finished writing the essay, to make sure that the body fits to what they introduced!

 

One example task would be to provide examples of short essays, and two-or three introductory paragraphs on the topic: Students should pick the introductory paragraph that best fits to the body of the essay and justify their choice. To do this task well, they will need to know that:

The thesis statement should be supported by the information given in the body paragraphs of the essay. To ensure that the organisation is clear and flows logically, the aspects mentioned in the thesis statement should be discussed in the order in which they are presented there. For example, in the essay about the second example thesis statement above (about ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries), we would expect body paragraphs first on economic factors, then social and then psychological aspects. The concluding paragraph should then weigh up all of the evidence given in the essays’s body (brief summary!) and then draw a conclusion that reflects the overarching message as it was presented in the thesis statement.

Finally, I would end any lesson(s) on writing introductions with the reminder that 

It is vital to have a good introductory paragraph for any essay – but having a good introductory paragraph is not a guarantee for a good essay!

 

How To Mark Written Work Effectively – Using Underlining

On many teacher training courses, the focus is placed so heavily on classroom behaviour and materials development, that many new teachers  are not shown effective ways of marking learners’ work. More experienced teachers, too, often stick to one method of correcting students‘ writing, without necessarily thinking about its effectiveness. Based on these considerations, I’ve started a series of posts on various ways to mark students’ written work, which may be time-saving for us teachers and more effective in promoting learning among our students.

Let’s start with the classic and a few variations…

English: Underlined text. Image created entire...
English: Underlined text. Image created entirely by myself. Ineligible for copyright because it’s just underlined text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)      Underling mistakes

  1. Underline & correct – the more times the word/phrase is underlined, the more serious the error. Re-drafting doesn’t make much sense here, as students will simply copy out the corrections of the tutor – although it makes them aware of their errors, the chances are they will not internalize the corrections.
  2. Underline with code – the incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, and symbols are used in the margin or above the underlined word to show the type of error. For example w.o. can indicate incorrect word order, or sp likewise incorrect spelling. Students are expected to diagnose their own problems and fix the errors. Students can re-draft the essay.
  3. Underline with number – the incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, and numbers are written in the margin or text to refer to the type of error or a longer comment. This is especially useful for common errors (saves tutor’s time writing the same comments frequently) and with errors which are more stylistic and not simply grammatical/lexical, e.g. “no new lines within a paragraph” or “topic sentence doesn’t introduce the whole idea of the paragraph”. Students can re-draft the essay
  4. Students can also work together to find & correct the mistakes in their essays. This is much more effective, as it’s always easier to see other people’s mistakes. Also, explaining corrections to each other helps clarify understanding of how the language works.

See also: