Friday, 20 September 2013

Creating Tasks With Real World Outcomes

Enhancing Learner motivation and engagement through real world tasks. 

Real World
Recently, I have become really interested in getting students excited about learning and studying. I've done all the eLearning tricks, which I do agree, help learners to be motivated and engaged in study. That said, I still felt that there is something missing from the whole learning experience.

So, I remembered my days in college and university. I studied media in college and then theatre in university. Both courses were incredibly hands on, and required the students to produce a show, which would be seen by the public. Having that real world outcome really motivated all of us to give it our best. We'd start at 8am, go home at 10pm, Monday to Saturday. I was completely immersed in the project with my main thought being that an audience would see the product we would eventually produce.

I have carried out a bunch of projects in my classes, but only recently did I start giving them a real world outcome. The main one would be the refugee book project (Click here), and film festival (Click here). I really saw a change in the students' behavior and attitude towards learning and completing a shared goal. The students were more motivated and engaged in the project, they stayed after class, held meetings, and did way more than I could have ever expected.

Projects which have a real world outcome can really bring out the best in our students as it isn't simply for a grade, but has a meaningful outcome. I'm now trying to build as many real world projects into my class as possible. Some of these include:

- T-shirt design: The students design a t-shirt for the school and the winner will actually be made.

- Promotion Video: We'd like to promote our course overseas, so the students will create a promo video for our centre.

- Researchers: As with the refugee book project, the students will be part of many other research projects and become assistants. 

- Content creators: It takes a long time to make new content, so I am planning to get my students to be part of the process and become content developers. 

These are just some of the ideas, which I think could work, and be set up relatively easily. I was wondering if any other teachers out there have created any projects with real world outcomes. If you have please share your experiences.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Write Advice: More About Commas

Here is another post which is closely linked to the previous one on comma splices and run-on sentences - Click here.

This next worksheet covers commas in more detail. It looks at 8 areas in total such as:

- using commas to separate a list of ideas.
- using commas to separate day month a year.
- placing a comma before a conjunction (but, or, so)
- Separating an dependent and independent clause
and much more. 

In the last section of the worksheet, I try to link commas with spoken speech. Pausing, or spoken commas, can help an English learner become more comprehensible to a listener.

I hope you find the information useful. Feel free to use and adapt it, and if you have any feedback, let me know.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Write Advice: Comma Splice & Run on Sentences Work Sheets

I hope that you'll find the work sheet below useful. Writing is a very important skill for our learners as this is usually how teachers assess if they have understood what they have learned. 

Whether our learners are writing Facebook posts, text messages, essays or examinations, it is important for them to be able to explain their ideas clearly, so the reader is able to understand them.

Below is a work sheet on Comma Splices and Run on Sentences. Feel free to download it, adapt it and use it in your classrooms. 

I'll be uploading more worksheets on cohesive devices, fragmented sentences, parallel structures and creating cohesion in writing very soon.  

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Refugee Book Project

I love doing projects with my students. I really see how engaged and invested they are when they have something they can get their teeth into. That said, no matter how hard I tried, it always seemed to be an anti climax at the end and for some of the students it felt like they were doing because they had to.

This was the fun part! I gathered all the students from two classes, there were 28 in total. I told them that this term would be very special, because we had a very important project to work on. "We would publish a book," I told them. I had their attention. "And, your names will be in the book." iPhones were put down and all eyes were on me - got them! 
I wanted the students to do the project, not because I told them to, or because they would get a grade, but because they were fully invested in it. It took me a while to come up with a project that would achieve that aim, but I eventually did.

In a passing conversation with a co-worker, we talked about projects we were both working on. I had just finished a book project, where my students created a book for refugee and orphan kids, and he was volunteering at a school for refugee kids and kids who come from low income families. As we discussed the projects more and my need for my students to have something more tangible to work on, we decided to combine resources. 

We eventually came up with a project, which I believed would get my students engaged and motivated. We planned to collect stories from refugee children and then publish them into a book. Copies of the book would be given to the school to help expand their library and any money made from sales would go back to the school. Also, my students would be acknowledged as researchers or collaborators, meaning their names would be in the book.

The project had a number of stages to it, so I'll explain them a little below.

Stage 1 - Competition 

To get the stories for the book, we asked the teachers in the refugee school to run a competition. Their students would record and give the teachers' their stories. Then, my team plus the teachers would choose the winners, which would be published in the book.

To my surprise and joy, after 2 weeks we had over 30 stories. I must give all the credit to the teachers at the refugee school. Working with them meant we got really authentic stories as the kids there trusted them with what they had to say. 

Stage 2 - Briefing 

I proceeded to tell them the plan. We would go to a school which educates refugee kids. You will take a tour of the school and meet all the students from 3 years old to 19. Next, the students at the school will take you for lunch. After lunch you will become assistant teachers, where you will teach a reading class to them. At this point I knew I had their attention and saw the excitement and dread on some of their faces. 

After teaching reading you will meet 15 students who will tell you their story. You will need to record this, then ask some follow up questions. After that, you will need to transcribe the whole thing and do some research on the country where they come from, plus the refugee situation. All this information will be stored on a Wiki. 

Stage 3 - Preparation 

We did a number of activities before the school visit in order to expose our students to the refugee cause. Many of them, to my surprise, didn't even know where Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Myanmar were. They were also under the impression that refugees were only found in some war torn countries. We proceeded to help them understand that refugees can be found everywhere. We prepared reading, speaking, writing, and small projects to help students to get an understanding before going to the school.

Stage 4 - School visit

For the students and I, this was the fun part and the part we had all been working so hard for. From the very start of the project, I told the students to document what they would do by taking pictures and video. Needless to say, on the big day everyone was camera ready. 

Firstly, the students sat through a short presentation about the school and the truly amazing work that they do there. With only 30 teachers they educate and care for over 800 students. Then, the students toured the school and were able to meet many of the students who go there. 

Teaching reading
Admittedly, I was a little worried about this part. I mean, the students were well prepared. They went online to find reading material and activities to use. That said, as any teacher out there will know, nothing ever goes to plan. I held my breath and wished everyone good luck as they went in groups to various classrooms. After 30 mins, I decided to check up on all my students. 

I arrived at the first classroom with images of kids running around screaming and my students shocked not knowing what to do. Much to my relief, there was no need for my concern. In the first class I saw my students teaching reading. They were 100% focused on the task and had the students hanging on their every word. To say I was proud would be an understatement. But, was that a one off I thought. I visited the other classrooms and found all my students doing an equally amazing job. 

After teaching reading, my students were ushered to a room, where they would interview the story winners. I felt more confident now that my students would do a great job, and they did exactly that. I saw all my students mesmerised and completely engrossed by the story they were listening to. 

They asked great follow up questions in the Q&A afterwards and recorded it all on their smartphones - job done!

Stage 5 - The work begins
With a nights rest it was time for my students to really get to work. I set up a Wiki and created pages for each story. On the page, the students would upload the recorded story, interview and transcribe them. Then, they had to go online to find out more information about the story tellers country and refugee situation there. After about a week this was all complete and to a very good standard. I didn't have to chase anyone up to finish it. In fact they all did much more than I thought they would.

Stage 6 - Film Festival
As the students had been recording the whole experience, I thought it would be great if they compiled it all into documentaries and then reflected about the whole experience. From this, the student organized 'A Peace of Hope Film Festival' was born. You can read more about this in a separate post, just follow the link below.

Stage 7 - Making the book
My students did a great job. Because of all their hard work, all the information is now there to take the project to the next stage.

The stories are currently being adapted by local writers in Malaysia. Illustrations will get going soon by students from the graphic design school. 

So far over 50 people have worked on this book with the vast majority being students. We hope to have the illustrations and stories finished by the end of August. Then we'll spend September putting the book together. Finally, I hope the book will be ready in October.

We are planning to release the book in print to be sold, in book stores, at my university. We are also going to make a eBook version for sale on Amazon and iTunes. Also, there will be a text book for use in schools, which will be made with iBook author and available on iTunes. For the non-Mac users an interactive PDF will be released. 

The project has grown so much since the first idea and I am so happy with the progress we have made. I really believe that my students valued this experience so much. It was something that truly engaged them in learning like I have never seen before. In the following term I had students asking if they could do the project again, or what the next project would be. When students are actively engaged in something I really believe that they learn best. The students stayed after class, came in early and put 110% into the project, because they knew that it had a meaningful outcome. 

Follow us
I have set up a Facebook page for the project, where anyone will be able to find updates and get access to stories when they come available. You will also be able to see art work when it starts to come in. Also, most importantly, you will be able to find out how to get the book. We welcome all your support and ideas and would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Creating assessments WITH your students. Pt. 3

Creating assessment together
In this final post about assessment, for now, I'll talk about how I create assessments with my students and not for them. I have used this a lot in my teaching now, so I thought I'd share why I think it is useful and how you can go about doing it. 

Making assessment more accessible
I was worried that my assessment methods were too subjective. By this I mean my students and I had different ideas as to what was being assessed. This happened for two reasons. One, I didn't explain the assessment system to them clearly, two, my students didn't understand it, or interpreted it differently. With this in mind, I wanted to make my assessments and rubrics, clearer and less vague.

I started by changing the language in my rubrics. A lot of rubrics I have seen are written in an overly complex way, so I wrote all my rubrics in a way that my students could easily understand and without needing to use any decryption software. Next, I wanted all my students to be able to access it at any time, so I created a page on my Wiki just for assessments, which means at anytime or anyplace they can check out what is expected of them for a particular task.

Even with the rubrics written in plain English and posted in a place, where it could be easily accessed, I still felt that I needed to do more to make the assessment process less of a mystery. 

Why create assessment with your students
While doing my MA I had a conversation with a co-worker on how to make assessment less subjective and more accessible. He and McConnell (2002) suggests creating the assessment with the students. It sounded so simple at first, that I couldn't believe I had never done it before.

Take a look at the two rubrics below. The first one I created by myself and the second was created with my students input.

Rubrics created by the teacher
Rubrics created with students
I used the first rubrics in a project. Even though the project asked students to write, it also asked them to create a Wiki page for the writing. I was only concerned with assessing the writing whereas in the second rubric, my students voiced that the design element of the project should also be taken into account.

The two rubrics helped me to see that sometimes, the teacher's and students' interpretations of what exactly is being assessed can be different. Therefore, when a teacher and his/her students create assessment together, both know what is to be expected. Then, there is no argument as to why certain criteria were not fulfilled. 

How to do it
This is quite straight forward to do. With your students, ask them what would make a good, or bad project. If it is the first time doing it you may want to give them some ideas. However, the more you use it, the more your students will be able to identify what can be classified as good. It is a learning process for both you and your students, so take it slow and see how it goes. 

Before getting into assessment, I thought it was an unnecessary burden on students. Now I have looked into it more and experimented with it, I have completed changed my view of it. A lot of students, and teachers for that matter, may be weary of assessment as we don't talk about it that much. It is often seen as something that the teacher controls and comes at the end of a task or activity. 

I realise now that assessment is an integral part of the learning process, especially when it is in a situation where a final grade is required. If not, assessment can help students to keep track of their progress. If I have learned anything, it is to keep the students involved in the whole learning process. I like my students to be active learners, as well as content creators and assessors. By doing this, I hope they can get a lot more out of the classroom experience. 

McConnell, D. (2002). Collaborative assessment as a learning process in e-learning. Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning: Foundations for a
CSCL Community.

Monday, 15 July 2013

You mean I have to grade my friend? Pt. 2

This is the second post which will look at alternative assessment for use in the classroom. Peer-assessment (PA) is another method which can be used to get your students involved in the assessment process. 

What is peer-assessment?

“When it comes to measuring individuals relative contribution to group work, the only people who reallyknow what the relative contributions are, are the students themselves.” (Race 2001)

Peer-assessment can be used by students to assess each other's work. For example, if your class write an essay or do a presentation, your students can give their classmate's a grade. There are two kinds of PA, which are formative (as you go) and summative (at the end) (Falchikov 1995), I will talk about this in more detail later on. 

Why use it?
Peer-assessment can really change the learning environment of your classroom. Instead of the teacher controlling everything, the students feel like they have a say in how their work is graded. This can turn students from passive on-lookers to active participants (Harris 1997; Gardner 2000). 

An issue of trust
As with self-assessment trust is always going to be a question that both teacher and even students will ask. Unlike self-assessment, where students take responsibility for themselves, peer-assessment asks students to take responsibility for others. This can cause anxiety on the part of the student and stress at the thought of having to take on the role of the teacher (Gardner 2000; Kennedy 2006). 

Another issue, which concerns reliability and validity, is over- and underrating (Boud and Falchikov 1989; Wilmot and Crawford 2005). Studies report that weaker students tend to overrate themselves whereas stronger students tend to underrate themselves. Of course this adds to the argument that peer-, or self-assessment may not be trustworthy, however, more studies report that used in the correct way, reliability and validity can be greatly increased. 

In the end, it is up to you, the teacher, to decide how best to assess your students. Peer-assessment just gives the students a great say in how the assessment process goes. 

The next section will provide some examples of rubrics, which can be used for peer-, or self-assessment. 

How can it be used?

Formative - PA can be used to assess the on-going progress made by the students. This is a good way for students to get some immediate feed-back on the progress they are making. PA is especially useful if you have a large class as much of the feedback can be done by them. As it is on-going, 

Summative - PA can be used to assess the final product created by the students. Much like self-assessment, students can be responsible for a percentage of their classmate's grade. 

Examples of Peer-assessment Rubrics

Product Rubrics
The rubric below was used to assess a Wiki project. I wrote the rubric using easy English, so the students would easily be able to understand it. 

Project Self-/Peer-assessment Rubrics
I have use this rubric, or a version of it, for self-, peer-, as well as a teacher-based assessment. 

Soft skills rubric
The next rubrics could be used to assess soft skills such as team work, collaboration, sharing, contribution, or any other soft skill which you think is important for the process of the task. 

Peer-/self-assessment rubric to assess soft skills

I like assessing soft skills, because I do a lot of group work. The process is usually just as beneficial as the final product, so I believe that assessing soft skills can help create a better final product. 

Peer Evaluation Form
If you are still a little skeptical of peer-assessment or self-assessment for that matter, you can create a peer-evaluation form. It can be used as confirmation of scores made by individuals, or of other group members. I keep it pretty simple and ask basic questions such as: Who did the most work in your group? Who needs to work harder next time? You will find that students will be very honest and accurate about this. On many occasions, students have stated that they themselves need to work harder next time as they were the weak link in the activity. Finally, I included a pie chart, where students could quantify how much work each person contributed. 

Williams, S (2013) Peer-evaluation Form
I have used various assessment methods in my class and it really depends on what kind of activity you are assessing. When my students do collaborative group tasks, I use self- and peer-assessment, because it is so complex and the demands on the students are great. When it comes to singular work, I use self-, or peer-assessmet to bring the students into the assessment process.

I have learned that assessing work with the students helps them to better understand what is expected of them. They know what I want them to achieve and they know how to do it. I really feel that it helps to take away some of the vagueness out of the assessment process. 

Giving away some power to the students was strange at first, but now I trust them with it. Due to this trust, I feel that my classroom is a better place for my students and I. Admittedly, it is a trial and error process and whatever I have mentioned here may not be suitable for your particular situation. That said, I hope it gives some food for thought when it comes to your classroom. 

In the next post on assessment I'll go over how I create the rubrics with my students and not for them.


Falchikov, N. (1995). "Peer feedback marking: Developing Peer Assessment." Innovations
in Education and Training International 63: 15-28.

Gardner, D. (2000). "Self-assessment for autonomous language learners." Links & Letters

Harris, M. (1997). Self-assessment of language learning in formal settings. Oxford, Oxford
University Press.

Kennedy, G. J. (2006). Peer assessment in group projects: Is it worth it? Australian
Computing Education Conference. Australia

Boud, D. and N. Falchikov (1989). "The role of self-assessment in student grading."
Assessment and evaluation in Higher Education 15(1): 101-111.

Wilmot, P. and A. Crawford (2005). Validating the assessment of individuals within
undergraduate teams. International conference on Engineering Educations, Gliwice.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Student Film Festival

Student Film Festival 
I recently finished a really fun project that I thought I would share with everyone. I wanted an end of the course activity that would engage students in their learning and put them in charge of it. We recently finished a visit to a school for children who come from low income families and have refugee status (I'll do a separate post about that). Here's how I did it, but I am sure it could be easily adapted for any other situation. 

Step 1
I told my class that they would visit a school to be teacher assistants and to interview a few of the students to find out more about their situation. In the briefing I told them to take pictures and from this moment on they should take pics, video of everything from the school visit to the meetings they would have after it.

Step 2
After the school visit, I told the students to collect all their pics and video and to turn it into a documentary. The video gave the students the chance to reflect on what they had learned during the project. They could talk about:

Festival M.C.
- What they did?
- How they did it?
- How they felt?
- What did they do well?
- What would they do differently next time?
- What was their best memory?
- What did they learn?

Step 3 - Filming
All most all the students had smart phones, so they used those to interview each other and record the spoken sections. The nice thing about recording themselves is the fact that they could re-do it  if they were not happy with the first take. 

Note* Advise the students to find a well lit room which is quiet. This helps the picture and sound quality. 

Step 4 - Editing
All the students had not edited video before, so I introduced some useful and easy to use online tools. The first is Animoto. This is an easy to use tool, where students can upload pictures and video and put a sound track to it. There are a number of themes and it is very student friendly. The second it Smilebox, which is similar to Animoto and equally student friendly. Finally, if your students want to do some fun remixing, they can use Popcorn, which allows students to remix videos after they have been posted to Youtube. 

Step 5 - Organising the festival
I spilt the class up into different groups such as food, invitations, advertising and room layout. The students decided which department to enter and then decided on a festival leader and deputy. 

The aim of the festival was to give the control to the students. They were given a small budget in order to give them responsibility over the running of the festival. Each team had to submit their receipts and spending plans. 

I really had no idea how this event would go. In the end I was more than impressed. I gave my students full control of the event to my students and they really out did themselves. They were organized, took pride in the event and came together as a class to make it happen. 

It was also a great way to end the term and a chance for the students to showcase what they had done. I also feel it gave the students a new sense of ownership as it was their responsibility. They stayed late, held meetings and only came to me when they needed money or to ask a question. I learned that the students are very capable if given a challenge they can engage with. Because of its success, I am thinking about asking the students to put on a TEDx event next term. I have a feeling that it will go very well. 

Below are some pictures from the event. 




Documentary creators and event organisers 

Thanks to all my amazing students for all their hard work!

Friday, 5 July 2013

You mean I have to give myself a grade? Pt. 1

I recently finished my MA in TESOL and I thought I'd share some of the stuff that I researched and found out. My MA thesis was titled 'Assessing collaborative group work' and I looked at a number of different assessment methods for use in the classroom. I did an action research which means I used my own classroom as my research base and analysed my practice as a teacher. At the end of it, I learned some pretty interesting things, which I thought I'd share. This, I hope, will be the first of three posts about assessment. 

What is self-assessment (SA)?
Boud & Falchikov (1989) define it as how learners decide and make judgments on what they are learning in terms of success. There have been many claims as to the benefits of SA. Harris (1997) claims that "self-assessment is rightly seen as one of the pillars of learner autonomy". He and Gardner (2000) also agree that SA could make active learners out of passive learners. 

An issue of trust
It is easy to quote claims made my researchers as to the benefits of SA, though, I am sure that many of you out there may not be 100% convinced that it is reliable and valid. 

Reliability is defined as "consistency with measurement tools".
Validity is defined as "agreement with teacher judgements". (Ross 2006)

In terms of reliability and validity studies have supported claims that it is a trustworthy assessment tool in the classroom (See Boud ad Falchikov 1989; Sadler and Good 2006; Liang and Tsai 2010). With any study the results may not be consistent for every classroom situation, so Ross (2006) and Chang, Liang et al. (2012) recommend that training is given to both teacher and student. When this is done, there is a possibility of increased accuracy with SA. 

Classroom usage
You can use SA in a number of different situations. Firstly, you need to decide if you are using it for formative (as you go) or summative (at the end) assessment. If you are like me, you may be a little skeptical of basing the student's final grades on a SA, so when I first started, I used SA for formative assessment, then moved on to use it for summative. If they have to do an activity/project for you, such as an essay, you could use SA to help the students to realise their own strengths and limitations. 

A rubrics which could be used for self-assessment
In order to increase the validity and reliability it is important to give your students exposure to SA first. Below is how you can scaffold the use of self-assessment in your class.

Step 1 - Using SA for simple activities/projects
Carry out some group activities with your students. Then, give them a simple rubric and ask them to assess their own performance. Your students will find this strange at first, but they will soon get used to it.

Step 2 - Using SA for your main activity/project
For the main activity you wish to use SA with, it is a good idea to do it twice. You can do it half way through the activity, assuming that is takes a number of days, then use the same SA at the end of the project/activity. 

Step 3 - Keep records
Keep a note of all the students' scores, because at the end you can compare the score from the mid activity/project SA and the final SA. 

Step 4 - scoring
This part is up to you. If you are not so sure about SA why not make their score form 20% of their final grade. That means, 80% comes from you and 20% comes from them. If you are more confident that your students can handle it, why not give them control over 30-40% and you can take 60%. it is completely up to you and really depends on your classroom situation. 

I myself was skeptical about using self-assessment at first, however, I have come to see how powerful it is. Giving the students ownership of their own grade helps them to become part of the assessment process. I haven't had any students complain about their final grade, because they were partly responsible for it.

Furthermore, when I started the main project, I noticed that some of the students were not working so hard. When I gave the students the mid-project SA, they quickly realised that they hadn't done much work and were likely to get a low grade. Needless to say, the next day in class those students' attitudes changed and they suddenly became very active members of the classroom. 

I do support the views that self-assessment can make students more active participants in the classroom, as well as help to make them more autonomous. By using SA you relinquish some of your control as teacher and it helps to change the environment of the classroom from teacher controlled to student and teacher working together.

I realised that it is important for students to be active participants in the assessment process and not just receivers of it. The outcomes will vary from classroom to classroom, however, I do feel that students can get a lot out of self-assessment, as well as the teacher. 

Next time
In my next post I'll look at peer-assessment and talk about how it can be used in the class. I'll also go into overrating and underrating, which is directly linked to reliability and validity. 

I hope this post has been useful and if you use self-assessment in your classrooms, I'd love to hear how you do it and the reaction you get from your students. 


Boud, D. and N. Falchikov (1989). "The role of self-assessment in student grading."
Assessment and evaluation in Higher Education 15(1): 101-111.

Harris, M. (1997). Self-assessment of language learning in formal settings. Oxford, Oxford
University Press.

Gardner, D. (2000). "Self-assessment for autonomous language learners." Links & Letters

Sadler, P. and E. Good (2006). "The impact of self and peer-grading on student learning."
Educational assessment 11(1): 1-31.

Liang, J. C. and C. C. Tsai (2010). "Learning through science writing via online peer
assessment in a college biology course." Internet and Higher Education 13:

Ross, J. A. (2006). "The Reliability, Validity, and Utility of Self-assessment." Practical
Assessment Research & Evaluation. 11(10).

Chang, C. C., C. Liang, et al. (2012). "Is learner self-assessment reliable and valid in a
web-based portfolio environment for high school students?" Computers & Education

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Peer Editing Using Google Drive

I have written a lot about using Wikis to teach writing, however, I
think that they serve a purpose just like Google Drive ( serves a purpose. Anyway, yesterday I did an interesting activity where 20 students used a single Google document to peer edit their classmates' essays.

Here's how to do it. 

Step 1 - Plan
I pair the students up and give each pair one worksheet (click herewhich helps them to plan ideas, as well as giving them some language to use in the essay. 

Step 2 - Write 
In pairs the students then write their essay directly on the Google Doc. Alternatively, they can write it on a Word Document, then copy and paste it to the Google Doc. While they are writing, the teacher is free to go around and offer support and advice. 

Step 3 - Peer Edit
Now all the essays are on the Google Doc (click here), the peer editing can start. I ask each pair to look at the essay below theirs and edit it. To help the students check the document, I give them a check sheet (click here) for things to look for and tick off. The students mainly check that there is a topic sentence, thesis statement, complete sentences, spelling etc. 

My students wanted to help with grammar as well so they suggested two systems. Highlight the sentence in blue if it is difficult to understand. Then, if they see a grammar mistake which they know they can fix, they highlight it in yellow

The students also wrote notes at the bottom of the essay to offer advice. This was a good opportunity to teach my students about direct language (This is wrong!) vs. indirect language (Why don't you change this part? How about...?) 

Step 4 - Edit
Once the essay has been edited, the students go back to their original essay to make the corrections. 

I was unsure as to how this activity would work. However, I was impressed to see all 20 students engaged in the process. It was relatively easy to see up and the students were eager to peer edit. Now I am confident that I can use this process with the students to edit their essays. I have 20 students in the class and using a process writing approach is very labour intensive. Although, if the students are given experience in editing essays for common issues, such as structure, cohesion and comprehension, then a lot of the editing can be completed before the teacher makes the final edits. This allows the students to learn from other student's written work, as well as help them to become better editors themselves. That's my hypothesis anyway haha. 

I hope this is useful to anyone out there who has a lot of students in the classroom and wants to use peer editing. I use it for essays and academic writing, though there is no reason why it couldn't be adapted for any writing activity. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

WikiZine Updated

WikiZine updated

This is an updated project from the one I did a few months ago and can be accessed below
Class magazine part 1:  Click here
Class magazine part 2:  Click here

In WikiZine updated I wanted to push the use of the Wiki even further. The previous project asked students from one class to write an article. This time, I wanted the students from two separate classes to write two articles each, as well as provide accompanying media.

The learning objectives of the project were:
- Create two written articles on a topic of your choosing;
- Provide accompanying videos or audio for the article;
- Research to provide your story with more information;
- Interview your classmates and friends for the audio and video content;
- Peer-review classmates articles;
- Become competent at using the Wiki, uploaded videos to Youtube and sound cloud.

Step 1: I got all the students into one classroom and told they that they would create an online magazine. I then asked them to give me themes for the magazine; they came up with:

- Fashion
- Culture
- News
- Human interest
- Sport
- Entertainment 

Step 2: The students will create two articles for the magazine. 

Article 1 - This article will be around 300-400 words in total and will contain a video interview to accompany the article.

Article 2 - This will also be around 300-400 words and will contain video/audio with only the writer of the article speaking. 

The aim of article 1 was to get the students to explore interviews and talk to their fellow classmates or friends in English. I encourage the students to try and speak to 3-4 students in the interview. In article 2, I wanted the students to focus on their own speaking, so all the attention would be on them. 

Step 3: For my particular course the students had 2 weeks to complete the whole project. I offered advice in the way of ideas to help make their stories interesting. However, if they wanted someone to check their writing, they had to ask a classmate or friend. I really wanted the students to take responsibility for their one writing and become more familiar with proof reading and editing. 

Step 4: At the end of the project, the students were asked to write a reflective essay about the whole experience. They were encouraged to write about:
- what they learned;
- what went well;
- what went badly;
- what they would differently if they did the project again.

Step 5: For this project the students were assessed for their writing and speaking. To view the writing rubrics, please click here.

Summing up
The project was really easy to set up and administer as I could just click on the Wiki to monitor progress. Whereas many of the students worked hard to create their own content, as expected, there were a few who did plagiarize their work. This disappointed me as I thought the WikiZine project would be fun and motivating for them. However, I also realise that writing something that will go publicly online can cause some anxiety and confidence issues with the student. This was fortunately an isolated incident and for the most part I felt the students got a lot out of the whole process. I especially liked how the students were using English in a natural setting. Also, I was impressed to see how well they all worked together by helping one another to make the videos, upload them and even edit them.

I purposely took a back seat to the whole process and watched from the comfort of my Wiki screen. I really believe that setting up projects are a really powerful way to get our students engaged in meaningful language learning, as well as skills learning. They not only learned language, but they learned interpersonal skills, collaborative skills and technology skills which they can take with them to their degree course. 

To check out the WikiZine. click here.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Using Wikis to teach writing

I recently took part in a Facebook discussion where most of the contributors voiced their concerns over the state of their students' writing skills. 

I shared many of the concerns raised, which ranges from comments on grammar, vocab use to understanding punctuation and sentence structure.

Writing is an important part of life, and many students do not seem to realise this. They want to improve their speaking and listening so they concentrate on those skills and use writing as a means to learn how to speak. 

These students quickly realise how important writing is when they come to write as essay, email or even a report for work. Writing is not something that can be picked up in passing. It takes a long time to learn structure and proper usage. 

In order to help students I have been using Wikis to teach writing for over a year now. There are a number of advantages to using them in your class. 

- Organisation: Keep all the students written work in one easy to access place.

- Displaying information: Upload all the essay outlines to Scribd, then take the embed code and display them in one convenient place.

- Collaboration: The teacher can monitor each student's progress from introduction to conclusion and give feedback during the writing process. 

There are a number of ways to teach writing with Wikis, but I'll go over how to use them to teach writing essays. The same approach could be used for other forms, such as creative, emails, reports etc.

Wikis are all about collaboration. Blogs are great, but more adapted to one person using them to create a finished product. Google Drive is awesome also, but when there are lots of students in the class, Wikis are better equipped to deal with large numbers with more collaboration. 

I teach at a university, so my students have to produce three essays, as well as group work, in a pre-U course. They all hope to enter into a foundation, degree or masters course... if they pass!!!!

Scaffolding is the most important thing to start with. I'll use a pre-intermediate class with no Wiki experience to illustrate how to use Wikis to teach essay writing skills.

First, start with a simple writing activity. I usually ask the students to draw a picture of their best memory. They talk about it with the other class members, then for homework write the story into a simple paragraph. 

The next day I check the students written work and make the corrections. I then tell the students to write it again, but put it on their Wiki page. Each student has a private page for individual writing work.

Before the Wiki

The students have now had their work edited on paper, so they understand this process. They have also put their work on the Wiki, so they see how that works. Scaffolding stage one complete!

I tend to work more on paragraphs in the first few weeks. Each time I'll edit it and offer advice on grammar, word choice, punctuation etc. When they have grasped the basic outline of the paragraph we move onto a simple block essay. 

Many of the students can write, it's just they need the ideas to do so. As a class we think of essay ideas. I tell them "If you are interested in the topic, it is easy to write about it". After some general ideas, I put the students into writing groups. They will write the essay individually, but the group is their to motivate and support each member. In the groups they can talk about topics and write out a rough outline which the other members can help them with. 

Many of the students are new to essay writing, so I make sure I put a very clear essay outline on a separate Wiki page. I tell the students that this is copyright free, so you are free to take ideas and sentences. I especially focus their attention on topic, thesis statements and concluding sentences. I don't go into any detail, I just want them to be aware of them. 

Now we have started writing actual essays, I tell the students that I will edit it twice. In the first edit I usually check for grammar, word choice, punctuation, plus general coherence of the essay. In the second essay, I concentrate more on flow and structure of the essay. I also offer advice as how to improve the content by doing further research.

The same process is repeated for the next essay. Get the students into writing groups to help come up with content ideas and outlines. I still edit the essay twice and follow the same procedures as above. 

For the final essay, I tell the students that I will only edit it once and I will only edit a complete essay. Also, when I edit the essay, I will only underline sections that need to be reviewed or changed. My hope is that the students will be able to edit and find the mistakes in their writing by themselves as the class has been scaffolded to show them how to do it independently.

This is largely a process driven writing system. However, as the students are lower intermediate, elements of genre-based writing approaches have been implemented, such as clear essay outlines and sample essays to follow. I really think this is important. It is great to let the students write and find their own writing style, however, their experience with such writing is limited and as such they need examples to follow. 

An editing language was created for the Wiki and it is below. It is pretty straight forward and the students pick it up pretty quickly.

(go - del) = Delete the word 'go'.
(in / at) = Change the word 'in' for 'at'.
(to) = The word 'to' is missing.
bus<>red = Word order.
T = Tense
Marcket = Underlined words highlights spelling errors.
Decided to be him when saw the persons who were = Underlined sentences can not be understood,

You can add colour to highlight the areas to be checked. I tend to avoid red as it seems to be too negative. In addition to the editing above I try and sandwich my comments with something positive, something to work on, then something positive again. Process writing is time consuming so the students need support and praise in order to keep their motivation high.

Deadlines - I have found these to be the most important thing when teaching writing like this. Most, many, some students will leave it until the last minute to write the essays. I give the students 7 days for one essay.
Day one - Decide an essay topic and do some research
Day two - Write an outline
Day three to four - Finish the first draft
Day four - At the end of day four I edit it
Day five - The students make the changes.
Day six - I edit the second daft.
Day seven - Students make changes and additions and hand it in.

If your students are naturally motivated you won't need so many deadlines. However, the last class I taught needed the extra push. 

What are the benefits?
I'm currently doing research on this so nothing conclusive yet. From what I have observed, the word count increases significantly. Sentences structure is improved and is more complex with less run-ons and fragments. Essay structure is more organized and ideas are explained more clearly. Grammar errors are still there, however, these are to be expected given the fact the students are trying to write longer and more complex sentences.

It may seem a complex process, but writing is a complex process. The Wiki allows a teacher to edit quickly and effectively. This gives the student immediate access to their writing and allows them to look at past essays as they are all stored on the same page. They simply have to scroll down to see what was good and what should be improved from their last essay. Learning to write takes time, so the more feedback and support the student has, the more likely they are to succeed. 

The short video below takes you through a Wiki which I use in class. You'll be able to see how the essay outlines and assessment rubrics are outlines, as well as see how the student work is organised.