English Process Writing and the Internet: Blogs and Ning Networks

Isabela Villas Boas
Process Writing and the Internet: Blogs and Ning Networks
in the Classroom
In contrast to the product approach to writing, which is based on studying and replicating textual models, the process approach involves multiple and repeated steps that compel the writer to closely con- sider the topic, language, purpose for writing, and social reality of an audi- ence. Although there are variations on how to use the process approach in the writing classroom, most share the basic principles of prewriting, peer and teacher feedback, and revi- sion (Ferris and Hedgcock 2005). The process approach to writing is advocated by researchers and educa- tors who teach writing in the first lan- guage (Calkins 1994; Boscolo 2008) as well as by English as a Second/ Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) pro- fessionals (Grabe and Kaplan 1996; Raimes 1998; Campbell 1998; Reid 2001; Liu and Hansen 2002; Nation 2009).
According to Ferris and Hedgcock (2005, 8), “as a transactional activity, writing represents a process that must
be undertaken with the reader’s back- ground knowledge, needs, interests and ideologies in mind.” The process approach reflects the fact that writing involves a relationship between the writer and his or her audience that produces an awareness of authentic social situations and an affinity to collaborate with others. Therefore, the process approach fits in with the socioconstructivist view of education that suggests successful learning is enhanced when it is based on the needs, worldview, and sociocultural background of the learner. In other words, student-centered teaching that makes learning relevant to students and their social realities results in greater interest, involvement, and confidence in language learning. For this reason, it is important to struc- ture a writing curriculum around the discourse genres that correspond to those situations where students will use English communicatively in their personal, academic, and professional endeavors (Reid 2001).
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Among the many strategies and tools to incorporate meaningful activities into the writing curriculum, the use of the Internet stands out for its ability to create conditions for idea generation, research, and collabora- tion, especially with teenage learners who are accustomed to interacting online with social media. Social networking that is targeted to ESL/EFL writing instruction also offers great potential to integrate the additional skills of reading, speaking, and listening. Some exam- ples of software that allows people to connect, to communicate, and to collaborate online are blogs, wikis, and podcasts (Dudeney and Hockly 2007). These platforms are interactive and multimodal by nature and place texts, images, videos, and audio recording in one location visited by a community of language learners.
In addition to discussing the benefits of the process approach to writing, this article will illustrate how teachers can take advan- tage of some of the latest Internet technology to promote writing tasks in the ESL/EFL classroom. Two specific lessons that were applied in an advanced skills-integrated Eng- lish course will exemplify how to supplement regular classroom activities with the interac- tive and multimodal features of two online social media platforms—a blog and a Ning network.
The process approach to writing
A major goal of ESL/EFL writing peda- gogy is to engage students in interactive and social, rather than individual, processes of planning, drafting, and revising texts of dif- ferent genres that will serve authentic com- municative purposes. According to numerous second language researchers and educators, ESL/EFL writing pedagogy should include (1) a large amount of writing practice, (2) sev- eral varieties of texts and motivating tasks, (3) opportunities for revision and feedback, and (4) models of acceptable texts (Grabe and Kaplan 1996; Raimes 2002; Grabe 2001; Kroll 2001; Reid 2001; Seow 2002; Sokolik 2003; Nation 2009).
According to Hedgcock (2005), the pro- cedural aspects of writing instruction for stu- dents are often insufficient. In particular, the writing assignments in textbooks published by international publishers do not always
provide the information students need in order to develop effective writing strategies. Teachers should therefore plan their instruc- tion to encompass all the stages of the writ- ing process: brainstorming for ideas that are related to students’ lives and about which they will have something to say; pre-writing that uses graphic organizers and outlines to show students how to plan their writing; drafting, revising, and asking for feedback through peer review; and using assessment rubrics that are shown to students before they produce their texts to make expectations clear. Instructors should always keep in mind that writers do not perform these stages linearly, but rather like in a pinball game (Campbell 1998), in which the ball moves back and forth.
Modeling written genres
According to Hyland (2003), the identifi- cation of different writing genres with specific social contexts complements process writing. According to Bakhtin (1992), genres have forms that are quite fixed, which indicates that ESL/EFL students must receive explicit instruction regarding the discourse genres or types they will have to produce (Cope and Kalantzis 1993). Therefore, the introduction of written genres should include scaffolding instruction, which consists of strategies to make the writing process more accessible, especially for students who are learning the skill for the first time. This is accomplished by clarifying the purpose for writing, relating the topic to the student’s interests, using graphics to create a visual context, and establishing a context for free expression and collaborative peer review.
It is also important to raise awareness by exposing students to one or two model texts so they begin to identify the rhetorical features of different genres, such as persuasive, exposi- tory, and narrative texts. Instructors should not assume that students will pick up rhetori- cal patterns and conventions incidentally, and so they should be taught. One way to accom- plish this is through the technique of notic- ing (Schmidt 1990), which can be used to stress linguistic aspects of a text by underlin- ing, highlighting, or using another emphatic method to ensure that students focus on and learn the rhetorical features of a certain genre.
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Social use of the Internet
Ning
An alternative to a blog is a group social networking site such as Ning (www.ning. com). Ning provides more tools than a blog; it is a place where smaller groups of users can create their own profiles, upload videos and photos, and write their own blogs. Originally, Ning was free of charge, but now (after a free trial) there is a small monthly fee for a site with up to 150 members. A free alternative to Ning is Grouply (www.grouply.com), which offers social networking tools similar to those provided by Ning.
Two writing tasks using blogs and Ning
Following are two writing tasks for sepa- rate genres that were carried out during a semester with two groups of teenage students in an advanced EFL course. Both tasks illus- trate how to combine the process approach to writing with the multimodal features of Internet technology.
Writing task 1: Blogging an argumentative essay
The first writing task uses a class blog in a collaborative effort to compose a short argu- mentative essay.
Step 1: Topic selection
The curricular guidelines of the course required students to write a text in the argumentative genre. It is well known that Brazilians are great fans of soccer; therefore, this sport topic was selected both for its moti- vational appeal and to quickly activate the students’ abundant background knowledge of the subject.
Step 2: Pre-writing activities
For purposes of developing a controversial topic related to soccer, a blog was created with the title “The Best Soccer Players and Their Salaries.” The blog post contained links to three additional Internet texts about the topic. Pre-selecting the links enables the teacher to monitor how students paraphrase the research. Eventually, the teacher can encourage students to search on their own for additional informa- tion; however, it is always important to teach students to judge the authenticity and reliabil- ity of the material they find on the Internet.
Providing links to different articles is important because intertextuality is associated
The Internet can be used in a variety of ways to support process writing as stu- dents develop their writing skills in various genres. Although the Internet is a naturally motivating tool and many young learners are familiar with using information tech- nology, it is important for teachers to be active facilitators when the Internet is used for language learning. Since the Internet is multilingual, an obvious issue is how to make sure that students use English for their online tasks. In addition, teachers who have never used blogs or social media for the development of process writing might feel lost about what steps to take to make the activities interactive and motivating. Fortunately, these instructors can consult widely available and user-friendly online resources to make the technology accessible. For example, blogs and Ning networks are two widely used online platforms that can be easily researched and adapted to all stages of the process approach.
Blogs
A blog (a blend of the words web and log) is a web page with regular diary or journal entries that incorporates different postings by authors and responses to these posts by an audience. According to Bloch (2008), blogs are an ideal resource for the teaching of writ- ing because they:
are easy to create and maintain;
encourage students to be more prolific
writers;
make writing easier to share;
support group work, feedback, and
collaboration;
provide opportunities to write outside
of class;
can link to related texts and multimedia;
provide students with a sense of
authorship; and
can be used in various ways by the
instructor.
Blogs are easy to set up and posts are sim- ple to comment on. Two websites that support the free creation of blogs are www.blogger. com and http://wordpress.com. (Richardson [2006] is an excellent resource for teachers who need help setting up and using blogs.)
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with the advancement of reading and writing development (de Beaugrande 1997). This principle asserts that the introduction of mul- tiple texts related to an overall theme offers different perspectives and deepens under- standing. Therefore, students were required to read the different texts to find out how much the most popular soccer players cur- rently earned. After reading, students received a handout and worked in pairs to complete the following activity: “Talk with your partner about whether you think the most popular soccer players do or do not make too much money for what they do. Write “Yes” or “No” below and then provide three pieces of evi- dence to support your point of view.”
Student pairs used the school computer lab to access the websites, discuss the question with their partner, and post three pieces of evidence on the blog to support their argu- ment. This task required students to synthe- size the ideas in the three linked texts and to find evidence to back up their “Yes” or “No” conclusion.
Step 3: Drafting an introductory paragraph
During the next class, students split into pairs and received two handouts; the first one contained the student-generated evidence from the blog posts made in the computer lab during the previous class, and the second one was a description of various ways to structure an argumentative text. The students were asked to sort the arguments into two catego- ries, depending on whether they agreed with (PRO) or disagreed with (CON) the state- ment. At this point students were ready to begin drafting an introductory paragraph for their argumentative essay.
To help students write an essay, instructors should provide guidelines on how to write the introduction, the body of the paper, and the conclusion. For example, the evidence of an argumentative essay typically appears in the body of the text, and students need con- cise information to understand the rhetorical patterns of this particular genre. Helpful instructional material about all types of genres is available from the online writing cen- ters of various educational institutions. This information also makes the assignment more authentic because students feel that they are obtaining guidelines from the same sources used by ESL students in the United States.
(It is suggested that only educational website links with the “.edu” domain be used for this step, due to their greater reliability.) Figure 1 contains the information that was posted on the blog regarding (1) the development of the introductory paragraph and (2) the structure of an essay in the argumentative genre.
1. Composing Your Introductory Paragraph
First, you are going to write the introduction to your argu- mentative essay. To write an effective introduction, check out the tips in these websites:
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/GRAMMAR/intros.htm
http://homeworktips.about.com/od/paperassignments/a/
introsentence.htm
http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/eap/essayintrotype.htm
www.writingcentre.ubc.ca/workshop/tools/intro_p.htm
2. The Structure of an Argumentative Essay
You have already thought about and listed the PROS (agree) and CONS (disagree) concerning the statement that soccer players make too much money. You have also considered three ways to organize your argument, provide evidence, and refute opposing ideas in an argumentative essay. Here is the link to the complete version of the handout you received:
www.buowl.boun.edu.tr/students/types%20of%20essays/ ARGUMENTATIVE%20ESSAY.htm
Figure 1. Internet sources that support the composition of an argumentative essay
At this point, students drafted their intro- ductory paragraphs following the sugges- tions provided in Figure 1. These suggestions included examples of how to use the introduc- tory paragraph to establish a clear position one way or the other, and to reserve the fol- lowing paragraphs to offer evidence for their argument and to refute the opposite claim.
Step 4: Peer review of the introductory paragraph
After composing their introductory paragraphs, the students formed pairs and exchanged papers for peer revision. Peer revi- sion is a critical element in process-writing pedagogy because it (1) makes the writing process interactive and collaborative (Liu and Hansen 2002); (2) gives the writer a sense of audience (White and Arndt 1991); (3) allows feedback that is different from the teacher’s (Campbell 1998); and (4) orients students to accept constructive criticism (Grabe and
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Kaplan 1996). If enough computer resources are available, students can post their introduc- tory paragraphs, and peer review can take place on the blog itself. However, because my institution has one computer lab that is shared by around twenty teachers, it was not practical to monopolize the lab for two classes in a row. Another alternative is to ask students to give peer feedback at home, but this is not always feasible if students do not have com- puters or if parents limit the number of hours a day their teenagers can use them. Therefore, students used the traditional “paper and pen- cil” mode to write their introductions and exchange them for peer revision.
Effective peer review activities need to be guided (Kroll 1991); therefore, the reviewer was told to pay attention to two aspects:
1. Did the writer make it clear whether he or she is agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis that soccer players make too much money?
2. Did the writer refrain from presenting his or her arguments in the introduc- tion, the purpose of which is to intro- duce the topic and state the thesis?
This peer review activity made the students much more aware of the role the introduction plays in an argumentative essay and also raised their awareness to the fact that introductory paragraphs in English are more to-the-point than in Portuguese, a romance language with a more indirect rhetorical style.
Step 5: Drafting and revising the argumenta- tive essay
After writing their introductory paragraphs and obtaining feedback from their peers, stu- dents were now ready to write their argumen- tative essays. Students used the handouts and the information that was posted on the blog (see Figure 1) for guidance on how to pattern their argumentative essays. This information contains examples on how to defend a thesis, and it illustrates three patterned formats to support an opinion and refute opposing ideas with concrete evidence, which could be facts, statistics, or expert opinion. If time permits, a draft of each student’s essay should undergo the peer review process. This allows a partner to assess the strength of the evidence and refutation, and will help students produce con- vincing essays for the teacher, who will com-
ment on and return them before the final draft is produced for a grade. When the essays were finished, they were posted on the class blog.
Step 6: Sharing written production
An aspect that jeopardizes writing assign- ments in schools is the fact that the students’ audience is often only the teacher. Therefore, as a way to provide more authenticity to this writing task, a post-writing stage was added. After students posted their essays on the blog, they returned to the computer lab and each student commented on his or her partner’s essay. Because the drafting process had already ended, the purpose of the comments was to focus on the content of the essay, and not the form. For example, peers commented on whether they agreed or disagreed with the point of view stated by the author. As students become more familiar with peer revision, it is appropriate to give feedback on both form and content and make helpful suggestions about how the writer could improve the text.
This writing activity can be easily adapted to different cultural contexts and topics. For example, in a country where basketball is more popular than soccer, the focus can be on bas- ketball players’ salaries; or, in a lesson on celeb- rities, the teacher might want to follow the same procedure to help students develop an argumentative text about movie stars’ salaries.
Writing task 2: Using Ning to compose an expository paragraph
The second writing task used Ning in a collaborative effort to compose a short exposi- tory compare-and-contrast paragraph.
Step 1: Topic selection
For this lesson, students were required to study a technology topic. The writing assign- ment proposed in the book was a paragraph stating the advantages and disadvantages of using RFID (radio frequency identification) chips on people. Since this topic would likely lead to boring paragraphs that were too simi- lar, a decision was made to replace it with a more stimulating and relevant topic on the comparable advantages and disadvantages of different types of smartphones.
Step 2: Pre-writing activity
For this class I created a Ning social network website and used a discussion forum to post my intention to upgrade from an old and outdated
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cell phone to the iPhone, the must-have gadget at the time. I chose the iPhone because this particular smartphone is very expensive in Brazil, costing almost five times more than in the United States. However, I could also have chosen other types of expensive smartphones, such as a BlackBerry or a sophisticated type of Android phone, or asked the students to deter- mine the most sought-after smartphone.
As in the blog activity, I also linked to three articles from different websites that discussed advantages and disadvantages of iPhones so that students could research the issue and develop their own ideas about the benefits of purchas- ing this product as opposed to another smart- phone model. Students worked in pairs in the computer lab to do their research on the topic, and were also allowed to expand their research beyond the three websites provided. By the end of the class, each pair posted three advantages and three disadvantages of buying an iPhone in the comments section of the Ning blog.
Step 3: Drafting the expository paragraph
During the next class we logged onto Ning and students read all the comments from the previous day. As a group, the class then agreed on the three most frequently mentioned advantages and disadvantages. Next, I elicited the following topic sentence of an introduc- tory paragraph from the students: “There are many advantages and disadvantages to buying an iPhone.” The whole class then considered examples of cohesive devices from the text- book (“one advantage is,” “another benefit is,” etc.) to describe the advantages of buying an iPhone. For each advantage, I had the students give a detailed explanation of why it was an advantage. At the end of class the half- written paragraph looked like this:
Buying an iPhone has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is the touch screen because it is easier to use than a regular cell phone and it is more modern. Another benefit is that it has a Wi-Fi connection. This is good because you can log on to the Internet faster and anywhere you want. In addi- tion, the sound quality is superior to that of other cell phones. However, there are also disadvantages.
For homework, which was worth extra credit, students were asked to use the col- laborative list of disadvantages to complete
the paragraph. Again, students received guid- ance about appropriate cohesive devices from the textbook (“one drawback is,” “another disadvantage is,” etc.). Five students who completed the homework posted their work on the Ning network.
Step 4: Collaborative review by whole class
The following day the whole class analyzed the five postings on the Ning network and selected the most complete one:
However, the are some disadvantages. Like one drawback is that, if some day your telefone battery goes bad, there’s no way to fix it, or change it, soh you have to buy another one (witch is another disadvantage because one iPhone is expensive). And another disadvantage is that there’s no wi-fi, so you can’t send any photos and you also don’t even have a camera. In my opinion, you shouldn’t buy an iPhone, because it just looks modern.
In addition to providing the second half of the expository paragraph, this activity was a good opportunity to address errors, including the issue of using language that is too informal for writing, such as like; spelling issues, such as soh; and incorrect word choices, such as (in this example) witch. After correcting the text, the two half-paragraphs were joined together to create a complete paragraph on the advan- tages and disadvantages of the iPhone.
Step 5: Drafting and revising an expository paragraph
For the next step, students worked in small groups to come up with a list of other tech- nological gadgets that were trendy at the time, including the iPad, the Kindle, the iTouch, netbooks, the Wii, and the Xbox, among others. Students were instructed to choose one gadget and write a paragraph about the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing it, just as they had done for the iPhone. After writing their individual paragraphs, students paired up and exchanged papers with their partners, who followed a checklist to review the content and organization of the text and also to comment on whether the advantages or disadvantages were convincing enough to influence a purchasing decision. Students revised their drafts based on feedback from
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM | NUMBER 2 2011 31
both their partner and the teacher, then handed in the final draft.
Step 6: Publishing the expository paragraph
As a final step, students prepared to publish their essays on the Ning network. However, this time, the idea was to explore the multi- modal capabilities of social networking on the Internet and have students share their ideas online with a wider community. Teachers have many options in this regard. One possibil- ity is to initiate a talkgroup about a specific topic and invite students to record and post their opinions in an audio format. This can be done with a free online voice recording tool such as Voxopop (www.voxopop.com). The only disadvantage is that Voxopop does not allow images to accompany the audio presentation. Another alternative is to create a slidecast, which is a multimedia presentation complete with sound and images that can be established with a free Slideshare account (www.slideshare.net). For example, students could upload a PowerPoint presentation with written details and images of the gadgets along with an MP3 podcast that can be recorded by using the open source voice recording software Audacity, which can be downloaded for free at http://audacity.sourceforge.net.
When the students were asked to record their texts, they were initially reluctant, saying that they would be embarrassed to perform a speaking activity for a wider audience. It is not uncommon for students to be appre- hensive about using their second language in front of an audience, especially in unfamiliar contexts. Even in the most prestigious private schools in Brazil, teachers have just begun to use computers and projectors, and have not reached the stage where students are generat- ing content online. To overcome the students’ objection, I proposed that we produce the recordings but not share them with anyone outside the class, to which the students agreed. Although publishing for a wider audience is an optimal goal, the negotiated solution made the exercise as meaningful as possible and also indicated the need to continue with similar projects until students acquire more experi- ence and confidence. Students also respond to incentives such as a prize or extra points for the “greatest blog of the month” or “multime- dia presentation of the year.”
Conclusion
The activities described in this article exem- plify how web-based social networking tools offer excellent opportunities to conduct the pre-writing, drafting, peer review, and revis- ing steps of the writing process. In addition to developing important writing and other skills in English and learning to work collabora- tively on projects, using the Internet for ESL/ EFL instruction also advances students’ digital literacy. When writing about topics that are relevant to their needs and interests, students are apt to respond enthusiastically and work collaboratively to craft written work in the types of genres that will benefit them in their academic pursuits and subsequent careers.
References
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ISABELA VILLAS BOAS holds an MTESL degree from Arizona State University and
a PhD in Education from Universidade
de Brasília. She is the General Academic Coordinator of the Casa Thomas Jefferson, a Binational Center in Brasília, Brazil.
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM | NUMBER 2 2011 33

Testing Writing in the EFL Classroom: STUDENT EXPECTATIONS

Nahla Nola Bacha
LEBANON
Testing Writing in the EFL Classroom: STUDENT EXPECTATIONS
NO EFL PROGRAM CAN DENY OR IGNORE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TESTING FOR evaluating learners’ acquisition of the target language. An important area of con- cern in testing is how students view their own achievements. Often students’ expectations of test results differ from actual results. Students’ grade expectations are often higher, which may negatively affect student motivation. This situation calls for raising students’ awareness of their abilities.
The focus of this article is testing writing in the EFL classroom. Specifically, it describes a study comparing students’ expectations of grades with their actual grades earned for essays assigned in Freshman English classes at the Lebanese American University. The results confirm a divergence between expected and actual grades, as has been reported in other research. The article concludes with implications for classroom teaching and testing.
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Background
Experience has shown teachers, researchers, and school administrators that, just like lan- guage itself, testing practices in ELT are not static but dynamic and changing. One contro- versial area is testing writing, which requires that test construction and evaluation criteria be based on course objectives and teaching methodologies. In the English language class- room, especially at the high school and uni- versity levels, teachers are always challenged by how to reliably and validly evaluate students’ writing skills, so that the students will be bet- ter prepared for internal and external profi- ciency and achievement exams. Indeed, writ- ing in the academic community is paramount; a student can’t be successful without a certain level of academic writing proficiency.
Another question that many ELT programs are addressing is how do students perceive the process used to evaluate their work? Do they know how they are being tested and what is acceptable by the standards of the institution and their teachers? These are questions this study seeks to answer, but first, it is necessary to differentiate between assessment and eval- uation of writing and to present the main issues involved.
Assessing and evaluating writing
There are many reasons for testing writing in the English language classroom, including to meet diagnostic, proficiency, and promo- tional needs. Each purpose requires different test construction (Bachman 1990, 1991; Pierce 1991). Recent approaches to academic writing instruction have necessitated testing procedures that deal with both the process and the product of writing (Cohen 1994; Connor- Linton 1995; Upshur and Turner 1995). It is generally accepted by teachers and researchers that there are two main goals of testing: first, to provide feedback during the process of acquiring writing proficiency (also referred to as responding or assessing), and second, to assign a grade or score that will indicate the level of the written product (also referred to as evaluating).
The present study focuses on evaluating student essays, that is, assigning scores in order to indicate proficiency level. Evaluation of writing in ELT has a long history, with various procedures and scoring criteria being revised and adapted to meet the needs of administra-
tors, teachers, and learners (see Oller and Perkins 1980; Siegel 1990; Silva 1990; Dou- glas 1995; Shohamy 1995; Tchudi 1997; Bacha 2001). For testing writing, reliability and validity, as well as choice of topics and rater training, are important and must be addressed whatever the purpose of the testing situation may be (Jacobs et al. 1981; Kroll 1990; Hamp-Lyons 1991; Airasian 1994; Kunnan 1998; Elbow 1999; Bacha 2001).
Reliability
Reliability is the degree to which the scores assigned to students’ work accurately and con- sistently indicate their levels of performance or proficiency. Correlation coefficients of .80 and above between readers’ scores (inter-rater reli- ability) as well as between the scores assigned by the same reader (intra-rater reliability) to the same task are considered acceptable for decision making (Bachman 1990). There is research that indicates that the gender, back- gound, and training of the reader can affect the reliability of scores (Brown 1991; Cush- ing-Weigle 1994). Thus, to maintain reliabili- ty many programs put heavy emphasis on the training of raters and as a result have obtained high positive correlations (Jacobs et al. 1981; Hamp-Lyons 1991).
Validity
Validity is the degree to which a test or assignment actually measures what it is intended to measure. There are five important aspects of validity (Hamp-Lyons 1991; Jacobs et al. 1981):
1.Face validity Does the test appear to measure what it purports to measure?
2. Content validity Does the test require writers to perform tasks similar to what they are normally required to do in the classroom? Does it sample these tasks rep- resentatively?
3. Concurrent validity Does the test require the same skill or sub-skills that other simi- lar tests require?
4. Construct validity Do the test results provide significant information about a learner’s ability to communicate effectively in English?
5. Predictive validity Does the test predict learners’ performance at some future time? To what extent should we teachers com-
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM APRIL 2002
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municate these reliability and validity con- cerns to our students? Teachers’ awareness of the issues of reliability and validity is crucial, but perhaps equally important is how accu- rately students perceive their own abilities and the extent to which they understand what is considered acceptable EFL writing at the university level.
Perceptions of achievement
Research in how students perceive their language abilities compared with faculty per- ceptions and actual performance indicates that there is a problem that needs to be addressed (Kroll 1990). In a survey carried out by Pen- nington (1997) with students graduating from university in the United Kingdom, results indicated that 42 of the 48 students rated their writing ability as very good or quite good. In contrast, the teachers did not indicate such confidence. Another study indicated that first- year university students, who were L1 speakers of Arabic, rated their EFL writing skills in gen- eral as good, while faculty rated their skills as only fair (Bacha 1993). There were similar findings in another study comparing student and faculty grade expectations with actual test scores (Douglas 1995). In a needs analysis proj- ect carried out at Kuwait University, Basturk- men (1998:5) reported that “over 60% of fac- ulty members perceived students to have inadequate writing skills.” She also found that students’ English language proficiency did not meet professors’ expectations and students were not aware of the level of proficiency that was expected of them (Basturkmen 1998:5). Basturkmen concludes that one curricular objective should be to “raise students’ aware- ness of the levels of proficiency which the fac- ulty find acceptable” (1998:5).
If EFL students studying at the university level are deficient in academic language skills, a critical question is, to what extent are the students aware of their deficiencies? From the studies cited above, it appears they are not very aware of their deficiencies or, at best, seem to be more confident of their abilities— and thus hold higher grade expectations— than is warranted by their teachers’ percep- tions or by their actual test scores. This study will examine the problem in the Lebanese university context.
Survey on student grade expectations
Participants and procedure
During the Fall 2000 semester at the Lebanese American University, 150 students in the Freshman English 1 course in the EFL Program (the first of four required courses) were surveyed on their grade expectations. These courses stress essay writing and reading comprehension skills, focusing on sentences, paragraphs, and short essays. The students who completed the survey were L1 Arabic speakers who had studied English during their preuni- versity schooling and were pursuing different majors in the Schools of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering and Architecture, and Pharmacy. They had English entrance scores equivalent to TOEFL scores of 525 to 574, and were enrolled in Freshman English 1 sec- tions with between 25 and 30 students each.
Specifically, the survey was given in order to find out if there were any differences between students’ grade expectations and the actual grades they earned. The survey was given two weeks before the end of the semester with the belief that students would have a better idea of their abilities later in the semester than they would at the beginning of the semester. They were requested to indicate the grade range they expected on two end-of-course essays. The five grade ranges were: below 60%, fail- ing; 60–69%, fair; 70–79%, satisfactory; 80–89%, good; and 90–100%, excellent.
Essay 1 (E1) was given toward the end of the semester in the Freshman English 1 course. It is usually in the comparison or contrast rhetor- ical mode with a choice of different topics and completed in two fifty-minute class periods. During the first class period, students write a first draft. The teacher makes comments for improvement on the first draft, which is then rewritten during the second period. Essay 1 constitutes 20% of the final course grade.
Essay 2 (E 2) was given at the end of the semester as part of the final exam for the course, which also included a reading compre- hension and vocabulary component. The reading and vocabulary component of the final exam is similar in content for all Fresh- man English 1 sections, but students have a choice of three or four topics in the essay sec- tion with each topic requiring a different rhetorical mode. Essay 2 also constitutes 20% of the final course grade.
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Table 2
Percentage of Students Selecting Each Grade Range for Essays 1 and 2
Expected vs. Actual Grades (figures are in percentages)
Expected E 1 Actual E 1 Expected E 2 Actual E 2
(90–100%) (80–89%) (70–79%)
2.5 37.7 50.6 0.5 4.0 41.6 5.6 46.3 44.2 0.0 6.9 36.1
(60–69%) (below 60%)
9.3 0.0 42.1 11.9 3.9 0.0 42.6 14.4
The survey asked students to indicate their grade expectations for these two end-of-course essays. In addition, for each essay, the students were asked to indicate their grade expectations for the three major sub-skills of essay writing emphasized in the course: language (sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, coherence, mechanics), organization (format, logical order of ideas, thesis and topic sentences), and content (major and minor supporting ideas). To indicate each expected grade, students selected one of the five possible grade ranges.
Results and discussion
A statistical comparison was made on a random sample of 30 surveys using the Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test. This statistical test indicates whether there are any differences in mean ranks of scores when normal distrib- ution is uncertain. Results of the Wilcoxon test indicated significant differences of p=<.001 on all tests, confirming that the sur- vey results showing differences between expected and actual grades are not according to chance and have a high degree of certainty.
It is not possible to pinpoint the accuracy with which individual students predicted their grades because the survey responses were tal- lied in mean averages. The results are most revealing when student expectations are exam- ined as a whole and we can see that student grade expectations differed from actual grades.
Table 1 shows that the mean actual scores of the students on the two essays are one grade level lower (10%) than their mean grade expectations.
Since the gap between mean expected and mean actual grades is large, a whole proficiency level, a question raised is whether the students are aware of the criteria for each grade level. In other words, do students understand what is expected of them in the writing skills on which they are being tested? From random interviews with students and faculty, it seems they are not and that more work needs to be done in this area in the university’s EFL program. All of our efforts to set up valid and reliable testing crite- ria seem self-defeating if the learners themselves are unaware of their potential achievement level or what is expected in their writing. These are important issues that need to be addressed in any educational program.
Table 2 compares the percentage of stu- dents who expected each of the possible grade ranges with the percentage of students who actually received those grades on Essays 1 and 2. We can see that no student expected to fail on either of the essays, but actual results show a failure rate of 11.9 percent on Essay 1 and 14.4 percent on Essay 2. The most accurate predictions were made in the grade range 70–79%. Perhaps many of the students placed their expectations in this range because it rep- resented a cautious and modest expectation.
As can be seen in Table 2, expected and actual grades differed in the 60–69% grade range, with only 9.3% and 3.9% of the stu- dents accurately predicting grades on Essays 1 and 2, respectively. In the grade range 80–89%, students showed overconfident pre- dictions of 37.7% and 46.3% on essays 1 and
Table 1
Differences in Mean Expected Grades and Mean Actual Grades
(expressed as a percentage of total possible grade)
Essay 1 (E 1) Mean Expected Grade 74% Mean Actual Grade 64%
Essay 2 (E 2)
75% 65%
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM APRIL 2002
17
Table 3
Percentage of Students Selecting Each Grade Range for Writing Sub-skills in Essay 1
Expected vs. Actual Grades (figures are in percentages)
Expected Language Actual Language Expected Organization Actual Organization Expected Content Actual Content
(90–100%) (80–89%)
7.1 36.1
0.5 3.4 10.2 48.5 0.0 4.4 9.0 49.1 0.0 5.9
(70–79%) (60–69%)
44.1 12.7 36.9 36.5 34.9 6.6 40.9 41.9 36.4 5.6 38.9 45.3
(below 60%)
0.0 22.7 0.0 12.8 0.0 9.9
2, while only 4.0% and 6.9% actually attained these levels, respectively. Students were most overconfident in their predictions of grades between 90–100%; only 0.5% of the students actually attained this score on Essay 1, and none did so on Essay 2.
Table 3 shows expected and actual grades for the three sub-skills of writing (language, organization, and content) in Essay 1 (E 1). It indicates that the actual scores were lower than student expectations and that failure was not expected. In fact, the findings show that for E 1 there is a failure rate of 22.7%, 12.8%, and 9.9% on language, organization, and content, respectively. Again, grade expectations and actual grades were closest in the grade range 70–79%. Students had much higher expecta- tions than actually obtained for both of the upper grade ranges, 80–89% and 90–100%. Of the three sub-skills, language proved to be the weakest for students, indicating a need to focus more on this sub-skill in the classroom.
Table 4 shows expected and actual grades for the three sub-skills of writing in Essay 2 (E 2). Similar to E 1, it indicates that students’ expectations in the sub-skills for that essay were higher than their actual test scores, and that all students expected to pass. In general, student expectations in the sub-skills were higher for E 2 than for E 1. Perhaps students gained more confidence in their abilities by the end of the semester and thus expected higher grades at the completion of the course, even though their actual scores do not support this expectation. In fact, no student attained a grade level of 90–100% in any of the sub-skills in E 2, and there were more actual scores in the failing range than in the grade range 80–89%. Also similar to E 1, students’ expectations were most realistic in the grade range 70–79%.
Implications
The results obtained from this survey reveal that students and their instructors have differ-
Table 4
Percentage of Students Selecting Each Grade Range for Writing Sub-skills in Essay 2
Expected vs. Actual Grades (figures are in percentages)
Expected Language Actual Language Expected Organization Actual Organization Expected Content Actual Content
(90–100%) (80–89%)
9.5 38.0
0.0 5.9 14.8 50.1 0.0 6.9 10.1 50.4 0.0 7.9
(70–79%) (60–69%)
45.7 6.8 34.7 42.1 32.9 2.1 36.1 44.6 35.3 4.2 37.1 42.1
(below 60%)
0.0 17.3 0.0 12.4 0.0 12.9
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APRIL 2002 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM
ent perceptions of acceptable essay writing. This has important implications for writing evaluation in the university’s EFL program. Teachers need to help students increase their awareness and understanding of the proficien- cy levels required in writing essays.
One way teachers can do this is by showing their students sample essays, perhaps drawn from the students’ own work, that represent each of the grade levels from poor to excellent. These model essays could be photocopied for the class so that they can be read and discussed in detail. Students could take part in practice evaluation sessions by assigning grades for each sample essay, including the three sub-skills lan- guage, organization, and content, according to the criteria for essays used by the EFL pro- gram. Such practice evaluation could be done in small groups, with each group justifying the grades it assigns in short oral presentations to the rest of the class, followed by questions and discussion. Once this exercise is done, the teacher could discuss the different grade ranges and comment on the grades assigned by the groups in light of what grades the essays would likely receive in a testing situation.
A second way to raise students’ awareness of essay evaluation criteria is through individ- ual or small group conferences held periodi- cally with the teacher. In fact, although stu- dent-teacher conferences are carried out irregularly, they have been quite successful in the EFL program at the university, especially for lower proficiency level writers. Students become more involved in the evaluation process and more aware of what is expected in their essays, and thus realistically build confi- dence in their writing.
In addition to these awareness-raising activities, teachers need to revisit periodically the writing criteria being used for essay evalu- ation in light of recent research and innova- tions in teaching writing. Teachers also might need to clarify criteria for the different profi- ciency levels for the various types of writing tasks assigned throughout a semester. Essay tests in certain rhetorical modes, such as nar- ration or description, might require different evaluation criteria than those used for essays in the comparison or contrast mode. Although the essay tests included in this survey were from the end of the semester, teachers might want to consider whether they should evaluate
essays written earlier in the course according to objectives covered up to that point.
Conclusion
Testing is an inextricable part of the instructional process. If a test is to provide meaningful information on which teachers and administrators can base their decisions, then many variables and concerns must be considered. Testing writing is undeniably dif- ficult. Although we teachers try hard to help students acquire acceptable writing proficien- cy levels, are we aware that perhaps our stu- dents do not know what is expected of them and do not have a realistic concept of their own writing abilities?
This article has reported the grade expecta- tions of students and the actual grades they earned on two important end-of-semester essays. Results show that students’ expecta- tions are significantly higher than their actual proficiency levels. Developing test procedures for more valid and reliable evaluation is neces- sary and important; however, it does very little to motivate students to continue learning if their perceived levels of performance are not compatible with those of their teachers. In addition to the need to develop valid and reli- able testing procedures, we must not overlook the need to raise students’ awareness of their abilities. It is perhaps only through this under- standing that genuine learning occurs.
Note: This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 21st Annual TESOL Greece convention, held in April 2000. The author received a grant from the Center for Research and Development at the Lebanese American University to support this research.
References
Airasian, P. W. 1994. Classroom assessment (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Bacha, N. N. 1993. Faculty and EFL student percep- tions of the language abilities of the students in the English courses at the Lebanese American Univer- sity, Byblos Branch. Unpublished survey results, Byblos, Lebanon.
———. 2001. Writing evaluation: What can ana- lytic versus holistic scoring tell us? System, 29, 3, pp. 371–383.
Bachman, L. F. 1990. Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ———. 1991. What does language testing have to
offer? TESOL Quarterly, 25, 4, pp. 671–672.
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ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM APRIL 2002
19

English Proficiency Test - The Oral Component of a Primary School

English Proficiency Test - The Oral Component of a Primary School

Ishbel Hingle and Viv Linington
Many teachers feel comfortable setting pencil-and-paper tests. Years of experience marking written work have made them familiar with the level of writ- ten competence pupils need in order to succeed in a specific standard. Howev- er, teachers often feel much less secure when dealing with tests which measure speaking and listening even though these skills are regarded as essential compo- nents of a diagnostic test which measures overall linguistic proficiency. Although the second-language English pupils often come from an oral rather than a writ- ten culture, and so are likely to be more proficient in this mode of communica- tion, at least in their own language, speaking in English may be a different mat- ter. In English medium schools in particular a low level of English may impede students’ acquisition of knowledge. Therefore, identifying the correct level of English of the student is all the more challenging and important.
This article outlines some of the problem areas described by researchers when designing a test of oral production for beginning-level speakers of English and suggests ways in which they may be addressed.
30 VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 2005 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM

How does one set a test which does not intimidate children but encourages them to provide an accurate picture of their oral ability?
In replying to this question, one needs to consider briefly the findings of researchers working in the field of language testing. “The testing of speaking is widely regarded as the most challenging of all language tests to prepare, administer and score,” writes Harold Madsen, an international expert on testing (Madsen 1983:147). This is especially true when exam- ining beginning-level pupils who have just started to acquire English, such as those apply- ing for admission to primary school. Theo- rists suggest three reasons why this type of test is so different from more conventional types of tests.
Firstly, the nature of the speaking skill itself is difficult to define. Because of this, it is not easy to establish criteria to evaluate a speaking test. Is “fluency” more important than “accu- racy,” for example? If we agree fluency is more important, then how will we define this con- cept? Are we going to use “amount of infor- mation conveyed per minute” or “quickness of response” as our definition of fluency?
A second set of problems emerges when test- ing beginning-level speakers of English, which involves getting them to speak in the first place, and then defining the role the tester will play while the speaking is taking place. Relevant elic- itation procedures which will prompt speakers to demonstrate their optimum oral perfor- mance are unique to each group of speakers and perhaps even unique to each occasion in which they are tested. The tester will therefore need to act as a partner in the production process, while at the same time evaluating a number of things about this production.
A third set of difficulties emerges if one tries to treat an oral test like any other more conventional test. “In the latter, the test is often seen as an object with an identity and purpose of its own, and the children taking the test are often reduced to subjects whose only role is to react to the test instrument” (Madsen 1983:159). In oral tests, however, the priority is reversed. The people involved are important, not the test, and what goes on between tester and testee may have an existence indepen- dent of the test instrument and still remain a valid response.
How can one accommodate these diffi- culties and still come up with a valid test of oral production?
In answering this question, especially in relation to the primary school mentioned ear- lier, I would like to refer to the experience I and one of my colleagues, Viv Linington, had in designing such a test for the Open Learning Systems Education Trust (OLSET) to measure the success of their English-in-Action Pro- gramme with Sub B pupils. This Programme is designed to teach English to pupils in the earliest grades of primary school, using the medium of the tape recorder or radio.
In devising this test, we decided to use flu- ency as our basic criterion, i.e., “fluency” in the sense Brumfit uses it: “the maximally effec- tive operation of the language system so far acquired by the student” (Brumfit 1984: 543). To this end, we decided to record the total number of words used by each pupil on the test administration and to employ this as an overall index to rank order the testees in terms of performance.
To address the second and third set of prob- lems outlined above, we decided to use elicita- tion procedures with which the children were familiar. Figures 1 and 2 would require the teacher to find a picture full of images the pupils could relate to such as children playing. Students could participate in the following types of activities:
• an informal interview, to put the children at ease by getting them to talk about themselves, their families and their home or school lives (See Figure 1).
• a set of guided answers to questions about a poster, to test their knowledge of the real life objects and activities depict- ed on the poster as well as their ability to predict the consequences of these activi- ties (See Figure 2).
• narratives based upon packs of story cards, to generate extended language in which the children might display such features as cohesion or a knowledge of the English tense system in an uninter- rupted flow of speaking.
Instead of treating the situation as a “test,” we asked testers to treat it as a “game.” Both partners would be seated informally on the ground (with, in our case, a recorder placed
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM  VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 2005
31
The tester should capture personal details by asking the following type of questions:
What is your name?
Where do you live?
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Does anyone else live at home with you?
Now tell me, what do you all do when you get up in the morning?
How do you all go to school and work?
Do you have any brothers or sisters in this school?
What standards are they in?
Which subject do you enjoy most? Why?
What do you do at break?
Tell me about your best friends.
What does your mother/grandmother cook for dinner?
Can you tell me how she cooks it? Why do you all enjoy this food most?
Do you listen to the radio/watch TV in your house?
What is your favorite programme? Why do you enjoy it most?
What do you do when you are getting ready to sleep in the evening?
What time do you go to sleep. Why?
Now look at the picture and tell me what this little boy is doing. Letʼs give him a name.
What do you suggest?
FIGURE 1
unobtrusively on the floor between them be- cause of the research nature of our test). If the occasion was unthreatening to the pupil with the tester acting in a warm friendly way, we anticipated the child would respond in a simi- lar way, and thus produce a more accurate pic- ture of his or her oral productive ability. We suggested the tester act as a Listener/Speaker only while the test was being conducted, and as Assessor once the test administration was over.
To maintain a more human approach to the testing situation, we decided to allow the tester a certain flexibility in choosing ques- tions to suit each particular child, and also in the amount of time she spent on each subtest. The time allowed for testing each pupil would be limited to 8 minutes, and all three subtests would be covered during this period, but the amount of time spent on each could vary.
Question banks were provided for testers to select questions they felt were within the range
of each child’s experience, but there was an understanding that how and why questions were more difficult to answer than other Wh- questions. A range of both types should there- fore be used.
Story packs also provided for a range of experiences and could be used by the tester telling a story herself first, thus demonstrating what was required of the pupil. However, it was anticipated that some pupils might be suf- ficiently competent to use the story packs without any prompting from the teacher. Pupils could place the cards in any order they chose, as the sole purpose of this procedure was to generate language. Story packs were composed of picture stories that had been photocopied from appropriate level books, cut up into individual pictures, and mounted on cardboard. Six pictures to a story pack were considered sufficient to prompt the anticipat- ed length of a story pupils could handle.
This test of oral production was administer- ed at both rural and urban schools to children who were on the English-in-Action Programme and those who were not. The comparative re- sults are not relevant here, but findings about which aspects of the test worked and which did not may be of assistance to those who wish to set similar tests. In summarising these find- ings, I will comment on the administration of the test, the success of each subtest in eliciting
Questions for guided response:
What are the children doing? Where are they?
How many children are there? Are there more boys than girls? How do you know this?
What is the girl in the green dress doing? What are the boys going to do when they
finish playing marbles?
Do you think the children are happy? Have you ever played marbles?
(If yes) How do you play marbles?
(If no) What other game do you play with
your friends?
How do you play it?
Now look at the picture and tell me what this little boy is doing. Letʼs give him a name.
What do you suggest?
FIGURE 2
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VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 2005  ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM
language, and, finally, on the criteria we used for evaluating the test outcomes.
Firstly, both testers commented that this type of test was more difficult to organise and administer than other kinds of evaluation tests they had used. This was caused by the need to find a quiet and relatively private place to ad- minister the test and record the outcome and because the procedure could be done only on a one-to-one basis. We had anticipated this type of feedback but were also not surprised when told that subsequent administrations “were much easier and the children were more enthusiastic about participating than the pre- vious time.” The testing procedure was new to both tester and testee, but once experienced, it gave children greater freedom of expression than other kinds of tests.
Secondly, while the test as a whole did elic- it oral language production, the amount and type of language varied from subtest to sub- test. The interview produced rather less lan- guage than the other two subtests; it also elicit- ed rather learned chunks of language, which we called “patterned responses.”
The guided responses, on the other hand, produced a much greater variety of answers, couched in a fairly wide range of grammatical structures. But even these responses consisted on the whole of single words or phrases. Open-ended questions evoked longer respons- es from the more able students, but seemed to confound less able students. For example, the question “What can you see in the picture?” produced the answer “I can see a car and a woman going to the shop and a boy had a bicycle and the other one riding a bicycle,” from a bright pupil, but only “Boy and bicy- cle” from a weaker pupil.
Higher order Wh- questions such as “What do you think is in the suitcase?” or “What will happen next?” seemed to produce only “I don’t know” responses from even the most competent pupils. They seemed to lack the linguistic resources, or perhaps the cognitive resources, to predict or suggest answers.
The narrative subtest, based on the story cards, elicited the best display of linguistic ability from the testees, both in terms of amount of language produced and range of grammatical structures used.
Competent pupils were able to respond well to the tell/retell aspect and constructed sentences of 7 to 10 words in length, joined by
a variety of coordinating devices. They also employed past tense forms in retelling the story such as the following:
The boys they played with the cow’s what ...... what ...... a ...... bells three bells ...... then they got some apples and went to swim ...... the monkey saw them swim and putted them shirts and shorts ...... some they said hey ...... I want my shirts ...... wait I want my shirts ...... but mon- key she run away
Less competent students could describe isolated images on each card without using narrative in any way to link them together.
From these results we therefore concluded that the story packs were the most successful of the three elicitation procedures we used in stimulating optimum language output.
The final issue from the findings of the OLSET test that are relevant here are the cri- teria used for assessing the language output. Our decision to count “number of words pro- duced” as a measure of speaking ability was a mixed blessing. Initially it did seem to rank order the pupils in terms of ability and gave us a base for comparison at subsequent test administrations, but non-verbal factors such as self confidence, familiarity with the tester, and presence of the teacher may have affected even these results. In the second administration of the test, it was not at all accurate because improvement in ability to speak and respond in English was reflected more in the quality of how the testees spoke, rather than in the quan- tity of language they produced. Several of the more competent pupils spoke the second time in round 1 but displayed knowledge/features not present in their own home languages such as prepositions and articles, used correctly sub- ordinating and coordinating conjunctions they had been introduced to only in the course of conversation, and employed a variety of tenses in their story telling. We therefore used this data to develop a number of assessment levels, or descriptive band scales, based upon these various grammatical competencies, when evaluating the pupils’ output (a band scale outlines a set of linguistic features and skills a pupil needs to display in order to be placed in that category).
In response to our discussion, some schools have begun to introduce two components in their diagnostic test. The first is a multiple-
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM  VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 2005
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English Proficiency Test... | Hingle and Linington continued from page 33
choice comprehension test and the second an oral test based upon a set of story cards.
The same test will be used for pupils at all levels of the primary school, using the lead pro- vided by a test produced by the Human Sciences Research Council for the same purpose. How- ever, the expected proficiency levels to enter a particular grade or standard will be different.
In conclusion, let me summarise the advice I would give to teachers who need to design speaking tests but who are afraid to take the plunge into this area of assessment:
• Do not be afraid to set such a test in the first place.
• Draw on your own materials to set a test appropriate for your group of testees.
• Keep the factor of time constant for each test administration.
• Give the testee the opportunity to lead once he or she is at ease.
• Do not allow factors such as accent to cloud your perception of linguistic com- petence.
• Rely on your own instinctive judgment when assigning a value to performance on such a test.
• Try and think of this value in terms of words rather than marks.
References
Brumfit, C. 1984. Communicative methodology in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- versity Press.
Madsen, H. S. 1983. Techniques in testing. New York: Oxford University Press.
This article was originally published in the April 1997 issue. z
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM  VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 2005
23

ENGLISH MAGAZINES+= MOTIVATION IMPROVED EFL WRITING SKILL

Yuewu Wang
CHINA
ENGLISH MAGAZINES+= MOTIVATION IMPROVED EFL WRITING SKILL
TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (EFL) WRITING IS A HEADACHE FOR many teachers; they spend considerable time correcting their students’ compo- sitions only to find their corrections and comments ignored. Despite teachers’ hard work, many students’ written English remains non-idiomatic, poorly orga- nized, insufficiently developed, grammatically awkward, devoid of sentence structure variety, and weak in vocabulary usage. One important reason for all this is that learners have not been helped to become motivated, involved in their own learning, or self-sufficient. The fact is, students will not devote their efforts to learning a foreign language if they do not have a need or desire to learn it. However, when students are duly motivated, they will become involved in learn- ing a foreign language and will learn it autonomously.
One way to motivate learners, according to Ellis (1994, 516), is to design challenging tasks that present students with opportunities for communication and self-direction. To create such conditions, I designed a magazine-editing proj- ect at Shanghai Maritime University, where I taught English writing to EFL stu- dents. This paper describes that writing project.
24 JANUARY 2004 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM

Objective of the project
The objective of the project was to encour- age students to write more freely, naturally, and fluently while creating and editing an English language magazine. The project was designed to supplement the compulsory Eng- lish writing course I taught.
Class description
The project was carried out four times in four different semesters. Four separate classes comprised of 95 English-major sophomores participated in the project. They met for two hours each week for 19 weeks. The students’ English levels ranged from intermediate to high intermediate. All had a basic knowledge of keyboarding and Internet search tech- niques. Five had advanced computer skills, but none had ever edited an English magazine.
Requirements and guidelines
At the beginning of each semester, editing an English magazine was assigned to the stu- dents as a term task to be completed outside the classroom. They were given maximum free- dom to read, write, and edit articles, and to print them. Only two classroom hours, one at the beginning of the task and the other about halfway through it, were set aside for the instructor and learners to brainstorm and share ideas, discuss difficulties, and solve problems.
The requirements and guidelines went through some changes, but in general they are as described below:
1. Magazine size: 30 pages
2. Students’ own writing: no less than two- thirds of the magazine content
3. Illustrations: no more than five percent of the magazine content
4. Content and form: freedom of decision permitted
5.Format: paper size A4, handwritten, typed, or computer printed in 12-point font
6. Restrictions: no mother tongue, no pho- tocopies, no direct web page downloads
7. Classroom discussion: week 8
8. Completion deadline: week 16
9. Exhibition and assessment: weeks 17-18
10. Students’ assessment for the writing course: 70% magazine editing (50% stu-
dents’ own writings + 20% edited mate- rials) + 30% exam
To encourage the students to read and get information for their writing, about one third of the magazine’s content was permitted to be simulations, adaptations, translations, reviews, etc. of any kind, in any style, and from any source. The rest of the content, however, was required to be the students’ own writing. They could write in various forms (e.g., essays, short stories), and the content could be about any- thing (e.g., their own emotions, experiences, world affairs). The purpose was to encourage the students to express their own ideas, experi- ences, emotions, and values using the words and expressions they were learning. Because of the nature and purpose of the project and to maximize fairness among all learners, the stu- dents were not permitted to use photocopies or web page downloads. They were told that it made no difference whether they edited their magazines by hand or with the help of a type- writer or computer (which obviously was preferable, however). To develop in them a sense that they were writing to communicate to a real audience, students were told that their completed magazines would be exhibited in the classroom for their peers to review. The students were also encouraged to exchange views and share difficulties and joys during the editing process.
The portfolio assessment of the students’ writing was designed to avoid inhibiting them and to encourage them to write freely as well as responsibly. The final magazine was evaluat- ed as “very good,” “good,” “fairly good,” and so forth. In general, grading was cumulative. All of the students’ work was included in cal- culating the final grade.
Collecting and editing materials
Students searched through all kinds of materials for what they thought best fitted their magazines. The topics eventually included in the magazines covered almost everything that interested them (e.g., arts, culture, business, sports). They spent considerable time adapting, rewriting, editing and organizing their selected materials. About 70 percent of the students used computers to help create their work and the others either used typewriters or wrote and drew everything by hand.
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Students’ own contributions
Most of the students included classroom assignments as part of their magazines. All stu- dents made use of their selected materials as input to their own writing. Almost all students told me that their own contributions con- sumed much more time and energy than other parts of their magazine.
Classroom discussion
The students were encouraged to raise questions and help each other improve the content and organization of the magazines. Peer review was encouraged as a collaborative strategy to help them learn from each other. During the discussions, they became aware that their classmates had similar difficulties in editing and writing. Major difficulties they encountered included decisions about the use of illustrations and anxiety resulting from unfa- miliarity with computer operations. They also worried about their poor handwriting and the pressure of time. They were assured, though, that matters such as whether they used illus- trations or computers, or whether their hand- writing was poor, were not considerations in their final grade assessment.
Feedback by the instructor
To lessen the students’ anxieties and avoid discouraging them, the feedback the instructor gave to the students was generally positive. It focused on strengths rather than weaknesses.
Classroom exhibition
Towards the end of each term, the maga- zines were exhibited in the classroom. Every student was required to skim through them and read carefully at least three pages con- tributed by the editor of each magazine. Stu- dents were also required to note their impres- sions of each magazine on a separate piece of paper, which was later delivered to the editor. Thus, students knew what their peers thought about their work and, as a result, they learned from each other.
Evaluation of students’ work
The magazines were read and assessed by the instructor. In addition to the criteria specified in the task requirements, the criteria for evalua- tion included the quality of the editors’ own writing in English (communicative effective-
ness, coherence and fluency, linguistic accuracy, euphony, etc.), and the originality demonstrat- ed in the design and content of their magazines.
Questionnaire survey
When the project was brought to a close, all students were asked to answer an open questionnaire anonymously. The questions elicited such information as their growth dur- ing the process of carrying out the project, their motivation and interest in English writ- ing, the project’s contribution toward improv- ing their written English, and any general ben- efit they felt they gained from editing their magazine. The majority (59%) of the students reported that they had been motivated greatly to be self-sufficient and creative, and their interest in EFL writing, in particular, had increased enormously. More than half of the participants (54%) said they thought the proj- ect had contributed greatly to their improve- ment in written English. The great majority of the learners (97%) said they believed they had gained a great deal or at least something from taking part in the project.
Test results
Students who edited their own magazines performed well in the Test for English Majors (level 4), a high-stakes national examination of English proficiency in China. They did partic- ularly well in the writing sub-test, which con- sists of essay writing and note writing. On the whole, these students turned out to be more successful than students who took the test in the years before and after them who did not participate in magazine editing. The writing test mainly reflects the learner’s success in writ- ing one kind of essay, argumentation. Howev- er, it was clear that the magazine project had had the remarkable effect of enabling students to write other types of essays and even creative stories as well. Although the writing the stu- dents did on the magazine project had some grammatical and lexical problems, it was cre- ative and communicative.
Main achievements in students’ writing
In my past teaching experience, I frequent- ly encountered compositions with interesting content and ideas but inaccurate expressions, or with correct form but boring content. The magazine-editing project provided students
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with a good opportunity to balance form and content in their writings. In contrast to con- trolled writing on arbitrary topics, editing a magazine in the target language engaged stu- dents to such an extent that they wrote more and better.
Students were given an opportunity to immerse themselves in personal topics so that they had something interesting or something they considered important to communicate to their readers. Reading and selecting materials gave them valuable input to their own writing, indeed, so much so that they didn’t have to worry about sufficient content for their maga- zine. The average length of a typical piece of their own writing for the magazine was one page (about 400 words), making it much longer than a normal classroom assignment (about 200 words).
The student editors had to write drafts and make repeated revisions of them, trying their best to polish their writing to their own satis- faction before having it published in their magazines. “After finishing every passage,” one student editor wrote, “I would always modify and revise it very carefully.” Another wrote, “I had spared no efforts to write every article the best I could.” It is clear that students had learned to take full responsibility for their own work. They had come to understand that writ- ing is a process involving constant revision, not only in terms of English grammar and usage, but also in terms of the logical organi- zation of ideas. In general, their own writing read more fluently and coherently and with fewer mistakes than the compositions I had corrected laboriously before the students launched their magazines.
Why such achievements?
After years of teaching EFL writing, I have reached the following conclusions: If students have the need or desire to write for real com- munication and a real audience, they will be glad to write. If they are engaged in challeng- ing and interesting tasks, they will write well. Finally, if they learn to be responsible for their own writing, they will write even better.
Clearly, giving students the freedom to include what they wanted and write what they wanted in their magazines required them to consider for whom and for what purpose they were writing. These considerations in turn
spurred them to write what they thought would be interesting or important to a real audience, in this case, their peers. Moreover, they felt compelled to consider how they could accomplish their task. All this motivated their writing and made it seem close to real- world writing outside the classroom (White 1987, 261).
Another important factor contributing to the success of the project was that it was nei- ther too easy nor too difficult for the students. Some students felt anxious at the beginning of the project, but all of the students persisted and finished the task on time, in spite of diffi- culties. In the course of editing their maga- zines, they gained confidence in their own abilities and enjoyed the work. There was no doubt, therefore, that requiring learners to present “a tangible end-product” made the project “meaningful and purposeful” (Skehan 1998, 273–4).
The project was learner-centered because strong emphasis was placed upon individual- ized reading and writing. It was up to the stu- dents to decide which topics to choose and how to approach those topics. Autonomy was thus initiated and learners were empowered to be masters of their own work. The task catered to students’ differences, needs, and interests, which in turn stimulated their enthusiasm for the task. When the project came to an end, many students were unwilling to stop, and one wrote: “You should have asked us to launch another magazine full of our own writings so that we may have the chance to write more and to write even better.”
Conclusion
During the project we had fun. The stu- dents were active participants, learners, writ- ers, and editors, while the teacher acted as director, organizer, and counselor. Students were engaged. They bragged to others, and they looked forward to the appreciative com- ments of their readers. Each magazine was unique, and they were a delight to read.
Next time I organize the project, I will make some improvements. First, I will increase the proportion of students’ own con- tributions or require that the magazines consist solely of their own writing, as one student sug- gested. Second, I will assign more classroom time to discuss problems and difficulties, since
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creating a magazine in a foreign language is such a demanding job. Third, I will ask stu- dents to publish their magazines on the Inter- net so that a wider audience will be able to appreciate them. With these changes, the proj- ect will be even more effective in strengthen- ing students’ writing skills.
References
Ellis, R. 1994. The study of second language acquisi- tion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Skehan, P. 1998. A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
White, R. 1987. Approaches to writing. In Long, M. H. and Richards, J. C. (eds.), Methodology in TESOL: A book of readings. New York: Newbury House Publishers.
YUEWU WANG teaches English at Shanghai Maritime University and is a Ph.D. student in Applied Linguistics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China.
APPENDIX | EXCERPTS FROM STUDENT MAGAZINE English Magazines = Motivation + Improved EFL Writing Skill • Yuewu Wang
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APPENDIX (cont’d.) | EXCERPTS FROM STUDENT MAGAZINE English Magazines = Motivation + Improved EFL Writing Skill • Yuewu Wang
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English Tutoring; A Rough Guide to Language Awareness

James M. Bourke
Brunei
A Rough Guide to Language Awareness
For teachers of a second lan- guage (L2), the role of grammar instruction in the classroom has been a perennial subject of debate and has undergone many changes over the years. For example, the once well-respected traditional methods that relied on extensive drilling and memorization of grammar evoked a backlash in the 1970s, which resulted in new methods that excluded gram- mar instruction in favor of “natu- ral” communication in the classroom. Nevertheless, the topic of grammar remained a live issue, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, research in the classroom reported positive results for grammar instruction. Even so, the communicative methods had an enduring effect, and the traditional methods of teaching grammar did not return; instead, techniques were developed whereby students would be able to “notice” grammar, often spontaneously in the course of a com- municative lesson, and especially if the grammatical problem impeded comprehension. In this way, learners would notice and learn the pattern
of grammatical rules for themselves. This new way of looking at grammar instruction has come to be known as language awareness, among other des- ignations. This article will discuss the background and rationale of language awareness, and will introduce a few of the techniques that teachers can use to help students discover grammatical relationships and improve their learn- ing of English.
The demise of traditional grammar instruction
Traditional grammar instruction, as it was commonly called, was criticized for its long-winded teacher explana- tions, its drills and drudgery, and its boring and banal exercises. In the 1970s, new teaching methods appeared that replaced grammar exer- cises with meaningful communicative environments. In general, the goal was to mirror the way a person learned his or her first language, an approach that was derived from the linguistic theories of Chomsky (1965), who pointed out that humans are endowed with a lan- guage acquisition device that enables
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that enables them to acquire whatever lan- guage they are exposed to. According to Chomsky (1965, 36), our “organ of language” extracts the rules of the target language from the data of performance, and this innate sche- ma comprises “linguistic universals,” which are part of our genetic inheritance.
Chomsky’s theories revolutionized the field of linguistics, and had a dramatic impact on language teaching as well. The basic assumption underpinning the communicative approach is that language is made in the mind and is internal, a process that generates what Chomsky (1986) refers to as I-language. This suggests that language cannot be acquired by putting learners through a series of linguistic hoops, which is the approach found in the traditional grammar book, and what Chom- sky calls E-language, language external to the learner.
Based on Chomsky’s theories, “nativists,” including Krashen (1981), Prabhu (1987), and others, argued against explicit grammatical instruction in favor of the naturalistic “discov- ery” of the target language’s rule system. In the early 1980s, Krashen (1981) proclaimed that exposure to comprehensible input in a stress- free environment was the primary condition for successful L2 acquisition. However, at the same time this was being propagated, a num- ber of researchers were investigating the effect of formal instruction on L2 acquisition. Long (1983), for instance, in an extensive review of the empirical research, found that certain types of instruction did make a significant difference and hence one could no longer accept the nativist argument that the effects of grammar teaching appear to be peripheral and fragile.
The reincarnation of grammar instruction
In spite of the reaction against direct gram- mar instruction, many researchers and practi- tioners continued to strongly advocate for the role of conscious learning and have produced a number of studies concluding that syntax can and should be taught, and that formal instruction makes a difference. However, even though these researchers supported grammar teaching, they also recognized that interven- tion by means of traditional exercises such as drills and slot-filling exercises, are much less effective than the communicative techniques that supplanted it.
The result was a number of do-it-yourself strategies devised by second language teachers to enable learners to analyze and internalize language rules and systems. These various tools and techniques differ considerably in their specific aims and in the manner in which they are implemented, but they all have a common purpose, which is to raise learners’ awareness of important linguistic features, to see what attributes these features share, to notice how they differ from other related fea- tures, and, in time, to help learners construct their own grammar from personal exploration and trial-and-error tasks.
Language awareness defined
Language awareness fits into this new paradigm, and is defined as “the development in learners of an enhanced consciousness of and sensitivity to the forms and functions of language” (Carter 2003, 64). Since the early 1990s, an impressive body of research shows that conscious learning (especially the kind one would characterize as language aware- ness) also builds interlanguage, one’s interim grammar in the mind. Interlanguage has to grow and develop; otherwise, fossilization sets in and learners may exhibit the all-too-famil- iar symptoms of a “grammar gap” (Bourke 1989, 21). Many learners seem to experience this gap and need remedial work in order to eradicate fossilized errors. For this reason, the present author refers to language awareness as linguistic problem-solving (Bourke 1992).
Other definitions that are similar to lan- guage awareness include consciousness-raising (Rutherford 1987; Schmidt 1990; Fotos 1993; Sharwood Smith 1993); focus on form (Long 1991; Doughty and Williams 1998); grammar interpretation tasks (Ellis 1995); and form-focused instruction (Ellis 2001; Hinkel and Fotos 2002).
It should be noted that James (1998) makes a fine distinction between language awareness and consciousness-raising (CR). He suggests that language awareness is a learned ability to analyze one’s internalized language, be it the first language or that part of the L2 that one has acquired so far. In other words, it is about making implicit knowledge explicit. On the other hand, CR refers to getting explicit insight into what one does not yet know implicitly of the L2. James (1998, 260)
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concludes: Language awareness “is for know- ers and CR is for learners.” Rightly or wrong- ly, however, most applied linguists nowadays regard the two terms as synonymous.
Language awareness does differ from some of the above definitions in that it is wider in scope, including not only grammatical aware- ness but also lexical awareness, phonological awareness, and discourse awareness. In order to simplify matters, I shall refer to all of these approaches as language awareness (LA), as they have much in common and differ from traditional grammar teaching in a number of significant ways.
Differences between language awareness and traditional grammar
Language awareness does not use the same traditional techniques used to teach grammar that one finds in structural grammar books like Stannard Allen’s (1974) famous Living English Structure, Thompson and Martinet’s (1980) A Practical English Grammar, or Grav- er’s (1986) Advanced English Practice. In addi- tion, the practice that LA supports is different in kind from the exercises in traditional gram- mar books like Azar (1989), Murphy (1997), and Willis and Wright (1995).
Language awareness also contrasts sharply with the Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP) instructional cycle, another traditional way of teaching grammar in the L2 classroom where the main focus is on controlled practice in the form of drills and various contextualized grammar exercises. The PPP cycle is based on a simplistic theory of language acquisition, namely “implanting through practice.” In contrast, the LA model is more concerned with input processing and comprehension than with practice with drills and repetition. LA is different in that it involves learners, indi- vidually or in groups, in exploratory tasks, very often on bits of language that need repair.
The differences between LA and tradi- tional grammar teaching may be summarized as follows:
• LA is not a body of established facts about grammar, and it differs fun- damentally from the repertoire of structures and functions found in an itemized syllabus. Several researchers, notably Long (1991) and Spada (1997), regard this distinction as crucial. LA is
the sum of the enabling strategies one uses to get a handle on the language system. It employs cognitive strategies, such as noticing, hypothesis testing, problem-solving, and restructuring.
• LA comes out of an initial focus on meaning. The objective is to investigate which forms are available in English to realize certain meanings, notions, and language functions. Whereas traditional grammar was a grammar of classes, LA is a grammar of meanings, functions, and form-function mapping.
• The aim of LA is to develop in the learner an awareness of and sensitivity to form, and not just to learn a long list of grammatical items. Learners have to explore structured input and develop an awareness of particular linguistic fea- tures by performing certain operations. According to Schmidt (1995), there can be learning without intention, but there can be no learning without attention.
• LA occurs by means of certain types of formal instruction or task-based learn- ing, where learners do grammar tasks in groups. It can come in many differ- ent forms and vary greatly in degree of explicitness and elaboration. It is not the same thing as practice. It is about input processing, noticing certain pat- terns or relationships, discovering rules, and noticing the difference between one’s current interlanguage and the target language system and as a result subconsciously restructuring one’s still evolving grammar system. As Schmidt (1993, 4) says, noticing is “the necessary and sufficient condition for the conver- sion of input into intake.”
• LA is multi-faceted. It goes beyond the raising of grammatical consciousness to include all linguistic components— vocabulary, morphology, phonology, and discourse. However, most of the published examples of LA relate to grammatical and lexical problems, such as exploring the grammatical devices used to express the concept of futurity, looking at the difference between the standard passive (The book was lost by Sally) and the “get” passive (I got lost),
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making sense of modal verbs, examin- ing collocation or redundancy, and other features of English.
• LA is data driven. Learners are not told the rule, but are given a set of data from which they infer the rule or generaliza- tion in their own way. They check their tentative rule against other sets of data and then see if it still holds in a number of contexts of use. Here again, by notic- ing the gap between their production and the correct target form, learners may restructure or fine-tune their con- clusion. Rules in English are seldom clear-cut, and a lot of work needs to be done on the gray areas.
Certainly, the concept of LA and related approaches have become a major new trend in second language learning. There is now extensive literature on the subject, including excellent summaries in Doughty and Williams (1998), Ellis (2001), Carter (2003), Hinkel and Fotos (2002), and Bolitho et al. (2003). The key concept of noticing is explained by Batstone (1996), and some ways to implement LA in the classroom are found in Hawkins (1984), James and Garrett (1992), Wright and Bolitho (1993), Wright (1994), and Ellis (2006).
The rational for language awareness
One way to think about language aware- ness is that everyone is a learner, since even teachers have to continue to explore language systems—a lifelong process. It is therefore use- ful to look at the following two complemen- tary aspects of LA in the context of learning a second language.
1. The personal exploration of the L2 helps the learner find out how language works and thereby enriches and extends one’s knowledge of the language. Here, one is talking about a focus on language itself. Everyone has a subconscious knowledge of the language they use, but not everyone has managed to make that internalized language explicit, by noticing and reflecting on the linguistic data all around them.
2. The other aspect of language aware- ness is the applied perspective, which for teachers means helping learners
effectively explore, internalize, and gain greater understanding of the target lan- guage. The basic assumption here is that all learners have to be actively involved in discovering features of the language. They are not given the rule, but rather work inductively from struc- tured input to arrive at their own understandings. It is a process-oriented approach, which includes steps of dis- covery, investigation, and understand- ing, which contrasts markedly with the traditional product-oriented approach in which one is told the rules and has to drill and memorize them, a method found even in recent grammar books for teaching purposes.
Integrating language awareness into task-based learning
There are probably dozens of effective activities in the literature that teachers can use to facilitate LA in the classroom. These activities enable the teacher to “problematize” instruction, and they allow learners to actively engage in the learning process. For this reason, they are referred to as “enabling tasks” (Bourke 2002). According to Estaire and Zanon (1994, 15), “enabling tasks act as a support for com- munication tasks. Their purpose is to provide students with the necessary linguistic tools to carry out a communication task.” This view- point ties LA to task-based learning, another major paradigm shift in the way second language is experienced in the classroom. In Willis’ (1996, 101–116) task based learning model “language focus” is the last phase in the framework. Upon completing a communica- tive/interactive task, students have the oppor- tunity to explore points of language arising out of the task cycle. The language focus may consist of analysis or practice activities. Analy- sis consists of consciousness raising activities in which students analyze texts, transcripts, and sets of examples in order to notice specific language points, such as:
1. Semantic concepts related to themes, notions, functions (e.g., Find and clas- sify all the phrases referring to time.)
2. Words or parts of a word (e.g., When do we use the word any? What does it mean? Study the examples in the text.)
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3. Categories of meaning or use (e.g., The word will has four categories of mean- ing in the text. What are they? Give an example of each category.)
Practice activities may consist of one or more of the following (Willis 1996, 110– 113):
1. Unpacking and repacking a sentence
2. Repeating, reading, or completing phrases
3. Making a concordance
4. Progressive deletion from board
5. Gapped transcript
6. Dictionary work and reporting back
7. Looking up a point of grammar in a reference grammar and reporting back
8. Computer games
9. Language games
10. C-text restoration activity and follow- up discussion
The idea behind LA is that learners them- selves construct their own grammar from their own language experience, and thereby either consciously or subconsciously restruc- ture their emerging interlanguage. They need access to negative evidence, which in LA is provided by means of corrective feedback from the teacher or by looking up the prob- lem point in a comprehensible reference grammar or dictionary.
Implementing language awareness techniques
Many other techniques, in addition to the task-based ones mentioned above, can raise learners’ consciousness of the form and function of targeted grammatical items. The techniques listed below may be classed as LA and have been found to be especially useful, user-friendly, and effective. Where possible, these techniques should be sequenced as follows:
1. The student is exposed to oral or writ- ten structured input where the initial focus is on the meaning of the text.
2. The student notices the target struc- ture and the context in which it
occurs; this can include observation of syntactic patterning, judgments and discriminations, and the articulation of rules.
3. The student checks that the rule holds against further data and, if not, revises the rule.
4. The student uses the structure in a short production task.
Technique 1: Linguistic problem-solving
Any piece of language can be targeted for exploration. For instance, Hall and Foley (1990) present topics such as tense contrasts, modal verbs, conditionals, infini- tive versus gerund, verb patterns, adjectives and adverbs, prepositions, and articles and determiners.
Analysis may take place at the input stage or the output stage. The task is often presented by means of “perceptual frames,” i.e., a short dialogue, narrative, or expository text. The “input frames” provide a meaning- ful context to focus on the new language item, and sufficient data to enable the learner to make a tentative induction as to the rule or generalization. Progress along that route is speeded up by exposure to “enhanced input” and the application of cognitive strategies. Further frames/data are then presented and the initial hypothesis is either confirmed or rejected. The problem-solving procedure involves a simple recursion, comprising three moves:
1. Read the next frame
2. Form a hypothesis
3. Test, and if necessary, revise your hypothesis
The input frames are seeded with pertinent data and are carefully sequenced to address different aspects of the problem under study. For example, in presenting the article system in English, one might look at a series of binary contrasts:
1. count vs. mass nouns 2. a versus an
3. the versus a / an
4. article versus no article
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The a versus an problem might be pre- sented to a beginning class as follows:
of fossilized error in a systematic manner through language awareness activities.
Technique 3: Restoring C-texts
The use of C-texts for measuring general language proficiency has by now become quite common. The standard C-text consists of four to six short texts which have been altered by deleting the second half of every second word and replacing it with a blank. The task is to restore the missing pieces by using a variety of conscious strategies, such as contextual infer- encing and analogy, among others.
The advantages of C-texts are numerous, some of the main ones being the following:
• They prime learners to discuss points of grammar or lexis on which they miscue, and thus remove some of the roadblocks to correct usage.
• Working on a C-text is like doing a puzzle—it is an enjoyable and challeng- ing activity. (Students generally respond well to problem-solving tasks.)
• C-texts can lead learners to become aware of target language forms.
• C-texts are easy to construct and they can be calibrated quite precisely to learners’ abilities.
• Learners can self-correct the C-text and thus benefit from immediate feedback.
• C-texts sample a wide range of gram-
matical categories.
• C-texts are objective, easy to adminis-
ter, and score.
Technique 4: Cloze procedure
The basic fixed-ratio Cloze procedure involves the systematic deletion of words from a text (such as every fifth word) for students to fill in (Oller 1973). This creates an awareness of word order, collocation, and dependency relations between elements. It is a problem-solving exercise in which the learner has to exploit linguistic clues on many fronts, not only in the linguistic context, but also in the wider context of situation. Impor- tantly, the Cloze can be used to focus atten- tion on specific language items if selected function words (such as pronouns, articles, and conjunctions) or inflectional morphemes (such as the past tense marker -ed or the pro- gressive tense marker -ing) are deleted. The Cloze procedure is often used for language testing; as such, it is not without its critics,
Problem: Why are some nouns pre- ceded by a and others by an?
Instructions: Read the passage below and underline all nouns preceded by a or an. Enter the underlined nouns in the cor- rect column.
Passage (with solution): Molly is an awful cat. She sleeps on a mat and never catches a mouse. She eats five times a day. She often sits in an armchair for an hour or more without making a sound. Some people say she’s a horrid cat, but I think she’s an old rascal.
a
an
mat
armchair
mouse
hour
day
sound
This technique allows the learner to notice syntactic patterning and make judgments and discriminations about a rule. In this case, the fact that not only the nouns but intervening adjectives take indefinite articles may help the learner “notice” that the rule is based on sound.
Technique 2: Error detection and correction
Noticing is also a key process in analyzing output and is essential for error detection and correction. Making errors and having them corrected is a normal part of learning. We are told “there is no learning without making errors.” However, it is pointless to tell students to edit their work if they do not know how to edit. In many cases, they do not know the rules; if they did, there would not be errors. Student errors are a very good source of reme- dial work, which may focus on one particular problem, or on a number of related problems, such as looking at the form and function of narrative tenses in a piece of writing.
It is no easy task to eradicate persistent grave errors which have fossilized over many years. It may be necessary to target each case
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even though, as Barnwell (1987) notes, work is still in progress on Cloze variations. As a result, some language teachers prefer to use the C-text for language testing and the Cloze text for language teaching (Khoo 2002). Whatever its role as a testing tool, the Cloze procedure, and especially the selective Cloze variation, seems to possess certain merits as a teaching tool and can help learners consoli- date and restructure their grammar.
Technique 5: Paraphrase
Paraphrasing is a very powerful pedagogi- cal tool for syntactic and lexical exploitation. Moreover, it can be employed at different levels of L2 proficiency. For example, hav- ing analyzed the form and function of the present perfect tense in English, one might devise various stimulus sentences related to a current task to elicit this tense, as in this example:
Instruction: Rewrite each sentence so that it means the same, or nearly the same, as the given sentence.
Tom no longer lives in Kuching. He________________ [Answer: He has
left Kuching.]
There isn’t any food left.
Abu________________ [Answer: Abu has eaten it all.]
Technique 6: Propositional cluster
Rutherford (1987, 167) defines a “proposi- tional cluster” as a skeletal sentence consisting of an unmarked verb and its associated noun- phrases. The learner is given the discourse set- ting, and the task is to arrange the cluster into a well-formed sentence and to do so within the context indicated. For example:
Round the corner came a boy. ride – he (boy) – bicycle
The most natural realization of this cluster would be:
He was riding a bicycle.
The learner has to figure out which noun phrase is selected as grammatical subject, the form it takes, and the most likely type of ver- bal form and complementation.
Technique 7: Sentence combining
The issue of sentence combining as a teach- ing tool is discussed by James (1994) and Zamel (1980). Sentence combining has been and still is extensively used as a pre-writing task. It is a very effective way of raising students’ con- sciousness of cohesion. Some learners tend to write a string of loosely-connected sentences. For instance, in lower primary grades, one often finds a lot of redundancy in composition writing, as in the following example:
I have a cat. My cat is black. She has white paws. My cat has green eyes.
These four sentences can be more eco- nomically expressed in a single sentence:
I have a black cat with white paws and green eyes.
Sentence combining helps students to become aware of the structural changes that come into play when two or more simple sentences are combined. It covers an enormous area of English grammar, ranging from coordi- nation to subordination and the various types of sentence connectives that signal a wide range of semantic relationships. One LA activity in this area is known as “packing” and “unpacking” sentences, which is combining two or more sentences into one, or extracting the embedded propositions from a complex sentence.
Technique 8: Grammaring
Teachers teach grammar, but learners need grammaring, which is the ability to access and use grammatical devices to make meaning. Thornbury (2001, 1) makes a distinction between making an omelette (or “omelet- ting”) and an omelette. Likewise, he distin- guishes between doing grammar (or “gram- maring”) and grammar. The same idea is found in Rutherford (1987), but he refers to the process of exploiting grammatical devices as “grammaticization.”
In order to demonstrate the various ways in which a single concept is expressed, learners may be given a set of propositions and asked to indicate the many ways in which they can be “grammared.” For instance, in English the language function “contrast” is expressed in a number of ways.
A [but]
A; [however,] A [whereas]
B. [simple conjunction] B. [sentence connector] B. [subordinator]
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The focus here is to build procedural knowledge by sensitizing learners to the forms available and enabling them to select the most appropriate form for a particular context of use. Thus, in casual conversation the but option is most likely, while in formal writing the whereas option is more appropriate. (The range of options available would not be given as above, but would be inferred from a text or several texts.)
Grammaring tasks require learners to make decisions as to which grammatical devices are most appropriate to express their intended meaning. They have to ask themselves ques- tions such as:
• “Shall I use the active or passive?”
• “Shall I use any narrative tenses, and if
so, which one, and why?”
• “Shall I use coordination or
subordination?”
Thornbury (2001, 81–99) offers a selec- tion of photocopiable grammaring materials. Many of these are lexical clusters to which grammar has to be added. For example:
boy blue suit Carlos
One possible way of grammaring this set of lexical items is as follows:
The boy in the blue suit is Carlos.
Technique 9: Dictogloss
Dictogloss or Grammar Dictation is a tech- nique that involves the teacher and students in communicative interaction, text reconstruc- tion, and error analysis. There are four stages in the procedure:
1. Preparation—the learner finds out about the topic of the text and is pre- pared for some of the vocabulary.
2. Dictation—the learner hears the text and takes fragmentary notes. The text is dictated at a speed which allows only key words to be noted.
3. Reconstruction—students in pairs or small groups pool their resources to reconstruct their own version of the original text.
4. Analysis and correction—learners ana- lyze and correct their texts.
Dictogloss is a fairly severe test of grammar- ing. It involves all the four skills and develops awareness of language items (in particular
grammar and vocabulary) but also raises the learner’s consciousness of textual organization.
Technique 10: Language games
All language learners enjoy an element of fun and inventiveness, and language games have long been part and parcel of second language teaching and learning (Rinvolucri 1984; Rinvolucri and Davis 1995). One can easily devise game-like activities to elicit and use a particular pattern. For instance, the pair- work games such Describe and Draw, Spot the Difference, and Board Rush are popular with young learners, while older learners seem to enjoy word games, puzzles, and problem-solv- ing scenarios. The same kind of game can be used in different ways to focus on language items, or real interaction. For example, an information-gap activity about zoo animals might focus on the present progressive (e.g., Abu is feeding the zebra), while a communica- tive version might require each participant to talk freely about the animals. One can find many stimulating games that focus on the language system, for instance, the discovery activities in Hall and Shepheard’s (1991) The Anti-grammar Grammar Book.
Many of the techniques outlined above have been around for the past 10 to 20 years. Some of them focus on input processing, while others focus on output processing. Lan- guage awareness is, therefore, any technique or combination of techniques that enable learners to understand how a piece of lan- guage works. Far from being a new concept, it is often a matter of putting old wine into new bottles.
Conclusion
One of the great challenges for second language teachers has been the implementa- tion of procedures that help learners process comprehensible input while at the same time giving them opportunities for language aware- ness. In other words, effective second language teaching requires input processing (acquisi- tion) combined with focus on form (learn- ing). It matters not whether we call the new process-oriented approach language aware- ness, or consciousness-raising, or linguistic problem-solving. Language is no longer seen as a fixed inventory of structures prescribed by an itemized syllabus that is presented in an atomistic and linear fashion. Rather, it is
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seen as a dynamic process in which learners themselves are actively involved. According to Nunan (1998, 140), an “organic” approach to language teaching:
• offers a set of choices
• provides opportunities for learners to
explore grammatical and discoursal
relationships in authentic data
• makes the form/function relationships
transparent
• encourages learners to become active
explorers of language
• encourages learners to explore relation-
ships between grammar and discourse
In summary, then, language awareness has to do with the raising of learners’ awareness of features of the target language. Its point of departure is input processing, exploring examples of language in context, noticing salient points and patterns, inferring a rule and testing it against further data. But that is only half the story. It is equally important to allow and require learners to outperform their newly acquired grammar, or as Nunan (1998, 108) says, “for learners to press their gram- matical resources into communicative use.”
Research on LA is still in its infancy, and it is probably too soon to say which forms may be most effective with different groups of learners. However, we now have a large body of empirical evidence supporting the inductive problem-solving route to linguistic knowledge. Hence, the teacher’s role is no longer that of “great guru”—or “all knowing one”—but that of the facilitator of learning.
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Answers to The LighTer Side New York City Word Search
English TEaching Forum | Number 1 2008 21

English Teaching: Growing Up with TESOL

Jack C. Richards
ausTralia

2008 Number 1 | English TEaching Forum
Growing Up with TESOL
One characteristic of the field of TESOL is that it appears to be in a con- stant state of change. For example, new curriculum frameworks currently being implemented in different parts of the world include competency- based, text-based, and task-based models. In many countries English is now being introduced at the primary rather than secondary level, neces- sitating considerable new investment in textbooks and teacher training. And today teachers are being asked to consider such issues as the status of English as an International Language, blended learning, and critical pedago- gy. As someone who has been actively involved in trying to interpret the significance of new trends in language teaching since the 1970s to teachers in training in many part of the world, I offer in this article reflections on some of the issues that have shaped the development of approaches to English language during this period.
Internally and externally motivated changes
The field of TESOL has been influ- enced in its development over the last
30 years by its response to two issues. One might be called internally-ini- tiated changes—that is, the teach- ing profession gradually evolving a changed understanding of its own essential knowledge base and associ- ated instructional practices through the efforts of applied linguists and specialists in the field of second lan- guage teaching and teacher education. Much of the debate and discussion that has appeared in the professional literature is an entirely internal debate, unlikely to interest those outside the walls of academic institutions. The emergence of such issues as reflec- tive teaching and critical pedagogy, for example, arose from within the profession largely as a result of self- imposed initiatives. At the same time, the development of TESOL has been impacted by external factors such as globalization and the need for English as a language of international trade and communication; this has brought with it the demand by national edu- cational authorities for new language teaching policies, for greater central control over teaching and teacher education, and for standards and other forms of accountability. The

Common European Framework (Council of Europe 2001) is an example of the profession attempting to respond to external pressures of this kind.
English as an International Language
Today English is so widely taught world- wide that the purposes for which it is learned are sometimes taken for granted. Thirty years ago the assumption was that teaching English was a politically neutral activity and acquir- ing it would bring untold blessings to those who succeeded in learning it and would lead to educational and economic empowerment. English was regarded as the property of the English-speaking world, particularly Britain and the United States. Native-speakers of the language had special insights and superior knowledge about teaching it. And English was, above all, the vehicle for the expression of a rich and advanced culture, or cultures, whose literary artifacts had universal value.
This picture has changed somewhat today. Now that English is the language of global- ization, international communication, com- merce and trade, the media, and pop culture, different motivations for learning it come into play. English is no longer viewed as the prop- erty of the English-speaking world but is an international commodity sometimes referred to as World English or English as an Interna- tional Language (McKay 2002). The cultural values of Britain and the United States are often seen as irrelevant to language teaching, except in situations where the learner has a pragmatic need for such information. The language teacher need no longer be an expert on British and American culture and a litera- ture specialist as well. Bisong (1995) says that in Nigeria English is simply one of a number of languages that form the speech repertoire of Nigerians and that they learn English “for pragmatic reasons to do with maximizing their chances of success in a multilingual and multicultural society.”
English is still promoted as a tool that will assist with educational and economic advance- ment, but it is now viewed, in many parts of the world, as one that can be acquired without any of the cultural trappings that go with it. Proficiency in English is needed for employees to advance in international companies and improve their technical knowledge and skills.
It provides a foundation for what has been called “process skills”—those problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that are needed to cope with the rapidly changing environment of the workplace, one where English plays an increasingly important role.
The messages of critical theory and critical pedagogy have also prompted reflection on the hidden curriculum that sometimes under- lies language teaching policies and practices. At the same time, the theory of linguistic imperialism argues that education and English language teaching in particular are not politi- cally neutral activities. Mastery of English, it is claimed, enhances the power and control of a privileged few. Critical theorists have turned their attention to the status of English and the drain on education resources it demands in many countries and its role in facilitating domination by multinational corporations.
Role of the native speaker
In the 1970s the target for learning was assumed to be a native-speaker variety of Eng- lish, and it was the native speaker’s culture, perceptions, and speech that were crucial in setting goals for English teaching. Native speakers had a privileged status as “owners of the language, guardians of its standards, and arbiters of acceptable pedagogic norms” (Jen- kins 2000, 5). Today local varieties of English, such as Filipino English and Singapore Eng- lish, are firmly established as a result of indi- genisation. And in contexts where English is a foreign language, there is less pressure to turn foreign-language speakers of English (e.g., Koreans, Mexicans, or Germans) into mimics of native-speaker English, be it an American, British, or Australian variety. The extent to which a learner seeks to speak with a native- like accent and sets this as his or her personal goal, is a personal decision. It is not necessary to try to eradicate the phonological influences of the mother tongue nor to seek to speak like a native speaker. Jenkins (2000) argues that Received Pronunciation (RP) is an unat- tainable and an unnecessary target for second language learners and proposes a phonologi- cal syllabus that maintains core phonological distinctions but is a reduced inventory from RP. A pronunciation syllabus for English as an International Language would thus not be a native-speaker variety but would be a phono-
English TEaching Forum | Number 1 2008 
logical core that would provide for phonologi- cal intelligibility but not seek to eradicate the influence of the mother tongue.
Teacher education for language teachers
TESOL in the form that we know it today, dates from the 1960s. It was during the 1960s that English language teaching began a major period of expansion worldwide and that methodologies such as Audiolingualism and Situational Language Teaching emerged as the first of a wave of new methodologies to reinvigorate the field of English as a second or foreign language. The origins of specific approaches to teacher training for language teachers began with short training programs and certificates dating from this period, designed to give prospective teachers the prac- tical classroom skills needed to teach the new methods. The discipline of applied linguistics dates from the same period, and with it came a body of specialized academic knowledge and theory that provided the foundation of the new discipline. This knowledge was repre- sented in the curricula of Master’s programs, which began to be offered from this time. Such programs typically contained courses in language analysis, learning theory, methodol- ogy, and sometimes a teaching practicum.
The relationship between practical teach- ing skills and academic knowledge and their representation in Second Language Teach- er Education (SLTE) programs has gener- ated a debate ever since such programs began, although that debate is now part of the dis- cussion of a much wider range of issues. In the 1990s the practice versus theory distinc- tion was sometimes resolved by distinguish- ing “teacher training” from “teacher devel- opment,” the former being identified with entry-level teaching skills linked to a specific teaching context, and the latter to the longer- term development of the individual teacher over time. Training involved the development of a repertoire of teaching skills, acquired through observing experienced teachers and practice-teaching in a controlled setting, e.g., through micro-teaching or peer-teaching. Good teaching was seen as the mastery of a set of skills or competencies. Qualifications in teacher training such as the Royal Society of Arts Certificate were typically offered by teacher training colleges or by organizations
such as the British Council. Teacher develop- ment, on the other hand, meant mastering the discipline of applied linguistics. Qualifications in teacher development (typically the Master’s degree) were offered by universities, where the practical skills of language teaching were often undervalued.
At the present time, the contrast between training and development has been replaced by a reconsideration of the nature of teacher learning, which is now viewed as a form of socialization into the professional thinking and practices of a community of practice. Language teaching is also influenced by per- spectives drawn from sociocultural theory and the field of teacher cognition. The knowledge base of teaching has also been re-examined with a questioning of the traditional posi- tioning of the language-based disciplines as the major theoretical foundation for TESOL (e.g., linguistics, phonetics, second language acquisition).
The professionalization of language teaching
A common observation on the state of English language teaching today is that there is a much higher level of professionalism in TESOL than previously. English language teaching is seen as a career in a field of edu- cational specialization; it requires a specialized knowledge base obtained through both aca- demic study and practical experience; and it is a field of work where membership is based on entry requirements and standards. The professionalism of English teaching is seen in the growth industry devoted to providing language teachers with professional training and qualifications; in continuous attempts to develop standards for English language teach- ing and for English language teachers; in the proliferation of professional journals, teach- er magazines, conferences, and professional organizations; in attempts in many places to require non-native speaker English teachers to demonstrate their level of proficiency in English as a component of certification; in the demand for professional qualifications for native-speaker teachers; and in the greater level of sophisticated knowledge of language teach- ing required of English teachers. Becoming an English language teacher means becoming part of a worldwide community of profes-
 2008 Number 1 | English TEaching Forum
sionals with shared goals, values, discourse, and practices but one with a self-critical view of its own practices and a commitment to a transformative approach to its own role.
The focus on professionalism may mean different things in different places. In some it may mean acquiring qualifications recognized by local educational authorities or by interna- tional professional organizations and attaining standards mandated by such bodies. It may also mean behaving in accordance with the rules and norms that prevail in their context of work, even if the teacher does not fully support such norms, such as when a teacher is told to “teach to the test” rather than create his or her own learning pathway. Increasingly a managerial approach to professionalism prevails, one that represents the views of min- istries of education, teaching organizations, regulatory bodies, school principals, and so on and that specifies what teachers are expected to know and what quality teaching practices consist of. There are likely to be procedures for achieving accountability and established processes to maintain quality teaching. Such specifications are likely to differ from country to country. For example, in Singapore teachers are encouraged to take up to 100 hours of in- service courses a year. In some countries, sup- port for in-service professional development is almost non-existent in many schools.
In recent years there has been a growth in a more personal approach to professionalism, in which teachers engage in reflection on their own values, beliefs, and practices. The current literature on professional development for language teachers promotes a wide variety of procedures through which teachers can engage in critical and reflective review of their own practices (Richards and Farrell 2006); these procedures include self-monitoring, analysing critical incidents, teacher support groups, and action research.
The knowledge base of TESOL
There have traditionally been two strands within TESOL—one focussing on classroom teaching skills and pedagogic issues, and the other focussing on what has been perceived as the academic underpinnings of classroom skills, namely knowledge about language and language learning. The relationship between the two has often been problematic. One way
to clarify this issue has been to contrast two differing kinds of knowledge—which may be thought of as knowledge about and knowledge how. Knowledge about, or content knowledge, provides what has come to be the established core curriculum of TESOL training programs, particularly at the graduate level, where course work on topics such as language analysis, dis- course analysis, phonology, curriculum devel- opment, and methodology is standard. The language-based courses provide the academic content, and the methodology courses show teachers how to teach it. An unquestioned assumption was that such knowledge informs teachers’ classroom practices. However, recent research (e.g., Bartels 2005) shows that teach- ers often fail to apply such knowledge in their own teaching. Despite knowing the theory and principles associated with Communica- tive Language Teaching, for example, teach- ers are often seen to make use of traditional “grammar-and-practice” techniques in their own classrooms.
Freeman (2002, 1) raises the issue of the relevance of the traditional knowledge base of language teaching, observing: “The knowl- edge-base is largely drawn from other disci- plines, and not from the work of teaching itself.” Those working within a sociocultural perspective have hence argued that second language acquisition research, as it has been conventionally understood, has focussed on an inadequate view of what the object of learn- ing is because it has not considered the way language is socially and culturally constituted (Miller 2004, Firth and Wagner 1997, Norton 1997). Freeman and others have emphasized that the knowledge-base of SLTE must be expanded to include the processes of teaching and teacher-learning and the beliefs, theories, and knowledge which inform teaching. Rather than the Master’s program being a survey of issues in applied linguistics drawn from the traditional disciplinary sources, course work in areas such as reflective teaching, classroom research, and action research is now part of the core curriculum in many TESOL programs that seek to expand the traditional knowledge base of language teaching.
The decline of methods
The 1970s ushered in an era of change and innovation in language teaching methodology.
English TEaching Forum | Number 1 2008 
This was the decade during which Communi- cative Language Teaching came to replace Audiolingualism and the Structural-Situation- al Approach. And it was during this decade that we heard about such novel methods as Total Physical Response, The Silent Way, and Counseling Learning. Improvements in language teaching would come about through the adoption of new and improved teaching approaches and methods that incorporated breakthroughs in our understanding of lan- guage and how language learning takes place. Thirty years or more later, while Communica- tive Language Teaching is still alive and well, many of the “novel” methods of the 1970s have largely disappeared. And so to a large extent has the question that attracted so much interest at that time: “What is the best meth- od to teach a second or foreign language?” We are now in what has been termed the post methods era. How did we get here?
Many of the more innovative methods of the 1970s had a very short shelf-life (Richards and Rodgers 2001). Because they were linked to very specific claims and to prescribed prac- tices, they tended to fall out of favor as these practices became unfashionable or discredited. The heyday of methods can be considered to have lasted until the late 1980s. One of the strongest criticisms of the “new methods” was that they were typically “top-down.” Teachers had to accept on faith the claims or theory underlying the method and apply them in their own practice. Good teaching was regarded as correct use of the method and its prescribed principles and techniques. Roles of teachers and learners, as well as the type of activities and teaching techniques to be used in the classroom, were generally prescribed. Likewise, learners were often viewed as pas- sive recipients of the method who should submit themselves to its regime of exercises and activities. The post-methods era has thus led to a focus on the processes of learning and teaching rather than ascribing a central role to methods as the key to successful teaching. As language teaching moved away from a search for the perfect method, attention shifted to how teachers could develop and explore their own teaching through reflective teaching and action research. This, it was argued, could lead to the revitalization of teaching from the inside rather than trying to make teachers and
teaching conform to an external model (Rich- ards and Lockhart 1994).
Communicative approaches
Perhaps this internal orientation explains why Communicative Language Teaching has survived into the new millennium. Because it refers to a diverse set of rather general and uncontroversial principles, Communicative Language Teaching can be interpreted in many different ways and used to support a wide variety of classroom procedures. Sev- eral contemporary teaching approaches, such as Content-Based Instruction, Cooperative Language Learning, and Task-Based Instruc- tion, can all claim to be applications of these principles and hence continue as mainstream approaches today. In the last thirty years, there has also been a substantial change in where and how learning takes place. In the 1970s, teaching mainly took place in the classroom and in the language laboratory. The teacher used chalk and talk and the textbook. Technology amounted to tape recorders and film strips. However, towards the end of the seventies, learning began to move away from the teacher’s direct control and into the hands of learners through the use of individualized learning, group work, and project work.
The contexts and resources for learning have also seen many changes since the 1970s. Learning is not confined to the classroom; it can take place at home or in other places as well as at school, using computers and other forms of technology. Today’s teachers and learners live in a technology-enhanced learning environment. Videos, computers, and the Internet are accessible to almost all teachers and learners, and in many schools the language laboratory has been turned into a multimedia centre that supports online learning. Technology has facilitated the shift from teacher-centered to learner-centered and blended learning. Students now spend time interacting not with the teacher but with other learners using chat rooms that provide access to more authentic input and learning processes and that make language learning available at any time.
Influences from the corporate sector
In the last decade or so, language teaching has been influenced not only by technology
 2008 Number 1 | English TEaching Forum
but also by concepts and practices from the corporate world. In the 1970s, four ingredi- ents were seen as essential for effective teach- ing: teachers, methods, course design, and tests. Teaching was viewed rather narrowly as a self-contained activity that didn’t need to look much beyond itself. Improvements in teaching would come about through fine- tuning methods, course design, materials, and tests. Today effective language teaching is seen both as a pedagogical problem and an organizational one. On the pedagogical side, teachers are no longer viewed merely as skilled implementers of a teaching method but as creators of their own individual teaching methods, as classroom researchers, and as cur- riculum and materials developers. However, beyond the pedagogical level and at the level of the institution, schools are increasingly viewed as having characteristics similar to those of other kinds of complex organiza- tions in terms of organizational activities and processes; schools can be studied as sys- tems involving inputs, processes, and outputs. Teaching is embedded within an organiza- tional and administrative context and influ- enced by organizational constraints and pro- cesses. In order to manage schools efficiently and productively, it is argued, it is necessary to understand the nature of the organizational activities that occur in schools, the problems that these activities create, and how they can be effectively and efficiently managed and controlled. These activities include setting and accomplishing organizational goals, allocating resources to organizational participants, coor- dinating organizational events and processes, and setting policies to improve their function- ing (Visscher 1999).
This management view of education has brought into language teaching concepts and practices from the commercial world, with an emphasis on planning, efficiency, communi- cation processes, targets and standards, staff development, learning outcomes and compe- tencies, quality assurance, strategic planning, performance appraisal, and best practices. We have thus seen a movement away from an obsession with pedagogical processes to a focus on organizational systems and processes and their contribution to successful language programs.
The need for accountability
The scope of English teaching worldwide has created a demand for greater accountabil- ity in language teaching practices. What con- stitutes a quality English language program in terms of its curriculum, the teaching methods that it gives rise to, and the kinds of teachers that the program depends upon? What knowl- edge, skills, and competencies do the teachers in such programs need? These kinds of ques- tions are very difficult to answer since there are no widely-accepted definitions of quality in language teaching, and likewise there is no internationally recognized specification of English language teacher competencies, though local specifications of essential teacher competencies have been produced in many countries and by a number of professional organizations (Leung and Teasdale 1998).
One way to approach the issue of account- ability is through the identification of stan- dards for language programs. The standards movement has taken hold in many parts of the world; it promotes the adoption of clear state- ments of instructional outcomes in education- al programs as a way of improving learning outcomes in programs and providing guide- lines for program development, curriculum development, and assessment. In the United States, the TESOL organization has developed the TESOL/NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) Stan- dards for P–12 Teacher Education Programs. These standards cover five domains—Lan- guage, Culture, Professionalism, Instruction, and Assessment. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has developed the ACTFL/NCATE Program Standards for the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers (ACTFL 2002). These standards provide descriptions of what for- eign language teachers should know and the level of proficiency they should have reached in their teaching language. Critics of such an approach argue that the standards themselves are largely based on intuition, not research, and that the standards movement has been brought into education from the fields of business and organizational management; thus the movement reflects a reductionist approach in which learning is reduced to the mastery of discrete skills that can easily be taught and assessed.
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The role of grammar
In the 1970s we were just nearing the end of a period during which grammar had a controlling influence on language teaching. Approaches to grammar teaching and the design of course books at that time reflected a view of language that saw the sentence and sentence grammar as forming the building blocks of language, language learning, and language use (McCarthy 2001). The goal of language teaching was to understand how sentences are used to create different kinds of meaning, to master the underlying rules for forming sentences from lower-level gram- matical units such as phrases and clauses, and to practice using them as the basis for written and spoken communication. Syllabuses were essentially grammar-based and grammar was a primary focus of teaching techniques. Correct language use was achieved through a drill and practice methodology and through controlled speaking and writing exercises that sought to prevent or minimize opportunities for errors.
But in the 1970s Chomsky’s theories of language and his distinction between compe- tence and performance were starting to have an impact on language teaching. For exam- ple, his theory of “transformational gram- mar”—with core kernel sentences that were transformed through the operation of rules to produce more complex sentences—sought to capture the nature of a speaker’s linguistic competence. It seemed to offer an exciting new approach to grammar teaching, and for a while in the early seventies was reflected in ESL textbooks.
Linguistic competence to communicative competence
Gradually throughout the seventies the sentence as the central unit of focus became replaced by a focus on language in use with the emergence of the notion of communica- tive competence and functional approaches to the study of language, such as Halliday’s theory of functional grammar. Krashen’s monitor model of language learning and his distinction between acquisition (the uncon- scious process by which language develops as a product of real communication and expo- sure to appropriate input) and learning (the development of knowledge about the rules of a language), as well as his claims about
the role of comprehensible input, prompted a reassessment of the status of grammar in language teaching and the value of explicit grammar instruction. Proposals emerged for an implicit approach to the teaching of gram- mar or a combination of explicit and implicit approaches.
Accuracy and fluency
The development of communicative methodologies to replace the grammar-based methodologies of the 1970s also resulted in a succession of experiments with different kinds of syllabuses (e.g., notional, functional, and content based) and an emphasis on both accuracy and fluency as goals for learning and teaching. However, the implementation of communicative and fluency-based meth- odology did not resolve the issue of what to do about grammar. The promise that the communicative methodologies would help learners develop both communicative compe- tence as well as linguistic competence did not always happen. Programs where there was an extensive use of “authentic communication,” particularly in the early stages of learning, reported that students often developed flu- ency at the expense of accuracy, resulting in learners with good communication skills but a poor command of grammar and a high level of fossilization (Higgs and Clifford 1982).
Proposals as to how accuracy and fluency can be realized within the framework of cur- rent communicative methodologies include: incorporating a more explicit treatment of grammar within a text-based curriculum; building a focus on form into task-based teaching through activities centering on con- sciousness raising or noticing grammatical features of input or output; using activities that require “stretched output,” that is, activi- ties that expand or “restructure” the learner’s grammatical system through increased com- municative demands and attention to linguis- tic form.
Second language acquisition
In the early 1970s, both British and North American ideas about language learning were rather similar, though they developed from different traditions. The theory of behaviorism dominated both psychology and education. According to this theory, the
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processes of imitation, practice, reinforce- ment, and habit formation were central to all learning, including language learning. Chomsky rejected this theory as inapplicable to language learning and emphasized the cog- nitive nature of language learning and the fact that children appear to be born with abstract knowledge about the nature of language, that is, knowledge of universal grammar. Exposure to language was sufficient to trig- ger the acquisition processes and initiate the processes of hypothesis formation that were evident in studies of language acquisition.
These ideas generated a great deal of interest in applied linguistics and led to the fields of error analysis and second language acquisition, or SLA, which sought to find explanations for second language learning other than habit formation. Error analysis argued that learners’ errors were systematic, not always derived from the mother tongue, and represented a developing linguistic system or interlanguage.
By the 1990s, however, there had been further developments in Chomskyan theory. Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar had been elaborated to include innate knowledge about the principles of language (i.e., that languages usually have pronouns) and their parameters (i.e., that some languages allow these to be dropped when they are in subject position), and this model was applied to the study of both first and second language acqui- sition (Schmitt 2002).
Information-processing models
Other dimensions to second language learning were explained by reference to information processing models of learn- ing. Two different kinds of processing are distinguished in this model. Controlled pro- cessing is involved when conscious attention is required to perform a task; this places demands on short-term memory. Automatic processing is involved when the learner car- ries out a task without awareness or attention, making greater use of information in long term memory. Learning involves the perfor- mance of behavior with automatic processing. The information processing model offered an explanation as to why learners’ language use sometimes shifts from fluent (automatic processing) to less fluent (controlled process-
ing) and why learners in the initial stages of language learning need to put so much effort into understanding and producing language (Spada and Lightbown 2002).
Sociocultural theory
Learning through interaction (the interac- tion hypothesis) was proposed as an alterna- tive to learning through repetition and habit formation. Interaction and negotiation of meaning were seen as central to learning through tasks that require attention to mean- ing, transfer of information, and pushed output, the latter triggering the processes of noticing and restructuring referred to above. Learning came to be seen as both a social process as well as a cognitive one, however. Sociocultural perspectives on learning empha- size that learning is situated; that is, it occurs in specific settings or contexts that shape how learning takes place. The location of language learning may be a classroom, a workplace, or an informal social setting, and these different contexts for learning create different poten- tials for learning.
Some SLA researchers drew on Vygotsky’s view of the zone of proximal development, which focuses on the gap between what the learner can currently do and the next stage in learning—the level of potential devel- opment—and how learning occurs through negotiation between the learner and a more advanced language user during which a pro- cess known as scaffolding occurs. To take part in these processes, the learner must develop interactional competence, the ability to man- age exchanges despite limited language devel- opment. Personality, motivation, and cogni- tive style may all play a role in influencing the learner’s willingness to take risks, his or her openness to social interaction and attitudes towards the target language and users of the target language.
Throughout the 1990s, SLA theory still tended to reflect a grammar-based view of language, with an interest in explaining how learners built up knowledge of “rules” of the target language. Recently this view of learn- ing has been questioned by those who favor connectionism, which explains learning not in terms of abstract rule or universal grammar but in terms of “probabilistic or associative models of acquisition, rather than symbolic
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rule-based models” (McCarthy 2001, 83). SLA theory today remains strongly influenced by a Chomskyan view of language and limits its focus to oral language and the acquisition of grammatical competence. For this reason, it is considered to be largely irrelevant in understanding the learning of other aspects of language such as reading, writing, or listening (see Grabe 1995).
Sources of change
In discussing change in education, Kuhn’s (1970) notion of paradigm shift is often referred to (Jacobs and Farrell 2001). Accord- ing to Kuhn, new paradigms in science emerge rapidly as revolutions in thinking shatter pre- vious ways of thinking. A review of changes in language teaching in the last 30 years reveals that while some changes perhaps have the status of paradigm shifts (e.g., the spread of Communicative Language Teaching and Pro- cess Writing), most of the changes discussed here have come about more gradually and at different times. In some contexts, some of the changes may not even have started. But once the message is heard, there is generally pressure to adopt new ideas and practices, and so the cycle begins again. What prompts the need for change?
Probably the main motivation for change comes from dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs. Despite the resources expended on second and foreign language teaching worldwide, in almost every country results normally do not match expectations, hence the constant pressure to adopt new curricu- lum, teaching methods, materials, and forms of assessment. Government policy often is the starting point for change when requirements are announced for a new curriculum or syl- labus or for some other change in goals or the delivery of language instruction.
In planning directions for change, language teaching draws on a number of influences (Richards and Rodgers 2001). These include: (1) trends in the profession, such as when particular practices or approaches become sanctioned by the profession; (2) guru-led innovations, such as when the work of a particular educationist, such as Krashen or Gardner, becomes fashionable or dominant; (3) responses to technology, such as when the potential of the World Wide Web catches the
imagination of teachers; (4) influences from academic disciplines, such as when ideas from psychology, linguistics, or cognitive science shape language pedagogy; and (5) learner- based innovations, such as a focus on strate- gies. Once changes have been adopted, they are often promoted with a reformist zeal. Previous practices suddenly become out of fashion and positive features of earlier prac- tices are quickly forgotten.
Conclusion
At the beginning of this article I suggested that TESOL has been shaped by two different kinds of influences. On the one hand, grow- ing demand for effective English teaching pro- grams in response to worldwide expansion in the use of English has highlighted the need for a coordinated organizational response. This is seen in the demand for greater accountability through standards, curriculum renewal, pro- fessionalism, and the development of interna- tionally recognized qualifications for language teachers. On the other hand, the field of TESOL has expanded both in scope and depth, redefining its own goals, conceptual underpinnings, and methods and prompting a reassessment of our understanding of what lies at the core of this enterprise—namely teachers, teaching, and the nature of teacher education.
References
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). 2002. Program standards for the preparation of foreign language teachers. http://www.actfl.org
Bartels, N., ed. 2005. Applied linguistics and lan- guage teacher education. New York: Springer. Bisong, J. 1995. Language choice and cultural
imperialism: A Nigerian perspective. ELT Jour-
nal 49 (2):122–32.
Council of Europe. 2001. Common European frame-
work of reference for languages: Learning, teach- ing, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press.
Freeman, D. 2002. The hidden side of the work: Teacher knowledge and learning to teach. Lan- guage Teaching 35: 1–13.
Grabe, W. 1995. Dilemmas for the development of second language reading abilities. Prospect: A Journal of Australian TESOL 10 (2): 38–51.
Higgs, T., and R. Clifford. 1982. The push towards communication. In Curriculum, competence, and the foreign language teacher, ed. T. Higgs, 57–59. Skokie, IL: National Textbook Company.
Jacobs, G. M., and T. Farrell. 2001. Paradigm shift: Understanding and implementing change in
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second language education. TESL-EJ 5 (1):
1–17.
Jenkins, J. 2000. The phonology of English as an
international language. Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press.
Kuhn, T. S. 1970. The structure of scientific revolu-
tions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press.
Leung, C., and A. Teasdale. 1998. ESL teacher
competence: Professionalism in a social market. Prospect: A Journal of Australian TESOL 13 (1): 4–23.
McCarthy, M. 2001. Issues in applied linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McKay, S. L. 2002. Teaching English as an inter- national language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Miller, J. 2004. Social languages and schooling: The uptake of sociocultural perspectives in school. In Language learning and teacher education, ed. M. Hawkins, 113–46. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Norton, B. 1997. Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly 31: 409–29.
Richards, J. C., and T. S.C. Farrell. 2006. Profes- sional development for language teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C., and C. Lockhart. 1994. Reflective teaching in second language classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C., and T. Rodgers. 2001. Approaches and methods in language teaching 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schmitt, N., ed. 2002. An introduction to applied linguistics. London: Arnold.
Spada, N., and P. M. Lightbown. Second language acquisition. In An introduction to applied linguis- tics, ed. N. Schmitt, 115–32. London: Arnold.
Visscher, A., ed. 1999. Managing schools towards higher performance. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets and Zeitlinger.
Jack c. RichaRds, a teacher educator and author who worked in the Asia-Pacific region for over 30 years, now divides his time between residences in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia and gives occasional workshops and seminars worldwide.
English TEaching Forum | Number 1 2008 11

Academic Writing Instruction at English Teacher Training Colleges

Magdalena Oz ̇arska
Poland
Some Suggestions for
Academic Writing Instruction at English Teacher Training Colleges
It is a cliché to say that teaching writing skills in English is no easy job. This is not just how students feel, but lamentably is also an opin- ion shared by many English teachers (particularly at the college level), who dread the weekly stack of composi- tions to be marked. Another problem for teachers is that writing classes nec- essarily involve some repetition and thus boredom ensues; after all, how many exciting essays can be assigned, discussed, and graded, and what vari- ety of procedures can be used for that purpose? For many writing instructors, these issues are amplified when teach- ing English for Academic Purposes (EAP) at the advanced level. Learning to write in an academic context in English is a tremendous challenge for students because to master the writ- ing style requires an understanding of an academic text’s logic, structure, and formal vocabulary. To teach aca- demic writing effectively means deal- ing with time-consuming processes of drafting and revising while facing the real deadline of producing an accept-
able final composition. Thankfully, there are many resources and ideas that teacher trainers can draw on, and this article will offer a handful of sug- gestions to make the writing process more manageable.
Writing courses for teachers- to-be
At the advanced level, it takes a large investment of class time to reach the point where teacher trainees are able to use rhetoric and mechanics to write quality academic texts, includ- ing argumentative, persuasive, exposi- tory, and technical essays. A principal objective is to make the trainees pro- ficient in the use of the academic register, as the audience that they and their future students will write for are English teachers at the college level. This means they will have to eventu- ally know the cohesive structure of academic texts, as well as the special- ized vocabulary, formal grammatical features, and how to appropriately
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quote, summarize, and paraphrase from sources.
In an academic writing course for future English teachers, the instructor’s attention is clearly divided between the process of writ- ing and producing a final text. The process approach, which gives trainees indispensable insight into what writing in English will be like for their future students, covers stages such as generating ideas, drafting, evaluating, redrafting, and error correction (White and Arndt 1991). If writing focuses solely on pro- ducing a product by strictly following models and relying on teacher-centered instruction on technique, there is a tendency to neglect the development of essential writing skills that students will need for the long-term. Nevertheless, the final product is always a main concern because being able to produce one is mandatory if trainees are to obtain their teaching qualification and their prospective students are to succeed in college.
Time constraints and the process approach
There is no doubt that the process approach to writing works well with teacher trainees because it increases their confidence by mak- ing them aware of the several stages needed before the final product can materialize. The question is how to balance the need to effec- tively teach these processes with the final goal of creating a product. A major drawback is that the stages of the process approach usually require more time than seems available. The two suggestions below deal with this problem by providing more time for working on the processes of draft generation, revision, evalua- tion, and error correction.
Use of the warm-up period
Initially, in order to give a choice to my students, I usually allow a selection of two or three topics to write on. What students wish to include is decided in pairs, with little, if any, interference from me, as long as the outlines are clear and logical. First drafts are then produced in pairs or small groups, which usually exhausts a 90-minute class. The class periods that follow deal with completing the first draft based on feedback and revision until the final draft is produced and graded. To use time more efficiently, some process activities can be completed by devoting the warm-up
period of each class to reviewing previous drafts, responding to homework paragraphs, revising a work in progress, or having students write a short summary of either their own or another student’s composition.
Use of peer error correction
Error correction of students’ writing also creates time pressure, which is relieved by hav- ing students grade each other’s papers. Error correction at the advanced level should be done through this peer correction procedure, which is clearly more beneficial to learners than exclusive feedback from the teacher (Ur 1996; Adams-Tukiendorf and Rydzak 2003). A specific peer editing strategy to make error correction more efficient is to have one group of peer editors focus on one aspect—whether it be organization, logic, vocabulary, or gram- mar—and have other groups focus on other aspects.
Nevertheless, it is important to realize that error correction can sometimes cause more problems than it fixes. Over the years, I have observed that Polish students find it difficult to respond to others’ writing by ask- ing thought-provoking questions or making useful statements that inspire their peers to improve a composition, although some of them do try to imitate the comments I use when evaluating their writing. What students are prone to do instead is correct with red ink all the mistakes they find. Many teachers do this as well because they are trained to focus on language accuracy and often consider it necessary to identify all types of errors, includ- ing spelling and punctuation, that are less important than the organization of content or quality of ideas. This is a problem because correcting everything can discourage students and actually inhibit their writing. According to Leki (1995, 4), “there is probably no aspect of higher education more antithetical to using a process approach to teach writing than the requirement to grade student writing.” For this reason selective error correction is com- monly advocated by methodologists (Byrne 1992; Harmer 2001; Ur 1996). With selective correction, it is important to mark only those errors that distort meaning. When students are trained in how and what to correct, peer feedback and the use of anonymous mistake sheets definitely contribute to a “nonthreaten- ing environment” (Leki 1998, iv).
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Despite the obvious advantages of teaching and learning writing as a process, the prod- uct-related question remains: “What tasks should be used to get the students into the habit of expressing themselves academically, objectively, and impersonally?” It does not help that students only read a limited number of academic texts during their first two years of college, inside or outside of class. Indeed, if any are assigned, the language is generally felt to be too demanding and thus discourages students. Consequently, a lot of stress must be put on regular in-class practice, usually in the form of workshops. To help students engage in the processes of writing and move towards a final product, teachers must think about the best ways to access and develop materials that motivate students to write.
Finding appropriate texts for academic writing tasks
It is not easy to find academic ready-to- use materials to suit the particular needs of English teacher trainees, although there are several excellent writing books that offer texts and tasks fitting a wide range of academic disciplines, such as Trzeciak and Mackay (1994), Walker (1997), Jordan (1997; 1999), and Heffernan, Atwill, and Lincoln (2000) to name a few. Obviously, teachers must review these books because different sections will apply to different students. As one of the leading college writing experts in Poland put it, there is a need for selective use of writing handbooks because they “are intended for an audience ranging from students and teachers to researchers” (Macpherson 2004, 7).
In addition to these books, there is also a need for supplemental course-related materi- als to teach advanced academic writing to trainees. It must be stressed at this point that the seemingly simplest option—i.e., setting trainees to work with fragments of their own diploma projects in progress—may mean that the writing instructor is doing part of the project supervisor’s job, which is inappropri- ate and pointless. Therefore, I will share some of the tasks that I have used successfully with college students over several years. I have devised and tested the following tasks for use with either pairs or groups, although they work equally well for individual practice. Each of the following three tasks may be followed
up with routine mistake worksheets, peer cor- rection, and additional academic summary or paraphrase tasks.
1. Reacting to an academic review. To practice the academic register in combina- tion with paraphrase and summary skills in short, timed exercises, I give students copies of brief reviews of language teaching resource and methodology books. After reading the reviews, the students have to imagine being the authors of the books under review and write one or two paragraphs that could come from the publication being reviewed. The easiest part to simulate is a passage from an introduction or a conclusion. This has worked well, as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching terminology is familiar to trainees. As a follow-up, students exchange their work with others, who are then instructed to sug- gest a title for the book or to write the next one or two paragraphs, continuing what the first student wrote.
2. Comparing two academic articles. To instill in students the habit of reading aca- demic texts and skillfully incorporating the content into their own writing, I carefully select pairs of brief English Teaching Forum articles. To date I have most successfully used the “A View of the Past” reprint series from 2002 that features excerpts of several influential articles relating to EFL teaching methodology from past decades (Harshbarger 2002; Sullivan 2002). Topics have included conversation classes, authentic English versus classroom English, management of large class- es, and teaching strategies. Students receive two articles and then incorporate themes from both of them into one piece of writing. For example, they use two articles to describe how conversation classes can contribute to increased learner interest, or another pair of articles to write about problems connected with teaching large classes and possible solu- tions. I usually require that students cite each article once in the course of their own text. This task is conducted collaboratively and can also be used for examination purposes.
There are also other options for students to synthesize ideas from two sources. For instance, the instructor can provide several different definitions of two concepts, such as “literature” or “Old English,” and ask students to write about both concepts in a paragraph
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or essay while using paraphrase and a fixed number of properly acknowledged citations. Students may also be asked to juxtapose any two academic issues they can think of, such as two writers, two historical epochs, two lan- guage teaching approaches, and the like. This is effective as it allows them to select topics they are currently working on and with which they are very familiar.
3. Summarizing authentic academic essays. For a longer and more complex end-of-term exercise, likely to take about three classes, I select an authentic academic essay and pres- ent it, unabridged and untampered with, to the students. These model texts should ideally be intellectually controversial and thought-provoking. Some volumes of essays that have been popular with my students are Sutherland’s (1996) Is Heathcliff a Murderer?, Lerner’s (1975) An Introduction to English Poetry, Yule’s (2006) The Study of Language, as well as chapters from English and Ameri- can social history handbooks. After an initial period of vocabulary study and dictionary work, I divide the text and assign one or two paragraphs per pair or small group. The task is to summarize the text and to make sure to avoid plagiarism. When students are finished I collect the summaries and put them on one page without any improvement whatsoever. This page can then serve as a worksheet for error correction during the final class. (See the Appendix for an example of this task.)
In the previous three tasks the teacher’s role is that of organizer, prompter, resource, tutor, and finally, the assessor (Harmer 2001. The collaborative tasks are necessarily monitored by the instructor, who can offer guidance and helpful suggestions as needed. An obstacle to be avoided, however, is excessive reliance on the teacher’s advice by some student writers. Instead, there should be unlimited access to quality monolingual and bilingual dictionar- ies. (Students may require prior training to use them efficiently.)
Conclusion
As illustrated, the focus of my EAP writing classes is not only on process writing, but also on the finished product. I do agree with Yan’s statement that “the product approach still has some credibility because at some point there will be a final draft that requires attention
to grammar, spelling, and punctuation” (Yan 2005, 19). In addition to reducing the time required for use of the process approach, the techniques and strategies offered here moti- vate teacher trainees to engage in the difficult stages of academic writing and to produce a final draft. There is no problem using these techniques repeatedly because, as Showalter (2003) reassures us, teaching differs from scholarship because it “does not have to be original to be good” (9). Most importantly, if academic texts and supplemental exercises offer intellectual challenges and lie within the scope of the trainees’ academic interests, the benefits of tasks based on them will remain unquestionable.
References
Adams-Tukiendorf, M., and D. Rydzak. 2003.
Developing writing skills: A manual for EFL stu-
dents. Opole, Poland: Opole University Press. Byrne, D. 1992. Teaching writing skills. 2nd ed.
London: Longman.
Harmer, J. 2001. The practice of English language
teaching. 3rd ed. White Plains, NY: Longman. Harshbarger, L. 2002. A view of the past: The third decade (1973–1982). English Teaching Forum
40 (3): 40.
Heffernan J. A. W., J. Atwill, and J. E. Lincoln.
2000. Writing: A college handbook. 5th ed. New
York: Norton.
Jordan, R. R. 1997. English for academic purposes: A
guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
–––. 1999. Academic writing course. 3rd ed. Harlow,
UK: Longman.
Leki, I. 1995. Academic writing: Exploring pro-
cesses and strategies—Instructor’s manual. 2nd ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
–––. 1998. Academic writing: Exploring processes and strategies. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Lerner, L. 1975. An introduction to English poetry.
London: Edward Arnold.
Macpherson, R. 2004. English for academic purposes.
Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers.
Showalter, E. 2003. Teaching literature. Oxford:
Blackwell.
Sullivan, P. 2002. A view of the past: The first
decade (1963–1972). English Teaching Forum
40 (1): 20.
Sutherland, J. 1996. Is Heathcliff a murderer? Great
puzzles in nineteenth-century fiction. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Trzeciak, J., and S. E. Mackay. 1994. Study skills for
academic writing: Student’s book. Harlow, UK:
Longman.
Ur, P. 1996. A course in language teaching: Practice
and theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Continued on page 40
English TEaching Forum | Number 1 2008 33

English Communicative Curriculum Design for the 21st Century

Sandra J. Savignon
UNITED STATES
Communicative Curriculum Design for the 21st Century

“YOU MAY NOT LOITER DOWNTOWN IN ICE CREAM STORES. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother. You may not dress in bright colors. You must wear at least two
petticoats. You must start the fire at 7 a.m. so the school room will be warm by 8 a.m.”
1915 Rules for Teachers
Goodland, Kansas
2 JANUARY 2002 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM

What do you think of the 1915 Rules for Teachers? Do they seem somewhat strange or outdated? Do they make you smile? If you had been a talented new teacher in Good- land, Kansas in 1915, you most likely would have found these rules to be the mark of a school system with high standards. No doubt the standards set for students were as high as those set for teachers. Teachers in Goodland could count on students to be respectful and diligent in their work. Teachers, for their part, were expected to set a good example.
Teachers have always been expected to set a good exam- ple for learners, to provide a model of behavior. But as these rules from 1915 so clearly remind us, the model can and does change. What seems a good example in one time or place, a given context of situation, may seem quite strange or inappropriate in another time or place. And so it is with lan- guage teaching. Teachers have found many ways or methods for teaching languages. All have been admired models in some time or place, but perhaps have been ridiculed or dis- missed in other contexts. Times change, fashions change. What may once appear new and promising can subse- quently seem curious or inappropriate.
Within the last quarter century, communicative lan- guage teaching (CLT) has been put forth around the world as the new and innovative way to teach English as a second or foreign language. Teaching materials, course descrip- tions, and curriculum guidelines proclaim a goal of com- municative competence. In Japan, for example, the guide- lines published by the Ministry of Education in The Course of Study for Senior High School state the following objectives of ELT: “To develop students’ ability to under- stand and to express themselves in a foreign language; to foster students’ positive attitude towards communicating in a foreign language; and to heighten their interest in lan- guage and culture, thus deepening international under- standing” (Wada 1994:1). A senior advisor to the Ministry in promoting ELT reform in Japan, Wada (in press) explains the significance of these guidelines:
The Course of Study is one of the most important legal precepts in the Japanese educational system. It estab- lishes national standards for elementary and secondary schools.... For the first time it introduced into English education at both secondary school levels the concept of communicative competence.... The basic goal of the revision [is] to prepare students to cope with the rapid- ly occurring changes toward a more global society.
Parallel efforts are under way in Taiwan for similar rea- sons. Based on in-depth interviews of teacher educators, Wang (in press) reports on the progress:
Much has been done to meet the demand for competent English users and effective teaching in Taiwan. Current improvements, according to the teacher experts, include
the change in entrance examinations, the new curricu- lum with a goal of teaching for communicative compe- tence, and the island-wide implementation in 2001 of English education in the elementary schools. However, more has to be done to ensure quality teaching and learning in the classrooms. Based on the teacher experts’ accounts, further improvements can be stratified into three interrelated levels related to teachers, school authorities, and the government. Each is essential to the success of the other efforts.
How has CLT been interpreted?
By definition, CLT puts the focus on the learner. Learners’ communicative needs provide a framework for elaborating program goals in terms of functional competence. This implies global, qualitative evaluation of learner achievement as opposed to quantitative assessment of discrete linguistic features. Controversy over appropriate language testing mea- sures persists, and many a curricular innovation has been undone by failure to make corresponding changes in evalua- tion. Current efforts at educational reform favor essay writing, in-class presentations, and other more holistic assessments of learner competence. Some programs have initiated portfolio assessment in an effort to better represent and encourage learner achievement.
Although it now has a new name and is enjoying wide- spread recognition and research attention, CLT is not a new idea. Throughout the long history of language teach- ing there always have been advocates of a focus on mean- ing, as opposed to form, and of developing learner ability to actually use the language for communication. The more immediate the communicative needs, the more readily communicative methods seem to be adopted. In Breaking Tradition, Musumeci (1997) provides a fascinating account of language teaching reform efforts dating back to the Mid- dle Ages when Latin was the lingua franca. The book is a favorite of my students, who find it a refreshing and reas- suring reminder that discussions of methods and goals for language teaching by far predate the 21st century.
Depending upon their own preparation and experience, teachers themselves differ in their reactions to CLT. Some feel understandable frustration at the seeming ambiguity in discussions of communicative ability. Negotiation of mean- ing may be a lofty goal, but this view of language behavior lacks precision and does not provide a universal scale for assessment of individual learners. Ability is viewed as variable and highly dependent upon context and purpose as well as on the roles and attitudes of all involved. Some teachers wel- come the opportunity to select and develop their own mate- rials, and thereby provide their learners with a range of com- municative tasks. Also they are comfortable relying on more global, integrative judgments of learner progress.
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Shaping a communicative curriculum
In attempting to convey the meaning of CLT to both pre-service and in-service teachers of English as a second or foreign language in a wide range of contexts, I have found it helpful to think of a communicative curriculum as potentially composed of five components. These compo- nents may be regarded as thematic clusters of activities or experiences related to language use, which provide a useful way of categorizing teaching strategies. Use of the term component to categorize these activities seems particularly appropriate in that it avoids any suggestion of sequence or hierarchy. Experimentation with communicative teaching methods has shown that all five components can be prof- itably blended at all stages of instruction. Organization of learning activities into these components serves not to sequence an ELT program, but rather to highlight the range of options available in curriculum planning and to suggest ways in which their very interrelatedness benefits the learner. The five components are:
1. Language Arts
2. Language for a Purpose
3. My Language is Me: Personal English
Language Use
4. You Be..., I’ll Be...: Theater Arts 5. Beyond the Classroom
Language Arts
Language arts, or language analysis, is the first compo- nent on the list. Language arts includes those things that language teachers often do best. In fact, it may be all they have been taught to do. Language arts includes many of the exercises used in mother tongue programs to focus attention on formal accuracy. In communicative ELT, language arts focuses on forms of English, including syntax, morphology, and phonology. Familiar activities such as translation, dicta- tion, and rote memorization can be helpful in bringing attention to form. Vocabulary expansion can be enhanced by a focus on definitions, synonyms and antonyms, and where applicable, true and false cognates. Spelling tests, for example, are important if writing is a goal. Pronunciation exercises and patterned repetition of verb paradigms, accompanied by an explanation of morphosyntactic fea- tures, can be useful in focusing on form. There are also many language arts games that learners of all ages enjoy for the variety and group interaction they provide. So long as they are not overused and are not promoted as the solution to all types of language learning problems, language arts games can be found in a wide range of formats and are a welcome addition to a teacher’s repertoire.
Language for a Purpose
Language for a purpose, or language experience, is the second component on the list. In contrast to language analysis, language experience is the use of English for real
and immediate communicative goals. Not all learners are learning English for the same reasons. Attention to the spe- cific communicative needs of the learners is important in the selection and sequencing of materials. Regardless of how distant or unspecific the communicative needs of the learners may be, every program with a goal of communica- tive competence should give attention to opportunities for meaningful English use, to opportunities to focus on meaning rather than on form.
In an ESL setting, where English is the language outside the classroom, there is an immediate and natural need for learners to use English. Where this happens, purposeful lan- guage use is a built-in feature of the learning environment. In an EFL setting, where the teacher may have a language other than English in common with learners, special attention needs to be given to providing opportunities for English lan- guage experience. Exclusive use of English in the classroom is an option. In content-based instruction, the focus is other than the English language. The content is taught through the use of English. Immersion programs at the elementary, sec- ondary, or even university level, where the entire curriculum is taught in English, offer a maximum amount of purposeful language use (see Snow 2001). In addition, task-based cur- ricula are designed to provide learners with maximum oppor- tunity to use language for a purpose.
Learners who are accustomed to being taught exclusively in their mother tongue may at first be uncomfortable if the teacher speaks to them in English, expecting them not only to understand but perhaps even to respond. When this hap- pens, teachers need to take special care to help learners understand that they are not expected to understand every word, any more than they are expected to express themselves in native-like English. Making an effort to get the gist and using strategies to interpret, express, and negotiate meaning, are important to the development of communicative com- petence. For learners who are accustomed to grammar trans- lation courses taught in their mother tongue with an empha- sis on grammar and accuracy, the transition will not be easy. Kusano Hubbell (in press), a Japanese teacher of English in Tokyo, recounts some struggles in her determined effort to teach communicatively:
Many Japanese students have been taught that they have to know every word in a sentence or a phrase in order to understand a foreign language. They are not taught to use the strategies that they already use in their native Japan- ese, that is, to guess the meaning from the context. When the blackboard is full of writing and I am busy in class, I tell a student, “Please erase the blackboard!”, handing him an eraser and pointing to the dirty blackboard. If he does not move, it is not because he is offended. He just did not recognize the word “erase,” and to him that means he did not understand me. If he is willing to accept the ambiguity, he gets up and cleans the board.
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With encouragement and help from their teacher in devel- oping the strategic competence they need to interpret, express, and negotiate meaning, learners express satisfaction and even surprise. Kusano Hubbell (in press) goes on to report the pos- itive reactions she receives at the end of the term:
• “Completely different from any class I’ve ever had!”
• “I have never expressed my own ideas in English before. Work was always to translate this section, to fill in the blanks or read. It was all passive.”
• “In my career of English education from junior high to cram school there was no teacher who spoke English other than to read the textbooks.”
My Language is Me: Personal English Language Use
Personal English language use, the third component in a communicative curriculum, relates to the learner’s emerging identity in English. Learner attitude is, without a doubt, the single most important factor in learner suc- cess. Whether the motivations of a learner are integrative or instrumental, the development of communicative com- petence involves the whole learner. The most successful teaching programs are those that take into account the affective as well as the cognitive aspects of language learning. They seek to involve learners psychologically as well as intellectually.
In planning for CLT, teachers should remember that not everyone is comfortable in the same role. Within classroom communities, as within society at large, there are leaders and there are followers. Both are essential to the success of group activities. In group discussions, there are always some who seem to do the most talking. Often, those who remain silent in larger groups participate more readily in pair work, or they may prefer to work on an individual project. The wider the variety of communicative, or meaning-based, activities, the greater the chance for involving all learners.
Personal language use implies, above all, respect for learners as they use English for self-expression. Although language arts activities provide an appropriate context for attention to formal accuracy, personal English language use does not. Most teachers know this and intuitively focus on meaning rather than form as learners express their person- al feelings or experiences. Many textbooks and tests empha- size structural accuracy, however, so teachers may feel uncomfortable when they do not attend to those non- native-like utterances that do not impede the conveyance of meaning. An understanding of the importance of oppor- tunities for the interpretation, expression, and negotiation of meaning in CLT and of the distinction between lan- guage arts and personal language use can help to reassure teachers that the communicative practice they are provid- ing is important for learners.
Respect for learners as they use English for self-expres- sion requires more than simply restraint when they make formal errors that do not interfere with meaning. Respect
requires recognition that so-called “native-like” perfor- mance may not, in fact, even be a goal for learners. Lan- guage teaching has come a long way from audio-lingual days when “native” pronunciation and use was held up as an ideal for learners. Reference to the terms native or native-like in the evaluation of communicative competence is inappropriate in today’s post-colonial, multicultural world where nonnative speakers of English outnumber native speakers by at least two to one, a ratio that is rapid- ly increasing. We now recognize that native speakers are never “ideal” and, in fact, vary widely in range and style of communicative abilities, especially as the English language is increasingly used as a language of global communication. Moreover, the decision of what is or is not one’s native lan- guage is arbitrary and irrelevant for ELT and is perhaps best left to the individual concerned.
Since a personality inevitably takes on a new dimension through expression in another language, it needs to discov- er that dimension on its own terms. Learners should not only be given the opportunity to say what they want to say in English, they should be encouraged to develop an Eng- lish language personality with which they are comfortable. They may feel more comfortable maintaining a degree of formality not found in the interpersonal transactions of native speakers. The diary entry of a Japanese learner of English offers important insight on the matter of identity:
I just don’t know what to do right now. I might have been wrong since I began to learn English; I always tried to be better and wanted to be a good speaker. It was wrong, absolutely wrong! When I got to California, I started imitating Americans and picked up the words that I heard. So my English became just like Americans. I couldn’t help it. I must have been funny to them, because I am a Japanese and have my own culture and background. I think I almost lost the most important thing I should not have. I got California English, including intonation, pronunciation, the way they act, which are not mine. I have to have my own English, be myself when I speak English. (Preston 1981:113).
On the other hand, learners may discover a new free- dom of self-expression in their new language. When asked what it is like to write in English, a language that is not her native tongue, the Korean novelist Mia Yun (1998) replied that it was “like putting on a new dress.” Writing in Eng- lish made her feel fresh, see herself in a new way, offered her freedom to experiment. When expressing themselves in a new language, writers are not the only ones to experience the feeling of “putting on a new dress.” Personal language use calls for recognition and respect for the individual per- sonality of the learner.
You Be..., I’ll Be...: Theater Arts
Theater Arts constitutes the fourth component of a
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communicative curriculum. In the familiar words of Shakespeare (As You Like It, II, 7), “All the world is a stage.” And on this stage we play many roles for which we impro- vise scripts from the models we observe around us. Child, parent, sister, brother, employer, employee, doctor or teacher—all are roles that include certain expected ways of behaving and using language according to sociocultural rules of appropriateness. Familiar roles may be played with little conscious attention to style. On the other hand, new and unfamiliar roles require practice, with an awareness of how the meanings we intend are being interpreted by oth- ers. Sometimes there are no models. In the last half of the 20th century, women who suddenly found themselves in what traditionally had been men’s roles, whether as fire- fighters, professors, or CEOs, had to adapt existing models to ones with which they could be comfortable. And the transition is far from complete. By the end of the 21st cen- tury women will no doubt have many models.
If the world can be thought of as a stage, with actors and actresses who play their parts, theater may be seen as an opportunity to experiment with roles, to try things out. Fantasy and play-acting are a natural and important part of childhood. Make-believe improvisations familiar to chil- dren the world over are important to self-discovery and growth. They allow young learners to experiment, to try things out, like hats and wigs, moods and postures, gestures and words. As occasions for language use, role-playing and the many related activities that constitute theater arts are likewise a natural component of language learning. They allow learners to experiment with the roles they play or may be called upon to play in real life. Theater arts can pro- vide learners with the tools they need to act, that is, to interpret, express, and negotiate meaning in a new lan- guage. Activities can include both scripted and unscripted role play, simulations, and even pantomime. Ensemble- building activities familiar in theater training have been used very successfully in ELT to create a climate of trust so necessary for the incorporation of theater arts activities. The role of the teacher in these activities is that of a coach who provides support, strategies, and encouragement for learners as they explore new ways of being.
Beyond the Classroom
Beyond the Classroom is the fifth and final component of a communicative curriculum. Regardless of the variety of communicative activities in the ESL/EFL classroom, their purpose remains to prepare learners to use English in the world beyond. This is the world upon which learners will depend for the maintenance and development of their communicative competence once classes are over. The classroom is but a rehearsal. Development of opportunities for English language use beyond those offered in the class- room itself often begins with an identification of learner’s interests and needs.
As a child, I looked forward to receiving letters from my pen pals. They would arrive bearing colorful stamps from France, Wales, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. I had yet to learn a second language, so all our correspondence was in English. However, this regular exchange of letters put a small-town midwestern American girl in touch with other places around the globe and with other users of English. Technology has since brought the whole world so much closer. English language radio and television programs, videos, and feature-length films are readily available in many EFL settings, along with newspapers and magazines. English-speaking residents or visitors may be available to visit the classroom. The Internet now provides opportuni- ties to interact with English-speaking peers on a variety of topics and to develop grammatical, discourse, sociocultur- al, and strategic competence. In addition to prearranged exchanges, learners can check World Wide Web sites for an almost infinite range of information. These opportunities for computer-mediated communication will increase dra- matically in the years ahead.
Putting it all together
How do we put it all together? Is there an optimum combination of language arts, personal language use, lan- guage for a purpose, theater arts, and language use beyond the classroom? These questions must be answered by indi- vidual teachers for their learners in the context where they teach. Cultural expectations, language goals, and learning styles are but some of the ways in which learners may dif- fer from one another. To the complexity of the learner must be added the complexities of teachers and of the settings in which they teach. Established routines, or institutional belief about what is important, weigh heavily in a teacher’s decisions as to what and how to teach and often make innovation difficult. Finally, the need for variety must be taken into account. Learners who are bored with rule recitation or sentence translation may just as easily lose interest in games or role playing if these activities become routine. Difficult as it is, the teacher’s task is to understand the many factors involved and respond to them creatively.
Teachers cannot do this alone, of course. They need the support of administrators, the community, and learners themselves. Methodologists and teacher educators have a responsibility as well. They should provide classroom teachers with the perspective and experiences they need to respond to the realities of their world, a changing world in which the old ways of language teaching may not be the best ways. The optimum combination of the analytical and the experiential in ESL/EFL for a given context is the focus of ongoing research. A now well-established research tradition in second/foreign language learning/teaching has clearly shown the importance of attention to language use, or experience, in addition to language analysis. Unfortu-
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nately the overwhelming emphasis in many school pro- grams is on the latter, often to the complete exclusion of the former.
What about grammar?
Discussions of CLT not infrequently lead to questions of grammatical or formal accuracy. The perceived shift in attention from morphosyntactic features to a focus on meaning has led in some cases to the impression that gram- mar is not important, or that proponents of CLT favor learner self-expression without regard to form. While involvement in communicative events is seen as central to language development, this involvement necessarily requires attention to form. The contribution to language develop- ment of both form-focused and meaning-focused classroom activities remains a question in ongoing research. The opti- mum combination of these activities in any given instruc- tional setting depends no doubt on learner age, nature and length of instructional sequence, opportunities for language contact outside the classroom, and teacher preparation, among other factors. However, for the development of com- municative ability, research findings overwhelmingly sup- port the integration of form-focused exercises with mean- ing-focused experience. Grammar is important; and learners seem to focus best on grammar when it relates to their com- municative needs and experiences.
Communicative language teaching does not necessarily mean the rejection of familiar materials. A teacher with only a grammar-translation textbook can use it to support a focus on communication. Conversely, there is nothing to prevent materials intended to promote communication from being used to teach grammar and translation. What matters is the teacher’s understanding of how language learning happens. The basic principle involved is an orien- tation towards collective participation in a process of use and discovery achieved by cooperation between learners as well as between learners and the teacher.
What CLT is not
Disappointment with both grammar-translation and audio-lingual methods for their inability to prepare learn- ers for the interpretation, expression, and negotiation of meaning, along with enthusiasm for an array of alternative methods labeled communicative, has resulted in uncer- tainty as to what are the essential features of CLT. So let me conclude this overview with a brief mention of what CLT is not.
1. CLT is not exclusively concerned with face to face oral communication. The principles of CLT apply equally to reading and writing activities that engage readers and writers in the interpretation, expression, and negotiation of meaning. The goals of CLT depend on learner needs in a given context.
2. CLT does not require small group or pair work. Group tasks have been found helpful in many contexts as a way of providing increased opportunity and moti- vation for communication. However, classroom group or pair work should not be considered an essential fea- ture and may well be inappropriate in some contexts. 3. Finally, CLT does not exclude a focus on metalin- guistic awareness or knowledge of rules of syntax, dis- course, and social appropriateness.
The essence of CLT is the engagement of learners in communication to allow them to develop their commu- nicative competence. Terms sometimes used to refer to fea- tures of CLT include process-oriented, task-based, and inductive or discovery-oriented. CLT cannot be found in any single textbook or set of curricular materials. In keep- ing with the notion of context of situation, CLT is prop- erly seen as an approach, or theory of intercultural com- municative competence to be used in developing materials and methods appropriate to a given context of learning. Contexts change. The world of carriages and petticoats evolved into one of genomes and cyberspace. Commu- nicative language teaching methods designed to enhance the interpretation, expression, and negotiation of meaning will also continue to be explored and adapted.
References
Kusano Hubbell, K. (In press). Zen and the art of ELT. Interpret- ing communicative language teaching: Contexts and concerns in teacher education, ed. S. J. Savignon. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Musumeci, D. 1997. Breaking tradition: An exploration of the his- torical relationship between theory and practice in second lan- guage teaching. New York: McGraw Hill.
Preston, D. 1981. The ethnography of TESOL. TESOL Quarter- ly, 15, 2, pp. 105–116.
Snow, M. M. 2001. Content-based and immersion models for second and foreign language teaching. In Teaching English as a second or foreign language, (3rd ed.), ed. M. Celce-Murcia. Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle, pp. 303–318.
Wada, M., ed. 1994. The course of study for senior high school: For- eign languages (English version). Tokyo: Kairyudo
––––––. (In press). Teacher education for ELT innovation in Japan. Interpreting communicative language teaching: Contexts and concerns in teacher education, ed. S. J. Savignon. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Wang C. C. (In press). Innovative teaching in EFL contexts: The case of Taiwan. Interpreting communicative language teaching: Contexts and concerns in teacher education, ed. S. J. Savignon. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Yun, M. 1998. Interviewed on National Public Radio. Weekend Edition. 15 November. z
SANDRA J. SAVIGNON is a professor of applied linguistics at the Pennsylvania State University.
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Using L1 in the English Classroom

Jinlan Tang
CHINA
Using L1
in the English
Classroom
THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CONTRADICTING VIEWS ABOUT WHETHER TO use the mother tongue of the students in the foreign language classroom. The monolingual approach suggests that the target language ought to be the sole medium of communication, implying the prohibition of the native language would maximize the effectiveness of learning the target language.
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Background
A proponent of the monolingual approach, Krashen has argued that people learning for- eign languages follow basically the same route as they acquire their mother tongue, hence the use of the mother tongue in the learning process should be minimized (1981).
Authors of some introductory books on teaching EFL, such as Haycraft (1978), Hub- bard et al. (1983), and Harmer (1997), do not address this issue or pay very little attention to it. This suggests either the mother tongue does not play an important role in foreign language teaching or the issue of native language use does not exist in the classrooms of these authors, since most of them are native speak- ers of English accustomed to working with multilingual groups of students (Dörnyei, per- sonal communication).
During the past 15 years, however, mono- lingual orthodoxy has lost its appeal. Medgyes considers this orthodoxy “untenable on any grounds, be they psychological, linguistic or pedagogical” (1994:66). It has been argued that exclusion of the mother tongue is a criti- cism of the mother tongue and renders it a sec- ond-class language. This degradation of the mother tongue has harmful psychological effects on learners (Nation 1990).
Professionals in second language acquisi- tion have become increasingly aware of the role the mother tongue plays in the EFL class- room. Nunan and Lamb (1996), for example, contend that EFL teachers working with monolingual students at lower levels of Eng- lish proficiency find prohibition of the moth- er tongue to be practically impossible. Dörnyei and Kormos (1998) find that the L1 is used by L2 learners as a communication strategy to compensate for deficiencies in the target language. Auerbuch (1993) not only acknowledges the positive role of the mother tongue in the classroom, but also identifies the following uses for it: classroom management, language analysis, presenting rules that govern grammar, discussing cross-cultural issues, giv- ing instructions or prompts, explaining errors, and checking for comprehension.
My personal experience as a learner and teacher of English as a foreign language has shown me that moderate and judicious use of the mother tongue can aid and facilitate the learning and teaching of the target language, a
view shared by many colleagues of mine. However, the value of using the mother tongue is a neglected topic in the TEFL methodology literature. This omission, together with the widely advocated principle that the native language should not be used in the foreign language classroom, makes most teachers, experienced or not, feel uneasy about using L1 or permitting its use in the class- room, even when there is a need to do so.
Should the students’ L1 be used in the EFL classroom? Though its use has been defended by some language teaching special- ists, little empirical research has been done to find out if it is an effective teaching and learning tool.
How do students and teachers look at this issue? Schweers (1999) conducted a study with EFL students and their teachers in a Spanish context to investigate their attitudes toward using L1 in the L2 classroom. His results indicate that the majority of students and teachers agreed that Spanish should be used in the EFL classroom (Schweers 1999).
Inspired by his research and driven by my own interest, I decided to carry out a similar study on the use of the native language in the Chinese context. However, differences exist between Schweer’s study and mine. Firstly, in Schweer’s study English was the official second language of his participants, while in mine English was a foreign language to the partici- pants. Secondly, the participants in my research were all first-year English major stu- dents and the classes observed were first-year reading classes. Thirdly, I used a variety of research methods, including classroom obser- vations, interviews, and a questionnaire.
Research design
Questions
This study aimed to answer the following questions: (1) Is Chinese as the L1 used in ter- tiary-level English classrooms in China? If so, how frequently is it used and for what purpos- es? (2) What are the attitudes of the students and teachers toward using Chinese in the EFL classroom?
Participants
The participants of this study were 100 first-year English major students attending a university in Beijing. Their English was at the intermediate level. The 20 teacher participants
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were all faculty members at the same universi- ty, with their teaching experience ranging from one year to 30 years.
Methods and Procedures
Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used, including classroom observations, interviews, and questionnaires.
Classroom Observations
Three randomly-selected first-year reading classes (of about 50 minutes in length) con- ducted by three teachers were observed and recorded to find out how frequently and on what occasions Chinese was used. To obtain more authentic classroom data, the teachers and students were not informed of the obser- vation purpose beforehand.
Interviews
The three teachers whose classes were observed and recorded were interviewed and asked why they sometimes preferred using Chinese to English in their classes. The inter- views were recorded and summarized.
Questionnaires
A questionnaire (see Appendix 1) was dis- tributed to 100 students, and another ques- tionnaire (see Appendix 2) to 20 teachers to discover their attitudes toward using Chinese in the English classroom. The questionnaire items focused on the subjects’ opinions toward the use of L1, the various occasions when they think L1 can be used, and the perceived effec- tiveness of L1 in their EFL classroom.
Results
Classroom observations
Table 1 shows the number of times and
Table 1. Classroom observation results
occasions that Chinese was used in the three 50-minute reading classes.
The table shows that Chinese was used by the three teachers in the tertiary-level English reading classes to give instructions and to explain the meaning of words, complex ideas, and complex grammar points. The greatest use of Chinese, 13 times, was to explain the mean- ing of words. Teacher 1 used Chinese to explain the words steep, strain, scatter, fine, spout, terrain, melt, and beneficiary after her English explanations, which proved to be quite effective judging from the students’ responses. Teacher 2 used Chinese to explain the meanings of the words surge, high, and spell following her English explanations. In explaining the word high in the phrase a search for a ‘high’ that normal life does not supply, she came up with an appropriate and culturally- specific Chinese translation, and the students seemed to understand it quickly. One could conclude that the teachers use Chinese only when they explain abstract or culturally-spe- cific words. All three teachers first attempted to explain the words, grammar points, and meanings of complex ideas in English, but resorted to Chinese when they thought the students did not or could not understand their English explanations.
Teacher 3 used Chinese most frequently to give instructions. In the first five instances, the teacher used Chinese only after first giving instructions in English, apparently to ensure that every student was clear about what was said. Because it was quite noisy outside the classroom at the time, the teacher used Chi- nese instructions alone on four occasions to
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hold the students’ attention and make them follow him.
These three class observations indicate that Chinese is used on occasions when English explanations fail to work, hence the L1 plays a supportive and facilitating role in the classroom.
Interviews
After the classroom observations, the three teachers whose classes had been observed were interviewed about their occasional use of Chi- nese in the classroom and how they viewed the common criticism that using Chinese reduces the students’ exposure to English. Their answers are summarized as follows:
• Teacher 1: Firstly, I think using some Chi- nese is more effective and less time-con- suming. Occasionally, when you spend quite some time or use several English sen- tences to explain one word or idea, and the students still look confused, using one sim- ple Chinese word or idiom might solve the problem. Class time is limited; if using Chinese is helpful, why not do it? Second- ly, criticizing the use of Chinese on the grounds that the students’ exposure to Eng- lish will be reduced does not reflect the fact that students read the English text and still communicate in English with the teacher and other students in the classroom. The use of some Chinese in the class actually provides more time for students to practice their English and get exposure to English. Lastly, the amount of English used depends on the students’ language proficiency level. If their English is at an advanced level, I feel no need to use Chinese. All in all, I think that using some Chinese in the class- room is necessary and the advantages of doing so outweigh any disadvantages.
• Teacher 2: The main reason I use Chinese in the classroom is that sometimes stu- dents—because of their low proficiency level in English—fail to follow me when I only use English to explain the meaning of the text or to give instructions. Also, when I happen to know a very vivid and appropriate Chinese translation of an Eng- lish sentence, I will give it to students so they can immediately comprehend the meaning of the English sentence. This also helps them compare the word choices in the two languages.
• Teacher 3: I use Chinese to discuss the meaning of some difficult, abstract words and to explain the grammar and ideas expressed in long and complicated sen- tences. Sometimes when students look puzzled after my English explanation of certain points, I will use Chinese to rein- terpret them. Furthermore, when the class- room is noisy, using Chinese to keep order is more effective than using English.
Questionnaires
As noted earlier, questionnaires were dis- tributed to students and teachers. Of the 100 given to students, 98 were returned. Of the 20 given to teachers, 18 were returned. The find- ings are presented in Table 2.
Table 2 shows that a high percentage of the students (70 percent) and the teachers (72 per- cent) who participated in the study think that Chinese should be used in the classroom. The vast majority of students (97 percent) like it when their teachers use some Chinese. According to students, Chinese was most nec- essary to explain complex grammar points (72 percent) and to help define some new vocabu- lary items (69 percent). For teachers, Chinese was most necessary to practice the use of some phrases and expressions (56 percent) and to explain difficult concepts or ideas (44 per- cent). Only two teachers indicated that Chi- nese could be used to give suggestions on how to learn more effectively. In choosing the open-ended “Other” option about when it is necessary to use Chinese in the EFL class- room, a few students indicated that the L1 could be used to translate well-written para- graphs and to compare the two languages.
In explaining why they think the use of Chinese is necessary in EFL classes, the major- ity of student participants (69 percent) indi- cate that it helps them to understand difficult concepts better. Fewer than half of the stu- dents (42 percent) answered that Chinese was necessary to understand new vocabulary items better. Only six percent of the students responded that they felt less lost. This figure is significantly smaller than the corresponding student responses in Schweer’s study, in which 68.3 percent of the students preferred the use of the L1 in order to feel less lost (1999:8). A possible explanation for this difference is that the students’ English language proficiency level in my study was higher than in Schweer’s.
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Table 2. Results of the questionnaires on the use of Chinese in the English classroom.
Note: Where participants could choose more than one answer to a question (items 3 and 4), totals add up to more than 100 percent.
1. Should Chinese be used in the classroom?
Students: yes 70% no 30% Teachers: yes 72% no 28%
2. Do you like your teacher to use Chinese in the class? (students only)
not at all 3% a little 45% sometimes 50% a lot 2%
3. When do you think it is necessary to use Chinese in the English classroom?
a. to explain complex grammar points
b. to help define some new vocabulary items c. to explain difficult concepts or ideas
d. to practice the use of some phrases and
expressions 45% 56% e. to give instructions 6% 6% f. to give suggestions on how to learn more
effectively 4% 11%
4. If you think the use of Chinese is necessary in the classroom, why? Students
a. It helps me to understand the difficult concepts better. 69% b. It helps me to understand the new vocabulary items better. 42% c. It makes me feel at ease, comfortable and less stressed. 8% d. I feel less lost. 6% Teachers
a. It aids comprehension greatly. 39% b. It is more effective. 44% c. It is less time-consuming. 28%
5. Do you think the use of Chinese in the classroom helps you learn this language? (students only)
no 3% alittle 69%
fairly much 22% a lot 6%
6. How often do you think Chinese should be used in the classroom? (students only)
never 0% very rarely 38%
sometimes 60% fairly frequently 2%
7. What percentage of time do you think Chinese should be used in the class? (students only)
Time 5% 10% 20% 30%
Response 38%
25%
20%
10% (No students answered higher than 30%.)
Students
72% 39% 69% 39% 48% 44%
Teachers
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JANUARY 2002 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM
The few students who chose the open-ended “Other” option for why it is necessary to use the L1 indicated that Chinese could be used to understand jargon and to improve their trans- lation ability.
Concerning why the use of Chinese was necessary, teachers answered because “it is more effective” (44 percent) and “it aids com- prehension greatly” (39 percent). One teacher suggested that the use of L1 helps students become more aware of the differences and similarities between different cultures.
More than half of the students (60 percent) think Chinese should be used in the classroom “sometimes.” Concerning how much time Chinese should be used in the English class, 63 percent of the students answered the amount of Chinese used should range from 5 to 10 percent of class time, and 30 percent of the students answered it should be from 20 to 30 percent of class time.
The questionnaire results show that in the reading classes of first-year English majors, the use of Chinese is justified. It is especially use- ful for language tasks such as defining vocabu- lary items, practicing the use of phrases and expressions, and explaining grammar rules and some important ideas. This is in agree- ment with the classroom observation results (see Table 1). Students prefer the use of Chi- nese because it enhances their comprehension of new concepts and new vocabulary items; teachers think using Chinese is more effective and can aid comprehension.
Discussion
The results of the present study on the use of the mother tongue in a Chinese EFL con- text bear many similarities to Schweer’s study in a Spanish context. Both studies indicate that the mother tongue was used by the majority of teachers investigated, and both students and teachers responded positively toward its use. Minor discrepancies exist con- cerning the occasions when the L1 should be used. Some of these differences can be accounted for by the participants’ different levels of L2 language proficiency.
The teachers participating in this study indicated that the translation of some words, complex ideas, or even whole passages is a good way to learn a foreign language. My observa- tion of the three classes suggests that without
translation, learners would be likely to make unguided and often incorrect translations.
This study also reveals that in the EFL classes observed Chinese plays only a support- ive and facilitating role. The chief medium of communication in the class is still English. As with any other classroom technique, the use of the mother tongue is only a means to the end of improving foreign language proficiency. I agree with the majority of student participants (about 63 percent combined) that no more than 10 percent of class time should be spent using Chinese. In my experience, this percent- age decreases as the students’ English profi- ciency increases. Of course, a translation course would be an exception.
Unlike Schweer’s student participants, the students in the present study are highly moti- vated to learn English. As English majors in the university, their English language profi- ciency is regarded as a symbol of their identity and a route to future academic and employ- ment opportunities. Few of them feel that English is imposed on them or regard the use of English as a threat to their identity. Instead, they generally prefer greater or exclusive use of English in the classroom. In their view, Chi- nese should be used only when necessary to help them learn English better.
Conclusion
The research seems to show that limited and judicious use of the mother tongue in the English classroom does not reduce students’ exposure to English, but rather can assist in the teaching and learning processes. This is not to overstate the role of the L1 or advocate greater use of L1 in the EFL classroom, but rather to clarify some misconceptions that have troubled foreign language teachers for years, such as whether they should use the mother tongue when there is a need for it and whether the often-mentioned principle of no native language in the classroom is justifiable. It is hoped that these findings will help make more people acknowledge the role of the native language in the foreign language class- room and stimulate further study in this area.
References
Auerbach, E. 1993. Reexaming English only in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly 27, 1, pp. 9–32.
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM JANUARY 2002
41
Dörnyei, Z. and J. Kormos. 1998. Problem-solving mechanisms in L2 communication: A psy- cholinguistic perspective. Studies in Second Lan- guage Acquisition, 20, 3, pp. 349–385.
Harmer, J. 1997. The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.
Haycraft, J. 1978. An introduction to English lan- guage teaching. London: Longman.
Hubbard, P., H. Jones, B. Thornton, and R. Wheeler. 1983. A training course for TEFL. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Krashen, S. 1981. Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon.
Medgyes, P. 1994. The non-native teacher. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Nation, I. S. P. 1990. Teaching and learning vocab- ulary. New York: Newbury House.
Nunan, D. and C. Lamb. 1996. The self-directed teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schweers, W. Jr. 1999. Using L1 in the L2 classroom. English Teaching Forum, 37, 2, pp. 6–9. z
JINLAN TANG is a lecturer in English at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
APPENDIX 1–STUDENT QUESTIONNAIRE ON THE USE OF CHINESE IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM
This questionnaire aims to find out your attitude toward using Chinese in the English classroom. Your answers will be used for research purposes only. Thank you for your cooperation!
1. Should Chinese be used in the classroom?
Yes No
2. Do you like your teacher to use Chinese in the class?
not at all a little sometimes a lot
3. When do you think it is necessary to use Chinese in the English classroom?
a. to help define some new vocabulary items (e.g., some abstract words)
b. to practice the use of some phrases and expressions (e.g., doing translation
exercises)
c. to explain complex grammar points
d. to explain difficult concepts or ideas
e. to give instructions
f. to give suggestions on how to learn more effectively g. other, please specify
4. If you think the use of Chinese is necessary in the classroom, why?
a. It helps me to understand difficult concepts better.
b. It helps me to understand new vocabulary items better. c. It makes me feel at ease, comfortable and less stressed. d. I feel less lost.
e. other, please specify
5.Do you think the use of Chinese in the classroom helps you learn this language?
no a little fairly much a lot
6. How often do you think Chinese should be used in the classroom?
never very rarely sometimes fairly frequently
7. What percentage of the time do you think Chinese should be used in the class? Choose one.
5% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
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JANUARY 2002 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM
“Where’s the Beef?”
Answer to the logic puzzle on inside back cover:
WHAT WAS YOUR ORDER?
Reggie had the cola, cheeseburger with pickles, and French fries. The numbers in parentheses beside each person’s name indi- cate which facts applies for figuring out who ordered what.
Jane (6 & 10)
Diet cola, grilled chicken sandwich, and French fries Jack (4, 7 & 11)
Vanilla milkshake and two hot dogs
Jill (4, 5 & 11)
Cola and taco salad
Archie (6, 7 & 8)
Cola, plain hamburger, and French fries
Betty (5, 7 & 8)
Diet cola, fish sandwich, and onion rings
Reggie (5, 7, 8 & 9)
Cola, cheeseburger with pickles, and French fries
APPENDIX 2–TEACHER QUESTIONNAIRE ON THE USE OF CHINESE IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM
This questionnaire aims to find out your attitude toward using Chinese in the classroom. Your answers will be used for research purposes only. Thank you for your cooperation!
1. Should Chinese be used in the classroom?
Yes No
2. When do you think it is necessary to use Chinese in the classroom?
a. to help define some new vocabulary items (e.g., some abstract words)
b. to practice the use of some phrases and expressions (e.g., doing translation
exercises)
c. to explain complex grammar points
d. to explain difficult concepts or ideas
e. to give instructions
f. to give suggestions on how to learn more effectively g. other, please specify
3. If you think the use of Chinese is necessary in the classroom, why?
a. It aids comprehension greatly. b. It is more effective.
c. It is less time-consuming.
d. other, please specify
ANSWERS TO THE LIGHTER SIDE
ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM JANUARY 2002
43