Tag: L2

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.

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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! 🙂