Monthly Archives: January, 2016

Welcome to the NELTA ELT Forum – January Issue, 2016

Editorial

Theme: Second Language Writing Research and Practice: Challenging the Norms

Welcome to this new issue of NELTA ELT Forum, our first issue of 2016. It feels like we started this blog yesterday, but our blog is over one year old now. In spite of our short history, our readers have grown exponentially, making us proud and excited. As it stands, our forum has reached over 19,000 readers from more than one hundred countries. It has been such a rewarding journey for us, and we have just started.

Learning, teaching and researching writing skills have never been an easy task. Successful writing involves a complex process by which we need to follow rigid guidelines and fulfill the different norms of writing – an obvious reason why people struggle in writing. Because there are idiosyncratic styles of writing, fulfilling certain requirements of academic writing becomes a challenge for most, if not all, writers (native ones included). As Canagarajan (2011) puts it, “writing is not a monologue; it is dialogue” (p. 218). Writing is an interaction among different social and cultural variables. Even when one works on a long piece of writing alone in a cozy room, there is a need for him or her to communicate with different social milieus across space and time.

Our current issue is an enjoyable capsule of different works put together for second language teachers, teacher educators, researchers, and independent readers. Centering its theme on second language writing, this issue is diverse in scholastic foci and approaches, and we are quite confident that it is going to make a tremendous contribution to the field of second language writing. For those who are feeling hesitant on how to incorporate writing in an English classroom, Babita Sharma Chapagain shares some hands-on teaching tips in using mentor texts to teach creative writing to young learners. Her article chronicles a series of practical writing lessons, bringing into spotlight a range of teaching elements beginning with lesson design, before moving to implementation of relevant classroom activities and to discussion of teachers’ roles. Readers wishing to explore creative ideas to teach writing, especially to young learners, should find the article of great value.

As the highlight of the issue, Dr. Shyam Sharma’s reflective article approaches writing from a wider educational lens, presenting an analogy of Nepali and other countries’ writing cultures by highlighting some underlying sociocultural reasons and dynamics which make our writing pedagogy and education in general the same and different. You will find several eye-opening reasons why there are disparities and what kinds of variations prevail to make education and EFL writing teaching practice in Nepal “understanding-driven,” and those in the U.S. and Western Europe “expression-driven.”

The third, fourth, and fifth articles of the issue examine second language pedagogy from another corner of the ELT world. Lady Lim et al. present a case study to investigate Cambodian EFL teachers’ use of teacher feedback to improve students’ academic writings. Insights from the article could be of high relevance for teachers and educators working under the pressure of time and overwhelming responsibilities.

Mouy Eng et al.’s article, on the other hand, explores the contentious issue of scoring procedures and their subsequent impacts on students’ writing test/assessment performances.

Usefully, Khat Korop offers a personal reflection of Ken Hyland’s suggested practice of giving feedback and comments on students’ written work. The reflection should take us down memory lane and excite us to reflect on our own writing teaching practice.

As a special feature, the issue presents a conversation with Dr. Sarah Henderson Lee who is an assistant professor of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato regarding her academic and professional backgrounds, her myriad research projects, and her inspiration for past and future academic endeavors in relation to the postmethod approach to second language writing instruction. Dr. Henderson Lee also shares useful teaching writing resources as well as an important discussion on how second language writing and the idea of world Englishes intersect – another element of additional value for our readers.

We hope that this issue, just like the rest of the forum, turns out to be an avenue leading our readers to fresh inspiration to not only reflect on the issues discussed but also to delve into their own teaching and research agenda, which in return results in new initiatives to challenge the norms and take their teaching and research practice a good step further.

Happy reading!

Issue Editors

Bophan Khan

Shyam B. Pandey

1_Babita Sharma

Writing in Second Language: Scaffolding Student Writers by Mentor Texts

*Babita Sharma Chapagain

Introduction

Mentor texts are example stories, either fiction or nonfiction, gathered or developed by language teachers. They can serve as a powerful tool for scaffolding creative writing and offer “myriad possibilities for our students and ourselves as writers” (Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007, p. 3). This article highlights the importance of using good mentor texts in the classroom and its significant contribution to overall development of young learners. To justify this, I have made an attempt to develop and present a set of activities, shared an example story written by one of my students from my country, Nepal and elaborated my thoughts based on my experiences as well as my readings.

Lesson Design

The set of activities I have designed here (Appendix 1) is appropriate to the context of a primary school where English is introduced as a subject from grade one. My target learners are eight-year-old grade three students who learn English as a foreign language. The class size is small, consisting of 16 children. Since the children learn English only 45 minutes each day for five days a week and get very little exposure to English outside the classroom, they are still not fluent in English, but they can read and respond to simple texts written in English. Besides those five periods a week, they also get an extra library period every week to utilize the books available in the classroom. The head teacher has set up a book corner in each classroom of the school, and she is very eager to bring about change in teaching and learning English. Therefore, the teacher is allowed to use three periods a week, i.e. two periods from her regular English periods and one library period to utilize the books in the best way possible and enhance children’ reading and creative writing skills.

The whole set of activities aims to scaffold young learners to improve their English in general and creative writing skill in particular. There are three activities, and each of them engages the learners in making predictions, reading aloud mentor texts, and thinking, sharing, and writing a creative piece. While writing, the learners are encouraged to add some more details and descriptions, trying to apply the author’s techniques/crafts into their writing. In the first activity, children write a story in groups because they might get puzzled and may not be so confident to work alone. From the second activity, children then gradually start working more independently. Regarding my book selection, the picture books, based on which the first two activities are designed, are quite easy for my students because the two activities are designed to be conducted at the beginning of the academic year to teach something simple and interesting. In contrast, the book named “Fireflies” used for the third activity is comparatively difficult to understand, as the third activity is designed for the end of the academic year assuming that the process of using mentor texts will be continued throughout the year. By that time, the students will have already developed a certain level of language competence well enough to be able to understand “Fireflies” and write a story using their real life experience and based on “Fireflies.” Continue reading →

2_Shyam Sharma

Productive Crossroads: Writing Pedagogy and Nepali ELT

*Dr. Shyam Sharma

Writing for this blog feels like a wish fulfilled. As one of the NELTA members who started ELT Choutari, another blog envisioned and run as an informal platform for the community, I had hoped that other colleagues would start many similar venues; so, when colleagues started this official blog last year, I was delighted. We all grow by giving back to these shared communities, and because these are not like riverside paddy fields to be divided among brothers in the old days, everyone benefits when we add new opportunities and try new approaches.

With that good feeling expressed, let me move toward my topic, one which Shyam Pandey said would be a good one when he invited me to write a post for this forum: the idea of promoting the teaching and scholarship of writing/rhetoric in Nepalese secondary and higher education. This was also among our collective wishes we had when we started Choutari, and I think it is worth continuing the discussion about it. There is room in our conferences, in research and writing, and in curriculum and pedagogy to add substance and quality in this area. As someone who studies and teaches academic and professional writing (I work at a university near New York City), I may be partial in emphasizing the significance of it. But I believe that doing so would help us greatly improve the quality of education from bottom to top. Let me explain by situating writing in the context of our view and systems of education, or how we define and practice learning and teaching.

In Nepal, we seem to just expect our students to just “do” it when it comes to writing. We usually don’t have separate courses (beyond sections in compulsory language courses), and even when we do, the courses seem to quickly turn into lecture-and-exam based practices. Elsewhere (and I’m thinking mainly about the US and Western Europe), students write not only to “demonstrate knowledge” but also to “create” and “express” their own ideas and arguments, feelings and experiences. When they write from or about others’ ideas, they tend to move much more often into analysis and synthesis, as well as review/response and critique. Moving students from repeating and summarizing what they learn from books and teachers into the new direction requires explicit teaching. In fact, if we look at the examination questions in most subjects and at most levels of our education, we can see that the questions do move from demands for summary into instructions for synthesis, from repetition of information to argumentation with support, from demonstration to creation of knowledge. Continue reading →

3_Lady_Lim_Article 3

Use of Teacher Feedback to Improve Academic Written Work: A Case Study of Cambodian EFL Students

Lady Lim, Sokly Chheng, Chhengly Long, Vannak Sok, and Bophan Khan

Generally speaking, it is impartial to admit that teaching writing has been ignored or considered as a less important subject in Cambodian ELT, because of its difficulty and boredom both for teachers and students. Consequently, teaching or learning to write in English successfully gets even more complicated and challenging.

In learning, students inevitably make mistakes in their writing, and those mistakes are often corrected by their teacher, who certainly see responding to their students’ written work as an important part of their job (Casanave, 2004). One way to improve students’ writing is giving feedback on unintentional mistakes. According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), feedback is conceptualized as information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer, book, parent, self, experience) on aspects of one’s performance or understanding. They also claim that feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement in both positive and negative ways. To be positive, feedback needs to provide specific information related to the task or work of learning and what the teacher wants them to understand. Feedback should also be an outcome of student performance and an essential part of the learning process.

In writing context alone, there are several ways for providing feedback. Saito (1994) emphasizes seven types of written feedback:

  1. Teacher correction: The teacher corrects all the errors by crossing out perceived errors and providing correct answers.
  2. Commentary: The teacher provides feedback by making written comments on the margin (No error corrections are made).
  3. Error identification: The teacher underlines or circles mistakes occurs (No error corrections are made).
  4. Peer-correction: Students correct each other’s work
  5. Self-correction: Students correct their own works
  6. Teacher-student conferencing: The teacher and students discuss a piece of students’ work
  7. Correction codes: The teachers place symbols beside the mistakes.

Saito also found that most students tended to reread their writing only after getting feedback from their teacher. Another study revealing the importance of feedback was conducted by Othman and Mohamad (2009) with 52 students at MARA University of Technology, Malaysia. The students in this study had to write three drafts of essays whereby the teachers provided content-focused feedback on the first draft and form-focused feedback on the second draft. The finding showed that most students responded positively to the teachers’ feedback on their first and second drafts, which resulted in improved final drafts. Continue reading →

4_Mouy Eng_Article 4

Practicing Analytic and Holistic Scoring Rubrics: An investigation of a Cambodian Academic Writing Class

*Mouy Eng, Sofilta Seth, Darisna Sok, Panhchaleak Sokheng, and Bophan Khan 

Within the field of classroom language testing, assessment of writing proficiency is performance-based (Swartz et al., 1999) and could pose numerous challenges for the classroom test designers, i.e. teachers. A writer, i.e., student, has to generate relevant information and ideas, create his or her message linguistically, and take into account characteristics of the audiences. According to Bachman and Palmer (1996), writing is an authentic task to test students’ writing ability because writing performance on the paper most directly reflects the real knowledge abilities writers have acquired.

However, a test of writing ability could be invalid due to several interfering factors. Based on Cooper (1984), the first factor is the topic the students write about, especially when it is prescribed. Another factor which can affect students’ writing performance on a test is the genre the students are required to produce. Students could be more skillful in the genres not tested and less experienced with those tested, so it is unfair to evaluate their overall writing abilities based on performances on such a test. Other factors include time limitation, students’ health and mood, classroom environment and test anxiety. On top of these student-related issues, rater inconsistency is a common source of invalid assessment of writing. Raters or, henceforth, scorers may adopt different scoring procedures and approach students’ written works differently. Holistic scorers look at the whole picture of a writing while analytic scorers look at small elements that together make up a writing. In Cambodian ELT context, a dilemma of choosing a scoring procedure is in a widespread existence.

In light of this issue, the current study investigates Cambodian teachers’ perspectives and preferences toward the two kinds of scoring procedures, which has long been a highly contested issue among classroom test/assessment designers.

Literature review

According to Klein et al. (1998), one influential factor in scoring reliability is scoring technique. In order to mark writing tasks, holistic and analytic approaches are the most common techniques. Metler (2001) defines holistic scoring as the process of scoring the whole paper once, while analytic scoring assesses a writing response according to the provided criteria and finally sum up the marks for different writing components to get a total score. Mueller (2014), similarly, explains that analytic scoring specifies students’ writing ability in pertinence to each criterion. In contrast, a holistic rubric does not list separate levels of performance for each criterion. Continue reading →