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Feedback on academic writing – Part One

EAP feedback to EFL students

Image courtesy of Giulia Forsythe

This is the first article of a three-part series on giving EAP students effective feedback. Julie Moore, an ELT writer and researcher, shares her thoughts on how to give your students constructive feedback on their writing.

Although I’ve been working in ELT publishing for some 15 years, co-authoring Oxford EAP Advanced was the first time I’ve been involved in writing a whole coursebook. It was a very steep learning curve in all kinds of ways, but perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the whole experience was the process of having my writing edited. I’d spend long hours at my desk writing a unit, then I’d email my completed draft off to my editor and wait with trepidation for her feedback. When I opened up her reply, my heart would often sink at the sight of those tightly-packed comments squeezed down the margin of every page and the prospect of ploughing my way through them!

So when I finally got away from my desk and back into the classroom again last summer to teach on a pre-sessional EAP course, I approached giving feedback on my students’ own writing with a fresh perspective. But what lessons had I learnt?

Less is more

In an EAP context, writing is a key skill and as teachers, we have a tendency to want to give as much feedback on written work as possible. Our intentions are good – we want to help our students improve – but the effect can sometimes be the opposite. Students are so overwhelmed by all the feedback that they either get demotivated and lose confidence, or they skim through to find the grade or the final comment and then file away all our careful feedback, largely unread.

Having experienced how daunting masses of feedback can be for a writer, I was determined to make the process less scary and more productive for my students. I turned to publishing again for a way of breaking it down into more manageable steps:

  • content editing – focus on what is written, rather than how
  • copyediting – focus on style, voice, flow, etc.
  • proofreading – tidying up surface errors

In this article, I’m going to talk about the first stage of the editing/feedback process:

Focus on content

For many students new to EAP, their experience of writing in English has been mostly of short, functional letters and emails, and if they have written essays, they’ll have been of the rather simple, formulaic kind which are designed essentially to practise or test the student’s language abilities. In an ELT context, the focus is often not really on what you write so much as the language you manage to display. A student can produce a fairly inane piece of writing, saying really very little of any substance, but if they show a range of vocabulary, reasonably accurate grammar and throw in a few nice discourse markers, they can get a good mark. This simply won’t cut it in an academic context where: “After all, we teach college students to write not because we expect them to become writers, but because writing is the evidence that they are mastering intellectual concepts.” (McBride, 2012).

So in the first few writing activities I did with my EAP students, I focused very much on content: on what they were expected to write. In my feedback, I ignored the surface language issues and commented only on how well they’d tackled the task. Had they answered the question? Had they put forward a clear argument and supporting evidence? Had they offered analysis and evaluation as well as simple description?

As we worked on some of these key principles of academic writing, I encouraged students to evaluate the content of their own writing, establishing routines and checklists they could use to edit their writing in the future. For example, the following criteria to check a main body paragraph of an essay:

  1. Have you stated the main argument clearly?
  2. Do supporting points flow logically?
  3. Are key concepts/terms clearly defined and/or explained?
  4. Does the evidence support the main argument?
  5. Have you included comment and/or evaluation to make your own stance clear?
    (Adapted from Oxford EAP Advanced)

The initial reaction from some students was uneasy – surely it was my job to correct all their language errors, wasn’t it? It was important that I explained clearly what I was doing and why. I kept copies of students’ writing to use examples (anonymously) as part of other activities on specific language points. I also reassured them that I’d be giving feedback at a more micro-level on their individual writing as the course went on.

And did the approach work? Overall, I think it did. By concentrating first on what they were expected to write, it laid a solid base on which to build the details of how to write as the course went on.

In my next article, I’ll talk about copy-editing and feedback techniques for helping students achieve that all-important academic style.

References

de Chazal & Moore (2013) Oxford EAP Advanced/C1 (OUP)
McBride (2012) ‘Patchwriting’ is more common than plagiarism, just as dishonest http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/everyday-ethics/188789/patchwriting-is-more- common-than-plagiarism-just-as-dishonest/

 

This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Using Social Media and Smart Devices Effectively in the Classroom

use social media in ESL and EFL

Image courtesy of Jason Howie

How can you use digital technology to bring course material to life in the classroom? Thomas Healy, co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition, shares his ideas ahead of his webinar on 23 & 25 September on the subject.

It’s an old joke that although the Internet is one of the most important inventions since the wheel, most people just use it to look at pictures of puppies. Certainly, I believed that people, especially younger people, wasted a lot of time on the Internet and on their smart devices. Then I observed an eighteen-year-old student in my class trying to enlarge an illustration in her textbook by pinching it, like an image on a touch screen. This was a wake up call for me. Having grown up with the technology, this student actually expected content to be digital. As someone who prided himself on providing interesting, motivating as well as enriching materials, I looked at my photocopied supplemental activities and wondered how she, and indeed the entire class, must be experiencing them. Her smart device, along with everyone else’s, was in a pile collected at the start of the class, next to a computer that I rarely used.

When I considered using smart devices and social media networks with my students, I wanted to devise activities that the class would immediately recognize as being central to the goals of the lesson. If the activities were just games or ‘fillers’, then I imagined that students would naturally gravitate to games such as Candy Crush that they already had on their devices. I also wanted to harness what most of my students seemed to be doing on their smart phones when not playing games: writing messages and taking photos and videos, which they shared with their peers.

Using Social Media as a Learning Management System

21st Century learners live in a world where they are constantly producing, sharing and commenting on content. In order to have a place where we can share messages, images, videos and word files, I create a Facebook group for each class. I use this platform because all of my students are already active members. Within Facebook, a group is a private, members-only space. Students can join a group without becoming my friend.

Facebook groups

When creating activities for Facebook, I started by looking at the supplemental materials I already used in class. Many of these activities practiced, expanded, or personalized the contents of the textbook. Could these be enhanced or transformed by being completed in the digital world?

Using Smartphones with Facebook

A smartphone is like a portable recording studio. Students can readily practice and personalize the target language of the textbook by using the video function. In one activity I use, after teaching a unit about clothing and colors, students go to their favorite store and describe the clothes and colors that they see while videoing the manikins. I ask students to post the videos to the Facebook group, and comment on others’ videos.

iPhone video

This ability to make and narrate videos can bring important but potentially ‘dry’ units to life: those that deal with rooms and furniture, directions, or food. Sharing the videos online provides a lot of additional, fun interaction between students, as well opportunities for language, accuracy and pronunciation analysis.

Making a Digital Projector Interactive

Since 21st Century learners are engaged by content that they can interact with, I have tried to make the digital projector an active rather than passive experience for my students.  Together with the projector, I use an audience response app, Socrative, which students download for free.  For example, as we work through grammar activities in the textbook, Socrative enables me to project additional practice items on the screen, which students complete on their smart phones. The app automatically checks answers and provides feedback to the class in real-time. Used in this way, digital technology is not merely engaging but plays a central part in achieving the goals of the lesson.

Socrative app logo

Making Digital Technology an essential rather than peripheral tool

My students sometimes forget their textbooks, but they never forget their phones. Therefore, every classroom we use is a technology-enhanced space. Smart phones, social media platforms and apps have allowed me to bring my materials to life. I can create colorful, interactive activities and I can encourage students to bring the real world into the class by using the video and photo functions of their classrooms. Instead of having students put their devices on a table by the door, I now ask them to make sure their phones are fully charged when they come to class. They understand that we are not using digital technology and social media for ‘fun’, or when we need to take a breather. Together, we have made digital technology a key part of their learning experience.

Take part in Thomas Healy’s live webinar to further explore and discuss how the digital technology your students love to use can become a key part of their learning experience. Register today!


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Discover the NEW International Express Tests and Teacher’s Guides

Students Sitting at Desks and WritingBruce Wade, Managing Editor of International Express, introduces his upcoming webinar on 11th September about the new International Express Tests and Teacher’s Guides.

The new International Express launched earlier this year, and now, plenty of extra resources to support the course are available for free on Oxford Teachers’ Club.  In this webinar, I’ll be exploring how the new Teacher’s Guides can help you quickly plan your lessons, and I’ll show you around the new tests and Student Progress Report, which help you to regularly and quickly check your students’ performance.

Plan your lessons in a flash

International Express comes with extensive extra resources including photocopiable activities, videos for every unit, and worksheets to support each video – so you won’t be short of material, but how do you make the best use of it all?  We’ve developed Teacher’s Guides for every level, which give a clear, one-page overview of the course, meaning that you can see all the syllabus items, target language and skills, and resources in one go. I’ll be exploring how you can use these to plan your lessons quickly and easily.

Regularly check students’ progress

Tests are an important part of every course, and International Express tests provide comprehensive coverage of all the language in the Student’s Book.  Most test items are written as A‒B exchanges to reflect the communicative nature of the course.   There is a separate test for each section so teachers can test their students after completing a section, or a unit.  I’ll explain the different ways you can use these with your class, and we’ll look at how you can analyse the results to make direct comparisons of your students’ performance across sections, and whole units.

Analyse students’ performance

We developed the unique Student Progress Report to help you measure students’ performance unit-by-unit, and across different skills.  I’ll explain how you can use this tool to see how a student is performing across the four sections of a unit, and we’ll look at how you can customise it, for example, by drawing different types of graphs, or by adding comments on your students’ performance.

I look forward to helping you making the most of all of these resources on 11th September.  In the meantime, you can take a look at them on Oxford Teachers’ Club – you just need to sign in with your usual log in details.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part Six

How to survive in the freelance EFL market - difficulties and successThis is the last of a six-part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they give advice on how to manage the ups and downs of running your own business.

In the previous articles in this series, we gave advice on setting up your own freelance training business. In this final article we discuss how to manage some positive and negative challenges that may come up as you are running your business. No business comes without its challenges, and it’s vital when starting out to be aware of what’s ahead and to have a rough plan for handling the bumps along the way.

Adding to the team

As demand for your services grows, you might find yourself with a fully booked schedule and a phone that keeps ringing. This is great, and you may soon need to bring on more trainers to fulfil the needs of your clients and to alleviate some pressure from your own schedule.

The laws associated with subcontracting trainers in your country may be pretty straightforward and easy to set up. Nevertheless, you should look into these laws and check with an accountant before you actually engage anyone.

When looking for trainers, it can be a good idea to use the same tactic as for finding your clients: word of mouth. You may already know some good trainers in the network who would be interested in cooperation. If so, get their CVs or profiles (ideally in the language of the client so they can be easily sent on to your clients, if requested) and find out what sort of hourly rate they’d be happy with.

From there, you’ll need to add on a certain amount to cover government charges, business expenses, your time spent doing admin, contracts, quality control, any testing, etc. Always draw up a contract with the trainer, which should include details of the number of hours, the hourly rate, payment conditions, any cancellation policies, and a clause protecting the relationship between you and your client. It should also be noted that not only is it poor business practice to (attempt to) steal clients, but it is illegal in many countries.

As you work with more and more trainers, concentrate on hiring those with specific and marketable talents. Those with sector relevant backgrounds, such as legal or technical, or those with skills specific experience, such as negotiations or presentation skills will be good additions to your team. Consider also hiring someone who can respond to a call for bids and who writes very well in the local language. Seek out trainers who have the people skills to meet with HR managers and build rapport on your behalf. After all, your new team will be working together to maintain the quality of your “brand”.

How to deal with challenging clients

At some point, you may have a challenging client who requires more time (e.g. additional administration, testing, follow-up meetings with HR, frequent quality control, difficult trainees, etc.). Perhaps you’re helping them set up their training programmes, or maybe they’ve had bad experiences in the past and want to keep in extra close contact to ensure maximum ROI. You should be aware of the time investment necessary for each client, and budget your time and costs accordingly. Having a range of service models will make this easier and more transparent for everyone. Of course, don’t underestimate the goodwill to be generated by going the extra mile.

The extra time you spend on that one client could eventually pay off with additional participants, top management signing on, or other company referrals.

How to deal with clients leaving

Almost every freelancer will lose a client at some point in their career. This may be something beyond your control, but you should still reflect on why this is. Obligatory calls for tender, budget cuts and changing priorities can all result in your loss of contracts. In any case, you should get feedback from them as to why they don’t want to (or can’t) continue the relationship. Any feedback you can get should be seen as developmental and necessary for your future growth. In the unfortunate event that the company is forced to close and lay off all of their employees, you should stay in touch with your trainees: they could refer you to their new HR manager when they move on to other companies.

Get in touch

Whichever way your business grows and develops, your chances of success will be much better if you are organised, focused, and prepared for a range of eventualities, both positive and negative.

We hope you’ve enjoyed and benefitted from this series of articles and would love to hear your feedback. We look forward to connecting with you either on LinkedIn or our about.me pages.

 

This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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EAP in the classroom Part Three – Developing student independence

EAP in the classroom  - Developing student independenceIn the last of a three-part series on teaching EAP, Edward de Chazal, a freelance consultant, author and presenter, looks at effective strategies to help students work more independently. 

In English language teaching in general, and EAP in particular, independence is talked about a lot. Teachers say they want their students to ‘be more independent’ and ‘work more independently’. But what does this mean, and how can it happen?

Student independence is a major aim of EAP – eventually, when they are studying in their departments, students need a significant degree of independence in order to function effectively and succeed. Typically, most of their EAP input takes place before they start their academic programme, so EAP teachers need to use materials which lead to independence. For instance, rather than presenting one particular reading text for intensive focus – an inward-looking task – a more outward-looking task would enable students to learn skills and techniques which they can independently apply to other texts.

Independence is both an abstract concept – a ‘state of mind’ perhaps – and a physical concept. Ultimately, students need to become independent of their (EAP) teachers, the timetabled lessons, and the materials. Put simply, the independent student no longer needs to be told when to study, how to learn, and what to focus on. They have become skilled at searching for source texts, selecting and evaluating what they read, and processing parts of the material into their own new texts such as essays and presentations. Linguistically, cognitively, and academically, these are complex processes.

Relying on teacher input

A key point about independence is that for many students it doesn’t just happen. The role of the EAP teacher is vital: paradoxically, significant teacher input is needed for student independence to develop, especially in its early stages.

To illustrate this, I’d like to use an example from my own education. When I was studying English Literature at grammar school (an old-fashioned type of secondary school; there aren’t many grammar schools left now), we had to analyse poems. We had never seen these poems before (they were known as ‘unseen’), and they were quite difficult. Early on in the process, our teacher would try to elicit meanings, using questions like ‘What does this mean?’, ‘Why is the poet using this word here?’, and ‘What does this line suggest to you?’ Yet at this stage the teacher did most of the explaining – we listened carefully and read closely, and by the end of the lesson we were able to understand the poem pretty well. However, I remember wondering how I would ever be able to analyse a poem myself – independently – it just seemed too difficult without the support of the teacher. This story has a happy ending: gradually we did learn how to analyse an unseen poem, and most of us in the class achieved a very high grade in our A-level exam. Significantly, this skill is transferable: poems are not the only things I can analyse.

This example tells us several things. The teacher has a key role to play, and they need to use appropriate yet challenging materials. There has to be sufficient support and staging, particularly earlier on in the process of becoming more independent. Independence takes time to develop, and students will develop at different speeds and in different ways.

Developing student independence

Conversely, if the teacher continues to do too much, their students might remain over-reliant and excessively dependent. In order to become more independent, students need to be engaged with the material, and become more responsible. In this context responsibility means taking the initiative – finding new texts, and using the available resources and technologies.

We’ve incorporated many of these ideas into Oxford EAP. The theme of the final unit in Oxford EAP Upper-Intermediate/B2 is ‘Independence’, and the lecture in this unit presents many of the ideas in this article. Integrated throughout the different levels of the Oxford EAP series are Independent Study tasks, which ask students to go and find out something new. Similarly, the sequences of tasks in the skills modules are designed to be transferable, so that the student can apply the similar techniques to new contexts. The independent student has an initiating approach to their learning; they are resourceful, reflective, and critical. They like to go beyond what the teacher and the materials require them to do. In short, the ultimate goal of EAP is independence, and with good materials and teaching, it is highly achievable.

 

This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults,subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

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