Tips for giving feedback on written work
Tips for giving feedback on written work
Levels of reading comprehension
Developing direct and indirect test items for language assessments.
Some of the biggest challenges in helping students with research is their lack of preparation. The problem is not an ignorance of statistics or research design as that takes only a little bit of support. The real problem is that students want to do research without hardly reading any research and lacking knowledge of how research writing is communicated. This post will share some prerequisites to performing research.
Extensive reading means reading broadly about a topic and not focusing too much on specifics. Therefore, you read indiscriminately perhaps limited yourself only to your general discipline.
In order to communicate research, you must first be familiar with the vocabulary and norms of research. This can be learned to a great extent through reading academic empirical articles.
The ananoloy I like to use is how a baby learns. By spends large amounts of time being exposed to the words and actions of others. The baby has no real idea in terms of what is going on at first. However, after continuous exposure, the child begins to understand the words and actions fo those around them and even begins to mimic the behaviors.
In many ways, this is the purpose of reading a great deal before even attempting to do any research. Just as the baby, a writer needs to observe how others do things, continue this process even if they do not understand, and attempt to imitate the desired behaviors. You must understand the forms of communication as well as the cultural expectations of research writing and this can only happen through direct observation.
At the end of this experience, you begin to notice a pattern in terms of the structure of research writing. The style is highly ridge with litter variation.
It is hard to say how much extensive reading a person needs. Generally, the more reading that was done in the past the less reading needed to understand the structure of research writing. If you hate to read and did little reading in the past you will need to read a lot more to understand research writing then someone with an extensive background in reading. In addition, if you are trying to write in a second language you will need to read much more than someone writing in their native language.
If you are still desirous of a hard number of articles to read I would say aim for the following
Extensive reading is just reading. There is no notetaking or even highlighting. You are focusing on exposure only. Just as the observant baby so you are living in the moment trying to determine what is the appropriate behavior. If you don’t understand you need to keep going anyway as the purpose is quantity and not quality. Generally, when the structure of the writing begins to become redundant ad you can tell what the author is doing without having to read too closely you are ready to move on.
Intensive reading is reading more for understanding. This involves slows with the goal of deeper understanding. Now you select something, in particular, you want to know. Perhaps you want to become more familiar with the writing of one excellent author or maybe there is one topic in particular that you are interested in. With intensive writing, you want to know everything that is happening in the text. To achieve this you read fewer articles and focus much more on quality over quantity.
By the end of the extensive and intensive reading, you should be familiar with the following.
Once a student has read a lot of research there is some hope that they can now attempt to write in this style. As the teacher, it is my responsibility to point out the structure of research writing which involves such as ideas as the 5 sections and the parts of each section.
Students grasp this but they often cannot build paragraphs. In order to write academic research, you must know the purpose of main ideas, supporting details, and writing patterns. If these terms are unknown to you it will be difficult to write research that is communicated clearly.
The main idea is almost always the first sentence of a paragraph and writing patterns provide different ways to organize the supporting details. This involves understanding the purpose of each paragraph that is written which is a task that many students could not explain. This is looking at writing from a communicative or discourse perspective and not at a minute detail or grammar one.
The only way to do this is to practice writing. I often will have students develop several different reviews of literature. During this experience, they learn how to share the ideas of others. The next step is developing a proposal in which the student shares their ideas and someone else’s. The final step is writing a formal research paper.
To write you must first observe how others write. Then you need to imitate what you saw. Once you can do it what others have done it will allow you to ask questions about why things are this way. Too often, people just want to write without even understanding what they are trying to do. This leads to paralysis at best (I don’t know what to do) to a disaster at worst (spending hours confidently writing garbage). The enemy to research is not methodology as many people write a lot without knowledge of stats or research design because they collaborate. The real enemy of research is neglecting the preparation of reading and the practicing of writing.
The Discussion & Conclusion section of a research article/thesis/dissertation is probably the trickiest part of a project to write. Unlike the other parts of a paper, the Discussion & Conclusions are hard to plan in advance as it depends on the results. In addition, since this is the end of a paper the writer is often excited and wants to finish it quickly, which can lead to superficial analysis.
This post will discuss common components of the Discussion & Conclusion section of a paper. Not all disciplines have all of these components nor do they use the same terms as the ones mentioned below.
The discussion is often a summary of the findings of a paper. For a thesis/dissertation, you would provide the purpose of the study again but you probably would not need to share this in a short article. In addition, you also provide highlights of what you learn with interpretation. In the results section of a paper, you simply state the statistical results. In the discussion section, you can now explain what those results mean for the average person.
The ordering of the summary matters as well. Some recommend that you go from the most important finding to the least important. Personally, I prefer to share the findings by the order in which the research questions are presented. This maintains a cohesiveness across sections of a paper that a reader can appreciate. However, there is nothing superior to either approach. Just remember to connect the findings with the purpose of the study as this helps to connect the themes of the paper together.
What really makes this a discussion is to compare/contrast your results with the results of other studies and to explain why the results are similar and or different. You also can consider how your results extend the works of other writers. This takes a great deal of critical thinking and familiarity with the relevant literature.
The next component of this final section of the paper is either recommendations or implications but almost never both. Recommendations are practical ways to apply the results of this study through action. For example, if your study finds that sleeping 8 hours a night improves test scores then the recommendation would be that students should sleep 8 hours a night to improve their test scores. This is not an amazing insight but the recommendations must be grounded in the results and not just opinion.
Implications, on the other hand, explain why the results are important. Implications are often more theoretical in nature and lack the application of recommendations. Often implications are used when it is not possible to provide a strong recommendation.
The terms conclusion and implications are often used interchangeably in different disciplines and this is highly confusing. Therefore, keep in mind your own academic background when considering what these terms mean.
There is one type of recommendation that is almost always present in a study and that is recommendations for further study. This is self-explanatory but recommendations for further study are especially important if the results are preliminary in nature. A common way to recommend further studies is to deal with inconclusive results in the current study. In other words, if something weird happened in your current paper or if something surprised you this could be studied in the future. Another term for this is “suggestions for further research.”
Limitations involve discussing some of the weaknesses of your paper. There is always some sort of weakness with a sampling method, statistical analysis, measurement, data collection etc. This section is an opportunity to confess these problems in a transparent matter that further researchers may want to control for.
Finally, the conclusion of the Discussion & Conclusion is where you try to summarize the results in a sentence or two and connect them with the purpose of the study. In other words, trying to shrink the study down to a one-liner. If this sounds repetitive it is and often the conclusion just repeats parts of the discussion.
This post provides an overview of writing the final section of a research paper. The explanation here provides just one view on how to do this. Every discipline and every researcher has there own view on how to construct this section of a paper.
Writing the results of a research paper is difficult. As a researcher, you have to try and figure out if you answered the question. In addition, you have to figure out what information is important enough to share. As such it is easy to get stuck at this stage of the research experience. Below are some ideas to help with speeding up this process.
Consider the Order of the Answers
This may seem obvious but probably the best advice I could give a student when writing their results section is to be sure to answer their questions in the order they presented them in the introduction of their study. This helps with cohesion and coherency. The reader is anticipating answers to these questions and they often subconsciously remember the order the questions came in.
If a student answers the questions out of order it can be jarring for the reader. When this happens the reader starts to double check what the questions were and they begin to second-guess their understanding of the paper which reflects poorly on the writer. An analogy would be that if you introduce three of your friends to your parents you might share each person’s name and then you might go back and share a little bit of personal information about each friend. When we do this we often go in order 1st 2nd 3rd friend and then going back and talking about the 1st friend. The same courtesy should apply when answering research questions in the results section. Whoever was first is shared first etc.
Consider how to Represent the Answers
Another aspect to consider is the presentation of the answers. Should everything be in text? What about the use of visuals and tables? The answers depend on several factors
Know when to Interpret
Sometimes I have had students try to explain the results while presenting them. I cannot say this is wrong, however, it can be confusing. The reason it is so confusing is that the student is trying to do two things at the same time which are present the results and interpret them. This would be ok in a presentation and even expected but when someone is reading a paper it is difficult to keep two separate threads of thought going at the same time. Therefore, the meaning or interpretation of the results should be saved for the Discussion Conclusion section.
Presenting the results is in many ways the high point of a research experience. It is not easy to take numerical results and try to capture the useful information clearly. As such, the advice given here is intending to help support this experience
Students often struggle with shaping their methodology section in their paper. The problem is often that students do not see the connection between the different sections of a research paper. This inability to connect the dots leads to isolated thinking on the topic and inability to move forward.
The methodology section of a research paper plays a critical role. In brief, the purpose of a methodology is to explain to your readers how you will answer your research questions. In the strictest sense, this is important for reproducing a study. Therefore, what is really important when writing a methodology is the research questions of the study. The research questions determine the following of a methodology.
What this means is that a student must know what they want to know in order to explain how they will find the answers. Below is a description of these sections along with one section that is not often influenced by the research questions.
Sample & Setting
In the sample section of the methodology, it is common or the student to explain the setting of the study, provide some demographics, and explain the sampling method. In this section of the methodology, the goal is to describe what the reader needs to know about the participants in order to understand the context from which the results were derived.
Research Design & Scales
The research design explains specifically how the data was collected. There are several standard ways to do this in the social sciences such.
Within this section, some academic disciplines also explain the scales or the tool used to measure the variable(s) of the study. Again, it is impossible to develop this section of the research questions are unclear or unknown.
The data analysis section provides an explanation of how the answers were calculated in a study. Success in this section requires a knowledge of the various statistical tools that are available. However, understanding the research questions is key to articulating this section clearly.
A final section in many methodologies is ethics. The ethical section is a place where the student can explain how the protected participant’s anonymity, made sure to get the permission and other aspects of morals. This section is required by most universities in order to gain permission to do research. However, it is often missing from journals.
The methodology is part of the larger picture of communicating one’s research. It is important that a research paper is not seen as isolated parts but rather as a whole. The reason for this position is that a paper cannot make sense on its own if any of these aspects are missing.
Writing a review of literature can be challenging for students. The purpose here is to try and synthesize a huge amount of information and to try and communicate it clearly to someone who has not read what you have read.
Often a student will collect as many articles as possible and try to throw them all together to make a review of the literature. This naturally leads to problems of the paper sounded like a shopping list of various articles. Neither interesting nor coherent.
Instead, when writing a review of literature a student should keep in mind the question
What do my readers need to know in order to understand my study?
This is a foundational principle when writing. Readers don’t need to know everything only what they need to know to appreciate the study they are ready. An extension of this is that different readers need to know different things. As such, there is always a contextual element to framing a review of the literature.
Consider the Format
When working with a student, I always recommend the following format to get there writing started.
For each major variable in your study do the following…
There first thing that needs to be done is to provide a definition of the construct. This is important because many constructs are defined many different ways. This can lead to confusion if the reader is thinking one definition and the writer is thinking another.
Examples and Theories
Step 2 is more complex. After a definition is provided the student can either provide an example of what this looks like in the real world and or provide more information in regards to theories related to the construct.
Sometimes examples are useful. For example, if writing a paper on addiction it would be useful to not only define it but also to provide examples of the symptoms of addiction. The examples help the reader to see what used to be an abstract definition in the real world.
Theories are important for providing a deeper explanation of a construct. Theories tend to be highly abstract and often do not help a reader to understand the construct better. One benefit of theories is that they provide a historical background of where the construct came from and can be used to develop the significance of the study as the student tries to find some sort of gap to explore in their own paper.
Often it can be beneficial to include both examples and theories as this demonstrates stronger expertise in the subject matter. In theses and dissertations, both are expected whenever possible. However, for articles space limitations and knowing the audience affects the inclusion of both.
The relevant studies section is similar breaking news on CNN. The relevant studies should generally be newer. In the social sciences, we are often encouraged to look at literature from the last five years, perhaps ten years in some cases. Generally, readers want to know what has happened recently as experience experts are familiar with older papers. This rule does not apply as strictly to theses and dissertations.
Once recent literature has been found the student needs to organize it thematically. The reason for a thematic organization is that the theme serves as the main idea of the section and the studies themselves serve as the supporting details. This structure is surprisingly clear for many readers as the predictable nature allows the reader to focus on content rather than on trying to figure out what the author is tiring to say. Below is an example
There are several challenges with using technology in class(ref, 2003; ref 2010). For example, Doe (2009) found that technology can be unpredictable in the classroom. James (2010) found that like of training can lead some teachers to resent having to use new technology
The main idea here is “challenges with technology.” The supporting details are Doe (2009) and James (2010). This concept of themes is much more complex than this and can include several paragraphs and or pages.
This process really cuts down on the confusion of students writing. For stronger students, they can be free to do what they want. However, many students require structure and guidance when the first begin writing research papers
I have worked with supporting undergrad and graduate students with research projects for several years. This post is what I consider to be the top reasons why students and even the occasional faculty member struggles to conduct research. The reasons are as follows
Lack of Reading
The first obstacle to conducting research is that students frequently do not read enough to conceptualize how research is done. Reading not just anything bust specifically research allows a student to synthesize the vocabulary and format of research writing. You cannot do research unless you first read research. This axiom applies to all genres of writing.
A common complaint is the difficulty with understanding research articles. For whatever reason, the academic community has chosen to write research articles in an exceedingly dense and unclear manner. This is not going to change because one graduate student cannot understand what the experts are saying. Therefore, the only solution to understand research English is exposure to this form of communication.
Determining the Problem
If a student actually reads they often go to the extreme of trying to conduct Nobel Prize type research. In other words, their expectations are overinflated given what they know. What this means is that the problem they want to study is infeasible given the skillset they currently possess.
The opposite extreme is to find such a minute problem that nobody cares about it. Again, reading will help in avoiding this two pitfalls.
Another problem is not knowing exactly how to articulate a problem. A student will come to me with excellent examples of a problem but they never abstract or take a step away from the examples of the problem to develop a researchable problem. There can be no progress without a clearly defined research problem.
Lack the Ability to Ask Questions about the Problem
If a student actually has a problem they never think of questions that they want to answer about the problem. Another extreme is they ask questions they cannot answer. Without question, you can never better understand your problem. Bad questions or no questions means no answers.
Generally, there are three types of quantitative research questions while qualitative is more flexible. If a student does not know this they have no clue how to even begin to explore their problem.
Issues with Measurement
Let’s say a student does know what their questions are, the next mystery for many is measuring the variables if the study is quantitative. This is were applying statistical knowledge rather than simply taking quizzes and test comes to play. The typical student does not understand often how to operationalize their variables and determine what type of variables they will include in their study. If you don’t know how you will measure your variables you cannot answer any questions about your problem.
Lost at the Analysis Stage
The measurement affects the analysis. I cannot tell you how many times a student or even a colleague wanted me to analyze their data without telling me what the research questions were. How can you find answers without questions? The type of measurement affects the potential ways of analyzing data. How you summary categorical data is different from continuous data. Lacking this knowledge leads to inaction.
No Plan for the Write-Up
If a student makes it to this stage, firstly congratulations are in order, however, many students have no idea what to report or how. This is because students lose track of the purpose of their study which was to answer their research questions about the problem. Therefore, in the write-up, you present the answers systematically. First, you answer question 1, then 2, etc.
If necessary you include visuals of the answers. Again Visuals are determined by the type of variable as well as the type of question. A top reason for article rejection is an unclear write-up. Therefore, great care is needed in order for this process to be successful.
Whenever I deal with research students I often walk through these six concepts. Most students never make it past the second or third concept. Perhaps the results will differ for others.
Successful research writing requires the ability to see the big picture and connection the various section of a paper so that the present a cohesive whole. Too many students focus on the little details and forget the purpose of their study. Losing the main idea makes the details worthless.
If I left out any common problems with research please add them in the comments section.
Students frequently struggle with understanding what they read. There can be many reasons for this such as vocabulary issues, to struggles with just sounding out the text. Another common problem, frequently seen among native speakers of a language, is the students just read without taking a moment to think about what they read. This lack of reflection and intellectual wrestling with the text can make so that the student knows they read something but knows nothing about what they read.
In this post, we will look at several common strategies to support reading comprehension. These strategies include the following…
Walking a Student Through the Text
As students get older, there is a tendency for many teachers to ignore the need to guide students through a reading before the students read it. One way to improve reading comprehension is to go through the assigned reading and give an idea to the students of what to expect from the text.
Doing this provides a framework within the student’s mind in which they can add the details to as they do the reading. When walking through a text with students the teacher can provide insights into important ideas, explain complex words, explain visuals, and give general ideas as to what is important.
Asking question either before or after a reading is another great way to support students understanding. Prior questions give an idea of what the students should be expected to know after reading. On the other hand, questions after the reading should aim to help students to coalesce the ideals they were exposed to in the reading.
The type of questions is endless. The questions can be based on Bloom’s taxonomy in order to stimulate various thinking skills. Another skill is probing and soliciting responses from students through encouraging and asking reasonable follow-up questions.
Connecting what a student knows what they do not know is known as relevance.If a teacher can stretch a student from what they know and use it to understand what is new it will dramatically improve comprehension.
This is trickier than it sounds. It requires the teacher to have a firm grasp of the subject as well as the habits and knowledge of the students. Therefore, patience is required.
Reading is a skill that can improve a great deal through practice. However, mastery will require the knowledge and application of strategies. Without this next level of training, a student will often become more and more frustrated with reading challenging text.
Writing in a cursive style has been around for centuries. However, there has been a steep decline in the use of cursive writing in America for the past several decades. This post will trace the history of cursive writing as well as what is replacing this traditional form of writing.
Cursive in one form or another dates back until at least the 11th century with examples of it being found in documents related to the Norman Conquest of England. Cursive was originally developed to prevent having to raise the quill from the page when writing. Apparently, quills are extremely fragile and constantly reapplying them to the paper increase the likelihood they would break.
Cursive was also developed in order to fight more words on a page. This became especially important with the development of the printing press, With people hated the condense font of the printing press that they revolted and developed a cursive writing style.
In America, people’s writing style and penmanship could be used to identify social rank. However, this changed with the development of the Spencerian method, developed by PLats Spencer. This writing style standardized cursive thus democratizing it.
After Spencer, there were several writing systems that all had their moment in the sun. Examples include the cursive styles developed by Palmer, Thurber, and Zaner. Each had its own unique approach that all influenced children during the 20th and early 21st century.
The initial decline of cursive writing began with the advent of the typewriter. With typing, a person could write much faster than by hand. Writing by hand often has a top speed of 20 wpm while even a child who has no trying in typing can achieve 20wpm and a trained typist can reach 40 wpm with pros reach 75 wpm.
Typing also removes the confusion of sloppy handwriting. We’ve all have been guilty of poor penmanship or have had to suffer through trying to decipher what someone wrote. Typing removes even if it allows the dread typos.
With computers arriving in the 1970’s schools began to abandon the teaching of cursive by the 1980’s and 90’s. Today cursive writing is so unusual that some young people cannot even read it.
Typing has become so ubiquitous that schools do not even teach it as they assume that students came to school with this skill. As such, many students are using the hunt and peck approach which is slow and bogs down the thought process needed for writing. The irony is that cursive has been forgotten and typing has been assumed which means that it was never learned by many.
To further complicate things, the use of touch screens has further negated the learning of typing. Fast typing often relies on touch. With screens, there is nothing to feel or press when tyoing. This problem makes it difficult to type automatically which takes cognitive power from writing as now the student has to focus on remembering where the letter p is on the keyboard rather than shaping their opinion.
ESL students usually need to learn to write in the second language. This is especially true for those who have academic goals. Learning to write is difficult even in one’s mother tongue let alone in a second language.
In this post, we will look at several practical ways to help students to learn to write in their L2. Below are some useful strategies
Build on Prior Knowledge
It is easier for most students to write about what they know rather than what they do not know. As such, as a teacher, it is better to have students write about a familiar topic. This reduces the cognitive load on the students allows them to focus more on their language issues.
In addition, building on prior knowledge is consistent with constructivism. Therefore, students are deepening their learning through using writing to express ideas and opinions.
Coherency has to do with whether the paragraph makes sense or not. In order to support this, the teacher needs to guide the students in developing main ideas and supporting details and illustrate how these concepts work together at the paragraph level. For more complex writing this involves how various paragraphs work together to support a thesis or purpose statement.
Students struggle tremendously with these big-picture ideas. This in part due to the average student’s obsession with grammar. Grammar is critical after the student has ideas to share clearer and never before that.
Students should work together to improve their writing. This can involve peer editing and or brainstorming activities. These forms of collaboration give students different perspectives on their writing beyond just depending on the teacher.
Collaboration is also consistent with cooperative learning. In today’s marketplace, few people are granted the privilege of working exclusively alone on anything. In addition, working together can help the students to develop their English speaking communication skills.
Writing needs to be scheduled and happen frequently in order to see progress at the ESL level. This is different from a native speaking context in which the students may have several large papers that they work on alone. In the ESL classroom, the students should write smaller and more frequent papers to provide more feedback and scaffolding.
Small incremental growth should be the primary goal for ESL students. This should be combined with support from the teacher through a consistent commitment to writing.
Writing is a major component of academic life. Many ESL students learning a second language to pursue academic goals. Therefore, it is important that teachers have ideas on how they can support ESL student to achieve the fluency they desire in their writing for further academic success.
There are many reasons that a person or student should learn to master the craft of writing in some form or genre. Of course, the average person knows how to write if they have a k-12 education but here it is meant excelling at writing beyond introductory basics. As such, in this post, we will look at the following benefits of learning to write
Improved Reading and Listening Skills
There seems to be an interesting feedback loop between reading and writing. Avid readers are often good writers and avid writers are often good readers. Reading allows you to observe how others write and communicate. This, in turn, can inspire your own writing. It’s similar to how children copy the behavior of the people around them. When you write it is natural to bring with you the styles you have experienced through reading.
Writing also improves listening skills, however, this happens through the process of listening to others through reading. By reading we have to assess and evaluate the arguments of the author. This can only happen through listening to the author through reading his work.
Writing, regardless of genre, involves finding an audience and sharing your own ideas in a way that is clear to them. As such, writing natural enhances communication skills This is because of the need to identify the purpose or reason you are writing as well as how you will share your message.
When writing is unclear it is often because the writer has targeted the wrong audience or has an unclear purpose for writing. A common reason research articles are rejected is that the editor is convinced that the article is not appropriate for the journal’s audience. Therefore, it is critical that an author knows there audience.
In relation to communication skills is thinking skills. Writing involves taking information in one medium, the thoughts in your head, and placing them in another medium, words on paper. Whenever content moves from one medium to another there is a loss in meaning. This is why for many people, there writing makes sense to them but to no one else.
Therefore, a great deal of thought must be placed into writing with clarity. You have to structure the thesis/purpose statement, main ideas, and supporting details. Not to mention that you will often need references and need to adhere to some form of formatting. All this must be juggled while delivering content that critically stimulating.
Writing is a vehicle of communication that is not used as much as it used to be. There are so many other forms of communication and interaction that something writing is obsolete. However, though the communication may change, the benefits of writing are still available.
Learning to write takes a lifetime. Any author will share with you how they have matured and grown over time in the craft of writing. However, there are some basic fundamentals that need to be mastered before the process of growing as a writer can begin.
This post will provide an approach to teaching writing to young children that includes the following steps.
Learning the Letters
The first step in this process is learning to write letters. The challenge is normally developing the fine motor skills for creating letters. If you have ever seen the writing of a 5-year-old you have some idea of what I am talking about.
It is difficult for children to actually write letters. Normally this is taught through having the students trace the letters on a piece of paper. This drill and kill style eventual works as the child masters the art of tracing. An analogy would be the use of training wheels on a bicycle.
Generally, straight lines are easier to write than curves. As such, easy letters to learn first are t, i, and l. Curves with straight lines are often easier than slanted lines so the next stage of letters might include b, d, f, h, j, p, r, u, and y. Lastly, slanted lines and full circle letters are the hardest in my experience. As such, a, c, e, g, k, m, n, o, s, v, w, x, and z are the last to learn.
Learning to Write Sentences
It is discouraging to have the child learn the entire alphabet before writing something. It’s better to learn a few letters and begin making sentences immediately. This heightens relevance and it is motivating to the child to be able to read their own writing. For now, the sentences do not really need to make sense. Just have them write using a handful of letters with support.
Simple three-word sentences are enough at this moment. Many worksheets will provide blanks lines with space at the top for drawing and coloring which provides a visual of the sentence.
It is critical to provide support for the development of the sentence. You have to help the child develop the thought that they want to put on paper. This is difficult for many children. You may also be taxed with proving spelling support. Although for now, I would not worry too much about spelling. Students need to create first and follow rules of creating later.
The typical child will probably not be able to write paragraphs until the 3rd or 4th grade at the earliest. paragraph writing takes an extensive amount of planning for a small child as they now must have a beginning, middle, and end or a main idea with supporting details.
At this stage, the best way to learn to write is to read a lot. This provides a structure and vocabulary on which the child can develop their own ideas in writing. In addition, rules of writing can be taught such as grammar and other components of language.
Writing can be an enjoyable experience if children are guided initially in learning this craft. Over time, a child can provide many insightful ideas and comments through developing the ability to communicate through the use of text.
When people tell a story, whether orally or in a movie, there are certain characteristics that seem to appears in stories as determined by culture which children attempt to imitate when they tell a story. These traits are called story grammar components and include the following
This post will explore each of these characteristics of a story.
The setting statement introduces the character of the story and often identifies who the “good guy” and “bad guy” are. Many movies do this from Transformers to any X-men movie. In the first 10-15 minutes, the characters are introduced and the background is explained. For example, in the classic story “The Three Little Pig” the story begins by telling you there was a wolf and three pigs.
The initiating event is the catalyst to get the characters to do something. For example, in the “Three Little Pigs” the pigs need shelter. In other words, the initiating event introduces the problem that the characters need to overcome during the story.
The internal response is the characters reaction to the initiating event. The response can talk many forms such as emotional. For example, the pigs get excited when they see they need shelter. Generally, the internal response provides motivation to do something.
The internal plan is what the characters will do to overcome the initiating event problem. For the pigs, the plan was to each build a house to prepare for the wolf.
The attempt is the action that helps the characters to reach their goal. This is the step in which the internal plan is put into action. Therefore, for the pigs, it is the actual construction of their houses.
At this step, the story indicates if the attempt was successful or not. For the pigs, this is where things are complicated. Of the three pigs, two were unsuccessful and only one was successful. Success is determined by who is the protagonist and the antagonist. As such, if the wolf is the protagonist the success would be two and the failure one.
The reaction is the character’s response to the direct consequence. For the two unsuccessful pigs, there was no reaction because they were eaten by the wolf. However, for the last pig, he was able to live safely after his home protected him.
Even small children will have several of these components in their storytelling. However, it is important to remember that the components are not required in a story nor do they have to follow the order specified here. Instead, this is a broad generalize way of how people communicate through storytelling.
Teaching a child to write is an interesting experience. In this post, I will share some basics ideas on one way this can be done.
To Read or not to Read
Often writing is taught after the child has learned to read. A major exception to this is the Montessori method of reading. For Montessori, a child should learn to write before reading. This is probably because writing is a more tactile experience when compared to reading and Montessori was a huge proponent of experiential learning. In addition, if you can write you can definitely read under this assumption.
Generally, I teach young children how to read first. This is because I want the child to know the letters before trying to write them.
If the child is already familiar with the basics of reading writing is probably more about hand-eye coordination than anything else. The first few letters are quite the experience. This is affected by age as well. Smaller children will have much more difficulty with writing than older children.
A common strategy to motivate a child to write is to have them first learn to spell their name. This can work depending on how hard the child’s name is to spell. A kid named “Dan” will master writing his name quickly. However, a kid with a longer name or a transliterated name from another language is going to have a tough time. I knew one student who misspelled their name for almost a year and a half because it was so hard to write in English.
A common way to teach actually writing is to allow the child to trace the words on dot paper. By doing this they develop the muscle memory for writing. Once this is successful the child will then attempt to write the letters with the tracing paper. This process can easily take a year.
Sentences and Paragraphs
After, they learn to write letters and words it is time to begin writing sentences. A six-year-old, with good penmanship, will probably not be able to write a sentence with support. Writing and spelling and different skills initially and it is the adult’s job to provide support for the spelling aspect as the child explains what they want to write about.
With help, children can create short little stories that may be one to two paragraphs in length. Yet they will still need a lot of support to do this.
By eight years of age, a child can probably write a paragraph on their own about simple concepts or stories. This is when the teaching and learning can really get interesting as the child can now write to learn instead of focusing on learning to write.
Writing is a skill that is hard to find these days. With so many other forms of communication, writing is not a skill that children want to focus on. Nevertheless, learning to write by basic literacy is an excellent way to develop communication skills and interact with people in situations where face-to-face contact is not possible.
In this post, we will look at some practical ways to better understand an academic text. The tips are broken down into three sections which are, what to do before, during, and after reading.
Read the Preface. The preface lays out the entire scope of the book. It provides the framework in which you can place the details of the chapters. This is critical in order to put the pieces together to make use of them. Almost all students skip this as it is normally not assigned reading. This step is only done before reading the first chapter of a text.
Read the Chapter titles. The chapter titles give you an idea of what the chapter is about. Again it helps you to zoom down one level to understand the subject of the book from one aspect of it. Again, most students fly past this when the chapter title provides clear clues as to what to expect in the text
Read the Objectives. The objectives tell you what you are going to visit in the chapter. They serve as signposts of what to expect and provide a framework for placing the details of the text.
Read the Chapter Headings. An academic text is broken down into chapters which are broken down into headings. Examining the headings provides more information about the chapter and the book. I also should mention that often the objectives and the headings of a book are the same with slight rewording. This seems lazy but is actually much clearer than when they two are not similar.
Look at the visuals (tables, graphs, pictures). Visuals summarize critical information. It is easy for anybody to become overwhelmed when reading a text. Therefore, visuals are created to summarize the most important information. Just like figure 1.2 above.
If you do these things you now know what to expect when you read. You are also beginning to develop an idea of what you did not know about the given subject. This leads to the next major point.
Ask Questions. After this inspection of the text, you should do the following.
This two-step process prepares you for connecting your current level of understanding with the new knowledge within the text. You know what is a review for you and you focus on finding answers to the concepts and idea that are new for you.
After all of this preparatory work, it is now time to read. Having done all this you already know the following
Now you read the text and answer your questions. You also can highlight key ideas as well as write in the margins of the text. Highlighting should generally be limited to main ideas in order to reduce the clutter of highlighting everything. Writing in the margins allows you to make quick notes to yourself about key points and or to summarize a dense concept. Doing either of these is a way to wrestle with a text in an active manner which is important for comprehension.
After you have read and answered your questions in a text. There are several things left to do.
Determine what did you learn. Write briefly a few notes to yourself about what exactly you learned. This is for you and helps to make sense of all the details in your mind at the moment.
Look at the Resources at the back of the chapter. Many textbooks have several study tools at the back of the chapter. Example this includes an outline of the chapter which is a great summary, discussion questions which help in developing critical thinking skills, and often vocabulary words are here as well. When preparing for an exam this is an excellent resource.
This process is not as much work as it seems. With practice, it can become natural. In addition, you need to modify this so that you can be successful as a reader. The ideas here provide a framework in which you can develop your own style.
In my experience as a teacher for several years at university, I have noticed how students consistently struggle with reading an academic text. It seemed as those they were able to “read” the words but always lack the ability to understand what the text was about. I’ve thought about this challenge and have been lead to the following conclusions.
None of these points apply to everybody. However, it is common for me to ask my students if they read something and they usually that they yes the did read it. However, as I begin to ask questions and to explore the text with them it quickly becomes clear they did not understand anything that they read. This is partially due to the problem that students read passively even though reading is active. The student never thinks of the relevance of the reading to their own life or future career.
In other words, reading is not the problem, rather it is what to do with what they have read. The purpose of studying is to use what you have learned. Few of us have the time, to simply learn for fun. Often, we learn to do something for monetary reasons. In other words, some sort of immediate application is critical to reading success.
Another important aspect of reading comprehension is understanding the structure of academic writing. Textbooks have different subjects but they all have a surprisingly similar structure which often starts with the big picture and zooms down to the details. If students can see the structure it can greatly improve their ability to understand what they are reading.
The Tour Guide Analogy
The analogy that I like to use is that of a tour guide. A tour guide’s job is to show you around a particular place. It could be an entire city or a single tourist attraction it all depends on the level of detail that he or she wants to provide you. Often, at the beginning of a tour, the tour guide will explain the itinerary of the tour. This provides the big picture purpose of the tour group as well as what to expect during the journey.
If the trip is especially detail you may visit several different places. At each place, there will be several places to see at each place that the tour guide will mention. For example, If I go to Thailand for vacation and visit Bangkok there will be several locations within Bangkok that I would visit such as Malls and maybe a museum. It is the tour guide’s job to guide me in the learning experience.
The author of an academic text is like a tour guide. Their job is to show you around the subject they are an expert in. The tour guide has an itinerary while the academic author has a preface/introduction. In the preface, the author explains the purpose of the book, as well as the major themes or “places” they will show you on the tour. The preface also explains who the book is for.
Each chapter in an academic text is one specific place the author wants to show you on the tour. Just as a tour guide may show you a museum in Bangkok so an author will show you one aspect of a subject in a chapter. Furthermore, every chapter has several headings within it. This is the same as me seeing the dinosaur exhibit at the museum or the ancient Thai instruments exhibit. These are the places within the place that you visited.
|Expert in their area||Exepert in their area|
|Shows you around the tourist attraction||Shows you around a subject area|
|Explains what you will see today||Explains what they will share in a book/chapter|
|Provides details about the different sights||Provides details for the main ideas|
We can break this down further about subheadings and more but I think the point is clear. The layout for an academic text is not mysterious but rather highly consistent. Having said this here are some critical ideas to remember when you read.
“The book is boring.” This is a common complaint many lecturers receive from students about the assigned reading in a class. Although this is discouraging to hear it is usually a cry for help. What the student is really saying is that they cannot understand what they are reading. Yes, the read it but they didn’t get it.
The missing ingredient for students to appreciate academic reading is to understand the structure of academic writing. Lecturers forget that students are not scholars and thus do not quite understand how scholars organize their writing. If students knew this they would no longer be students. Therefore, lecturers need to help students not only understand the ideas of a book but the actual structure of how those ideas are framed in a textbook.
This post will try to explain the structure of academic writing in a general sense.
How it Works
Below is a brief outline of a common structure for an academic textbook.
Here is what I consider to be a major secret of writing. The structure is highly redundant but at different levels of abstraction. The preface, chapter, and headings of a book are all the same in terms of purpose but at different levels of scope. The preface is the biggest picture you can get of the text. It’s similar to the map of a country. The chapter zooms in somewhat and is similar to the map of a city. Lastly, the headings within a chapter are similar to have a neighborhood map of a city.
The point is that academic writing is highly structured and organized. Students often think a text is boring. However, when they see the structure, they may not fall in love with academics but at least they will understand what the author is trying to say. A student must see the structure in order to appreciate the details.
Another way to look at this is as follows.
A book is like a body, you have cells, you have tissues, and you have organs. Each is an abstraction of a higher level. Cells combine to make tissue, tissues combine to make organs, etc. This structure is how academic writing takes place.
The goal of academic writing is not to be entertaining. That role is normally set aside for fiction writing. Since most students enjoy entertainment they expect academic writing to use the same formula of fun. However, few authors place fun as one of the purposes in their preface. This yet another disconnect between students and textbooks.
Academic writing is repetitive in terms of its structure. Each sub-section supports a higher section in the book. This repetitive structure is probably one aspect of academic writing students find so boring. However, this repetitive nature makes the write highly efficient in terms of understanding giving that the reader is aware of this.
A major problem students have in school is understanding what they read. However, the problem often is not reading in itself. By this I mean the student know what they read but they do not know what it means. In other words, they will read the text but cannot explain what the text was about.
There are several practical things a student can do to overcome this problem without having to make significant changes to their study habits. Some of the strategies that they can use involve looking at the structure of how the writing is developed. Examples of this include the following.
In this post, we will look at the benefits of reading the preface to a book.
Reading the Preface
When students are assigned reading they often skip straight to page one and start reading. This means they have no idea what the text is about or even what the chapter will be about. This is the same as jumping in your car to drive somewhere without directions. You might get there eventually but often you just end up lost.
One of the first things a student should do is read the preface of a book. The preface gives you some of the following information
Knowing the purpose of the text is beneficial to understanding the author’s viewpoint. This is often more important in graduate studies than in undergrad.
Knowing the main themes of the book helps from a psychological perspective as well. These themes serve as mental hooks in your mind in which you can hang the details of the chapters that you will read. It is critical to see the overview and big picture of the text so that you have a framework in which to place the ideas of the chapters you will read.
Many books do not have a preface. Instead what they often do is make chapter one the “introduction” and include all the aspects of the preface in the first chapter. Both strategies are fine. However, it is common for teachers to skip the introduction chapter in order to get straight to the “content.” This is fast but can inhibit understanding of the text.
There are also usually an explanation of assumptions. The assumptions serve to tell the reader what they should already know as well as the biases of the author. This is useful as it communicates the position the author takes from the outset with the readers trying to infer this.
The preface serves the purpose of introducing the reader to the text. One of the goals if the preface is to convince the reader why they should read the book. It provides the big picture of the text, shares about the author, and indicates who the book is for, as well as sharing the author’s viewpoint.
Understanding academic text is possible through making some minor adjustment to one’s reading style. In this post, we will look at the following ideas for improving academic reading comprehension.
Read the Chapter Titles
You read the chapter title for the same reason as the preface. It gives you the big picture from which you develop a framework for placing the ideas of the author. I am always amazed how many times I ask my students what the title of the chapter is and they have no clue. This is because they were so determined to read that they never set things in place to understand.
For ESL readers, it is critical that they know the meaning of every word in the title. Again this has to do with the importance of the title for shaping the direction of the reading. If the student gets lost in the details this is where teaching support is there for. However, if they have no idea what the chapter is about there is little even the be3st teacher can do.
Read Chapter Objectives
The objectives of a chapter are a promise of what the author will write about. The student needs to know what the promises are so they know what to expect. This is similar to driving somewhere and expecting to see certain landmarks along the way. When you see these landmarks you know you are getting close to the destination.
The objectives provided the big picture of the chapter in a way that the preface provides the big picture of the entire book. Again, it is common for students to skip this aspect of reading comprehension.
Read the Chapter Headings
By now you probably know why to read the chapter headings. If not, it is because the chapter headings tell the student what to expect in a particular section of the chapter. They serve as a local landmark or a localized purpose.
For an extremely efficient (or perhaps lazy) writer, the objectives and the headings of a chapter will be exactly the same with perhaps slight rewording. This is extremely beneficial for readers because not only do they see the objectives at the beginning but the see them stated again as headings in the chapter.
Examine the Visuals
Visuals are used to illustrate ideas in the text. For now, the student simply wants to glance at them. Being familiar with the visuals now will be useful when the student wants to understand them when reading.
When looking at a visual, here are some things to look for
For an initial superficial glance, this is more than enough
Make Questions, Read, and Answer
After examining the text, the student should have questions about what the text is about. Now they should write down what they want to know after examining the various characteristics of the chapter and then they begin to read so they can answer their questions
Examine End of the Chapter Tools
After reading the chapter, many authors provide some sort of study tools at the end. I find it most useful to read the chapter before looking too closely at this information. The reason for this is that the summary and questions at the end indicate what the author thinks is important about the chapter. It’s hard to appreciate this if you did not read the chapter yet.
Knowing what is happening at the end of the chapter helps in reinforcing what you read. You can quiz yourself about the information and use this information to prepare for any examines.
Previewing a chapter is a strategy for understanding a chapter. The ideas a student reads about must have a framework in which the pieces can fit. This framework can be developed through examining the chapter before reading it in detail.
Learning to read is in no way an easy experience. In order to read at even the most basic level requires mastery of syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics at a minimum. These are skills that we expect a child normally under the age of 8 to show some proficiency at.
This post will explain a process for teaching reading to small children that worked. Of course, there is no claim here that this is the way but it does provide an example. When I began this experience I had been an educator for years at higher grades but had never actually taught anybody how to read. My training and experience have mostly been in improving reading comprehension skills.
The process I stumble upon goes as follows
Each step builds on the steps before it
The first step in this process was to have the child recognize the letters of the alphabet. This was done through the use of flashcards. In many ways, this was the easiest step. I thought it would take a year for a 4-year-old to learn this but it only took 3-4 months
Letter recognition relates to morphology as letters are in many ways morphemes that cannot be further divided. At this point, the learning experience is simply memory only with no application
Letter Sound Production
Once the alphabet was memorized, I exposed the student to the sounds of the letters. The student then had to reproduce the sound in addition to recognizing what letter it was.
This was much tougher. The student would either forget what letter it was or forget the sound or both. There was a lot of frustration. However, after several more months, we were ready to move on.
Letter sound production is an example of phonology or the understanding of the sounds letters make. This is a crucial step in learning to read.
Word Family Phonics
At this stage, we combine several letters and “sound” them out to produce words. Often, the words used had the same ending or morpheme such as “-ap”, “-at”, “-ad”. etc. and only the first letter would change. This helps the student to recognize patterns quickly at least in theory.
There was also an introduction to vowels and other common morphemes. Looking back I consider this a mistake as it seemed to be confusing for the student. In addition, although phonics are valuable in learning to sound out words I found them to lack context and read “cap”, “tap”, and “map” outside the setting of some story was boring for the student.
Sight words are words that are so common in English that they need to be memorized. Often they cannot be sounded out because they violate the rules of phonology but this is not always the case.
There are two common systems of sight words and these are Dolch and Fry respectively. In terms of which is better, it doesn’t really matter. I used Fry’s and again I think the lack of context was a problem as I was asking the student to learn words that lack an immediate application.
After about a year of preparatory training, we finally began reading stories. The stories were little short stories appropriate for kindergarteners. At first, it was difficult but the student began to improve rapdily. It was much easier (usually) to get them to cooperate as well.
The most important point is perhaps not the most obvious one. despite my inexperience and mistakes in pedagogy, the student still learned to read. In many ways, the student learned to read in spite of me. This should be reassuring for many teachers. Even bad teaching can get good results if the aspects of planning, discipline, and commitment to success are there. Students seem to grow as long as they have some guidance.
I would say the most important thing in terms of teaching reading is to actually make them read. Reading provides context and motivation as the student can see what they cannot do. Studying all of the theoretical aspects of reading such as phonics and letters are only beneficial when the child knows they need to know this.
Therefore, if you are provided with an opportunity to teach a child to read start with stories and as the struggle teach only what they are struggling with. For example, if they are having a hard time with long “o” sound, reinforcing that with supplemental theoretical work will make sense for the child. As such, children learn best by doing rather than talking about what they will do.
Grading essays, papers and other forms of writing is subjective and frustrating for teachers at times. One tool that helps in improving the consistency of the marking, as well as the speed, is the use of rubrics. In this post, we will look at three commonly used rubrics which are…
A holistic rubric looks at the overall quality of the writing. Normally, there are several levels on the rubric and each level has several descriptors on it. Below is an example template
The descriptors must be systematic which means that they are addressed in each level and in the same order. Below is an actual Holistic Rubric for Writing.
In the example above, there are four levels of marking. The descriptors are
Between levels, different adverbs and adjectives are used to distinguish the levels. For example, in level one, “ideas are thoroughly explained” becomes “ideas are explained” in the second level. The use of adverbs is one of the easiest ways to distinguish between levels in a holistic rubric.
Holistic rubrics offer the convenience of fast marking that is easy to interpret and comes with high reliability. The downside is that there is a lack of strong feedback for improvement.
Analytical rubrics assign a score to each individual attribute the teacher is looking for in the writing. In other words, instead of lumping all the descriptors together as is done in a holistic rubric, each trait is given its own score. Below is a template of an analytical rubric.
You can see that the levels are across the top and the descriptors across the side. Best performance moves from left to right all the way to worst performance. Each level is assigned a range of potential point values.
Below is an actual holistic writing template
Analytical rubrics provide much more washback and learning than holistic. Of course, they also take a lot more time for the teacher to complete as well.
A lesser-known way of marking papers is the use of primary trait rubric. With primary trait, the student is only assessed on one specific function of writing. For example, persuasion if they are writing an essay or perhaps vocabulary use for an ESL student writing paragraphs.
The template would be similar to a holistic rubric except that there would only be on descriptor instead of several. The advantage of this is that it allows the teacher and the student to focus on one aspect of writing. Naturally, this can be a disadvantage as writing involves more than one specific skill.
Rubrics are useful for a variety of purposes. For writing, it is critical that you understand what the levels and descriptors are one deciding on what kind of rubric you want to use. In addition, the context affects the use of what type of rubric to use as well.
How a teacher guides the writing process can depend on a host of factors. Generally, how you support a student at the beginning of the writing process is different from how you support them at the end. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two stages of writing.
At the beginning of writing, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made as well as extensive planning. Generally, at this point, grammar is not the deciding factor in terms of the quality of the writing. Rather, the teacher is trying to help the students to determine the focus of the paper as well as the main ideas.
The teacher needs to help the student to focus on the big picture of the purpose of their writing. This means that only major issues are addressed at least initially. You only want to point at potential disaster decisions rather than mundane details.
It is tempting to try and fix everything when looking at rough drafts. This not only takes up a great deal of your time but it is also discouraging to students as they deal with intense criticism while still trying to determine what they truly want to do. As such, it is better to view your role at this point as a counselor or guide and not as detail oriented control freak.
At this stage, the focus is on the discourse and not so much on the grammar.
At the end of the writing process, there is a move from general comments to specific concerns. As the student gets closer and closer to the final draft the “little things” become more and more important. Grammar comes to the forefront. In addition, referencing and the strength of the supporting details become more important.
Now is the time to get “picky” this is because major decisions have been made and the cognitive load of fixing small stuff is less stressful once the core of the paper is in place. The analogy I like to give is that first, you build the house. Which involves lots of big movements such as pouring a foundation, adding walls, and including a roof. This is the beginning of writing. The end of building a house includes more refined aspects such as painting the walls, adding the furniture, etc. This is the end of the writing process.
For writers and teachers, it is important to know where they are in the writing process. In my experience, it seems as if it is all about grammar from the beginning when this is not necessarily the case. At the beginning of a writing experience, the focus is on ideas. At the end of a writing experience, the focus is on grammar. The danger is always in trying to do too much at the same time.
This post will look at several types of writing that are done for assessment purposes. In particular, we will look this from the four level of writing which are
Imitative writing is focused strictly on the grammatical aspects of writing. The student simply reproduces what they see. This is a common way to teach children how to write. Additional examples of activities at this level include cloze task in which the student has to write the word in the blank from a list, spelling test, matching, and even converting numbers to their word equivalent.
Intensive writing is more concern about selecting the appropriate word for a given context. Example activities include grammatical transformation, such as changing all verbs to past tense, sequencing pictures, describing pictures, completing short sentences, and ordering task.
Responsive writing involves the development of sentences into paragraphs. The purpose is almost exclusively on the context or function of writing. Form concerns are primarily at the discourse level which means how the sentences work together to make paragraphs and how the paragraphs work to support a thesis statement. Normally no more than 2-3 paragraphs at this level
Example activities at the responsive level include short reports, interpreting visual aids, and summary.
Extensive writing is responsive writing over the course of an entire essay or research paper. The student is able to shape a purpose, objectives, main ideas, conclusions, etc. Into a coherent paper.
For many students, this is exceedingly challenging in their mother tongue and is further exasperated in a second language. There is also the experience of multiple drafts of a single paper.
Marking Intensive & Responsive Papers
Marking higher level papers requires a high degree of subjectivity. THis is because of the authentic nature of this type of assessment. As such, it is critical that the teacher communicate expectations clearly through the use of rubrics or some other form of communication.
Another challenge is the issue of time. Higher level papers take much more time to develop. This means that they normally cannot be used as a form of in class assessment. If they are used as in class assessment then it leads to a decrease in the authenticity of the assessment.
Writing is a critical component of the academic experience. Students need to learn how to shape and develop their ideas in print. For teachers, it is important to know at what level the student is capable of writing at in order to support them for further growth.
In reading assessment, the interactive and extensive level are the highest levels of reading. This post will provide examples of assessments at each of these two levels.
Reading at this level is focused on both form and meaning of the text with an emphasis on top-down processing. Below are some assessment examples
Cloze assessment involves removing certain words from a paragraph and expecting the student to supply them. The criteria for removal is every nth word aka fixed-ratio or removing words with meaning aka rational deletion.
In terms of marking, you have the choice of marking based on the student providing the exact wording or an appropriate wording. The exact wording is strict but consistent will appropriate wording can be subjective.
Read and Answer the Question
Information transfer involves the students interpreting something. For example, they may be asked to interpret a graph and answer some questions. They may also be asked to elaborate on the graph, make predictions, or explain. Explaining a visual is a common requirement for the IELTS.
This level involves the highest level of reading. It is strictly top-down and requires the ability to see the “big picture” within a text. Marking at this level is almost always subjective.
Summarize and React
Summarizing and reacting requires the student to be able to read a large amount of information, share the main ideas, and then providing their own opinion on the topic. This is difficult as the student must understand the text to a certain extent and then form an opinion about what they understand.
I like to also have my students write several questions they have about the text This teaches them to identify what they do not know. These questions are then shared in class so that they can be discussed.
For marking purposes, you can provide directions about a number of words, paragraphs, etc. to provide guidance. However, marking at this level of reading is still subjective. The primary purpose of marking should probably be evidence that the student read the text.
The interactive and extensive level of reading is when teaching can become enjoyable. Students have moved beyond just learning to read to reading to learn. This opens up many possibilies in terms of learning experiences.
This post will provide examples of assessments that can be used for reading at the perceptual and selective level.
The perceptual level is focused on bottom-up processing of text. Comprehension ability is not critical at this point. Rather, you are just determining if the student can accomplish the mechanical process of reading.
Reading Aloud-How this works is probably obvious to most teachers. The students read a text out loud in the presence of an assessor.
Picture-Cued-Students are shown a picture. At the bottom of the picture are words. The students read the word and point to a visual example of it in the picture. For example, if the picture has a cat in it. At the bottom of the picture would be the word cat. The student would read the word cat and point to the actual cat in the picture.
This can be extended by using sentences instead of words. For example, if the actual picture shows a man driving a car. There may be a sentence at the bottom of the picture that says “a man is driving a car”. The student would then point to the man in the actual picture who is driving.
Another option is T/F statements. Using our cat example from above. We might write that “There is one cat in the picture” the student would then select T/F.
The selective level is the next above perceptual. At this level, the student should be able to recognize various aspects of grammar.
Editing Task-Students are given a reading passage and are asked to fix the grammar. This can happen many different ways. They could be asked to pick the incorrect word in a sentence or to add or remove punctuation.
Pictured-Cued Task-This task appeared at the perceptual level. Now it is more complicated. For example, the students might be required to read statements and label a diagram appropriately, such as the human body or aspects of geography.
Gap-Filling Task-Students read a sentence and complete it appropriately
Other Examples-Includes multiple-choice and matching. The multiple-choice may focus on grammar, vocabulary, etc. Matching attempts to assess a students ability to pair similar items.
Reading assessment can take many forms. The examples here provide ways to deal with this for students who are still highly immature in their reading abilities. As fluency develops more complex measures can be used to determine a students reading capability.
Reading for comprehension involves two forms of processing which are bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up processing involves pulling letters together to make words, words to make sentences, etc. This is most commonly seen as students sounding out words when they read. The goal is primarily to just read the word.
Top-down processing is the use of prior knowledge, usually organized as schemas in the mind to understand what is being read. For example, after a student reads the word “cat” using bottom-up processing they then use top-down processing of what they know about cats such as their appearance, diet, habits, etc.
In the context of reading, there are four types of reading from simplest to most complex and they are
We will now look at each in detail
Perceptive reading is focused primarily on bottom-processing. In other words, if a teacher is trying to assess this type of reading they simply want to know if the student can read or not. The ability to understand or comprehend the text is not the primary goal at this.
Selective reading involves looking a reader’s ability to recognize grammar, discourse features, etc. This is done with brief paragraphs and short reading passages. Assessment involves standard assessment items such as multiple-choice, short answer, true/false, etc.
In order to be successful at this level, the student needs to use both bottom-up and top-down processing. Charts and graphs can also be employed
Interactive reading involves deriving meaning from the text. This places even more emphasis on top-down processing. Readings are often chosen from genres that employ implied main ideas rather than stated. The readings are also more authentic in nature and can include announcements, directions, recipes, etc.
Students who lack background knowledge will struggle with this type of reading regardless of their language ability. In addition, inability to think critically will impair performance even if the student can read the text.
Extensive is reading large amounts of information and being able to understand the “big picture”. The student needs to be able to separate the details from the main ideas. Many students struggle with this in their native language. As such, this is even more difficult when students are trying to digest large amounts of information in a second language.
Reading is a combination of making sense of the words and using prior knowledge to comprehend text. The levels of reading vary in their difficulty. In order to have success at reading, students need to be exposed to many different experiences in order to have the background knowledge they need that they can call on when reading something new.
In the context of ESL teaching, ~there are at least five types of speaking that take place in the classroom. This post will define and provide examples of each. The five types are as follows…
The list above is ordered from simplest to most complex in terms of the requirements of oral production for the student.
At the imitative level, it is probably already clear what the student is trying to do. At this level, the student is simply trying to repeat what was said to them in a way that is understandable and with some adherence to pronunciation as defined by the teacher.
It doesn’t matter if the student comprehends what they are saying or carrying on a conversation. The goal is only to reproduce what was said to them. One common example of this is a “repeat after me” experience in the classroom.
Intensive speaking involves producing a limit amount of language in a highly control context. An example of this would be to read aloud a passage or give a direct response to a simple question.
Competency at this level is shown through achieving certain grammatical or lexical mastery. This depends on the teacher’s expectations.
Responsive is slightly more complex than intensive but the difference is blurry, to say the least. At this level, the dialog includes a simple question with a follow-up question or two. Conversations take place by this point but are simple in content.
The unique feature of intensive speaking is that it is usually more interpersonal than transactional. By interpersonal it is meant speaking for maintaining relationships. Transactional speaking is for sharing information as is common at the responsive level.
The challenge of interpersonal speaking is the context or pragmatics The speaker has to keep in mind the use of slang, humor, ellipsis, etc. when attempting to communicate. This is much more complex than saying yes or no or giving directions to the bathroom in a second language.
Extensive communication is normal some sort of monolog. Examples include speech, story-telling, etc. This involves a great deal of preparation and is not typically improvisational communication.
It is one thing to survive having a conversation with someone in a second language. You can rely on each other’s body language to make up for communication challenges. However, with extensive communication either the student can speak in a comprehensible way without relying on feedback or they cannot. In my personal experience, the typical ESL student cannot do this in a convincing manner.
Critical language testing (CLT) is a philosophical approach that states that there is widespread bias in language testing. This view is derived from critical pedagogy, which views education as a process manipulated by those in power.
There are many criticisms that CLT has of language testing such as the following.
Testing and Culture
CLT claim that tests are influenced by the culture of the test-makers. This puts people from other cultures at a disadvantage when taking the test.
An example of bias would be a reading comprehension test that uses a reading passage that reflects a middle class, white family. For many people, such an experience is unknown for them. When they try to answer the questions they lack the contextual knowledge of someone who is familiar with this kind of situation and this puts outsiders at a disadvantage.
Although the complaint is valid there is little that can be done to rectify it. There is no single culture that everyone is familiar with. The best that can be done is to try to diverse examples for a diverse audience.
Politics and Testing
Politics and testing is closely related to the prior topic of culture. CLT claims that testing can be used to support the agenda of those who made the test. For example, those in power can make a test that those who are not in power cannot pass. This allows those in power to maintain their hegemony. An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were
An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were required to pass in order to vote. Since most African MAericans could not read the were legally denied the right to vote. This is language testing being used to suppress a minority group.
Various Modes of Assessment
CLT also claims that there should be various modes of assessing. This critique comes from the known fact that not all students do well in traditional testing modes. Furthermore, it is also well-documented that students have multiple intelligences.
It is hard to refute the claim for diverse testing methods. The primary problem is the practicality of such a request. Various assessment methods are normally impractical but they also affect the validity of the assessment. Again, most of the time testing works and it hard to make exceptions.
CLT provides an important perspective on the use of assessment in language teaching. These concerns should be in the minds of test makers as they try to continue to improve how they develop assessments. This holds true even if the concerns of CLT cannot be addressed.
Political intrigue has played a role in shaping the English language. In this post, we will look at one example from history of politics shaping the direction of the language.
Henry VII (1491-1547), King of England, had a major problem. He desperately needed a male heir for his kingdom. In order to do achieve, Henry VIII annulled several marriages or had his wife executed. This, of course, did not go over well with the leaders of Europe as nobles tended to marry nobles.
In order to have his first marriage canceled (to Catherine of Aragon) Henry VIII needed the permission of the Pope as divorce is normally not tolerated in Roman Catholicism. However, the Pope did not grant permission because he was facing political pressure from Catherine’s family who ruled over Spain.
Henry VIII was not one to take no for an answer. Stressed over his lack of a male heir and the fact that Catherine was already 40, he banished Catherine and married his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Much to the chagrin of his in-laws in Spain.
This resulted in the Pope excommunicating Henry VIII from the church. In response to this, Henry VIII started his own church or at least laid the foundation for Protestantism in England, with the help of German Lutheran Princes. It was this event that played a role in the development of the English language
Protestantism in England
Until the collapse of his first marriage, Henry VIII was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church and was even given the title of “Defender of the Faith.” However, he now took steps to flood England with Bibles in response to what he saw as a betrayal of the Catholic Church in denying him the annulment that he sought for his first marriage.
During this same time period of the mid-1500’s William Tyndale had just completed a translation of the New Testament from Greek to English. His translation was the first from the original language into English. Tyndale also completed about half of the Old Testament.
Although Tyndale was tried and burned for translating the Bible, within a few years of his death, Henry VIII was permitting the publishing of the Bible. Tyndale’s translation was combined with the work of Miles Coverdale to create the first complete English version of the Bible called the “Great Bible” in 1539.
With the bible in the hands of so many people the English language began to flow into religion and worship services. Such words as “beautiful”, “two-edged”, “landlady”, and “broken-heart” were established as new words. These words are taking for granted today but it was in translating the phrases from the biblical languages that we have these new forms of expression. How many men have called their woman beautiful? or how many people have complained about their landlady? This is possible thanks to Tyndale’s translating and Henry VIII’s support.
All this happen not necessarily for the right motives yet the foundation of the use of common tongues in worship as well as the audacity of translating scripture into other languages was established by a King seeking an heir.
Henry VIII was probably not the most religious man. He did not have any problem with divorcing or killing wives or with committing adultery. However, he used religion to achieve his political goals. By doing so, he inadvertently influenced the language of his country.
There are many different factors that have influenced and shaped the English language. In this post, we will look specifically at the role of disease in shaping the English language. We will do this by looking at one example from the 14th century, the Bubonic plague.
During this time period, English was an oppressed second-tier language. The French were in control even though they were no longer French due to Philip II of France seizing the Norman lands in Northern France. Normandy was where the French-English came from and their original home was taken from them in 1295. Nevertheless, with the French in control English was little more than a low-level language in a diglossia context.
Latin was another major language of the country but primarily in the religious sphere. Virtually all priest were fluent in Latin. Mass was and other religious ceremonies were also in Latin.
The “Black Death” as it was called, sweep through what is now known as England in the mid 14th century. The disease killed 1/3 of the population of the country. This is the equivalent of almost 2.5 billion people dying today.
The clergy of England were especially hard hit by the dreaded disease. This has to do with the role of the priest in society. The duties of a priest included visiting the sick (gasp!), anointing the dying (gasp!), and performing funerals (gasp!). As such, the priests were called on to come into direct contact with those who were suffering under the plague and they began to die in large numbers themselves. Those who did not die often would run away.
The loss of the professionally trained clergy led to replacements that were not of the same caliber. In other words, a new priest came along who only knew English and did not have a knowledge of Latin. This meant religious ceremonies and services were now being performed in English and not Latin, not for Protestant reasons but just out of necessity.
So many people died that it also lead to economic chaos. Land prices collapsed as homes of the wealthy were empty from entire families being wiped out. Fewer workers meant wages skyrocketed and this caused people to abandon their feudal lords and work in the towns and cities.
The rich who survived did not care for paying higher wages and tried to force the peasants back to their feudal slavery. This led to the Peasant Revolt of 1381. The rebellion was only crushed when the shrew Richard II spoke to the peasants in English to calm them and then quickly betrayed them.
Richard II was not the first to use English to rally the people. This began in 1295 when Normandy was taken. However, in the context of disease and death, there was a recommitment to the use of English.
Disease led to economic and political catastrophes in 14th century England. Yet there was also an influence on the language itself. Latin decreased in use due to the loss of clergy. In addition, the French-English were being forced more and more to use English to deal with the unruly locals who wanted more freedom.
Washback is the effect that testing has on teaching and learning. This term is commonly used in used in language assessment but it is not limited to only that field. One of the primary concerns of many teachers is developing that provide washback or that enhances students learning and understanding of ideas in a class.
This post will discuss three ways in which washback can be improved in a class. The three ways are…
Exams or assignments that are highly subjective (ie essays) require written feedback in order to provide washback. This means specific, personalized feedback for each student. This is a daunting task for most teachers especially as classes get larger. However, if your goal is to improve washback providing written comments is one way to achieve this.
The letter grade or numerical score a student receives on a test does not provide insights into how the student can improve. The reasoning behind what is right or wrong can be provided in the written feedback.
Go Over Answers in Class
Perhaps the most common way to enhance feedback is to go over the test in class. This allows the students to learn what the correct answer is, as well as why one answer is the answer. In addition, students are given time to ask questions and clarification of the reasoning behind the teacher’s marking.
If there were common points of confusion, going over the answers in this way allows for the teacher to reteach the confusing concepts. In many ways, the test revealed what was unclear and now the teacher is able to provide support to achieve mastery.
For highly complex and extremely subjective forms of assessments (ie research paper) one-on-one meetings may be the most appropriate. This may require a more personal touch and a greater deal of time.
During the meeting, students can have their questions addressed and learn what they need to do in order to improve. This is a useful method for assignments that require several rounds of feedback in order to be completed.
Washback, if done properly, can help with motivation, autonomy, and self-confidence of students. What this means is that assessment should not only be used for grades but also to develop learning skills.
The English language during the middle ages had a serious struggle with the church of its time. Church officials supported that the Bible should only be published in Latin. This led to a large number of people having no idea what was happening during a worship service. Even though church attendance was mandatory.
One response to this problem was the development of “mystery plays.” These were theatrical performances based on the bible. The topics ranged from Genesis to Revelation and were performed in local languages. However, watching pseudo-movies and reading the text for yourself are widely different experiences.
This post will look at the role of several prominent people’s response to the suppression of English in religious text.
The lack of scripture in the English language led to John Wycliffe translating the Latin Vulgate into English. Naturally, this was illegal and Wycliffe faced significant trouble over doing this. Despite this, his translation was one of the first translations of the Bible into what was called at the time a “vulgar” language.
Wycliffe’s translation was not from the original text but rather from the Latin. This means it was a translation of a translation which nearly destroys the comprehensibility of the text.
William Tyndale attempted to deal with the challenges of the Wycliff translation by translating the bible from the original Greek and Hebrew. Tyndale’s translation heavily influences the English language as he literally had to create words to capture the meaning of the text. Such phrases as “scapegoat”, “sea-shore”, and “my brother’s keeper” were developed by Tyndale to communicate ideas within the bible. For his work, Tyndale was put to death. It took him about
Naturally, many were not happen with what Tyndale had accomplished. For his work, Tyndale was put to death. It took him about four years to complete his work
King James Bible
However, the move away from Latin to English was made complete with the development of the 1611 King James Bible. The KJV is named as King James the I of England who sponsored the translation of the bible for political reasons. By the 17th century, there were so many versions of the bible that scholars wanted a definitive translation and King James I sponsored this.
Over fifty scholars worked on this translation for five years. Despite all this work, the 1611 KJV is 60-80% based on Tyndale’s work a century prior. This makes Tyndale’s work all the more amazing that he did the work of 50 scholars in the same amount of time. From this moment English became know as the language of the preacher
The role of English in religious matters today is due in part to the work of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the scholars of the KJV. Their efforts led to supplanting Latin as the language of worship while also contributing many idioms to the English language
After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French dominated England for three hundred years. The decline of French can be traced to at least two main reasons, which are…
The King of Normandy was also the King of England. In 1204, John, King of Normandy and England, lost his Norman territory to the King of France. This left a large number of Norman nobles living in England with any property back in France unless the swore allegiance to the King of France, Philipp II. The consequence of forced loyalty was the development of an English identity among the elite.
In 1295, Philip IV, King of France, threaten to invade England. Edward I, King of England, communicated with the people in English in order to unite the people. While speaking to the people in English, Edward I stated that Philip IV intended to destroy the English language. When the French invasion never came, Edward set aside his use of English
In the mid-1300’s, the Bubonic plague spread through England and wipe out 1/3 of the population. The plague was particularly hard on the clergy killing almost 1/2 of them and removing the influence of Latin on English. The replacement clergy used English.
The loss of so many people allowed English-speaking peasants to take over empty homes and demand higher wages. The price of land fell as there was no one to work the fields nor was there as much demand for products with so many dead. The bonds of serfdom were severely broken.
When the nobility tried to push the peasants back onto the lands as serfs, it led several revolts. When communicating both the nobility and peasants used English. The nobility used English to make promises that were not kept and destroy resistance their rule.
Through war and disease, English rose to prominence again. By the 1400’s English was the language of education and official business. In 1399, Henry IV was sworn in as king with the use of the English language. After three centuries of oppression, the English language emerged as the language of the elite as well as the commoner again.
The year 1066 is highly significant in the English language. This is the year that William, the Duke of Normandy, conquer most of what today is known as Great Britain. The effects of this upon the English language was significant.
As a background, when the King of England, Edward the Confessor died, he named William, the Duke of Normandy, as King of England. Edward was childless but his mother was from Normandy, which is located in France. As such, the English court was already full of French-speaking Normans as Edward’s supporters.
Naming a Norman to the throne of England did not sit well with one Edward’s biggest rivals, Earl Harold Godwineson. Harold quickly led a rebellion against Willam but was defeated and William of Normandy became known as William the Conqueror and was crowned King of England Christmas day of 1066.
Over the next three centuries under French rule, the English language was invaded by as many as 10,000 French words. Such words as “city”, “bacon”, “biscuit”, and “felony” to name a few. The English court quickly became a French court.
The English court quickly became a French court. All positions of power were taken by Normans. This was not only because of conquest but also because most of the English nobility and leadership were killed in the Battle of Hastings.
The only way to get ahead in this context was to learn French and leave English in the home. In many ways, French became a high language and English was relegated to a low language almost as a diglossia situation. English was the language of the poor and French of the elite. Most documents during this time were produced in French and even written English was pushed aside.
The division by class has led some to allege that this kept English alive. This is to say that the rich and the poor had their own separate languages and both work to preserve their own manner of communication.
War is yet another factor to consider when looking at the development of a language. Even without intending to do so William the Conqueror made a major impact on the English language simply by sticking to his mother tongue of French when he took the English throne. To this day, loan words from French play a major role in communication in the English language.
What we now know as English today has a long and complex history. With any subject that is complex, it is necessary to pick a starting point and work from there. For this post, we will date the origins of English from the early 5th century.
English was not born in England. Rather, it came to England through the invasion of Germanic warriors. These “barbarian” hoards push the indigenous Celts and Britons almost into the ocean.
However, it was not only war and conquest that brought English. The roots of English arrived also in the immigration of farmers. Either way, English slowly grew to be one of the prominent languages of England.
In the late sixth century, the Roman Catholic Church came to England. This left a mark on English in the various words taken from Latin and Greek. Such words as “angels”, “pope”, and “minister” all arrived through the Catholic Church.
Vikings and Alfred the Great
By the 8th and 9th century the Vikings were invading lands all over Europe. It was the Danes in particular that almost wiped out the inhabitants of England. However, thanks to the craftiness of Alfred the Great the Danes were defeated and their leader Guthrum was so shocked at Alfred’s comeback victory that he was baptized and became a Christian.
Alfred set to work using the English language to unite the people. He supported education in the English language and the use of language in general. Furthermore, to try and prevent future conflicts with the Danes, Alfred gave them some territory called “Dane Law” where they could live. Naturally, staying in the area meant that the Danish language had an effect on English as well.
Alfred also supported religion. Thanks to the Viking invasions, there was almost no priest left in the entire country. Alfred could barely find a priest who could read Latin. Without religious scholarship, there could be no passing on of religious teachings. This lead Alfred to encourage the translation books in other languages (like Latin) into English.
The story of English is not one continuous rise to prominence. There were several experiences of up and down as the language was in England. For example, there was a time when the French language almost overran the country. Yet this is a story for another day.
Functions of speech are different ways of communicating. The differences among the speech functions have to do with the intention of the communication. Different intention or goal leads to the use of a different function of speech. There are many different functions if speech but we will look at the six that are listed below.
Referential speech provides information. For example, a person might share the time with someone (“It’s five o’clock” ). Referential speech can often provide information to a question (“what time is it?”).
Directives or commands that try to get someone to do something. Examples include “turn left” or “sit down”. The context of a directive is one in which something needs or should be done. As such, one person tries to make one or more other persons do something. Even children say directives towards their parents (“give me the ball”).
Expressive speech shares a person’s feelings. An example would be “I feel happy today!”. Expressive communication can at times provide clear evidence of how someone is doing.
Phatic speech is closely related to expressive speech. However, the main difference is that phatic speech is focused on the well-being of others while expressive speech focuses on the feelings of the person speaking.
An example of phatic speech is saying “how are you?”. This is clearly a question but it is focusing on how the person is doing. Another phrase might be “I hope you get well soon.” Again the focus on is on the welfare of someone else.
Poetic speech is speech that is highly aesthetic. Songs and poetry are examples of language that is poetic in nature. An example would be the famous nursery rhyme “Roses are red, violets are blue…..). Poetic speech often has a powerful emotional effect as well.
Metalinguistic speech is communication about language. For example, this entire blog post would be considered by many to be metalinguistic because I a talking about language and not really using language as described in the other functions of speech.
There are many more categories than the ones presented. In addition, the categories presented are not mutually exclusive. Many phrases can be correctly classified into many different categories. For example, if someone says “I love you” you could argue that it’s expressive, poetic, and or even phatic. What is missing is the context in which such a statement is made.
The ways in which we communicated have been briefly explained here. Understanding how people communicate will help others to better understand those around us and improve our style of communicating.
As people interact with each other, it naturally leads to changes in how communication takes place. Fortunately, there are several views that attempt to explain in a systematic way how language changes. In general, there are at least 3 viewpoints on how language changes. These viewpoints are
The group to group hypothesis sees language change like a wave in a lake. The changes originate from one or more groups and slowly spreads to other groups. This happens because different groups interact with each other. Furthermore, many people are members of more than one group and bring the language they use in one group to another.
Style to Style
The style to style hypothesis suggests that language changes as there are shifts between language styles. For example, from a formal way of speaking to a colloquial way of speaking and vice versa.
A change in the language that is seen as prestigious is usually from a higher more affluent section of society. Of course, the opposite is also true and un-prestigious language change comes from the least fortunate.
The style of a speaker also changes over time. The younger the person is the more they use vernacular and slang in general.
Word to Word
There are times in which individual words will change within a language and this change will spread to other languages. This is known as lexical diffusion.
Such a change can take decades and even century to take place. It is also common when two languages interact through mutually changing each other pronunciation. Such as the role of French in England for several centuries.
It is not so much that any of the examples discussed here are exclusively responsible for change. Rather, all of these examples play varying roles in influencing changes in a language.
In this post, we will look at how relationships that people have can play a role in how they communicate with those around them. Understanding this can help people to comprehend differences in communication style.
In sociolinguistics, social networks can refer to the pattern of informal relationships that people have and experience on a consistent basis. There are two dimensions that can be used to describe a person’s social network. These two terms are density and plexity.
The density of a social network refers to how well people in your network know each other. In other words, density is how well your friends know each other. We all have friends, we have friends who know each other, and we have friends who do not know each other.
If many of your friends know each other then the density is high. If your friends do not know each other the density is low. An example of a high-density network would be the typical family. Everybody knows each other. An example of a low-density network would be employees at a large company. In such a situation it would not be hard to find a friend of a friend that you do not know.
Plexity is a measure of the various types of interactions that you are involved in with other people. Plexity can be uniplex, which involves one type of interaction with a person or multiplex, which involves many types of interactions with a person.
An example of a uniplex interaction may be a worker with their boss. They only interact at work. A multiplex interaction would again be with members of one’s family. When dealing with family interactions could include school, work, recreation, shopping, etc. In all these examples it is the same people interacting in a multitude of settings.
Language Use in Social Networks
A person’s speech almost always reflects the network that they belong too. If the group is homogeneous we will almost always speak the way everyone else does assuming we want to be a part of the group. For example, a group of local construction workers will more than likely use similar language patterns due to the homogeneous nature of the group while a group of ESL bankers would not as they come from many different countries.
When a person belongs to more than one social network they will almost always unconsciously change the way they communicate based on the context. For example, anybody who has moved away from home communicates differently where they live than when they communicate with family and friends back home. This is true even when moving from one place to another in the same province or state in your country.
The language that people employ is affected by the dynamics of the social network. We naturally will adjust our communication to accommodate who we are talking too.