Tag: Mistakes

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

 

Little Rant: How to Write a Rubbish Essay

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

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

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

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

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

Can translation classes improve students’ English skills?

GUEST POST BY CAROL EBBERT

 

Introduction

Translation has a tool of teaching foreign languages is undergoing a rejuvenation, after it was out of fashion for many years. Translation is also part of the curriculum within the Department of English Studies at Trier University. We at Uni Trier have always felt that teaching translation to C1-level monolingual learners helps improve their grammar and accuracy in English, helping our students to recognize possible areas of interference from German (their L1). This assumption, however, was never put to the test.

So we decided to test it. A first step in doing so was carried out in winter semester 2013/14. Our test subjects were five translation classes taught by three different instructors. These translation classes are not meant to specifically train translators, but rather the focus is using translation as a method to learn English. To do so, sentences or short paragraphs relating to specific grammatical features in German or English, or longer texts containing multiple such features, are translated from German (L1) into English (L2).

The classes were given a grammar test in the first week of class prior to any translation. A similar test was then administered in the last or second-to-last week of class to the same five groups of students. The results of these two tests form the basis of our study.

The Grammar Test

The areas we chose to cover were articles, tenses, modal constructions, prepositions and false friends. The test exercises were taken from course books with an appropriate level (advanced or C1). The tasks were made as similar as possible across the two tests and with similar numbers of points as well.

An important point was to get as close to ‘real’ production as possible in the artificial test format. We decided against overuse of multiple choice answers, because we did not want our students to recognize and pick the right answer. As our students are fairly high level, they often make mistakes despite knowing the right answer. Thus in multiple choice, they will often recognize and pick the correct answer, although when asked to produce free speech or their own written texts, they may make mistakes in these same areas. We wanted them to create an answer with as little outside help as possible. We were able to especially achieve this in the section on articles, tenses and prepositions, where only the context of the texts or knowing the rules of English grammar or collocation led them to create the correct answer. We were unable to create a version of the false friend section that did not give a selection of words. As students scored high in this section on both the first and second test, this perhaps indicates that they can recognize the correct answer although they may not always produce it.

Results

Our sample size was 94. Once the tests were administered in class, they were corrected and the scores were tabulated. The exams were administered anonymously and students were identified by their student number.

The data were analyzed using a dependent t-test. This test is used when the same participants have provided data in both experimental conditions, as is the case here. With a sample of this size (N=94), the dependent t-test is able to detect even fairly small effects. The t-test aims to compare the average difference between each participant’s scores on the various test exercises before and after the intervention. It was used here to test the following hull hypothesis:

H0 = There will be no difference on average between students’ scores on the grammar test exercises completed before the translation course and after the translation course.

The results of the t-test showed statistically significant improvement in the areas of tenses, prepositions and false friends, and of course in the combined scores of both tests. Articles showed a statistically significant decrease in scores, and the modals were not statistically significant. Of the areas where improvement was shown, our statistics showed a medium effect for prepositions and false friends, and a large effect for tenses.

Conclusion

Our translation class has brought about improvement in the areas of tenses, prepositions and false friends, which is a sign that translation has a place in language teaching, although we advocate it as one of many tools of language teaching. We feel it is best used with advanced students, as translation particularly targets interference mistakes, and at lower levels of teaching, these have not fossilized yet, or mistakes are made because students are attempting to produce structures they have not learned yet. Translation seems to be best geared towards students who have learned most grammatical aspects classically taught in books but need to work on the finer points of applying these rules outside of textbook exercises. We also feel that is it not helpful in a multilingual setting, but rather works best when students have the same native language and the teacher has a high proficiency in both languages and can explain aspects of both languages’ grammar to the students.

Everyday Examples of Mental Lexicon Representations

I had a conversation with a colleague the other day, which really made me laugh. I think most people would have found it funny! But I also found it fascinating – through my linguistics-tinted glasses 🙂

My colleague was talking about her old, lazy lodger, who was rather reluctant to do jobs around the house, even when he himself complained that they needed doing. She described the situation something like this:

He complains that it all needs doing, but he’s too lazy, he really does tiddly-winks!

Cue raucous laughter on my part. Tiddly-winks?? What does that have to do with being lazy? Once the laughter died down, it took us a minute or two to come up with the word she was actually looking for: He is lazy, he does diddly squat!  (i.e. nothing)

The conversation moved on, comparing the tiddly-winks guy to her new lodger. He, it seems, is much more active, and can’t stop tidying up and doing odd jobs around the place. Her description of him?

ACDCLiveWii

It’s almost obsessive. My psychologist friend says he probably a bit ACDC!

ACDC? The new synonym for hard-working? No. She of course meant OCD – well… it IS kind of similar!

Once again, laughter on both sides. I even had a chuckle to myself in the car on the way home when I remembered her great quotes! And then my linguist brain kicked in, and I remembered an interesting talk I’d heard recently at our English Linguists Circle about how lexis is represented in the brain, the mental lexicon. Like a light bulb pinging above my head, I realised that what had originally been an after-lunch natter on a slow day at the office, actually provided amusing examples of how our brains store and recall words.

Aitchison (“Words in the Mind”, 2003) explains that a word’s meanings and word class are separated from the sound of the word in the mental lexicon, because semantic knowledge is the most important trigger when activating words for production whereas phonology is the more important trigger in the recognition of words. In this scheme, word lemmas (i.e. with information about meaning and word class) are organised in semantic fields, which are held together by strong connections between coordinates of the same word class. A semantic field is a group of words which are used to talk about the same phenomenon – the words are sometimes hyponyms of a more general term.

A clear everyday example: If I say “knife”, what other words do you think of? Probably “fork” and “spoon”. These words form a set of semantically related items – all hyponyms of ‘cutlery’.

100px-Besteck_Ikea_1985

Ok, what about “red”, “yellow”, “pink”…? You probably think of “green”, “purple”, “orange”, “blue”, and a whole list of other colours. It should be  clear that these words are also members of a semantic field; they all belong to the same word class (they’re usually categorised as adjectives), and are all used to talk about the same phenomenon (colour).

In the examples from my colleague’s quotes, though, the confusion of words leading to her amusing slips does not seem to have come from the semantic organisation of her mental lexicon – although Aitchson says that this is most important for production. We know  that the meaning of “tiddly-winks” (a game, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiddlywinks), is not used to describe a phenomenon that is any way comparable to “diddly squat”, although they happen to both be nouns. So the confusion leading to the funny slips of the tongue must have its roots somewhere else.

According to Aitchison, a word’s phonological form, i.e. its sound structure, also influences how it is stored in the mental lexicon, with similar-sounding words organised together, in order to enable effective speech comprehension. For example, rhyming words such as “cat”, “rat”, “mat”, “bat” are easily misheard and confused with each other. Imagine being at a loud party and your friend shouts “Oh my gosh! Look, a rat!” It’s of course possible that with all the noise, you hear “Oh my gosh, you look fat!” But the comprehension of speech is highly dependent on contextual clues. We have all been in a situation where we think we have heard what someone has said, but still have the feeling that what we think has been said would not make sense, or be appropriate, in the given context. For example, it is unlikely, I imagine, that a friend with whom we have gone to a party would suddenly turn to us and shout that we are fat! We can either ask the person to repeat themselves, or we can figure it out on our own, by looking for similar-sounding words which might fit in the context of the conversation. Indeed, this is what linguists (and psychologsists for that matter) believe happens subconsciously all the time – put simply, recognition of lexical input is based on multiple factors from which our brain calculates the most likely intended meaning and so ‘triggers’ the activation of these items in the mental lexicon. Aitchison explains that similar words compete for activation, in recognition as well as in production, and sometimes the wrong one is chosen, which leads either to misunderstanding speech input, or making errors, like my colleague. That phonologically similar words are more difficult to recall has been shown by plenty of research (e.g. Copeland & Radvansky, 2001 / Yip, 2004): studies into this ‘phonological-similarity effect’ thus provide support for this idea that words compete to be used, and this can sometimes lead to blending or blocking errors, like tiddly-winks!

Another thing that makes these errors interesting is that, according to theories in the area, the more frequent an expression is the more likely are we to pick it over a less frequent one (i.e. more frequent words have greater memory strength). I’m not sure that a modern corpus would show ACDC as more frequently used than OCD … but (without wanting to psychoanalyse my colleague to much!), these errors seem to highlight how individuals’ “corpora” of linguistic reception are probably made up differently.

Tiddlywinks a children's game involving flicking little plastic chips into a cup

The question remains, then, of why my colleague’s production errors seem to have been caused by phonological similarity, although Aitchison says this is mostly used for recognition rather than production. Well, any models of the exact structure of the mental lexicon are sadly just that – models; vastly simplified versions of what they represent. But what is generally agreed upon is the fact that the mental lexicon has to strive for the most efficient compromise between the best organisation of representations for production and for recognition. So there’s something like a tug of war going on in our heads, with the optimum organisation for production competing against the optimum organisation for recognition – and don’t forget that the mental lexicon is also influenced by memory’s needs and other functions! My colleague herself admitted she was feeling tired on the day of our amusing chat, and the slips she made would seem to highlight two key points:

1) that the semantic and phonological representations of any item are not entirely separated, so that either type of representation may be used to activate a word for recognition or production. Although it may be the case (and indeed seems very logical if you look at how we approach finding a word that we want to say/write in a certain context) that semantic organisation is more helpful for production, it definitely is not the case the phonological representations play no role at all in the activation of lexical items for production.

2) that physical conditions can impaire the brain’s ability to direct and manipulate the usual decision-making mechanisms used to activate the correct lexical items – but that these breakdowns in normal service can actually reveal a lot about the mental lexicon and how we access it. We can find anecdotal as well as scientific evidence to support this idea .   I’ve recently read, for example, about schizophrenics’ language use, which highlights the competition going on within the mental lexicon (e.g. Obrebska & Obrebska, 2007) . And, of course, my colleague’s tiredness led to some amusing examples, which can not only be used to cheer us up on a rainy February day, but also provide a little amusing insight into the wonders of the mental leprechaun… I mean, lexicon! 🙂

References

Aitchison, J., Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon (Blackwell, 2003)

Copeland, D. & G. Radvansky, “Phonological Similarity in Working Memory”, Memory & Cognition2001, 29 (5), 774-776. Accessed at http://www3.nd.edu/~memory/Reprints/Copeland%20&%20Radvansky%202001%20(Memory%20&%20Cognition).pdf on 20.2.2014

Obrebska, M. & T. Obrebska, “Lexical and grammatical Analysis of Schizophrenic Patients’ Language: A Preliminary Report”, Psychology of Language and Communication, 2007, Vol. 11, No. 1, 63-72. Accessed at http://www.plc.psychologia.pl/plc/plc/contents/fulltext/11-1_4.pdf on 20.2.2014.

Yip, M.C.W., “What is similar in phonological-similarity effect?, School of Arts & Social Sciences, The Open University of Hong Kong, 2004. Accessed at http://www.cogsci.northwestern.edu/cogsci2004/ma/ma155.pdf on 20.2.14

How to Mark Written Work Effectively – Preventing Future Errors

Most of the time when we mark pieces of written work by EFL learners, our aim is to provide feedback on their language usage which enables them to avoid repeating their errors in future writing. It is logical, then, that simply underlining and correcting errors, as is the most common marking method, may not be as effective at achieving this aim as we may hope. Here are a few different ways of marking written work and scaffolding students’ drafting, where the focus is clearly on preventing future errors.

1)      Search & Correct

–      In the margin of the line where an incorrect word/phrase has been used, an X is written by the tutor. The students are then asked to locate/identify the mistakes and correct them. This can also be done with correction symbols, which help to highlight the type of error, but no mistakes are underlined in the text, so students have to use their own judgment.Having to consider what they may have done wrong and finding a way to improve their own language helps means that learners are more likely to remember the correct version and the reasoning behind it, which should help them to avoid making the same mistake in future writing.

–      This method also saves the tutor’s time as they do not spend time correcting things that students actually are able to produce correctly but due to time pressure / lack of concentration have made mistakes with in this specific piece of work.

2)      References to Grammar Textbook or Dictionary

–      Mistakes are underlined in the text and numbered according to pages or passages in a grammar textbook or learners’ dictionary that the class is working with or the learners otherwise have access to. Students are then instructed to look up the explanations of the language structure or lexis they are attempting to use and are able to correct their own mistakes. They can then re-draft their writing, or simply use this information in their next piece of writing.

3)      Correction Table

–      The incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, with or without a correction symbol to denote the type of error. Students complete a table like the example below where they write out the underlined errors, and look up the correction themselves, inserting this and the related explanation into the column ‘reason & correction’, and noting the source of their information. These tables are useful for students in understanding their errors and for reference when in future writing assignments to avoid repeating mistakes. These tables allow each student to focus on their individual areas of difficulty. There’s no need for re-drafting.

Example extract from correction table:

Mistake Type of mistake Reason & Correction
Source
1)…get used to be Verb conjugation The expression ‘used to’ is either followed by a noun or by a gerund.Correct: get used to being OALD 7, key word ‘used’, p. 1689~ to sth/to doing sth

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:

Directness in Feedback

I’m a big fan of giving detailed constructive feedback on students’ work. As far as I’m concerned, feedback, both positive and negative, is essential for learning to happen. I try to think carefully about how I phrase my feedback to students so that they are encouraged to improve further, and can use it to move forward and progress in their learning. Occasionally, though, I read a piece of work that generates such a strong reaction in me that I simply write down my undiluted opinion. Of course, if the reaction was positive, this means the student is showered with undiluted praise. But sometimes the reaction is negative and I write things like this:

IMAG0107

I actually sent this picture to a colleague and asked, “too harsh?”  It made me stop and think.

As teachers, we all know that feedback should be clear, specific, and honest. I’m a proficient user of the ‘feedback sandwich’. Usually.  But in the case above, it seems that “being clear and honest” means that there is no ‘bread’ in my ‘sandwich’. It is very direct. I wonder how the student will react?

From previous chats with students and a few informal surveys, I’ve noticed that students often actually prefer to have feedback worded rather directly, and they are not put off by what some of us might perceive as pretty harsh directness.  Especially for EFL students, beating about the bush, and phrasing things cautiously and politely actually confuses the message. In fact, some students have reported extreme misunderstandings where their teacher had expressed criticism so politely and gently that the student actually perceived it as praise! I showed the photo above to friends of mine who are also students and non-native English speakers, and their response also echoed that of my own students:

If it’s the truth, it has to be said, and it’s better to be direct so that the message cannot be misunderstood.

Still, I started thinking about how I would feel. Depending on how much effort I had actually put in to the piece of work, I’d probably be quite upset to receive feedback like in the photo. Not just because it’s negative, but rather because it only describes the problem and doesn’t really encourage me to work on improving. It might give me the feeling that there’s no hope of ever passing this class, and so I might as well give up now. And that is NOT how I would like my students to feel!

So what am I going to change when giving feedback? How about some tips for us all…

1) Be clear and direct so that praise and constructive criticism are perceived as such.

2) Be generous (but not over-generous) with praise, even for small improvements or minor elements that have been done well.

3) Be specific with explanations of the problems, and prioritise these.

4) Give specific advice for how these problems can be improved.

5) Encourage some response from students regarding the feedback they’ve been given. This will (hopefully!) encourage them to engage with the feedback, and also give an indication of how it has been perceived and used.