Ruth Moore

International English Center

Course Context:
Our students at the International English Center are required to take English Structure courses as part of the intensive academic English core curriculum.  In these courses, students are presented with specific structures to learn.  For the most part, students don't have difficulty using these structures in controlled activities.  However, students often do not transfer or apply this new learning in less controlled practice in the classroom.    In fact, once they leave the classroom, students frequently revert to using the less complex structures that they are more familiar with, or, continue using structures incorrectly with no self-correction, demonstrating poor awareness of their own language learning.

For this project, I taught a high intermediate English Structure course.  Along with learning the structures set forth in the curriculum, I also wanted to help students become more aware of their ability to use these structures in extended oral and written discourse.   There were 16 students enrolled in the class.

What did you do?

1)  Student survey on attitudes about grammar and expectations for the course.  This was given on the first day of class.  The results were compiled into a word cloud and the responses were shared with students the following class to open dialog about their language learning experience.

2)  One-minute papers.  Beginning the first week of class and after each unit, students completed a one-minute paper on index cards briefly describing what was clear to them about a specific structure, or grammar point,  and what was still muddy.  Throughout the session, students completed six of these papers.  I clarified any muddy points in the following class and provided additional practice if necessary.

3)  Digital recordings of "impromptu" speeches.  These were used to give students immediate feedback on ability to use the learned structures as well as on level of accuracy in using these structures.  I gave students a specific prompt that I knew would naturally elicit specific structures.  Students were given a few minutes to prepare for the prompt and were asked to think about specific structures they could use while giving their speeches.  They were allowed to write down phrases to help them remember to use the structures, but were not allowed to write complete sentences.  Students were then grouped together to give their impromptu speeches to each other.  After practicing once or twice in their groups and getting peer feedback, students then recorded their speech on digital recorders without the use of notes.  Once finished, they listened to their recording and completed a simple rubric that required self-assessment of their grammatical accuracy, fluency, and ability to self-correct.  Finally, I collected digital recorders, listened to the speeches, and completed a rubric for each student as well.

What happened and what worked?

Student Survey: I was surprised that many students reported that vocabulary was important to them in learning grammar. As a result, I decided to spend more time discussing vocabulary as it was encountered in class readings and discussions.

One-minute papers: At first, students were somewhat skeptical about completing the one-minute papers, but by the end of the course, students took them very seriously.  This activity included students in the process of their own learning; I think students felt empowered and that their learning experience was important to me.  Students clearly became more aware of their strengths and weaknesses as they reflected on their learning.  

Here are some comments from the final one-minute paper which asked students to reflect on their attitudes about grammar and their learning experience in this course:

"It's not so hard to use grammar, but to explain it.  Why we use something..."
"Essential for communicating correctly."
"The more I know the grammar, the more I have to study about it."
"Necessary, useful, not as boring as I thought and complicated."
“The class helped me to apply what I have studied into my speaking and writing…”
"Grammar helps organize the way I speak.  It's confusing sometimes."

Digital voice recorders: The voice recorders were a great tool to use in the classroom.  Initially I had planned to videotape students, but after one attempt, I realized that it was time consuming in the classroom and somewhat intimidating to students.  The voice recorders are easy to use, portable, and allow students to receive instant feedback.  Most students have earbuds, so it was easy for them to listen to themselves.   Students were very engaged during this process.   Also, the voice recorders gave me a formal way to assess students which helped a great deal when writing final evaluations.

In addition, students' comments on their self-evaluations of their recorded speeches demonstrated that they were becoming much more aware of how they were actually using the language in extended discourse.  Most students were able to notice when they used structures incorrectly, and often were able to self-correct in their recordings (which is an important step in the language acquisition process).  Sometimes students were surprised by their inaccuracies, but often they were just as surprised by not finding too many errors.  I believe that this was excellent reflective practice for students as it made them aware of their own level of language complexity and accuracy, and it allowed them to think about how to make their language more sophisticated.

How did the classroom assessment (feedback gathering) help you make adjustments mid-course?

We are an intensive English program which requires students to complete specific student learning outcomes before advancing to the next level.  So, there isn't much time for major adjustments.  However, I was able to start classes with some discussions about what was still "muddy" to them at the end of each unit.  I spent the first part of the class reviewing and having students complete more practice if needed.  Through the one-minute papers, I learned that many students had difficulty comprehending verb tense and time changes for reported speech.  As a result, I spent one more day on this topic than I had originally planned in order to give students more practice.

What's next?
In February, the IEC held a faculty in-service in which Eileen Malloy, Charl Norloff, and I briefly shared our experience in FTEP workshop.  We did talk about the one-minute paper and its potential for gathering feedback, but did not have sufficient time to have an open discussion about it.  I expect that we will have more time at our next in-service to discuss the results of our semester projects.

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