ELTWorldOnline.com http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo Wed, 23 Apr 2014 04:12:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/?v=3.8.3 When a Facebook Group Makes a Difference: Facebook for Language Learning http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/04/22/when-a-facebook-group-makes-a-difference-facebook-for-language-learning/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/04/22/when-a-facebook-group-makes-a-difference-facebook-for-language-learning/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 05:50:45 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4224 by Adnan Al-Hammody
University of Nineveh, Iraq

Abstract
This paper investigates what Iraqi students gain from interacting in English in a Facebook group in an EFL context. An online questionnaire of eight multiple-choice and two open-ended questions was provided to the participants, who are university students studying English. Thirty-five participants responded to the questionnaire. In addition, four participants and one teacher were randomly selected for phone interviews. For data analysis, mixed methods analysis was conducted since the data were both qualitative and quantitative in nature. For the qualitative data analysis, the “grounded” approach was used to identify “patterns” or “themes”, and an “a priori” approach for the focused questions and responses previously determined by the researcher. As for the quantitative data analysis, percentages of responses of each Likert-scale question were calculated. The outcomes of this study are potentially important to both students and teachers who want to expand learning opportunities for students outside the classroom.


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The use of Facebook is becoming increasingly prevalent in society today. For example, some students from the Department of English, Translation and Interpretation, College of Arts, University of Mosul, Iraq, keep a Facebook group for sharing ideas, translations, and other language-related aspects. A student in the group may, for instance, post an idiom and ask other members of the group to discuss its meaning. Another student may ask other students to give feedback on his or her translation, or offer corrections on the grammar used in a certain text.

Upon observing the increasing number of students joining this group and interacting in it, I thought it would be intriguing to look at what students believe they gain from it, especially when no one has explored the use of Facebook in the Iraqi context. This paper discusses the use of a Facebook group created for a group of students from the University of Mosul for English pedagogic purposes, and examines students’ perceptions of the benefits resulting from interacting in the Facebook group. It also highlights the factors that help learners engage or interact in English with their peers and teachers in this group.

Although other studies have focused on interaction and motivation in using Facebook for educational purposes, which overlap with my study, their focus was mostly on teacher perspectives and use inside the classroom. This study, on the other hand, focuses on the perceptions of a specific group of learners who have limited opportunities for language practice and use the Facebook group as a venue for practicing English outside the classroom. More specifically, this study attempts to answer the following research questions:

  • What do students believe they gain from using Facebook to practice their English communication skills?
  • What social, psychological, and linguistic factors contribute to students’ willingness to interact on a Facebook page?

Benefits of Facebook for the Learning of English
Facebook interaction can occur among learners in a specific group created by their teacher. Teachers can create private groups for their students to share knowledge within the group, give comments on posts and ask and answer questions (Baran, 2010; Richardson, 2010). Thus, Facebook may be used as an ELT supportive tool.

Students who use Facebook can notice improvement in their writing over an extended period of time (Najafi & Hashemi, 2011). One of the reasons is that posts and comments remain for a while, so learners can see them and compare old posts to new ones.

Additionally, Manan, Alias and Pandian (2012) report that Facebook activities increase the level of interaction among learners through providing a safe learning environment. Learners at a low proficiency level feel more comfortable and less threatened when they participate in online activities than face-to-face in-class discussions, which are mainly dominated by the high proficiency learners. Further, Facebook enables students to collaborate and engage in healthy competition with each other, which, as a result, increases their learning (Harris & Rea, 2009). For example, through engaging in discussions, asking questions, and requesting for feedback and opinions, learners can notice the progress their peers are making and feel motivated to do better.

Students’ Willingness to Use Facebook
According to MacIntyre, Burns, and Jessome (2011), willingness to communicate has to do with how likely it is that individuals will get involved in communication with others when there is no obligation for them to do so. As mentioned, this study looks at willingness to use Facebook. According to MacIntyre (2007, p.568), “Intergroup motives stem directly from membership in a particular social group, and interpersonal motives stem from the social roles one plays within the group.” If MacIntyre is right, learners’ motivation to use Facebook can come from their motivation to learn from each other and their perceptions of the individuals as belonging to a group.

Baran (2010) showed that learners believed that interacting with their peers on Facebook motivated them to learn due to the competition that occurs among learners of various language proficiency levels. Additionally, Hayashi (2011) suggested that what makes the students more willing to participate is that they control the information they share and the materials they post, and they decide on the difficulty of the subjects they discuss with others, which helps them avoid embarrassment, thus creating a safe environment.

Method
The study was based on a questionnaire that was designed using Survey Monkey (see Appendix 1). Phone interviews were also conducted with the five participants to verify the findings of the questionnaire. The data collected from the questionnaire were analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively, while the data collected from the interviews were only analyzed qualitatively.

The first question in the survey was inclusive of most if not all constructs addressed in the research questions, including interactional, psychological, social, and linguistic factors. That same question overlaps with the rest of the questions, in particular question 4, because there was a need to see if there was consistency in responses. In this first question, respondents were asked to agree or disagree with certain statements on a scale of 1 to 6 with 1= strongly agree, 2= agree, 3= somewhat agree, 4= somewhat disagree, 5= disagree, and 6= strongly disagree. The responses with their percentages are presented in figure 2.

Participants
The 35 respondents in this study were undergraduates and MA students who study English at the Department of English, and Translation and Interpretation, College of Arts, University of Mosul in Iraq. The students were all members of the Facebook group, which had a membership count of 138. Most, if not all, the participants spoke Arabic as their native language and English as their second language, and most had had little or no contact with native speakers of English. The participants’ age range was 20-30 years old. The MA students represented 62.9% of the participants, fourth year students 17.1%, third year 14.3, and second year 5.7%.

Five male participants (four students and one teacher) were chosen for a follow-up interview due to their experiences with the Facebook group and also their high English proficiency levels; the teacher is the only one who did not participate in the questionnaire. The four students are Ayman, Muhannad, Yousif, all of whom are English MA students, and Hani, an English BA holder who had just finished university (2013) and now planning to pursue an MA. The fifth participant, Furat, is an English MA holder, teacher and administrator of the Facebook page. All five participants started learning English in the fifth grade of primary school. The phone interview participants were all male because it is not culturally appropriate in Iraq for men to telephone women who are not their relatives.

Analysis of Questionnaire Data
The questionnaire data were analyzed using mixed methods analysis (qualitative and quantitative analyses). For the two open-ended questions (questions 9 & 10), qualitative analysis was used. Quantitative analysis was used for calculating the percentages and the number of respondents who responded to the rest of the questions. The assumption was that this study would showcase the students’ perceptions of interacting in English on the Facebook page. The results of each question will be discussed in order. However, question 1 will be discussed together with question 4 because they overlap.

Willingness was also interpreted roughly in terms of how many times students visit the page. Most participants reported in question 3 that they visit this page once a day. Some visit it more than once a day as we can see in Figure 1. Based on the responses, I believe that the number of visits to the page can somehow reflect a student’s willingness to communicate on Facebook. As we can see from Figure 1, the majority of respondents reported that they visited the page once a day at least. Further, other respondents stated that they visited the Facebook page more than two times a day.

Adnan Figure 1

Figure 1: Frequency of students’ visits to the page (question 3).

The responses from question 1 of the survey indicate that 54.3% of the participants mostly used the Facebook page for socializing in English, 48.6% used it for vocabulary learning, and 25.7% used it for seeking feedback and for improving translation skills. Otherwise, 31.4% acknowledged the importance of the page for course work and classes. As mentioned, question 4 was used to verify the results from question 1. Results from both questions were similar. The set of results from question 4 as presented in Figure 2 indicates that participants mainly used Facebook to practice using English, learning new vocabulary, and socializing. The category where the students had to explain “other” uses presents some interesting findings. One of the respondents reported, “I visit this page in order to know the level of education that the members of this page have reached.” Another response was, “I use this page to exchange different ideas and communicate with other students, and teachers.”

Adnan Figure 2

Figure 2: Uses of the Facebook page (question 4).

Figure 3 shows students’ responses to question 5, which asked them about their feelings about other members of the group. It shows that students commonly felt comfortable with other members. More specifically, 71.4% of respondents felt comfortable sharing their posts with others. Others felt motivated when they received positive feedback. In the “other” category, a student reported, “I feel comfortable when I make mistakes and one of the members correct it, because I feel that there is someone takes care of me.”       

Adnan Figure 3

Figure 3: Students’ feelings about other members of the group (question 5).

The learners’ perceptions of the effectiveness of using the Facebook page for learning are shown in Figure 4 (question 7). Over 50% of the respondents said that the page helped them learn vocabulary and motivated them to learn and practice English. Over 40% felt that the page improved their social networking.

Adnan Figure 4

Figure 4: Effectiveness of using the Facebook page (question 7).

Responses to the Two Open-ended Questions
Two open-ended questions were posed in the survey. The first question asked the students about their most enjoyable experiences they had had on the page. The responses varied. However, the most common themes that emerged from the data include learning from discussions about language, sharing ideas with others, and giving and receiving feedback. Figure 5 presents an example on how students may learn from discussion on Facebook posted by one of the teachers. On the other hand, some respondents replied with “nothing in specific,” indicating that they did not enjoy using the page. The other question asked about the most unpleasant experience that students had on the page. The responses also varied but the most common themes were discussions about unfavorable topics such as politics, and misunderstanding among the group members due to cultural and ethnic differences.

Adnan Figure 5

Figure 5: Learning from discussions on Facebook

Findings from the Interview
The interview questions were quite focused and the responses were categorized and labeled. For example, responses to Q1 (How do you think students can use this FB page to practice English and learn new vocabulary?) were categorized as English practicing or vocabulary learning. Data patterns from responses to Q5 (Do you think this page is useful in helping you communicate with other students as well as with teachers? If so, how?) were categorized as communication with teachers or others. Due to the space limitations, I will only focus on the recurring themes that the questionnaire did not cover, and also those that reinforce the findings. The themes are Facebook for vocabulary learning, Facebook for socializing, and Facebook and WTC.

Facebook for vocabulary learning
The data gathered from the interviews suggest that Facebook is useful for learning new vocabulary. Muhannad commented that “I learn new vocabulary mainly when other members of the page post a new word or idiom.” Yousif suggested that not only through others’ posts does he learn new vocabulary, but also through their comments on his posts. He said, “When they comment on my post, I learn new vocabulary from their comments.” The findings reveal that the Facebook page helped students learn new vocabulary through their posts and also their friends’ posts.

Facebook for socializing
The Facebook group is considered a friendly environment that allows learners to socialize in English and learn about the second language culture, which is important given the limited opportunities they have elsewhere. Using this page for socializing, Ayman reported that “I have got many benefits from joining this page. First of all, to know people who are specialized in English helps me improve my language and learn about others’ culture.” Hani added that:

You know, in Iraq, there are not many places to speak English. For me, I have no opportunity to speak English   because my brothers do not speak English. So this page helps me not only improve my language but also learn about the culture when somebody posts about differences between languages and cultures.

Furat, the page administrator, concluded that “what is important on this page is to socialize in English. One of the regulations of the page is to speak only about language in English. It also includes knowledge exchange and culture exchange.” An example of the learning through interaction and socializing is illustrated in Figure 6.

 Adnan Figure 6

Figure 6: Interaction on Facebook

 

Muhannad said, “one day, a member of the page posted about Halloween. I didn’t know in detail what Halloween is, but when I read the post, it was very interesting to me.” The following figure is an example of learning about the second language culture.

Adnan Figure 7

Figure 7: Learning about culture on Facebook

Facebook and WTC
As for willingness to give and receive feedback on posts, the participants expressed their willingness to use the Facebook page for sharing ideas and knowledge, and also to learn from others. Hani reported “It motivates me to post something to teach others about a certain subject.” Muhannad added that “sharing ideas with others even if they do not agree with you is important because it makes you understand the way others think and behave so that you can behave accordingly.” When asked about willingness to communicate on Facebook, Yousif viewed it from a psychological point of view. He reported that “Of course I feel happy and willing to communicate more on this page if I see more ‘Likes’ or ‘Comments’ under my post.”

I believe that the interview data supplemented the questionnaire data in the sense that they supported findings from the questionnaire, such as the usefulness of Facebook for practicing English, and socializing. The respondents provided further insights and specific examples on the patterns emerging in the analysis concerning using the page for learning and socializing.

Discussion
This study investigated students’ perceptions of the benefits of using Facebook to practice their English communication skills. The results show that the students benefit mainly from using this page to practice their English, learn new vocabulary, and socialize with others. Additionally, students felt motivated and willing to learn more as a result of their interaction on this page, and also believed that the page is a place where they could give and receive feedback from others.

Research Question 1: What do students believe they gain from interacting in English on a Facebook page
Data from the interviews show that the page allowed the students to interact and learn new vocabulary from each others’ posts and comments. Participants also emphasized that this Facebook page was a good place to give and receive feedback on their language in general. Furthermore, students believed that the page gave them space to discuss topics of interest, socialize, and share knowledge. This view is consistent with Baran’s (2010) and Hayashi’s (2011) observations about Facebook as a forum for sharing knowledge in educational contexts. The students also reported that they could learn about other cultures, especially English culture, as discussed in Muhannad’s example earlier about Halloween.

Research Question 2: What social, psychological, and linguistic factors contribute to participants’ willingness to interact on a Facebook page?
The results of this study reveal that students interacted on this page and felt motivated to share knowledge with others and socialize in English. Baran (2010) suggests that learners are motivated to interact with their peers on Facebook. Motivation is reflected in students’ responses throughout the present survey. The findings show that a source of motivation lies in the prospects of learning about English culture, particularly when they could interact with a few native speakers of English who were members of the page, as Muhannad and Hani reported. They also reported that they made new friends with students from other levels.

As Yousif  reported, the number of likes and comments that a student receives from other members of the page also matters. One of the most interesting findings related to the psychological side was the fact that the more “likes” or “comments” are received, the more willing the student is to post and communicate on this page.

Another important factor that motivates students is the opportunity to learn new vocabulary. They also post questions about a certain text or any subject material, especially when they have an exam coming up, to learn.

Pedagogical Implications and Future Research
Using this Facebook page, learners became aware of the benefits resulting from interacting on this page. They could use it as a tool for sharing knowledge and discussing different academic language topics. Students can also use this page for peer evaluation through giving and receiving feedback on their academic material. It is also a place where they can practice their English and learn new words.

Teachers can use such a Facebook page as a platform for presenting and organizing their teaching materials. They can be members of the page and observe students’ improvement, strengths, challenges, and needs, and plan their lessons accordingly. The fact that teachers are members in the page can develop a type of interaction based on equality (Pittaway, 2004). Teachers can also post discussion topics and instructions for students. Students feel more comfortable and prepared if they are given the topic on Facebook and some time to prepare for class discussion (Hayashi, 2011). Furat, the group administrator, emphasized the importance of having teachers as members in the group. In fact, the students also wanted more teachers in the group to give them feedback.

For future research, one may take students’ various proficiency levels into consideration. This study did not consider proficiency. However, students of different proficiencies might have different perspectives or perceptions about the use of this page as a learning tool. What a low-proficiency student considers important might not be what a high-proficiency student considers important. This could explain why some students reported unpleasant experiences in addition to their enjoyable ones; they were more proficient. Further, the interviewees were all male members of the Facebook page. For future research, female members may be interviewed to investigate their perspectives on the page, taking cultural issues into consideration.

In summary, this study investigated the perceived benefits of interacting in English on a Facebook page. The results revealed that students think that there are benefits in using a Facebook page for socializing, sharing knowledge, giving and receiving feedback, and learning new words. Using this page also helped students become motivated and more willing to learn.

Acknowledgements
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Kathleen Bailey, my Applied Linguistics Research professor, Professor Peter De Costa, Professor JoDee Walters, Professor Heekyeong Lee, and Jock Wong, for their patience, guidance, encouragement and comments on earlier versions of this paper.

I am also grateful to Ali Albaroody, a friend and the Facebook group admin, for his help in the data collection process, and also to all members of the group who participated in this study.

I would also like to thank the staff of the Higher Committee for Education Development in Iraq (HCED), for their encouragement and support during my study abroad.

References
Baran, B. (2010). Facebook as a formal instructional environment. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(6), 146–149.

Harris, A. L., & Rea, A. (2009). Web 2.0 and virtual world technologies: A growing impact on IS education. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 137–144.

Hayashi, L. P. (2011). A learning story using Facebook. SiSAL Journal, 2(4), 309–316.

MacIntyre, P. D. (2007). Willingness to communicate in the second language: Understanding the decision to speak as a volitional process. The Modern Language Journal, 91(4), 564–576.

MacIntyre, P. D., Burns, C., & Jessome, A. (2011). Ambivalence about communicating in a second language: A qualitative study of French immersion students’ willingness to communicate. The Modern Language Journal, 95(1), 81–96.

Manan, N. A., Alias, A. A., & Pandian, A. (2012).Utilizing a social networking website as an ESL pedagogical tool in a blended learning environment: An exploratory study. International Journal of Social Sciences and Education. 2(1), 1–9.

Najafi, V., & Hashemi, M. (2011). Using blogs in English language writing classes. International Journal of Academic Research, 3(4), 599–604.

Pittaway, S. D. (2004). Investment and second language acquisition. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 1, 203–218.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web ools for classrooms. California, CA: Crowin.

Appendix 1: Survey Monkey Questionnaire
*1. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following: 1= Strongly agree, 2= Agree, 3= Somewhat agree, 4= Somewhat disagree, 5= Disagree, 6= Strongly disagree.

  • I use this Facebook page to learn how to be more social in English.
  • I use this Facebook page to learn more grammar.
  • I use this Facebook page to learn more vocabulary.
  • I use this Facebook page to see if my friends will correct me.
  • My English would not be as good if I didn’t use this Facebook page.
  • Using this Facebook page helps me learn more about my errors.
  • Using this Facebook page helps me improve my translation skills.
  • Using this Facebook page helps me improve my paraphrasing skills.
  • I have learned things on the Facebook page that have helped me in my classes and/or course work.
  • This Facebook page helps me build my confidence.

Likert-scale questionnaire data presented in detail
Adnan Appendix 1

2. Which year in school are you?

  • Freshman (1st year of college)
  • Sophomore (2nd year)
  • Junior (3rd year)
  • Senior (4th year)
  • MA student

3. How often do you visit this Facebook page? (Choose one.)

  • I seldom visit this page.
  • I visit this page once a week.
  • I visit this page one time a day.
  • I visit this page twice a day.
  • I visit this page more than two times a day.
  • Other (please explain)

*4. What do you use this page for? (Check all that apply.)

  • I use this page just for fun.
  • I use this page to be social.
  • I use this page to improve my grammar.
  • I use this page to learn new vocabulary.
  • I use this page to get feedback on my English.
  • I use this page to practice my English.
  • I use this page to give feedback to my friends.
  • I use this page to improve my translation skills.
  • I use this page because it is one of the only places where I can practice my English.
  • Other (please explain)

*5. How do you feel about other members of the page? (Check all that apply.)

  • I feel comfortable sharing my posts with others.
  • I feel embarrassed when other members see my errors.
  • I feel frustrated when someone in the page corrects the errors I make.
  • I proofread my posts before I post them to the page.
  • I do not care if I make errors others can see.
  • I like to get feedback on my posts.
  • I feel motivated when others give me positive feedback.
  • Other (please explain)

*6. Aside from this Facebook page, what have you used to practice your English in the past? (Check all that apply.)

  • Emails
  • Blogs
  • Cell phone text messages with friends
  • Computer software
  • Skype with native speakers of English
  • Chat online with native speakers of English
  • Other (please explain)

*7. Using this Facebook page ____________ (Check all that apply.)

  • is effective in improving my grammar.
  • is effective in improving my vocabulary.
  • is effective in improving my networking and social attitudes.
  • has a positive effect on my class assignments.
  • increases my willingness to use and learn more English.
  • is effective in improving my paraphrasing skills.
  • is effective in improving my translation skills.
  • Other (please explain)

*8. Using this Facebook page does NOT help me _____________ (Check all that apply.)

  • improve my speaking skills.
  • improve my listening skills.
  • improve my interpretation skills.
  • Other (please specify)

9. Tell about the most enjoyable experience you have had on this Facebook page.

*10. Tell about the most unpleasant experience you have had on this Facebook page?

Appendix 2: Phone Interview Questions
1. How do you think students can use this FB page to practice English and learn new vocabulary?
2. How useful is this page to you as a place for socializing with others?
3. Do you think that this page is useful for sharing knowledge? If so, how?
4. Does interaction on this page make you willing and comfortable to share with others and give and receive feedback? If so, how?
5. Do you think this page is useful in helping you communicate with other students as well as with teachers? If so, how?
6. How useful is this page for you to observe your and others’ progress in English?


About the author
AdnanbioAdnan Al-Hammody is a native of Mosul, Iraq. He earned his BA in Translation and Interpretation in Arabic and English from the University of Mosul in 2009. In May 2013, he graduated with an MA in TESOL from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and then returned to Iraq to teach English to college students.

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Bonding In and Beyond the Classroom: A Teaching and Learning Journey http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/bonding-in-and-beyond-the-classroom-a-teaching-and-learning-journey/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/bonding-in-and-beyond-the-classroom-a-teaching-and-learning-journey/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:45 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4003 by Brad Blackstone
Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore

Introduction
In The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, a work that many educators consider classic because of the way it positions teaching excellence not as a fixed point on some methodological map but as the ‘nexus’ between a teacher’s identity and integrity, Parker Palmer writes that

“… if we want to grow as teachers, we must do something alien to academic culture: We must talk to each other about our inner lives, risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract” (1998, p. 12).

The following narrative attempts exactly that, presenting a reflection on my own 30 plus years in classrooms around the globe, at the same time considering those influences I have found essential in helping me facilitate the sort of student development and interpersonal bonding that might underpin not just significant learning but also more meaningful communication.

Since one September day in 1978, I have been standing or sitting in classrooms encouraging learners, generally university students and strangers with each other, not just to consider me as ‘the teacher’ but also to bond with me and with each other in order to ‘learn with and among friends.’ For the most part, this has been a wonderful journey peopled with countless personalities from a variety of backgrounds looking for positive encounters and a pleasant, significant learning experience.

However, not every class was so positive. In my first decade or so of teaching, although even then I felt ‘born to teach’ and constantly made an effort at being friendly with students and creating a non-threatening and relaxed learning environment, the results were not always optimal. As I look back now, I realize that much of my early teaching was teacher-centered, and while over the years my focus became more learner-centered, it was not sufficiently ‘communication-centered,’ as Dewey suggested it should be (Biesta, in Hansen, 2006, p. 33).

In my first years of teaching English, while I might have intended on helping students lower interpersonal barriers and communicate meaningfully within class, I often did not maximize such potential because I did not fully appreciate the value of bonding. In fact, on a broader professional level, at that time I was only loosely aware of my own guiding teaching philosophy; I had yet to find a “theory to live by, a story that provides structure for the growth of the students and the teacher.” This, according to Rogers, is fundamental for any teacher who intends to effectively bridge theory, practice and self (2002, p. 849). The result was that while I might have understood the importance of bringing students together in classes that were essentially platforms for communication, bonding activities were not a central part of my classroom practice.

First steps and stumbles in creating classroom cohesion
In winter term, 1985, I was teaching an academic English writing course for post-graduates at Ohio State University (OSU). The class was rather odd in that the students were a very diverse group, including over a dozen students from nearly a dozen countries (Israel, Greece, India, Hong Kong and South Korea, among others), some of whom were in their twenties while others (mid-career professionals) in their thirties. One older student was a prim Korean schoolmaster who had come to OSU to pursue a graduate program in education administration. During the first lesson he introduced himself as ‘Mr. Lee,’ with a long and impressive resume, and I thought that he and I might bond because of our common interest in education. However, it soon became apparent that he was quite the stoic gentleman, given to long, indirect stares and few words, and one who invariably would wear a suit and tie to class. In contrast, I was the expressive sort, directly opinionated, and most likely to be wearing jeans and a collarless shirt. Perhaps it was not surprising that though we were both in graduate programs in education, he reacted apprehensively toward me.

Two others in the same class were a married Israeli couple. They were friendly, articulate and energetic, and enrolled in OSU’s Physical Education PhD program. With them all seemed well. However, there was a problem. The husband had come to OSU with a manuscript for what appeared to be a dissertation and apparently expected me to help him rewrite the entire document. Every page of the manuscript was virtually incomprehensible due to poor grammar, convoluted and inappropriate sentence structures and skewed organizational development. Eventually, I had to learn to give feedback without having to personally rewrite the guy’s thesis, which is the sort of ELT challenge that many English teachers have faced at least once in their careers.

During that same term, although I was largely uninformed of the sort of strategies that might have maximized a sense of belonging within the group that could have increased class participation and, ultimately, learning, still, I managed to effectively gain the confidence of Mr. Lee and the Israeli couple, assisting all three in the achievement of some of their English writing goals. This was pursued through guided conversations, coordinated activities and writing tasks with clear, negotiated outcomes. Helping them to bond with others in the class was not a high priority. Nonetheless, by the course end, I was able to witness Mr. Lee smiling, and I had gained credibility with the Israelis even as the husband’s expectations of my editing became tempered.

Such successes were eclipsed, however, by one resounding failure: My inability to connect with Mohammed, a young Palestinian post-grad engineering student, and to help him relate with others in the class. From the start, he had seemed aloof and embittered, perhaps because he had spent a lengthy period in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. At the same time, he seemed resentful that he was required to take a course he viewed as being beneath him, a situation faced by many students not clearing a university writing exam. Ironically, his skills were weaker than those of everyone else in the course, including the Israelis, whom he despised on the basis of political preconceptions.

Perceptions in such a situation mean everything, and it soon became clear that any effort at bonding with Mohammed would be resisted. In fact, I can still recall how after a number of unsuccessful attempts made by various members of the class at befriending this particular fellow, everyone quit trying. Soon the situation deteriorated. One morning I arrived to witness Mohammed in a boxer’s pose standing aggressively over the desk of an intimidated male Indian student who was on the verge of tears. Mohammed was demanding that the lad acquiesce to his critical, Arab-centric view of Middle East politics. The best I could do was to hastily intervene and negotiate an awkward peace. Unfortunately, residuals of tension between Mohammed and the rest of the class remained throughout the term.

Such a situation would never occur in one of my classes today. No matter what subject matter might be on the course syllabus, no matter the learners’ age level, study focus or socio-cultural background, now I enter the classroom first as a person who wants to know what the others in the room think, how they feel, what their motivation for learning is, and what apprehension they might have. I walk in the door ready to listen as my students share their ideas, opinions and even their ‘inner lives’ if they are willing to share. Of course, I am acutely aware of my responsibility as the fellow charged with leading the group on an English learning journey. But I also see myself as the one who needs to open the class to discussions of the affective dimension and to encourage self-discovery, interpersonal growth and life skills. Farrell (2011; 2013) mentions these varying teacher roles when he presents his ‘taxonomy of teacher identity’ within the context of systematic teacher reflection. His designation of the ‘teacher as manager’ is one part that in the past I could have easily related to, but the idea of ‘teacher as acculturator,’ including ‘subidentities’ as ‘socializer, social worker and caregiver’ might have been lost on me (2013, pp. 93-94).

With these roles in mind, today I would engage a student like Mohammed right from the start by talking to him after class or inviting him to chat in my office, all in an attempt to listen to his thoughts and better understand his feelings. With digital media available and through the use of pedagogical blogging (explained below), I could even encourage him to share some of his ideas in a free blog post, and I might nudge his more conciliatory classmates to respond as appropriately as possible, all in an effort to bring him closer to the group. Only after making an effort to gain trust from him would I mention his unfair stereotyping of the Israeli students and his general disregard for those who could not sympathize with his experience, areas that in 1985 I might have ignored. At that time, I had only minimally reflected on my general professional identity and on how more conscious decision-making and honest discussion could be utilized in a classroom management scheme.

Nearly 30 years ago, although I had in my possession a freshly minted MA in Language Education and could have differentiated between the various teaching methodologies and techniques du jour, I had little more than a superficial awareness of the impact that my students’ socio-cultural, cognitive and emotional selves might have had on their classroom interaction and learning. Topics such as student bonding had played no part in any of my graduate course discussions. Pertinent ideas such as social relatedness being the basis for ‘optimal human functioning’ (Madill, Gest & Rodkin, 2011) or the co-construction of knowledge being supported by socially ‘situated learning’ within a ‘community of practice’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991) had not yet been fully explored. As with many other English teachers at that time, much of my teaching and classroom management style was based on instinct and what I had learned in my prior experience as a student rather than being grounded on relevant theory and reflective practice.

Also typical at that time, students in my classes sat in rows, lecture-style, rather than in small groupings of desks and learners as I would arrange now. Moreover, though my students might have known each other by name, and they would have had opportunities to interact with their peers in activities such as peer reviews of writing, they would not have bonded with each other or with me as equally recognized members of the group since I was clearly ‘in charge.’ At that time, my role was mainly the ‘arbitrator’ (Farrell, 2011), whose primary focus in any lesson was given to delivering information, motivating students to learn and stay on task, and giving feedback. Strategies for having students engage the relevant content so that they might achieve desired performance outcomes were a matter of clear consideration, but I made little effort to design and implement activities that might have deepened students’ consideration for the others in the class. My usual approach was, “I’ll explain it and then let them develop a response.”

Forging ahead with teaching and learning
In May 1985, after leaving Ohio State, I moved to Malaysia to teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for a Malaysian government-sponsored American university-twinning program, Midwest Universities Consortium for International Assistance (MUCIA Project), fronted by Indiana University, Bloomington. There I encountered an even more serious challenge to my views in a situation that put my teacher-centered classroom at greater risk. The learners were uniformly Malay, many from rural villages, with pre-TOEFL scores for English in the 400-450 range (lower-intermediate to intermediate learners). Most importantly, many of them showed little understanding of the value for communicating in English in order to develop better functional skills; they were seemingly content to let the teacher lead them. For various cultural reasons, including a tendency for not appearing outgoing in front of their peers, the Malay students were satisfied never to raise a hand or express their opinions in class. Outside class, they returned to their first language. Clearly, English study was a tedious, solitary concern. Yet, ironically, the goal was to prepare them for full study in an American university curriculum within six months!

It was during this situation in Malaysia in the late 80s and then in a similar American university-twinning program in Japan in the 1990s that I realized that my previous teacher-centric approach needed to be supplemented with other methods. To deal more effectively with students in such a situation, my understanding of teaching and learning had to broaden. As a result, I began to explore alternatives to the traditional classroom structure and to employ new teaching strategies, some garnered from work with more experienced colleagues and others reported in literature. At this time, a number of paradigm shifts (Richards & Renandya, 2002) were taking place in education. One that has since been called the ‘soft communicative approach’ (The New School, 2012) had been evolving toward more student-centered learning (SCL) in league with an emphasis on cooperative learning through theme-focused, task-based work (Nunan, 1988; Slavin, 1995). Engaging students through team work and group projects that required them to interact with their peers and work toward a common goal became standard practice.

At the same time, I minimized the lecture-style, with my class sessions evolving into workshop-like environments. Within such a shift, I developed and taught content-based, integrated skills courses in areas such as business communication, the history of science, the sociology of deviance and Southeast Asian history, determined by needs analyses of content course faculty members. Both in the MUCIA Project and, later, in the Japan programs, students had a voice in selecting theme-related research topics that they would explore by searching for and reading text materials, watching related videos and analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing the content encountered, all the while taking note of relevant language features as they produced peer taught lessons, individual and group papers and oral presentations, debates and even dramatic productions. As I stepped away from the classroom’s center stage and encouraged each student to become more actively engaged with their peers in facilitating the various activities of each lesson, there was a palpable change in the classroom dynamics. The classroom setting, once dull and quiet, had become busy and noisy. With my teaching approach increasingly focused on cooperative learning, student energy levels heightened, a greater sense of togetherness and apparent friendships developed, and more open interest in learning appeared.

At that time, it was also becoming increasingly obvious that in league with more one-on-one social bonding there was an enhanced sense of ‘class group,’ which was often commemorated at the end of study terms with group photos and class parties. This was in stark contrast to what I recall from my teaching days at OSU.

Bonding in The Digital Age
In Malaysia and then in Japan, my experience showed that students were highly motivated to work cooperatively on tasks, share responsibility and assist each other in learning. Through this period it also became clearer to me that students were aware of how this sort of interaction, with authentic bonding at its core, would not only make a class more enjoyable but also benefit their English skills development. Coincidentally, just as my use of task-based activities within a cooperative learning framework became the norm, my university in Japan expanded its computer lab and the Internet became accessible, professional discussions of the value of computer-assisted language learning became more commonplace, and my students started appearing with their own computers. The stage was set for a personal revolution in teaching and learning.

In 2005, just before I left Japan for teaching in Singapore, a colleague introduced me to a computer-mediated element that he had been experimenting with in his classes: blogging. By the time I left Japan for Singapore in 2007, pedagogical blogging had assumed a central place in my instructional toolbox, and with it, yet another platform that would allow me to encourage significant social bonding within my classes.

By now, blogging is a well-known instructional device, one that has served me and many other educators. Blogging for pedagogical purposes is a simple matter of having each student set up an individual blog and post academic writing assignments on it. What can make this process cooperative, ‘group-based’ and a perfect conduit for social bonding is the requirement that my students have of also providing critical comments on their classmates’ posts, and then responding via feedback to such commentary on their own posts. This is made more feasible when students are ‘trained’ in the sort of comments that are expected once they have been given a rubric of criteria on the content, organization and language use. Other important components of my approach to class blogging include segmenting each tutorial section into subsections, or ‘blogging groups,’ whereby group members act as their peers’ regular readers and commentators, and the ‘blogging buddy,’ a student partner who critiques a classmate’s post before it is posted online (Blackstone, Spiri & Naganuma, 2007).

Pedagogical blogging such as that described above may seem ‘forced,’ and the resulting communication and bonding inauthentic. However, when implemented with an emphasis on social sharing rather than online diary writing, blogging becomes more cooperative and provides a platform for ‘legitimate peripheral participation,’ which Herrington and Oliver sum up as follows: “As learning and involvement in the culture increase, the participant moves from the role of observer to fully functioning agent. Legitimate peripheral participation enables the learner to progressively piece together the culture of the group and what it means to be a member” (1995, para. 2).

It is precisely through ‘membership’ in the class’s various social groupings (by acting simultaneously as a blogging buddy, within the blogging subgroup, and in the class group at large) that each student has ample opportunity to develop bonds within an authentic ‘community of practice.’ Central to this is the student assuming different roles in different situations, at times acting as ‘an expert,’ with the more digitally informed teaching others how to set up a blog, for example, and at other times, being the ‘novice,’ as might happen when one gains critical feedback from others on some inaccurate use of grammar or misconceptions about content.

A short overview of the writing activities and topics I used in a professional communication course may make the potential that blogging has for encouraging that sense of membership in the group and greater student bonding clearer. The first blog assignment was for students to write 250-300 words on why effective communication was important for them. This would be posted on their individual blog. They also needed to respond in writing to at least three classmates’ posts, including those of two members from their blogging group. For that first post, I would typically ask that the theme focus be made as specific as possible to the student’s own perceived needs and deficiencies, personally and professionally, and that it be written in reference to some of the main content topics taken from the course syllabus: interpersonal and intercultural communication, nonverbal skills, oral presentation skills and professional writing. I would also suggest that when giving feedback, students look for and comment on similarities and differences between their peer’s ideas and what they themselves had written. In this way, though the writing often would be reflective and “personal,” it was initiated as an act of sharing.

The second blog post, with the same word limit, was assigned in conjunction with a unit on interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence. The task required students to present an interpersonal conflict scenario, with a description of the characters involved and possible background assumptions and motivations that underpinned the problem. Peers were then asked to respond to the scenario with suggestions on strategies for possible resolution, on the basis of what had already been discussed in the course. A subsequent post, assigned in conjunction with a unit on intercultural communication, asked students to describe an intercultural scenario, with a clear portrayal of differing values, beliefs and norms.

Each of these topics lent itself to meaningful interactions as the student writers developed a more acute sense of their own voice and of audience expectations, and then, when acting as post readers, asked for clarification, compared the scenarios their classmate had written about with their own cultural experiences, or suggested other viewpoints for the post writer to consider, all the while honing interpersonal skills such as empathy and courtesy by giving complements and extending thanks to their peers.

What made these assignments socially significant was the fact that, post-by-post, students gained greater familiarity with one another on various levels. In fact, during the first week of the term, even before many students had spoken with each other in class, they could have interacted via the blogs they had set up. In this way the blogging provided a sort of ‘cyber-social icebreaker.’ One former student, a self-proclaimed introvert, wrote that blogging for the course had served her socializing with peers particularly well because then she “didn’t have to feel weirded out or too ‘forward’ about interacting with them in person during in-class activities” (A. Pathi, personal communication, January 10, 2013). Indeed, by the second or third post, many students would be writing to their classmates in great detail, providing feedback, for instance, on their peers’ posts that exceeded in word count the length of their own initial post. Some, after receiving critical peer feedback, would leave lengthy responses to each person who had visited their blog post.

From many years of reading student blog posts on the themes mentioned above, one of my most lasting impressions is that the majority of students respond to a greater number of classmates’ posts than the three comments I typically require. In fact, in many of my most recent professional communication classes, students would comment on the posts of most of their blogging group members and on those of a good number of their other peers for any given assignment. (I have even had students who made a point of giving feedback to every classmate.)

Students collaborating in a professional communication course

Studies show that this computer-mediated approach to facilitating written interactions provides great potential for helping students better understand course concepts and for their practice of critical thinking and writing skills. What seems to have not been investigated is the way that blogging impacts interpersonal relationships, underpinning camaraderie throughout an entire study term.

Ultimately, student impressions have corroborated my positive experience with these blogging elements and processes. Anonymous student feedback, both qualitative and quantitative, from term-end surveys conducted on the blogging activities in my classes in Japan and in my EAP and communication courses at the National University of Singapore has regularly supported this opinion. For example, from the surveys I learned that while not all students liked writing, a large percentage typically expressed satisfaction with posting their writing on their blog. Many enjoyed giving feedback to others about their writing, while they were nearly unanimous in viewing the feedback that they would receive on their posts as useful for their learning. Though it might be difficult to argue definitively that significant development of writing skills occurred as a result of blogging, student feedback also consistently revealed that my charges were convinced that their writing and other communication skills did improve thanks to the blogging.

As for the impact of blogging on bonding, nearly every student who has blogged in my courses over the last ten years voiced the opinion that they were able to form closer bonds with their classmates and with me thanks to the course blogging regime. Personally, I saw evidence of this impact not just in student survey feedback but also in the widespread student appreciation shown throughout our daily interactions.

Final thoughts
Reflecting broadly on my professional development during this teaching and learning journey, I will suggest that what has been most essential has been my role as a socially active participant. Within the framework of Farrell’s ‘taxonomy of experienced teacher identity’ (2011; 2013), I have served often as a ‘manager,’ one who variously:

i.    acts as a ‘vendor’ by ‘selling’ each of the platforms that I utilize in my classes and their capacity for elevating communication skills and bringing us all together;
ii.   performs as an ‘arbitrator’ by giving extensive feedback (on the blog posts and elsewhere), both positive and more critical;
iii.  works as a ‘motivator’ to keep the class members on task and inspired to learn, in and out of cyberspace; and
iv.  as a ‘presenter’ of my own knowledge of the world, within the context of my lectures, my own blog posts, class discussions and as a commentator on the ideas and opinions of others.

However, among these and other roles, perhaps it has been my ‘professional learner’ self that has been most engaged, ever seeking to widen my understanding of the places I have been and the people I have met and worked with through this craft of teaching. Among the many insights gathered, I have been fortunate to learn how to establish even stronger connections with a greater number of my students, on a level that better supports their individual wants and needs in a way that has been personally enriching beyond description.

If it is true that the decentralized classroom dynamic can empower students, then a more comprehensive recognition by any teacher of their teaching identity and various capacities can only enhance more significant bonding with ‘others,’ as a fully acknowledged member of a consciously interconnected social group. My only regret as I retrace some of my earlier teaching steps is that I cannot return to the past to ‘re-identify’ with Mohammed and other students who I did not get to know and serve as well as I might have, while repositioning our interpersonal narrative by redefining my own.

Farrell states that “Over their careers teachers construct and reconstruct (usually tacitly) a conceptual sense of who they are (their self-image) and this is manifested through what they do (their professional role identity)” (2011, p. 54). My aim in this narrative has been to chart a path of personal discovery and interpersonal development and to show how ‘bonding’ has been central to that process. Hopefully, this reflection on the bonding initiatives that have evolved within my classes together with the means of communication that I have aspired to extend within groups of my students will resonate with and inspire others on their own teaching journey.

References
Blackstone, B., Spiri, J., & Naganuma, N. (2007). Blogging in English language teaching and learning: Pedagogical uses and student responses.  Reflections on English Language Teaching, 6(2).

Dewey, J. (1963). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books.

Farrell, T. (2011).  Exploring the professional role identities of experienced ESL teachers through reflective practice. Systems, 39(1), pp. 54-62.

Farrell, T. (2013). Reflective practice in ESL teacher development groups: From practices to principles. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (1995). Critical characteristics of situated learning: Implications for the instructional design of multimedia. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne95/smtu/papers/herrington.pdf

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Madill, R., Gest, S., & Rodin, P.  (2011). Students’ perceptions of social relatedness in the classroom: The roles of student-teacher interaction quality, children’s aggressive behaviors, and peer rejection. 2011 SREE Conference.

Nunan, D. (1988). The learner-centered curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Palmer, P. (1998).  The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Richards, J., & Renandya, W. (2002). Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rogers, C. (June, 2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers College Record, 104(4), p. 842-866.

Slavin, R. (1995). Cooperative learning: Theory, research and practice. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

The New School. (2013, July 22). Communicative Language Teaching: Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury. Retrieved from http://www.artistswave.com/videofeed/hoUx036IN9Q

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brad_3About the author
Brad Blackstone is Senior Lecturer in the Centre for English Language Communication at the National University of Singapore and Chief Editor of eltworldonline.com. He began teaching 35 years ago, first as a graduate student in Russian at Ohio State University. Since the 80s, he has worked in university EAP and English writing programs in the USA, Portugal, Malaysia, Japan and now Singapore. He also has experience in corporate and teacher training throughout Asia. His recent presentations and publications focus on using social media in teaching and learning.

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Motivation-based Bonding Activities in an EFL Writing Classroom: A Case Report from Mainland China http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/motivation-based-bonding-activities-in-an-efl-writing-classroom-a-case-report-from-mainland-china/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/motivation-based-bonding-activities-in-an-efl-writing-classroom-a-case-report-from-mainland-china/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:41 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4023 by Xinghua (Kevin) Liu
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

Introduction
Bonding, the theme of this special issue which, for the purpose of this issue, refers to “the process of minimizing social distances and maximizing a sense of belonging among students in a class with the purpose of creating a friendly, non-threatening and relaxed atmosphere conducive for learning,” contributes to the cohesion of a classroom group and catalyzes the success of classroom teaching and learning. A bonding process draws in a number of variables, such as teaching and learning cultures, teaching and learning styles and teachers’ and students’ motivation. However, from my experience as an English teacher in the UK and China, motivating students, over other factors, creates a particularly positive classroom learning atmosphere and a bond between teachers and students. In short, motivational activities have a bonding effect. In this paper, I would like to share with readers my experience in creating a bond with my students and introduce a number of motivational measures I took in my 2013 EFL writing classes in mainland China and how they have led to bonding. In the following section, I will first sketch the theoretical framework from which I have designed these motivating activities.

Process-approach motivating teaching practice
One of the methods that I found useful and user-friendly for ELT purposes is the process-approach motivational teaching practice proposed by Dörnyei (2001), the components of which are shown in Figure 1. Dörnyei holds that this motivational practice is a dynamic process involving inter-related motivational strategies at various stages in the course of teaching, which normally starts from the “initial arousal” of motivation, namely the stage of “Creating the basic motivational conditions” and completes with the evaluation of motivated action, namely the stage of “Encouraging positive retrospective self-evaluation” (Dörnyei, 2001, p.28). Of course, as Dörnyei emphasizes, it is not necessary or sensible to stick to this sequencing or apply strategies within all the four stages. Instead, it is advisable to select motivational strategies appropriate to the specific classroom context.

Figure 1. The components of motivational teaching practice in the L2 classroom (adapted from Dörnyei, 2001, p.29).

Xinghua_blog_article

Within each of the four stages in this step-wise framework, many hands-on motivational strategies have also been suggested for language teachers. Largely drawing on this framework, I designed a couple of motivational activities, which have implications for bonding with my classes. As language teaching and learning happen in a cultural context, I will discuss briefly in the next section some cultural information about the EFL students I taught.

Contextual information of the EFL writing class
I taught a year-long course, Intermediate English Writing, for about 100 second year English major students from Shanghai Jiao Tong University from September, 2013. The basic aim of this course was to acquaint students with some fundamental knowledge of English writing for specific genres. In particular, the curriculum required students to know concepts such as purpose and audience in English writing and techniques in writing narrative and argumentative essays before they took Advanced English Writing Course, taught by native English-speaking teachers in year three and four, which mainly dealt with writing for academic purposes and special purposes.

Motivational practice
In this section, I will introduce some motivational bonding activities that I used in the 2013 autumn term. As mentioned, these activities were inspired by Dörnyei’s (2001) framework as shown previously in Figure 1.

Creating the basic motivational conditions
There is much truth in the Chinese saying that a good beginning is half way on the route to success. Because developing a personal bonding relationship with students is a “gradual process” (Dörnyei, 2001, p.36), it is wise to start this journey right from the first session. On the very first day of class, I introduced a warming-up self-introduction activity to “break the ice.”

It is routine for me to ask students to give a self-introduction in the first session, but I found two things that made this activity more interesting. One is to ask students to talk about their most recent life experience. As our students just came back from summer vacation (July to August) and compulsory military training (late August), I found them eager to share with others what they did during these times.

Another method is to encourage students to perform. In each class, there are always students who mention in their self-introduction that they like singing or dancing. Whenever this happened, I would ask those who looked daring to perform for the class. In the class in question, most of the students happily accepted the invitation to sing or dance. This performance was welcomed by warm applause and wild laughter from their fellow classmates. From that very moment, it was obvious that all nervousness and tension disappeared.

Generating initial motivation
Dörnyei (2001, p.51) emphasizes the importance of initiating students’ motivation to learn.

Unless you are singularly fortunate with the composition of your class group, student motivation will not be automatically there and you will need to try and actively generate positive student attitudes towards learning.”

In the first session, after the self-introductions, I let students watch a TED video to arouse their interest and build up their confidence in English writing. In this video, the speaker Matt Cutts talks about trying something new for 30 days, and emphasizes that the newly-set objectives do not all have to be grand or serious, and what matters is the process of developing and improving skills. The overall theme of the video is encouraging, thought-provoking and funny. However, the most relevant thing for my writing class was Cutts’ anecdote on his personal writing experience. By persisting on writing 1,667 words a day, he succeeded in producing his 50,000-word novel from scratch in 30 days. This story reflected the core values of my writing class: practice and persistence as keys to writing success.

I remember when the first session was over, one student approached me and said, “I really enjoyed your class and it was very interesting and stimulating. I shall try my best to learn English Writing well.” What inspiring feedback for me!

Maintaining and protecting motivation
One prominent element in Dörnyei’s (2001) model (see Figure 1) is the “actional stage” designed to “nurture” students’ motivation (Dörnyei, 2001, p.71). Dörnyei observes that in the course of learning, “the natural tendency to lose sight of the goal, to get tired or bored of the activity and to give way to attractive distractions will result in the initial motivation gradually petering out.” Hence, it is imperative to have “a set of new motivational influences come into the force” in order to maintain and protect students’ motivation. For this purpose, various activities were used.

If a teacher teaches a large number of students, say more than 100 students, it would be a challenge to try to remember all their names. In the last autumn term, apart from the 100 or so students in the writing class, I also taught General English to another group of 60 students. Concurring with Dörnyei (2001, p.38) that to “greet students and remember their names” are “small gestures that do not take up much time which can convey personal attention and can touch the lives of every student in some way,” I was determined to remember students’ names by having a name-list with students’ recent photos.

On the first session, I asked students to give their recent photos to the class monitor who then prepared a class name-list with their photos. With the help of this name list, I got to remember our students’ names easier and quicker. Remembering students’ names helped me monitor their performance. Most importantly, in a long run, it builds trust and creates bonding relationship between teacher and students.

One motivational strategy suggested by Dörnyei (2001) is to make the teaching materials relevant for the learners. To this end, I paid particular attention to designing the writing topics and tried to make them related with “the subject matter to the everyday experiences and backgrounds of the students” (Dörnyei, 2001, p.66). To be more specific, I mainly referred to Zheng’s (2008) book Write to Learn for topics to write about. The idea was to encourage students to write long essays on the given topic. This approach seemed useful in generating students’ interest in writing and maintaining their motivation. The resultant effect is reduced students’ resistance to writing tasks and thus bonding relationship between the teacher and students. Topics I chose from the book include: a story about a sum of unexpected money; a new flavor to life; a story with an unexpected ending; introducing a festival; the profits of doing something.

Encouraging positive retrospective self-evaluation
At the end of the teaching circle, Dörnyei (2001) suggests providing motivational feedback to students to “prompt the learner to reflect constructively on areas that need improvement and identify things that he/she can do to increase the effectiveness of learning” (Dörnyei, 2001, p.123). The most distinguishing feature of this feedback is to provide students with “information rather than judgements against external standards or peer achievement” (Dörnyei, 2001, p.124), which can reduce language learners’ anxiety over their own performance and ease tension from peer pressure, contributing to bonding in the classroom. To provide feedback, I held one-on-one meetings with all the students at the end of the term.

In the last three weeks of the term, I met with each student individually. The objective was to give them an opportunity to talk about their writing. Before each tutoring session, they were asked to prepare a summative statement describing their individual achievements, progress, attitudes and difficulties in English writing. Each student came to the meeting with a folder containing all the writing assignments they did. While presenting their summative statement which had been prepared in advance, each student was also encouraged to support their statement with evidence taken from their writing portfolio. I took notes while listening to each student and tried to answer all their questions.

For me, the meeting was an opportunity to examine each student’s work and listen to their reflections. For the students, it was an opportunity to receive individual attention from the teacher and have their questions about writing answered. Overall, the activity offered a gold opportunity for me to establish personal rapport with students. I noticed that each student left the meeting happy and contented.

Summary
Of the many factors that contribute to successful English language teaching and learning, bonding between teachers and students, and among students, plays a very fundamental and important role in creating cohesion. From my teaching experience, I see bonding as the end product and motivating students as the process.

What I have presented above are some of the motivational and bonding activities that I have designed on the basis of Dörnyei’s (2001) dynamic model of motivational teaching practice and used in my English language writing classroom in a Chinese university. These activities were well received by my students.

However, it is worth pointing out that language teaching takes place in a cultural context and not all teaching practice/strategies are readily applicable to another cultural context. Therefore, it is always advisable to evaluate carefully the teaching practice discussed in this paper before using them in a different cultural context.

References
Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

TED Talks (6th September, 2013). Try Something New for 30 Days [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days.html.

Zheng, C. (2008). Write to learn. Beijing: Science Press.

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About the author
Xinghua Liu_blog
Xinghua (Kevin) Liu is Lecturer of Applied Linguistics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, and the Chief Editor of TESOL Journal (published by Asian EFL Journal group). He obtained his PhD degree in 2012 from the University of Reading, United Kingdom. His research interests include second language acquisition, systemic functional linguistics, corpus linguistics and psycholinguistics. 

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Learning With and From Peers http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/learning-with-and-from-peers/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/learning-with-and-from-peers/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:35 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4086 by Julia Eka Rini
Petra Christian University, Indonesia

Introduction
In the Cambridge Online Dictionary, a ‘bond’ is defined as a close connection joining two or more people. Many would argue that students can learn better when their teacher and classmates support them; therefore, bonding should be created between the teacher and the students and also among students.

Bonding can be created through telling humorous stories, having motivating sessions, encouraging student sharing, and applying the principle that teaching is also learning. I usually use these approaches in the English Department when I teach undergraduate students in courses such as the speaking classes or the seminar class for the undergraduate thesis.

Humorous stories
I usually make use of the first day of class to create bonding between me, as their teacher, and my students. Bonding can be created on the first day by using humorous stories related to the students themselves. When I taught speaking class for the first semester students, I asked some of them questions about the English lessons in their high schools. After introducing my name and calling each student’s name from the attendance list, I usually ask the students to tell in English a funny experience from their high school. I give them the following instructions: 1) Mention first your name, your high school, and the town or the city you are from, and 2) tell a funny experience from your high school. In turn, I also tell a humorous story related to the students. In this way the bonding between my students and I can be created from the very beginning.

Throughout the semester, telling humorous stories or funny experiences can be used to encourage students’ participation in class. Once, I had the chance to teach a speaking class where all students were the ones who had failed the earlier term. Fellow teachers had characterized these students as quiet. I told these students that the first time I listened to a native speaker, for the first ten minutes, I only understood the words, “had a heart attack.” Based on this phrase only, I had asked one question to the person I was talking to and then asked another question based on my limited comprehension. I said to the students that I had managed to have a conversation with the person although my comprehension was limited. I told the story in a funny way and the students laughed. Laughing together makes a teacher appear to be on the level of the students. Because of the idea of the teacher being at the same level with them, the students, especially the weak ones, gain confidence and do not hesitate to participate; they become less afraid to make mistakes. Laughing together is a good way to maintain teacher-student bonding.

Motivating session(s)
Students in that same speaking class, fellow teachers told me, were often absent. They were in the fifth semester, but they were still taking the speaking class of semester three. I decided to ask each one of these students why they had enrolled in the English Department. It turned out that each of them had his or her own goal in their lives that had nothing to do with studying English. So, after all students had spoken, I asked them how English could be useful in their dream profession later on. During that discussion, each of them realized how they could use English in their dream job. They did not say something explicit about how they liked my class, but none of them were as absent during the semester as they had previously been. All of them passed the speaking class. A motivating session in the first class meeting can be used in teaching to help learners, especially if many students are not motivated in studying English. Throughout the semester in that same speaking class, I allocated several minutes to relate the topic discussed on that day with the students’ dream jobs. I asked them to describe more specifically what they could do in their work later. I asked two or three students to give more information during each class meeting. In a semester when there were fourteen meetings, in a class of fifteen students, each student could relate the topic discussed with their lives at least twice in the semester.

Teaching is learning
Besides bonding between teacher and students, the bonding among peers is very important, especially if there is a big English proficiency gap between the strong students and the weaker ones. Once, I taught a speaking class in the second semester, and two out of the seven students rarely talked. If I asked these two students to talk, they just smiled or shook their head. In that kind of situation, I decided to pair the talkative and the quiet students.

Before pairing the students, firstly, I emphasize to the good students that learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin. Teaching is learning. Giving the chance to the strong students to teach the weak students will make the strong students even better students. I tell the strong students that the weak students might ask them questions that they had never thought of or tell them problems that they have never had. Therefore, in trying to answer the weak students’ questions or by listening to the weak students’ problems, the strong students will obtain something valuable from the weak students. In that way, the strong students will not hesitate in teaching the weak students. In other words, a helpful, give-and-take atmosphere is created instead of a competitive one; teaching (read: giving) is learning (read: taking). To the weak students I emphasize that learning from their peers is fun because learning with peers will enable them to tell their difficulties and problems within the new language freely.

Secondly, I explain to the more proficient students that their being strong students actually lies in their ability to make others improve and to help others to be stronger students. It is actually part of the strong students’ responsibility to make the weak students successful in learning. I tell these same students that their being successful rests on their effort to make the passive students talk. If the passive student does not want to talk, the more proficient student should ask him/her questions to help him/her speak. For example, if the task for a class is telling an experience, and the weak student just keeps quiet, the proficient student should ask the partner questions like, “Do you want to talk about a good experience or a bad one?”

After this question has been answered, the next question asked could be, “When did it happen?” Usually after two or three questions are presented, the weak student tries to talk. When he or she is quiet again, the good student could help by asking questions at the point where the weak student got stuck.

The next point I explain to students is that they can question me if both in the pair do not know how to express in English what they want to say. I explain that they are allowed to express themselves in Bahasa Indonesia if need be. For example, a student might ask: “How do you say ‘______(Indonesian)’ in English.” Then, I ask the more proficient student to tell his/her experience and ask the weaker student to ask questions related to the peer’s experience. We usually practice this until the weak students are ready to talk without the step-by-step questions.

In final exams, when I ask students to pick their own speaking partner, they often choose the same partner. This indicates that pairing the weaker and stronger students is helpful. However, I do think that this approach would not be successful without explaining to the more proficient students first that helping their peers is an advantage for themselves, that helping weaker students makes them more creative because they have to look for solutions to problems they never think of.

Another good way to encourage students to talk with each other is by asking them to share their difficulties and personal problems— not only the ones related to their study, but also the ones related to other areas of life. Before this sharing, I also suggest that the students consider an issue that is not too private, and that they should not simply gossip about something they have heard in class. Through this experience I find that the students often share similar difficulties, volunteering to follow up by saying “I have a similar problem to you.”

Through such pairings, less proficient students are encouraged to talk; they even begin to not hesitate to raise their hands to ask questions in class, although there may still be grammatical mistakes in their expressions. In such a situation, more proficient students become ‘the milestone,’ while the weaker students can be inspired by them. This method encourages the weak students to ‘do a little more and walk a little farther.’ If ‘the distance’ is too far, the weak students might be in despair.

The principle of learning through teaching also works for students taking the seminar class in which they have to write a proposal for their final projects. In a class of about fifteen students, each student has his or her own topic, but I usually group them according to the topics that are ‘thematically close.’ For example, students who want to write about grammatical errors in writing or speaking can be in one group. I then ask the members of each group to read each respective proposal within the same group, to write comments and critiques for their peers, and also to share related literature. In this way, in general, they are encouraged to help others (a way to create bonding); in particular, they learn to be more critical toward their own proposals later on.

Conclusion
To conclude, bonding is necessary not only among peers, but also between the teacher and the students in a classroom. Bonding will occur if the students feel relaxed, gain each other’s trust and develop the idea that students of varying proficiency levels all have something to gain from interacting with one another.

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About the author
rini_2Julia Eka Rini has been teaching in the English department of Petra Christian University in Surabaya, Indonesia, since 1992. Her main research interests are language acquisition and translation. Her presentations and articles are mostly directed in these two areas. She has been a professional translator and simultaneous interpreter since 1984.

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Lessons from the Way Teachers and Students Bond in a Japanese Higher Education Situation http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/lessons-from-the-way-teachers-and-students-bond-in-a-japanese-higher-education-situation/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/lessons-from-the-way-teachers-and-students-bond-in-a-japanese-higher-education-situation/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:33 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4038 by Glenn Toh
Tamagawa University, Japan

Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the students and the students-of-the teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers.  The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach (Freire, 2000, p. 80).

Authentic education is not carried on by “A” for “B” or by “A” about “B,” but rather by “A” with “B,” mediated by the world – a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views and opinions about it (Freire, 2000, p. 93).

Introduction
I came to Japan in 2007, where I am now a long-term resident by way of marriage. Over my seven years in Japan, I have learnt a lot about how teachers and students bond with each other. I will discuss what I have observed of teaching practices in my workplace with reference to literature on bonding in the Japanese classroom. I will also discuss strategies that can be used to promote bonding that are particularly relevant to the socio-cultural realities of the Japanese situation, but which can also be extended to other teaching contexts and cultures. My discussion will include observations on how such professional exposure and experience have helped my praxis as language teacher, specifically in relation to the facilitation of greater involvement, empowerment and participation among students. The sharing of my observations and experiences is very much influenced by my belief that education plays an important part in the humanization of society (Freire, 2000).

Some contextual background about bonding the Japanese way
In the course of teaching English to undergraduates at a university in Tokyo, I came to know about the legendary high school teacher, Takeshi Hashimoto, who, in the years after the Second World War, was eminently ahead of his time as a quiet but firm believer in getting students to think deeply through contemporary issues and promoting media literacy and critical thinking (Ito, 2010). He was very patient. He never hurried through his lessons and always found time for bonding. By bonding the class, he could help them build the self-confidence that they needed to express their opinions while engaging in deeper thought.

Hashimoto was a good teacher. He organized student kenkyukai (research group) meetings in his home, where his wife served sukiyaki to the often hungry students. He went out of his way to make learning experiential. He brought old Meiji style snacks to class so that they could understand abstract descriptions from literature produced in the Meiji period (Ito, 2010). Hashimoto valued his students as people and kept in touch with many of his former students. He even sent a student who moved to another district his preparatory notes and continued doing so until the student graduated from junior high school at the age of fifteen. Many of his students became successful people in business, industry and politics. He lived to a ripe old age of 98 and died only last year, in 2013.

I have learnt from Hashimoto (even if I have not met him) and other colleagues that bonding comes in the form of harmony and consideration. Both of these qualities are useful in building long-lasting relationships. Strong bonds can last beyond school. Kindergarten teachers are known, for instance, to visit the primary schools where their former-students are studying on special occasions to show their support and to demonstrate the fact that former students are not forgotten. Acts like these are a reminder of Lin’s (2010) description of the way she remembered good teachers long after she left school, teachers whose personalities and teaching strategies made an impact in her life.

The seminar as a place for bonding
In my own department, the Department of Comparative Cultures, I teach in a zemi [ゼミ] for 3rd and 4th year students. The Japanese university zemi functions both as a ‘home group’ as well as a tutorial group for students interested in a particular area of study or research. Zemi teachers are required to prepare materials, lead discussions and supervise graduating students in dissertation writing. Zemi teachers also function as academic confidantes and advisors. Establishing channels for communication and teacher-student bonding is an integral part of the work of a zemi teacher. My zemi is targeted at students interested in discursive constructions of culture, in particular, cultural discourses and representations enacted in different varieties of English.

Most of the zemis in my department are conducted in Japanese, while mine is conducted in English. The students in my zemi are actually EFL students. Hence, an interesting aspect of my zemi is that part of my contact time involves elements of teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP), including academic writing, aspects of critical reading as well as academic literacies.

In terms of bonding, a special tradition for zemis is the yearly zemi trip during summer break. In Japan, travel agencies and hotels offer special seminar packages to universities in the surrounding areas. Such packages include accommodation, transport and in most cases, meals. Depending on each particular package, student favorites like barbeques and buffets are advertised as attractions, with the implication that meal times are good opportunities for teacher-student interaction. Weeks before a zemi trip, students prepare for it eagerly.

My first zemi trip proved to be a valuable lesson in bonding for me. It enabled me to see how students came with ready hearts to relate, contribute and learn. There were 8 students in my zemi, all in their final year except for one who was in her 3rd year. Final-year students routinely face the daunting challenges of job-hunting, pressurizing interviews and long-drawn job briefings. For the final-year students, this was going to be their final study retreat before entering the real world of employment, overseen by a very different (and much more hierarchical) culture.

On the first of our 3-day retreat, we headed for the Izu Peninsula, famous for its steep cliffs and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. I had with me reading materials, including some Southeast Asian short stories. I was going to tell these stories and invite responses from students during the retreat.

I could feel the students’ enthusiasm when we arrived. While they were usually more reserved in class, they were unusually social during the retreat. They were constantly talking about things which included tales of job hunting, trips abroad as volunteers in Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh, challenges faced with working part-time while still studying. They also shared with each other their hopes, worries, and aspirations. These topics soon found their way into written accounts after the trip.

Eventually, we had a collection of short stories and vignettes which we put up for exhibition at the next university open-campus festival. I believe that the quality of the written pieces was the outcome of the time and opportunity for deeper sharing and expression during the retreat. This experience exemplifies what academic literacy scholars have noted about how writing is a socio-constructive activity that is situated, intertextual, resonant and dialogic (Russell, 1997; Prior, 1998), which is very much in keeping with the present discussion on bonding.

Practical steps in bonding
I took away from the retreat lessons on valuing meaningful interaction. Such meaningful interaction has in turn encouraged me to think more deeply about the importance of engendering a sense of inclusiveness and teacher-student bonding for ELT purposes. I now try to find and even plan for occasions where learning and purposeful interaction can occur at the same time because they seem to be correlated. Bonding often does not just happen. It is something that a teacher can create through various activities.

Common goals
I have discovered that my students are culturally group-oriented people who bond and thrive when they are able to feel that they are part of a common goal. Hence, one of the challenges I have set myself in both my zemi as well as my ESP and EFL classes is to implement activities that tap on their ability to work in groups towards common goals.     

Activities with common goals encourage participation and bonding through engendering a sense of acceptance and inclusiveness. One such activity is the organization of a talk show. A talk show could be used to approach a study topic like autism. Students could play different roles in the talk show (e.g. parent, social worker, policy maker, psychologist) and sometimes, even the teacher is involved. Such an activity could facilitate bonding through working towards a common goal.

Planning and working together
Many Japanese universities set aside a special day for an open-campus festival, and mine is no different. Each zemi is given a small budget for materials (e.g., color paper, magic pens), a festival booth, food and drinks. Working as a group, students in the zemi are well-organized and systematic in keeping records and receipts for whatever they have spent. From my own observations of how the students are able to work together, open-campus activities are good occasions for people-to-people bonding.

The day before the open-campus festival is usually set aside for setting up the exhibition booth. The good side of this is that while most of the work is directed by the zemi leader, usually a final-year student, initiatives for the set up comes almost entirely from the students.

I look forward to open-campus festival preparations in the middle of the second (‘Fall’) semester because they are good times for bonding. Posters have to be designed, venues have to be decorated, welcome notices have to be put up on boards. On more than one occasion, I have found that the weeks and days set aside for festival preparations are good opportunities for bonding. My strategy is to let the senior students take the lead in the preparations. More than once, they have shown enough confidence to approach me to help with things that they would not normally ask of their teacher, like doing poster designs or whiteboard decorations. Bonds and good relationships built on such occasions have a positive effect on classroom dynamics, providing positive washback for the overall learning environment.

Learning from each other
As an English teacher, I speak to my students in English but through the years, I have made it a habit to let my students teach me some Japanese as well, in order to make things reciprocal. Early in my stay in Japan, I realized that my position as a language teacher from overseas was helpful because it allowed me to position myself as a language learner. While the students learned English from me, I learned Japanese from them. Through learning Japanese from my students, I was able to make them more aware of the challenges of second language acquisition, very often through the mistakes I have made when I spoke Japanese. I have found that my willingness to position myself as a language learner allows me to identify with the students. Moreover, my readiness to demonstrate appreciation for interesting aspects of the Japanese language like in the following examples invites reciprocal responses with regards to English while promoting cordial relationships with students.    

While teaching, I have often found that laughter can help bring people together, especially when the humor is also a reminder of some aspect of language – be it syntax, phonetics, morphology, pragmatics or discourse. Some students appreciate the way I introduce puns into my lessons, be they in English or Japanese.  Much humor can be found in similar sounding words like how the sound chou in Japanese can refer to 長 (leader or manager), 鳥 (bird) or 腸 (intestine). Humor can also be found in popular sayings like that of how finding a good spouse means finding one who is tall in stature koushinchou (高身長), has a good education kougakureki  (高学歴) and earns a good salary koushuunyuu  (高収入). All these qualities begin with kou (高) which means ‘high’. The punch line, which often gets students in stiches, is that ironically, there is a fourth ‘quality’ to be found in spouses with these three attractive qualities – kouketsuatsu (高血圧), which is another kou (高) expression, meaning ‘high blood pressure’. By making language lessons humorous, for example, through ‘experimenting’ with puns, my aim is not only to create a positive atmosphere conducive to bonding, but also to heighten students’ awareness that language learning can be an interesting activity.

‘With-itness’ during dissertation writing
Zemi teachers are also responsible for supervising students doing their graduation dissertation. I have found that as a supervisor, being available even for short conversations to help trouble shoot allays fears encountered in research and dissertation writing, and is a good way to establish the bonds that will see graduating students through a particular difficult part of their final year at university. My usual practice is to encourage students who are working on nearly similar topics to brainstorm various aspects of their research together at an early stage. Starting early on their dissertations is useful because it gives everyone more time to ponder relevant issues and to get used to each other’s working styles and pace. 

A particularly difficult challenge for me is when graduating students choose to write their dissertations in Japanese. As a dissertation supervisor, my role is to read drafts and provide constructive comments. While this has not been easy for me given that Japanese is not my first or second language, I have found that working co-operatively with my student supervisees has enabled such consultation sessions to be very positive experiences in terms of teacher-student bonding. My approach is to attempt my best to read the draft before meeting the student supervisee. After reading the draft, the supervisee and I would meet to discuss the manuscript. At my meetings with supervisees, misunderstandings or queries I have of the Japanese text are discussed. Through paraphrasing, translating, questioning and explanation, many difficulties encountered are ironed out at consultation time. On such occasions, I rely heavily on the trust and bonding cultivated during zemi.

Sharing and reflecting
One approach to fostering bonding I have found useful with reserved students is to encourage them to write journal reflections in English. I have found this to be an important consideration in the face of challenges and pressures of the type I will explain in the next section. Writing journal reflections is a good way to encourage students to think and express themselves in English. One positive outcome of getting students to reflect on various issues or on their learning experiences is that it enables them to come out of their shells and become more confident in expressing their feelings. Through weeks and months once reserved students become more confident in their writing and expression, enabling many to find the courage to write me emails asking for advice on matters to do with their studies. Moreover, they also begin to show signs of blending in with the larger group. Over time, reading students’ journal entries and messages and being privy to their struggles have enabled the sort of bonding that allows me the privilege to respond with appropriate advice.

Caveat: Acknowledging the realities and challenges
Before concluding, I feel that it is important that consideration be given to some of the challenges I have faced, in relation to opening up opportunities for greater bonding in the classroom. 

For the most part, I can say that students do respond positively to bonding activities.  However, positive responses do not mean automatically that the application of bonding strategies will invariably result in stronger bonds in class. There are instances where students can be passive or unresponsive. Such passivity and unresponsiveness have been attributed to overly teacher-centered teaching styles and other pressures from a rigid system. Such pressures have affected the way students have been taught or spoon-fed throughout their time in high school, as well as their fears of making mistakes or being different from peers (McVeigh, 2002). In my experience, there have been instances where I have encountered obstacles to bonding in the form of reticence, reluctance, self-consciousness, or even apathy from a minority of students. McVeigh’s description of unresponsive behavior helps encapsulate such situations:

[t]he most frustrating experience…was their refusal to answer my questions; and when they did answer, they would often do so in an inaudible voice.  When I privately asked students whom I had come to know why they would ‘pretend not to know,’ why they would not answer in class, or would refuse to say anything, they usually said that they ‘were afraid of making mistakes,’ ‘were afraid of instructors,’ ‘thinking is too hard,’ ‘I’m too nervous,’ ‘I feel tense’. (McVeigh, 2002, p. 98)

My experience with reticent students is that they tend to sit alone in an isolated corner, remaining reserved throughout the semester. They also have a tendency to go into extended periods of absence without permission from the teacher, which means that they may not attend the requisite number of classes to pass a course. In response, I try to look for ways to provide positive reinforcement and encouragement without attracting unwanted attention as some students have a tendency to worry about what others may think of them. I have observed that such students require a much longer time to bond with their classmates. As in all situations like this, maintaining empathy, consideration and a healthy sense of humor is important in helping them work through their challenges.

Conclusion
Teachers like me will attest to the fact that approaches that can be taken to encourage closer bonding in the classroom are often dependent on culture and the local context. Approaches that work in one situation may have to be modified for them to work in another situation.  

While putting into practice the various possible strategies discussed, I am often reminded of what Paulo Freire, the famous critical educator, said concerning how teaching is never about ‘banking’ into students deposits of lifeless knowledge (Freire, 2000) but about thinking, learning and experiencing together in different ways what the bonds of mutual encouragement and cooperation can offer to teaching and learning.

References
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary edition). New York and London: Continuum.

Ito, U. (2010).  The silver spoon and the children of miracle classroom teacher Mr Etchy.  Tokyo: Shodakkan.

Lin, A. M. Y. (2010). English and me: My language learning journey. In D. Nunan & J. Choi (Eds.), Language and culture: Reflective narratives and the emergence of identity (pp. 118-124).  New York & London: Routledge.

Prior, P. (1998). Writing/Disciplinarity: A sociohistoric account of literature activity in the academy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Russell, D. (1997). Rethinking genre in school and society: An activity theory analysis. Written Communication, 14(4), 505-554.

McVeigh, B. (2002).  Japanese higher education as myth.  Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

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About the author
toh_2
Glenn Toh teaches English for Academic Purposes and English as a Foreign Language at the Faculty of Humanities in Tamagawa University in Tokyo, Japan. He has taught EAP, ESP, as well as courses in TESOL teacher training in Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

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Bonding in the ELT Classroom: Genuine Interest and People-Centricity http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/bonding-in-the-elt-classroom-genuine-interest-and-people-centricity/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/bonding-in-the-elt-classroom-genuine-interest-and-people-centricity/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:26 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4032 by KC Lee
Centre for English Language Communication

National University of Singapore

Introduction
At a recent dinner with a friend, one of the topics of conversation touched on a mutual acquaintance who we agreed is sociable but does not seem to build deep connections with others.  As we were reflecting on the reason, the dinner friend’s analysis was that this mutual acquaintance appears to lack a sincere and genuine interest in people except for very few selected ones.  The key indicator that gives others this perception is that he does not appear keen to listen to what others have to offer but is more interested in presenting or advancing his opinion.  Because of this disinterested stance, those around him sense a lack of sincerity and conclude that even though he socializes and interacts, the impression he gives is that he is “impersonal” and lacking in people-centricity.

There are two very powerful perceptions in this reflection that resonate with the concept of bonding within a community, namely genuine interest and people-centricity.  If bonding refers to the minimization of social distance, specifically in a classroom context where there is an inherent power dynamic at play between students and the teacher, at least two elements must be present for bonding to happen and to be sustained. First, both the teacher and students must show a good degree of sincerity in wanting to develop a positive teaching/learning relationship and an enabling teaching/learning environment.  Second, sincere and genuine interest is in fact reflective of a people-centric approach.  The implication to the teacher is that conscious, concerted and purposeful effort is necessary to create a teaching/learning climate that facilitates or strengthens bonding, which in turn leads to the intended learning outcome of an engaged classroom.

Focus of paper
In this paper, I would like to focus on two simple yet effective strategies that I use as a teacher to establish and maintain connections with my students.  In discussing these strategies, I will draw upon my experience of teaching two very different writing and communication modules to illustrate how these strategies have worked despite the differences in (a) the profile and motivation level of students, and (b) the purposes and intended outcomes of the modules.  

Brief overview of modules
The two modules cited in this discussion are a writing and communication module developed for undergraduate music students and a writing and presentation module designed for graduate students from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. There are two key similarities between both modules.  First, based on Hyland’s definition (2006) of types of language courses, both are English for Academic Purposes (Specific) modules.  The second similarity concerns the level of intrinsic motivation among students, which may not be initially apparent as there are no modular credits for both modules. 

In terms of differences, both modules vary in the intended learning outcomes and levels of language competence.  While the music module addresses the basic language and communication needs of music students, the engineering module focuses on advancing and enhancing electrical and computer engineering graduate students’ skills in leveraging on linguistic and rhetorical structure for precise, clear and coherent publications in discipline-specific journals and presentations at academic conferences. Another key difference pertains to the language competency of these two groups of students: The music module caters to students who have not met the threshold competency as required by the Conservatory and the University, whereas students in the engineering module are proficient users of the language. Therefore, the design, methodology and approach used for these two modules are different.

Bonding strategies
Despite the differences, my approach to bonding is similar for both groups of students.  It centres on addressing motivational and relevancy issues through an understanding of and an appreciation for individuals.  The strategies demand commitment from the teacher to be consistent, persistent and perhaps to have a good degree of ingenuity in employing the appropriate “dosage” at the right time.

Personalizing interactions
As a language teacher at the National University of Singapore, I am privileged to have enjoyed a small tutorial group size where the ratio between teacher and students is one to an average of 15.  This has allowed me to be able to know all the names of my students by the second tutorial session.  The small group size has also afforded me the time for students in my class to get to know each other a bit better. 

In addition to the usual first-lesson introductions, I make conscious effort to allow for time in each subsequent lesson for students to find out more about individuals who are in this same learning community. As names are the most fundamental element identifying an individual, I incorporate many opportunities and occasions in my classes that require students to make use of names. A simple technique involves calling out of names.  Several three to five-minute activities include the following:

a)      Getting students to call out names of students who are seated before them during the first few lessons. Seating arrangement could be in a circle or in a theatre format.  The first person will introduce his/her name.  The second person will repeat the first person’s name and then introduce his/her name.  The third person will repeat the first two persons’ names followed by his/her name. This continues until the last student has called out everyone’s name.  In short, if there are 15 students in the class, the one whose name is called out first will have had his/her name called 15 times when the activity is done.

b)      Recording of attendance could be done by different students in every tutorial session.  While tutorial attendance is optional, teachers are still required to keep a record of it.  What I request the student who records attendance to do besides doing this mechanical administrative work is to at least greet and engage in a few minutes of small talk.  At the initial stage, this may create some discomfort, but I have observed that over time, students do get used to it and seem to enjoy the interaction.

c)      Volunteering another person to respond is another technique that has been effective.  This usually starts with the teacher asking for volunteers to make a response.  In the context where I teach, there are usually not many students who are keen to volunteer.  There could be a cultural explanation for this.  Therefore, in the case where no other volunteers are forthcoming besides the usual few, the person who currently responds is requested to suggest another classmate to contribute his/her thoughts.

The activities described above may not be novel.  In addition, teachers may have other even more exciting and interesting five-minute activities for bonding purposes that have been effectively and successfully implemented.  Nonetheless, what is crucial is that the concept and benefits of personalizing interactions and learning from one another in a community are clearly articulated to the students.  Those who are convinced will treat such seemingly trivial activities with a greater degree of enthusiasm and engagement.  If done consistently and in the right spirit, a friendly classroom climate which is conducive to sharing and learning will develop.

To better understand the impact of constant reinforcement of these simple and easy to implement activities, let me take the specific modules as examples.  In the music module, where students have a low competency in language and communication, they are most used to one-on-one tutorial sessions with their major teachers, and there are issues of motivation, most of the students would rather remain passive in class.  To get them to open up and warm up to the idea of interacting with others beyond those in the same ensemble or instrument class, I look for a “champion.”  At the same time, I identify a few very reluctant students.  Through informal chat, email or other social media platforms, I encourage the “champion” to initiate communication and allow others to have their turns.  As for the very few reluctant students, in talking to them individually, I would have had a good sense of some of their interests and strengths.  Separately, out of class, I prepare these students, in particular if I intend to ask them to take attendance and make small talk with the rest or if I plan to ask them to volunteer to give response.  With constant encouraging feedback and prompting, these students develop a good level of confidence and openness in sharing.  The result can be heartening as evident at the end of the semester when these students are reluctant to say goodbye at the last tutorial class.

In the engineering module, as the students are mature and are competent users of the English language, the difficulty is not in getting them to interact but to make them see the relevance of sharing and connecting with the other students in the class.  While in this module all of the graduate students are from the same department, their research areas could still be vastly different as there are many sub-disciplines within the same field.  As such, it is a common phenomenon that a student studying about antennae may not know very much about another sub-discipline, take for instance, solar power.  Similar to the music module, there are limited opportunities for most of the graduate students to interact with others in a more structured learning environment except for in department seminars.  Instead, they focus mainly on their lab experiments and they discuss their progress and their work mainly with their supervisor(s).   At the initial stage of my class, these students are usually sceptical about the relevance of these activities which they term as social and not intellectual or academic.  To some of them, it is not content-based, insignificant and does not contribute to their studies.  However, as they get to know more about the specific research areas of one another, my observation is that most are genuinely interested in research conducted by their peers and share insightful feedback with their peers.  Although it would have been even more encouraging if these students eventually collaborate with one another in inter- or multi-disciplinary research, such observation is not readily available within the constraint of the module and may require a longitudinal study approach to explore indicators of impact.

In summary, what is of significance for relationship-building in these activities is not merely the activities but how the teacher choreographs them, intervenes at the appropriate junctures to capture teachable moments, and negotiates with individuals in the classroom to bring forth intended learning outcomes.

Personalising lessons
Besides this first level of getting-to-know activities, a deeper engagement involves the teacher’s designing tasks and responding to students’ work in ways that facilitate teamwork and enhance bonding.  I would like to refer to this deeper engagement as personalising lessons.

Like many teachers, I believe that for sustained learning to take place, one’s learning experience must not be limited only to intellectual pursuits.  Such pursuits must be complemented by interpersonal and social aspects of learning.  In fact, constructivists (Bruner, 1960; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978) have long talked about knowledge making, which is influenced by one’s schemata and one’s conversation with others in the same community.  This concept is closely related to the idea of scaffolding (Bruffee, 1993; Lipponen, 2002) and the creation of success milestones in one’s learning journey.

I am aware that there is a set of planned syllabi and materials in the modules and programmes that we teach.  In addition, in most of our teaching contexts, it is impractical and unrealistic to have personalised lessons.  What I am referring to is not one-on-one tutoring but a conscious effort by the teacher to incorporate requirements in the tasks that heighten students’ sense of inquiry and curiosity in their own work or the work of others.  The requirement could be an explicit criterion in the tasks requesting them to broaden the discussion beyond their areas of specialization or it could be built into the peer and teacher feedback mechanism.

Let me use the following two very specific examples to illustrate what I mean.  In the engineering module that I teach, one of the tasks requires students to do a comprehensive analysis and synthesis of the use of tenses in established journal articles in their respective sub-fields.  Once they are ready with their analysis, students are invited to share their observations with their peers.  In sharing the conventions in their sub-fields, the students discover peculiarities in some journals.  In sharing about the established journals, one of the pleasant surprises that I find the students appreciate is there is potential for them to make contributions to many unlikely titles that they may otherwise have missed.  Conversations about such matters continue beyond the class, extending academic pursuits to the interpersonal and social sphere.

In the music module, students are requested to attend one another’s recital and write a review on the performance.  The review is not about the technical aspects of the performance but about how individual musicians convey the piece and connect with the audience.  Some students take this exercise rather seriously by going beyond what is required for the module.  Instead of seeking those who play the same family of instruments for feedback, the students begin to reach out to others.  While the impact of this bonding may be subtle in a language and communication classroom, its significance can be felt when students perform as a team in a quartet, ensemble or orchestra.

In terms of response and feedback from the teacher, personalising lessons refers to knowing each student enough to give apt response or feedback at the right time.  This may mean going beyond completing the usual appraisal/feedback forms that teachers use.  In the context of the music module, this may mean attending students’ recitals or performance; for the engineering module, it may mean participating in students’ seminars or acquainting with the journal articles and papers students are likely to read and write about.

Whichever the case may be, bonds are developed and strengthened when parties involved are perceived to give as much as they take.  Activities become purposeful when everyone involved feels that they have a part in enhancing the learning experience of others.  In addition, students must recognize that their success milestones in academic pursuits are as much a reflection of their intellectual capability as they are a result of their engagement with others in a shared community.

Concluding remarks
I have endeavoured to illustrate that for bonding in the classroom to take place, those intimately involved in this environment must recognize the significance of learning within a community.  This entails conscious effort in connecting with people.  In short, sustained learning and sense making are enhanced when contextualized within a community where members demonstrate genuine interest in one another and what they do.

Going back to the brief topic of conversation with my dinner friend, we figured that if we were keen to pursue a stronger relationship with this mutual acquaintance, perhaps we might want to make the effort to connect with him.  After all, bonding is two-way.

References
Bruffee, K. A.  (1993).  Collaborative learning:  Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge.  Baltimore:  John Hopkins University Press.

Bruner, J. (1960).  The process of education.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cotterall, S., & Cohen, R. (2003).  Scaffolding for second language writers:  Producing an academic essay.  ELT Journal, 57(2), 158-166.

Hyland, K. (2006).  English for Academic Purposes: An advanced resource book.  London: Routledge.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991).  Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation.  Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Lipponen, L. (2002).  Exploring foundations for Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning.  Proceedings of CSCL 2002 (pp. 72-81).

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About the author
KCLee_blogKC Lee is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication.  She has a keen interest in the use of computers and technology in the language and communication classroom. Her current research interest is in the application of social network sites in enhancing teaching and learning. At present, KC coordinates and teaches a module that prepares engineering graduate students for publication and paper presentations.  

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Of Birthdays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Reflection Papers: Establishing Ties in the ELT Classroom http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/of-birthdays-a-midsummer-nights-dream-and-reflection-papers-establishing-ties-in-the-elt-classroom/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/of-birthdays-a-midsummer-nights-dream-and-reflection-papers-establishing-ties-in-the-elt-classroom/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:23 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4006 by Lalaine F. Yanilla Aquino
University of the Philippines

Introduction
“I am looking for friends. What does that mean–’tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the Fox. “It means to establish ties.”

This is one of my favourite passages in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which incidentally, is a book I often require my undergraduate and graduate students to read. This passage somewhat sums up how I facilitate ‘bonding’ among my students—I let them ‘tame’ each other.

How does ‘taming’ begin and how is it sustained in my English undergraduate classes? My classes can be classified into three types: (1) general education (GE) reading and writing classes, (2) GE literature classes, and (3) upper division/English majors’ classes. In all of these, ‘taming’ begins on the first day of class and is sustained throughout the semester through several group and class activities such as birthday-based sharing sessions, think-share-pair, reflection paper read-alouds, group quizzes, and performance-based examinations. It is essential that these activities not only help the students to bond and be friends with each other but also facilitate their learning of English and the four macro skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing because this taming process is still an inherently academic one.

Birthday-based sharing sessions
On the first day of class, I instruct my students to count off from one to five and group themselves based on the number they say out loud. This is a good way of mixing them up so that those who already know each other are not in the same group and are able to get to know their new classmates on the first day of class. Once they are in their group (which usually has five members), they are given further instructions and some guiding questions, which are meant not only as springboard for initial discussion but also as prompts for a focused group discussion (FGD):

  1. You have 20 minutes to finish the group task.
  2. Tell your group mates your date of birth.
  3. Share your answers to the following guiding questions and do your assigned task based on the sequence of dates of birth within the group: the student who will celebrate her or his birthday first during the semester is S1 (e.g., if the first day of class is June 10 and a student’s birthday is on this date, she or he is Student 1 or S1), the one who will celebrate her or his birthday next is S2, etc.
  4. S1—gets to share her or his answers to the guiding questions first
  5. S2—takes down notes and submits a copy of these to the instructor
  6. S3—keeps the time
  7. S4—reports to the class a summary of the group members’ answers, highlighting the similarities and differences in the answers
  8. S5—introduces to the class the members of her/his group
    1. Share with your group mates your answers to the following guiding questions:
    2. What is your full name and nickname?
    3. What is your course? Do you intend to stay in it or do you intend to shift? Why?
    4. What is your first impression of our University?
    5. What are your expectations of ____ (the ELT class)?
    6. Who are your favourite authors and what are your favourite books?
    7. What are three one-word adjectives that best describe you?

The students are required to share their answers in English and as they do so, they get to develop at least two of their macro skills: speaking and listening. The questions are simple enough but as the students listen to each other and try to identify the similarities and differences among their answers, particularly to the last four questions, they get to know each other more on just the first day of class and they get to learn that there are things they share in common with their new friends. The last guiding question (“three one-word adjectives that best describe you”) yields some particularly interesting answers—students who describe themselves in a unique or interesting fashion will be remembered long after the semester is over. Because students start the activity by telling the rest of the group their date of birth, this also allows them to remember those who share their birth month or their date of birth.

The birthday-based sharing sessions have variations: sometimes the student who celebrates her/his birthday last gets to be S1 and the same format can be used for the group quizzes where students get to share their answers to some ‘academic’ questions to come up with a final group answer which can earn them some bonus quiz points. This group activity works because it creates a sense of shared responsibilities and everyone gets a chance to take on a different role at some point during the semester, be it timekeeper, reporter, or note-taker. Another variation of this activity is where S1 listens intently to S2 and introduces S2 to the class, S2 introduces S3, and so on. Students often tend to introduce their classmate by saying, “I would like to introduce my new friend…” and this sets the tone for the semester as students are reminded that they are bound to make some good friends in class.

Think-share-pair
This activity allows students who are seated near each other to share their thoughts and feelings. A “provocative” question is often given (e.g. If you were a punctuation mark, what would you be? If you were a boy, would you be willing to marry a woman ten years older than you? If you were a woman, would you be willing to marry a boy ten years younger than you? Do you believe in love at first sight?) and this question is often related to the story or poem or essay that will be discussed for the day; students are given a couple of minutes to think about their answer and are then told to share their answer with their seatmate. After the seatmates have identified how their answers are different or similar, they share their answers with the pair next to them. Now, this group of four students has to report to the class a summary of their answers—in the process highlighting the unique answers given by the members of the group. After all groups have shared with the class a summary of their answers, the students’ answers are used as a springboard for discussing the assigned reading for the day.

During the discussion of the text, it is often the case that the students recall particular answers given during the think-share-pair activity and compare or contrast these with the authors’ assertions or with the themes found in the text. Such comparisons become opportunities for the student whose answers were recalled to elaborate on her or his ideas and become a more active contributor in the discussion.

Reflection paper read-alouds
Before an assigned text is discussed in class, students are required to write a one-page reflection paper related to its topic. Writing the reflection paper is meant to activate the students’ prior knowledge and help them understand the text better (see Schema Theory of Reading). For instance, before they read a short story about the strong attraction that happened between a man and a girl on a hot midsummer’s day (Manuel Arguilla’s ‘Midsummer’, which I use to introduce the narrative and descriptive modes of writing), I ask the students to reflect about the story and write about their own first strong attraction to a real person (I need to emphasize that it has to be a real person because there are students who write about their strong attraction to anime or cartoon characters). To make the activity more exciting, three to five students are called upon at random to read aloud their one-page paper in front of the class. If the topic is very interesting, the students become very attentive as their classmate reads her or his paper.

A variation of this activity is the read-aloud in small groups. Students are asked to form groups of five and each student reads aloud the best passages in her or his reflection paper. This way, each student has her or his “moment of fame” as the members of the group listen to what she or he has to share. The students are then asked to identify both the similarities among the ideas or feelings they shared and the unique experiences found in their reflection papers. They then choose a member who will report their findings to the class. After all groups have had a chance to speak, I write on the board the highlights of the reports and use these as a springboard for discussing the assigned text.

In the reading aloud of the reflection paper, whether in a small group or in the class as a whole, the reader often feels both proud and “vulnerable” because she or he gets to share a relatively intimate part of herself or himself. This sharing session somehow deepens the bond among the students because there is trust involved in the process. To listen to a classmate’s reading of her or his reflection paper is to be tamed and to tame in return; it is to trust and to be trusted in return; it is to understand and to be understood in return. This process brings to light what the Fox tells the Little Prince: “One only understands the things that one tames.” Since the reading aloud of the reflection paper is a regular activity, it also becomes an observation of the ‘proper rites’ in the establishment of ties that bind.

Group quizzes
A group quiz is meant to force students to collaborate and come up with the best answers to the questions given. The students are divided into groups and they form a small circle. Individual assignments (note-taker, reporter, etc) are given based on their dates of birth (see above). Each student gets to give her or his answer to the first question; the group then consolidates and synthesizes the answers to come up not only with the best idea but also with the best way of expressing this idea. The students follow the same process for all the questions given.

The activity is a good way of developing the students’ intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences as each individual tries to express her or his ideas in the best possible way, knowing that her or his group mates are listening intently to what she or he has to say. The activity makes the students realize that each member’s ideas are important if the group is to come up with the best answer. The students also learn how to negotiate, how to be diplomatic, how to analyze, and how to synthesize. One of the better examples of this occurs in the GE literature class, particularly the World Literature (English 12) class in which the students discuss Dante’s Inferno. In the group quiz, the students are tasked to identify the major sin punished in each circle of inferno and its corresponding punishment. They must then explain why and how the punishment matches the sin, what they think is the operating principle that Dante used to arrange the circles from top to bottom or from the “simplest” to the gravest sin, and which Filipinos in recent history—dead or alive— they think would most probably go to that circle of inferno. They must also justify their choices. This particular group quiz not only helps students develop their higher order thinking skills (HOTS) but also allows them to have some fun as they laugh at their peers’ choices of which Filipinos to put in each circle. The activity allows them to share what they know, for instance, of recent Philippine history, of Philippine pop culture (sometimes they put entertainment and sports celebrities in different circles of hell), and of current events. It is a chance for students who are knowledgeable in these so-called ‘less academic’ topics to shine. The activity also allows the students to fully understand the nature of each sin and its corresponding punishment and helps them realize why Dante Alighieri’s Divina Comedia has remained a classic.

Performance-based examinations
The performance-based examination is a major requirement in both the GE and the upper division courses. In the GE reading and writing class (English 1), students are divided into three groups with eight to ten members each. Each group is required to do research on a Philippine folktale and write a 15-minute English skit based on the folktale. The skit must make use of idiomatic expressions and figurative language. The students then rehearse the skit in their free time, and finally perform it in front of the class. In the GE introduction to literature class (English 11), the students are divided into groups and each group is asked to perform one act of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the GE world literature class (English 12), the students are also divided into groups and each group is asked to write a 15-minute skit based on stories from the Bible which the students consider to be universal in terms of characterization, plot, and theme.

In upper division courses, like in the Stylistics (English 120) class, the students are divided into three groups and each group is asked to choose the best examples of the following from Philippine literature: a short story, two poems, and a play. The students are tasked to choose examples that will lend themselves to analysis using at least two theories in stylistics which the students have learned in class. The students are supposed to use the theories in analysing and evaluating the text, so that they will be able to come up with a warranted and valid interpretation that will allow them to perform the texts accordingly. The texts have to be woven into a composite yet singular narrative—making use of key passages from the short story and the play, and if possible, the whole text of the two poems.

Lalaine's students bonding in a drama activity

Students bonding in a drama activity

Because the performance examination is usually the final activity for the semester, this is where the ‘taming’ process and the establishing of ties often peak as well. The students are encouraged to be as creative as they can in their production and performance of the texts. Sometimes the students (English 11) who perform Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream turn it into a musical in which they sing Filipino songs. The English 1 students sometimes turn the Philippine folktales into an action-packed adventure with spear fights and magical moments. The English 12 class sometimes is able to make the Old and New Testament stories contemporary in their portrayal of the issues and themes related to the Philippines. The English 120 class sometimes comes up with a really beautifully synthesized production, such that the audience tends to think the text comes from just one source. As the students prepare for all these, they literally spend hours and days planning the production, revising the script, memorizing their lines, choosing costumes, creating props, and rehearsing for the performance day itself. Though sometimes tensions get high (when, for example, there are members who do not attend meetings and rehearsals), things get ironed out in the end and the students realize that all the hardships they experience as individuals and as a group are not for nought, because they are all able to give a performance they can be proud of. Each of them is able to contribute to the endeavour not just as a performer (all students are required to have an acting and speaking part in the skit) but also as a researcher, a script writer, a costume designer, a props creator, a prompter, a director, and a singing coach. They are able to achieve all these even as they develop their higher order thinking skills, apply the theories they have learned in class, and learn more about being Filipino.

Conclusion
At the end of the term, the students realize that they have “wasted” much time on each other. Now, they are responsible for those they have tamed. So, the taming continues long after the semester is over (sometimes, through a Facebook group in which I get to be invited as their friend). The academic things the students have learned have hopefully made them better users of English; yet, more important than that are the shared experiences and the lasting memories that have also hopefully made them better people in general and better Filipinos in particular.

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About the author
aquino_2Lalaine F. Yanilla Aquino is an associate professor at the University of the Philippines where she finished her doctorate in Reading Education and where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on English language studies, comparative literature, creative writing, and reading education. From 2010 to May 2012, she was the president of the Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING), an organization of writers for children.

 

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Student Bonding as Community-Building http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/student-bonding-as-community-building/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/student-bonding-as-community-building/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:22 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4065 by James E Martin
Centre for English Communication
Singapore Management University

Introductory remarks
The concept of student bonding is likely to be supported by most teachers. It is quite clear that student attitudes influence learning, and bonding is often seen as a way to help create a positive atmosphere that will promote participation in class (i.e., making students more comfortable in the often “socially risky” environment of the English language classroom). For this purpose and to maximize bonding, cooperative language learning techniques, for example, have sometimes been used (see, e.g., Wichadee & Orawiwatnakul, 2012).

In this article, however, I will focus my discussion on a related but somewhat different rationale for bonding and offer some activities to promote it in the particular environment of a university writing class.

Bonding and the writing process
By definition, bonding involves making connections and forging a kind of community in the classroom. In this sense, promoting it is a more profound task than just fostering comfortable interaction among classmates. By calling bonding a kind of community-building, I am suggesting that the task, always a work in progress, is the creation of a de-facto community, albeit one with a life span of only one semester and a narrowly defined purpose (Johnson, et. al., 1998). This community is first and foremost a discourse community, specifically, in our case, a subset of the discourse community called “academic writers.” Since we can define the community’s scope and duration, we should also be able to define its characteristics. Then we can devise strategies to build, support, and develop them and this is where bonding activities come into the picture.

Members of the classroom community should be characterized by an open-minded and curious attitude. Students should care about what their fellow classmates are thinking and writing, and be ready to engage in discussions with them about it. Although students may “compete” to be the best writers in class, the atmosphere should be characterized by a strong willingness to collaborate. In this environment, prior experience with writing is viewed not as indicative of a set of weaknesses to be overcome or gaps to be filled, but rather relative strengths to be shared. Consequently, it is a place of peer teaching and peer learning. Without strong mutual bonds among students, it will not be possible to successfully build such a community.

It is obvious to many writing instructors that the characteristics mentioned above are at odds with the attitudes that students often bring into the writing classroom (e.g., highly competitive spirit, relative disinterest in everything but their own progress, low regard for their own expertise as writers, overall low motivation to participate sometimes bordering on apathy, reliance on teachers as sole purveyors of wisdom and knowledge). These attitudes, destructive to forging bonds, need to be actively discouraged and new, more constructive ones promoted in their place.

Activities to promote bonding
In this section, I present some practices I engage in for the purposes of bonding.

Activities on the first day of class
On the very first day, I organize my writing classes into small table-groups, as shown in Fig 1 (see Wong, in this issue, for a different perspective on this point). In my experience, it is easier for four or five people to bond with each other than for 25-30 people to bond. The daily class activities, many collaborative in nature naturally bond the table-group members. Of course, there are lots of opportunities for informal socializing as well.

 Fig 1: A table group of 4-5 students in a writing class at Singapore Management University.

bonding_james

To further encourage bonding within the class, I shift the students to form new table-groups three times during the term (i.e., every four weeks or so). This mixing allows students to eventually work and bond with most of their classmates during the term. Once the first group has bonded, they find it even easier to build their new group bonds. I also tell them the rationale for shifting their groups, which is that they can work with new people to gain new insights, get to know other classmates, and share skills with different people.

After organizing the table groups and giving group members a few minutes to exchange names and personal information, I show a short video clip relevant to the theme of the class. A themed writing class focuses on a specific topic or set of related topics for reading, discussion, research and writing assignments, in order to help the students to build context and understanding. For example, in a class themed on “weight management”, readings and other activities would include a range of closely related topics under the umbrella of the theme, such as obesity, public health, body image and eating disorders, food and nutrition, fitness, technological tools to manage weight, and child nutrition.

Activities throughout the term
One of the activities I engage the students in is peer editing. Because it is done for pedagogic purposes, it can also facilitate student bonding. Peer editing as an assessment technique has been around since the 1960s, and despite reservations about the “blind leading the blind” feel of the activity from both teachers and students (e.g., Brammer & Rees, 2007 ), support remains strong among many educators (e.g., White, 2001). Since peer work is crucial to building bonds (in that collaboration is necessary), I make much use of it in the class, but include a different focus than in the usual model. Colleagues past and present have often used peer editing to help students point out errors or weaknesses in their partner’s writing. The idea is that each student has a degree of competence that enables them to apply to evaluate another person’s writing. It also decentralizes the class and avoids over-reliance on the teacher as expert.

The above rationale for doing peer evaluation is no doubt valid, and I use the technique for these purposes too, but the activity needs to be tweaked in order to promote bonding. Although it may be empowering to a student reviewer to be deemed competent enough to point out errors and weaknesses in their partner’s writing, the practice does little to promote bonding, and may easily have the opposite effect. In fact, students realize the potential for giving offense when peer editing and they sometimes sugar-coat their comments or just voice platitudes, even though they know that is not the purpose of the activity. For this reason, my peer review heuristics always contain questions that identify and comment on positive aspects of the partner’s writing. To give an example, I might show the following short video clip, entitled “Reality” early in the first lesson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94c43AlwLKo. I instruct students to write a brief response of 50-100 words that details their personal reaction to the clip. I then ask them to exchange papers and fill out the peer review sheet (see Appendix 1). The peer review sheet guides students to find strengths and positive aspects of the writing. Then students talk about it, swap papers with the other table-group members, and repeat.

Students often find this task surprising. Although many of them have had prior experience with the ubiquitous process-teaching technique of peer review, few of my students say that they have ever been asked to focus on strengths in their partner’s writing. This reaction is likely the result of their being used to the error identification and correction focus of peer review activities found in many classrooms. The resulting discussion about writer strengths always creates a reservoir of goodwill and a respect for the skills and views of the partners. It kick starts the bonding process, which will extend throughout the term.

Besides peer review, I also engage my students in many other collaborative activities familiar to writing instructors, such as groups/pairs jointly writing or editing short texts, analyzing readings, doing planning activities, etc. (see Appendix 2 for an example of a collaborative activity). In order to maximize the bonding potential of these sorts of activities, when doing the post-task debrief, I always include a reflective set of questions about the quality of the collaboration and how it can be enhanced. Below are a few relevant questions I usually ask.

  1. What was your partner’s/group mates’ best contribution to the discussion?
  2. What was one new insight you gained by working with your partner/group mates?
  3. How did you respond to the ideas presented by your partners? Did your comments indicate reflection, open-mindedness, creative feedback?
  4. How would you rate your own contribution to the discussion?
  5. What was your most valuable contribution? How could you have made your contribution stronger?

I find that repeated focus on the quality of interaction and mutual learning reinforces the bonding process and in turn leads to better collaboration. The questions also highlight the role and contribution of both parties (the self and the addressee) in any meaningful interaction. They give the students a framework to do evaluative appraisal and strategize how to improve their interaction in the future.

 Activities on the last day of class
At the final class meeting of the term, I conduct a discussion with the entire class during which I reiterate the intention of the bonding activities mentioned above and get students to reflect on their effectiveness. Points I cover include evaluating specific bonding activities in the writing class, learning to collaborate on writing activities, getting and using feedback to improve writing, teamwork and future success in academic and professional careers.  I ask students to first respond in writing to a set of open-ended questions designed to get them to reflect on the above points and share their feelings with the group. Below are some examples of the questions I often ask. In order to highlight the importance of team bonding and collaborative learning to their work after our class, some questions contain reference to hypothetical future academic and workplace situations in which these skills would be useful.

  1. What qualities can you identify in your group mates that have made it comfortable and productive for you to work together with them?
  2. Did you often get helpful feedback from your group mates?
  3. Give an example of feedback you received that you used in order to improve your writing.
  4. How do you feel about giving them feedback?
  5. Why is it helpful for coworkers or fellow students who must work together to build strong bonds with each other?
  6. How do you think forming strong bonds with fellow students will help you to work successfully on group projects in your future classes at this university?
  7. If your future boss put you on the same team with unfamiliar co-workers to work on a project (e.g., writing a report), what would you do to strengthen group bonds?
  8. What other activities could have been done in our class to strengthen our bonds?

Students then exchange papers and read their group mates’ responses. Finally, the whole class discusses the responses, which essentially constitutes a debriefing on this aspect of the term’s work. The discussion brings out the students’ (often unconscious) understanding about the importance of learning to work in groups and bond with their group mates. Students typically give positive feedback about their bonding experiences in class, and find it easy to extrapolate from their classroom experience to future hypothetical group situations in which group bonding will clearly be beneficial to them.

Conclusion
In this brief paper, I have discussed the central importance of student bonding in my writing classes. Basically, bonding is a prerequisite to the essential task of building a discourse community in the classroom and guiding students to an understanding that they are bona fide members of such a community with contributions to make and relationships to foster, largely through writing activities. Attending to the physical layout of the classroom, establishing a strong collaborative and mutually-respectful atmosphere at the beginning of the course, continuously reinforcing the understanding of the dynamics of bonding throughout the course by reflecting on class activities, and retrospectively exploring the meaning and usefulness of bonding at the end of the term are all techniques I have used to facilitate the building a community of writers in the classroom.

References
Brammer, C., & Rees, M. (2007). Peer review from the students’ perspective: Invaluable or invalid? Composition Studies, 35(2), 71-85. Retrieved from http://hwp2009.wikispaces.com/file/view/Peer+Review+from+Student+Perspective.pdf

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K, A. (1998). Cooperative learning returns to college: What evidence is there that it works? Change, July/August 1998, 27-35. Retrieved from http://www.sjsu.edu/advising/docs/CooperativeLearning.pdf

White, Ed. (2001). The opening of the modern era of writing assessment: A narrative. College English, 65(5), 306-20. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/378995

Wichadee, S & Orawiwatnakul, W.  (2012).  Cooperative language learning: Increasing opportunities for learning in teams. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 9(2), 93-100. Retrieved from  http://journals.cluteonline.com/index.php/TLC/article/view/6903/6978

Appendix 1. Peer review sheet for response activity in session 1
Directions: Read your partner’s response to the video, and comment on the write-up by using the questions below. Then discuss your comments with him/her.

  1. What is one thing you liked about your partner’s write-up? What did you find enjoyable about reading it?
  2. What does the writer do well? What makes his/her write-up effective?
  3. What point(s) in your partner’s write-up do you agree with?
  4. What is one word (vocabulary) or phrase that was well chosen and well used?
  5. How did your partner make his/her opinion clear to you?
  6. What did you learn about the writer from reading his/her response?
  7. What do you think your partner has in common with you?
  8. How can you help your partner to be an even better writer?

Appendix 2. Sample collaborative writing task
Unit 3 Session 7A – part 1 activity 1: working with register
The following business communication is written in informal register. As this is not a recommended style for the task, analyze the problems, and together with your group mates, rewrite it in order to reflect a more appropriate formal register.

Dear Ms. Dolma:

We got your letter asking us to cancel your long distance plan on December 3, 2009. Sorry but we are going to have to charge you a penalty fee of $300 if you cancel this service before January 10, 2011 because you’re locked into a three-year contract with us. I’m sending you a copy of the original contract so that you can have a look at it.

If you still don’t want the service, just send a cheque for $300 and I’m sure the customer service department will have no problem cancelling your contract.

Cheers,

 (available at: http://www.settlementatwork.org/lincdocs/linc5-7/business.writing/pdfs/bus.writing.LINC7.pdf)

 View PDF version


About the author
martin_3James E. Martin has spent most of the past 30 years in the Asia/Pacific region, having taught ESL/EAP, American and British literature, literary and rhetorical theory and writing at the university level. His research interests include rhetoric and discourse theory, composition theory and practice, American literature, poetry, and instructional media. He has lived in Singapore for the past five years, where he teaches writing for Singapore Management University.

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Bonding for Learning http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/bonding-for-learning/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/02/14/bonding-for-learning/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:00:22 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4061 by Wong Jock Onn
Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore

Introductory remarks
My experience as an English teacher tells me that interactive group learning is something to be encouraged in a language classroom, more so than for other subjects. This is because one of the major functions of language is expressing oneself, and interactive group learning gives students many opportunities to express themselves, opportunities they may not have outside class. Obviously, it does not mean that students cannot learn individually, but interactive group learning comes with a host of specific benefits. Group activities allow students to learn from one another’s strengths and weakness, learn how to express themselves and (more importantly) disagree with others, learn to appreciate diversity of viewpoints, relate to others, build friendship and basically enjoy the learning process. These benefits are important, especially in the university context, because the environment tends to be culturally more heterogeneous and communication could be a challenge in such a context. Also, these benefits are associated with skills that are crucial to university students and working adults. This explains why, as a university English teacher, I often implement interactive group activities in class (e.g. open discussion) and out of class (e.g. on FB) (Wong, 2013). I want to reap all these benefits for my students, let them have a good time learning with friends, and simultaneously support them in their preparation for the real world.

Generally speaking, to engage students in interactive group activities and to make learning fun, the ELT practitioner has to “break the ice” among them right from the beginning so they have fewer inhibitions to come together, learn interactively in a group and express themselves using English. Some students may be shy by nature and may find it difficult to participate in interactive group activities. It is thus important for the teacher to encourage students to bond right from the beginning and continually find ways to sustain the bond. Bonding can create a relaxed, non-threatening environment in which interactive learning can be maximized. For me, student bonding is a priority. It starts on day one and is maintained continually in the duration of the course.

For the purposes of this Special Issue, bonding refers to the process of minimizing social distances and maximizing a sense of belonging among students in a class with the purpose of creating a friendly, non-threatening and relaxed atmosphere conducive for learning. Although I am sure many ELT practitioners would agree with me that student bonding is important, they tend to remain strangely silent on the topic. In most ELT-themed platforms for the sharing of ideas, one seldom comes across discussion on student bonding or the sharing of bonding activities. Perhaps the topic is seen as something extra-ELT, something that is incidental to the area. However, it is not. Even if a bonding activity is non-pedagogic in itself, students have to bond before they can fruitfully engage in interactive group learning activities. Moreover, it is not true that bonding is entirely non-pedagogic in nature. It seems intuitive that bonding is something that often requires the use of a language; some bonding activities (e.g. chatting on social media) require students to communicate with each other and in doing so they are given the opportunity to practice using English in a non-threatening environment. Thus, one could argue that bonding is highly relevant to ELT.

In this paper, I would like to share with readers some of the bonding activities implemented in my university classes in the National University of Singapore. Some of these activities are implemented on a regular basis because they have stood the test of time while some others are relatively new at the time of writing. It is noted, however, that the popularity of some activities are student-dependent for various reasons. For example, the use of FB may not be popular among some students from China because its use is banned in China.

Bonding activities
In this section, I would like to share some of the things I do to bond students in class and some of the things students have taken the initiative to do for bonding purposes. Many of these activities do not seem to be inherently pedagogic but they play an important part in bringing students together and indirectly facilitate learning. The activities are discussed, where possible, in a chronological order. This means that activities that are implemented at the start of the course are discussed before those that are implemented later.

In the beginning
As mentioned, it is important to start bonding on day one. For me, bonding starts as soon as the class is formed and when not many more changes in enrolment are expected. When this happens, I write students an email to introduce myself and welcome them to the course. The simple act of writing a welcoming email is a way to connect with them, giving them a sense of belonging and importance right from the start. The email tells them briefly what the course is about, what to expect and asks them to prepare a five-minute informal presentation to introduce themselves to the class. Guiding questions are given (e.g. ‘What’s your major?’, ‘what are you hobbies?’).

The very first day of class is reserved for bonding. I usually try to maximize bonding time on the first day by going through what I have to go through (i.e. introduction to the course and administrative details) quickly. After giving students the important administrative details, bonding starts. Each one stands up to give the class a self-introduction on the basis of the questions given to them. More focus is given to the personal self. For example, overseas students are encouraged to tell others where they come from, their home language(s) and what their hometown is known for.  They sometimes also indicate where their hometown is on a drawing on the white board or on an online map. It is, incidentally, a good opportunity for students to learn some geography too.

Students also tell others what their hobbies are or what they like to do during their free time and then present their mobile numbers on the computer screen, to be compiled into a list sent to everyone in class later. The sharing of hobbies allows people with the same hobbies to identify each other. The sharing of mobile numbers connects students and allows them to create cyber groups. Some of my classes, for example, created WhatsApp groups to communicate among themselves.

When a student says that they sing or dance, they are invited to give a short performance. Not unexpectedly, most students are too shy to do it. A few, however, are fine with it. Some of the students who sang for the class actually did a rather good job (see Videos 1, 2 & 3) and the other students obviously enjoyed the ‘performances’. I like this activity when it happens because it ‘disarms’ students and lightens the atmosphere. It tells the students that they have come to a friendly and non-threatening environment, an environment they can look forward to two days a week for the duration of the course. It tells them that going through the module will not be drudgery. It tells them that it will be fun. Interestingly, as I reviewed papers for this special issue, I found out that I was not alone. Liu (this special issue) does it too.

Video 1. A student’s rendition of the chorus of Bizet’s ‘Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre’ (Carmen).

Video 2. A student’s rendition of a part of M2M’s ‘The day you went away’.

Video 3. A student belting out Taylor Swift’s ‘22’.

It is important that the teacher makes learning fun for students. For me, it is an imperative. Students want fun, engagement and learning to come as a package. This package, as my experience tells me, can only come with a relatively high degree of student bonding. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a good bonding from the start is halfway on the route to a successful semester.

‘Facebooking’
There is abundant literature documenting the usefulness of social media for language teaching (e.g. Blackstone & Harwood, 2010, 2012). ‘Facebooking’ and blogging (Blackstone, this special issue), for example, are seen as ways to encourage students to write and get feedback from others. However, it is rarely recognized or acknowledged, if ever, that social media is a good tool for student bonding too. For a number of semesters, I have used Facebook (FB) to help students bond. Admittedly, not all students use FB with ease. As mentioned, students from China, for example, tend not to use FB simply because the website is banned in that country. For most other students, however, the use of FB seems unproblematic.

In my modules, FB is no stranger. I use it for at least two purposes. Firstly, FB serves a pedagogic purpose. It allows open discussion to carry on outside limited class time and students to express their opinions (or learn to do so) in a non-threatening environment. An example of an FB discussion is given in Figure 1. In this activity, the students were asked to discuss the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ after watching it. Much discussion was generated then and subsequently, even though this activity was not graded.

Figure 1. An open discussion on FB.

bonding_jock1

This leads us to the other purpose of using FB. When students engage in open discussions on FB, they become ‘comfortable’ with one another and bond. This leads to another positive outcome: students do not feel inhibited in asking questions during assignment time. They are able to solicit ideas freely from their classmates and learn from them in the process. Figures 2 and 3 are examples of students asking for feedback on their research topic, something that may be considered a module activity. In these examples, students were asked to discuss selected speech norms. The photo in Figure 2 shows a student who wanted to study a Singapore English word bojio (‘didn’t invite me’) engaging her classmates in a discussion of the word. As shown in Figure 3, a student asked his classmates if they thought his proposed topic, the ‘efficiency’ of Singapore English, was fine. These examples clearly show that the students were very comfortable with asking for feedback and sharing their opinions with others.

Figure 2. A student engaging others in an open discussion on FB.

bonding_jock2

Figure 3. A student seeking feedback on his proposed topic on FB.

bonding_jock3

The good thing also was that many of my students who were familiar with the use of FB needed no encouragement to use it for bonding purposes. For example, some posted pictures of their outings and ‘memes’ on the FB group page for all to see. Some of these pictures invited comments like the kind seen in any FB account. Figure 4 shows students from one class at a dinner outing and Figure 5 shows a ‘meme’, both of which were posted on FB after the event. The students were obviously having a good time bonding. However, it might be added that this outing could also reflect successive bonding in class in the first place. They bonded well in class and extended their bonding outside class. This could be seen as an example of how bonding begets more bonding. In fact, it might be said that the act of posting pictures on FB itself is bonding because it allows students to ‘comment’ on and ‘like’ them, another example of how bonding begets further bonding.

Figure 4. Picture of classmates having an evening out posted on FB.

bonding_jock4

Figure 5. A ‘meme’ from a class outing posted on FB.

bonding_jock5

Admittedly, there could be the perceived issue of the teacher and students interacting too closely on FB. However, I do not see close interaction between teacher and students, on or off FB, as particularly problematic. In my experience in Australia, lecturers and students often interact closely. For example, after a seminar in the afternoon, lecturers and students might adjourn to a pub for drinks. It was also not uncommon for lecturers to invite their PhD students home for dinner and engage them in other social activities. For example, the husband of my PhD supervisor once invited a few of us, including a new lecturer, for a day out. Perhaps in the Asian cultural context, the teacher is seen as someone ‘above’ the students and hence there should be some distance between them but this is a view that I tend not to fully subscribe to. I believe that it is good for a university teacher to interact closely with their students to understand their needs and challenges.

Interestingly, besides pedagogic and bonding purposes, I have recently learned that FB serves another important function, which I thought I might share with readers. Besides pedagogic and bonding activities such as posting links to articles or videos for discussion and posting pictures of class activities, my FB group is also used for a host of other purposes including making class announcements and making appointments for consultation. I even use it to send messages to students who have not turned up for an appointment to see me; many of them, especially undergrads, have an FB application on their mobiles and can respond in real time. In one instance, an undergraduate student was having breakfast nearby but rushed to my office within minutes after receiving an FB message from me to remind him of our appointment, which he had forgotten. All this means that, in an academic context, FB could additionally be used for administrative purposes.

Spontaneous bonding activities
Sometimes, a bonding opportunity could surface when least expected. On one occasion, during a short break, a few students started talking about their favorite colors (although I cannot remember the context in which this conversation started). Then, before I knew it, they decided to color coordinate for the next session and this happened a few times. On one occasion, they decided on blue and so everyone (including me, the teacher) had to wear something that had the color blue on it, as depicted in Figure 6a. Pictures were taken and posted on FB of course.

Figures 6a, b, c. Students color coordinate.

bonding_jock6

Interestingly, when another class heard about it, they followed suit and color coordinated for class with a vengeance, as shown in Figures 6b, c. Obviously, color coordinating had nothing to do with learning, but the fact that every student of the class participated in it told me that they had bonded; the sense of belonging was palpable. (After all, color coordination has a similar effect as a uniform, which implies unity and a sense of belonging.) Just as importantly, the students were having fun, and they looked forward to class.

I also found out that they organized themselves by creating a Whatsapp group for the class, which they used for bonding purposes, e.g. to tell class members where and what time to meet for a class outing, or what the color scheme for the next session was. I was not part of the arrangement, but that was fine. It again showed that bonding begot more bonding, from class to FB, from FB to Whatsapp, from Whatsapp back to class, a full circle.

On another occasion, I learned something from a class of students when they bonded spontaneously by arranging their seats. Before that, I knew that where students sat (i.e. where they faced) was important, as did a number of colleagues (e.g. Blackstone, this special issue). Except when a lecture is in progress, I have never found the traditional sitting arrangement in which students sit in rows facing the teacher ideal. It does not encourage students to face one another or interact. Such an arrangement is restrictive and reflects a teacher-centered orientation. Whenever possible, I try to get my students to sit in a semi-circle, an arrangement which seems to encourage open discussion.

Figure 7. Clusters of tables in hexagonal formations.

bonding_jock7

Figures 8a, b. Students sitting as ‘one’.

bonding_jock8

Recently, I taught in a classroom of a relatively new building in which the tables were meant to be arranged in 4 clusters. In fact, in all the classrooms in that building, all tables were arranged in clusters, some in hexagonal formations, as illustrated in Figure 7. Presumably, this is considered progressive. In the classroom in which I taught, each cluster consists of 4 tables, with two students sitting next to each other, facing the other two students who also sit next to each other. This arrangement obviously favors small group discussion, as Martin (this special issue) notes. However, it was not good enough for a particular class of 12 students: They positioned 6 tables together to form a long table, with 6 students on each side. It was ‘the last supper’ formation (see Figures 8a, b). They did not want to sit in separate clusters but as ‘one’. The class dynamics were remarkable. Because this seating arrangement was created by the students and not the teacher, it clearly revealed the importance of bonding from the students’ perspective.

The importance of bonding and student feedback
There is evidence from research to suggest that bonding is important in the classroom, at least among primary school students (Madill, Gest, & Rodkin, 2011). My experience with classes that have for various reasons not bonded well and student feedback are consistent with this idea.

As implied, bonding is not always easy to develop even among post-graduate students. In some contexts, it can be a major challenge because students find it difficult to connect with one another. This can happen in a multilingual English proficiency class, where students do not speak the same native languages. In previous years, I taught classes in which students spoke languages as diverse as Persian, Thai and Mandarin. Many of these students came from towns or cities that tended to be monolingual and mono-cultural and their proficiency in English was not at a level where they could freely interact with other members of the class. Trying to get them to bond was, in my experience, not an easy task, especially when there was a dominant group in the class, which was often the case. When this happened, members of the dominant group, when working cooperatively, tended to speak in their home languages. This could in fact cause unhappiness among members of the dominant group who could feel disadvantaged because they did not get to pair up with speakers of their own languages during paired work. It could also cause frustration among those who were from the non-dominant group because they could not use their home languages during group work. Faced with such a situation, one way to bond students might be to organize a class lunch on a regular basis facilitate communication among students who do not speak the same language. As shown in Figure 9, a class of culturally diverse post-graduate students, representing the languages Mandarin (the dominant group), Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai, sat down for an ‘interactive’ lunch together. In my experience, eating together could improve bonding between students of different mother tongues.

Figure 9. A culturally diverse class of students at lunch.

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Figure 10. A fond and fun memory on the last day of class.

bonding_jock10

The most importance piece of evidence that supports the idea that bonding is important comes from the students themselves. In end-of-semester feedback, I often receive comments from students regarding my bonding activities.

Regarding the use of FB for open discussion, one student wrote, ‘The discussions were interesting and Facebook discussions were very helpful’. Another wrote, ‘I do like the open discussion on Facebook’. Regarding the use of FB for bonding purposes, one wrote, ‘Makes the effort to connect to students via FB and through other means beyond just the classroom.’

A particular student commented, ‘I am glad that Jock does his best to make us all feel comfortable to share personal experiences regarding the topic. This is different from many other classes whereby we are not as comfortable to share things.’ Although the word bonding is not used, it seems fairly clear that this student is saying something related to it. It is through bonding that students are able to feel comfortable enough to share things with others.

In fact, the bonding activities did not just make the environment comfortable for the students. It made the learning process fun too. A student said in feedback, ‘I initially thought it would be a chore (because, you know, writing module) but it was really a very fun and engaging experience, and I learnt a lot.’

The strongest affirmation of the importance of bonding comes from the students who wrote:

Initiates activities to bond the class, e.g. the color coding theme used for class whereby everyone wears the same color clothing.

He strongly attempts to increase solidarity between himself and his students and definitely tries to get to know us all better without showing bias or favoritism. This creates a very relaxed and open environment in his classroom which is very suitable for learning and discussing complex ideas like the ones in this module.

Because of him, students in class are not afraid to voice out their opinions. He asks the class though provoking questions and never fails to entertain the class afterwards. He puts in an effort to connect with students by initiating several activities that lets the students feel special in his class. These are activities such as the color coding theme lessons when everyone in class wears a specific color, including him.

Response to and feedback on bonding activities tell me in no uncertain terms that they were helpful to student learning. It made the students’ time spent in the module rewarding and fun. Therefore, for me, bonding activities are here to stay.

Concluding remarks
In sum, good bonding enriches the teacher’s teaching and the student’s learning experience. Additionally, it leaves class members with many fond and fun memories (see Figure 10) and can forge long term friendship. The bonding activities discussed brought me closer to my students when we were together and enriched my teaching experience. As the student feedback suggests, the bonding activities also enriched their learning experience. In fact, many of these students are now also my FB friends and we remain in touch even though some of us are miles apart.

References
Blackstone, B., & Harwood, C. (2010). Pedagogical Blogging for University Courses. In R. Jaidev, M. L. Sadorra, J. O. Wong, M. C. Lee, & B. P. Lorente (Ed.), 3rd CELC Symposium Proceedings (pp. 67-84). Singapore: Centre of English Language Communication.

Blackstone, B., & Harwood, C. (2012, March). Using Facebook to Extend Learning Into Students’ Digital Lives. ELTWorldOnline.com, 4, 1-22.

Madill, R. A., Gest, S. D., & Rodkin, P. C. (2011). Students’ Perceptions of Social Relatedness in the Classroom: The Roles of Student-Teacher. Retrieved January 12, 2014, from ERIC: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED519001.pdf

Wong, J. O. (2013, December 6). Learning Can Be Fun!: Reflections on incorporating student-centred learning activities & humour in an English Language classroom. CDTL Brief. (S. D. Liew, Ed.) Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/brief/firstlook/pdf/J_Wong_novdec2013.pdf

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About the author
Wong Jock Onn is Lecturer, CELC NUS; Co-Editor in Chief, ELTWorldOnline.com and Editorial Board Member, Journal of Intercultural Communication Research. He has taught courses in semantics, pragmatics, cross-cultural communication and ELT. His research interests lie in language and culture, language learning and World Englishes. He can be reached at jock@nus.edu.sg and jockonn@gmail.com.

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Integrating Blog Writing into the Essay Writing Process http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/01/09/integrating-blog-writing-into-the-essay-writing-process/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/01/09/integrating-blog-writing-into-the-essay-writing-process/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 12:48:44 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=3970 by Lee Ming Cherk,
Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore

Abstract
This paper discusses how blogs can enhance the academic writing process and develop students into better writers. The background of this study is an English for Academic Purpose course designed for undergraduates in a Singapore university. The study investigates students’ views about blog writing as a platform for responding to journal articles, and for reviewing peers’ work. It also evaluates the efficacy of online peer feedback.


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Introduction
Since its inception, blog writing has quickly expanded from simply disseminating information and sharing journal entries, to generating new ideas and stimulating discussions. As Murray and Hourigan (2008) point out, web users are not only ‘consumers’ of information but ‘creators’ of information as well. In higher education, the blog has been extolled as a credible platform for discussion, collaboration and development of higher order thinking. In the idealized English as Second Language (ESL) process writing, blogging enables students to interact, construct meaning, scaffold knowledge and solve problems. Through this, students reflect, rehearse and refine the ideas they want to communicate. At the same time, teachers are better able to monitor their students’ progress and to intervene and guide students more efficiently.

There are two types of constructs underlying blogging in ESL process writing: the “private world” of reflection and the “shared world” of discourse (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). “Private world” activities such as reading and reflecting relate to the notion of constructivism situated within the Piaget school of thought which sees the individual as central to the learning process and information that is absorbed and knowledge being constructed by the learner himself. “Shared world” activities such as responding and engaging in discourse are reminiscent of Vygotsky’s social constructivism which contends that learning and development is a collaborative activity.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of blogging within the process writing approach and to evaluate its efficacy in enhancing ESL writing.

Specifically, the research questions are:

  1. In what way has blogging enhanced the process of writing?
  2. Did blogging help students produce better pieces of writing?

Background
The study is based on an undergraduate English for Academic Purposes course run in a Singapore university. This was a 48-hour course taught twice a week over a 12- week period. An integral part of the course was to enable students to read and understand journal articles, draw ideas from these articles, synthesize them, and use these ideas to write an expository academic essay. The process writing approach, involving multiple drafting, peer reviews and conferencing with the tutor, was adopted. Two essays were written during the course and each process writing cycle lasted five to six weeks. Since students were new to the process writing approach, the first essay was used to familiarize students with the requirements of an academic essay (encapsulated in Appendix 1) and the practice of multiple drafting and peer reviews. Therefore, no blogging was introduced at this stage. Instead, blogging was introduced into the writing process only during the second essay after students had become familiar with the necessary procedure.

Table 1. Process of writing Essay 2.BlogMingCherk Table 1

Table 1 shows how blogging was integrated into the writing process for Essay 2. This is indicated in bold and large print. The purpose of blogging at this stage was to help students familiarize themselves with their reading materials, discuss and generate new ideas, hone written expression and increase self-awareness. Also in this process, the teacher facilitated sporadically to shape discussions and to provide feedback.

A total of five posts were put up: Four relating to each one of the assigned journal readings, and one being an online peer review.

Procedure
Essay topic
For Essay 2, students were to choose to write on one of these topics:

  1. Globalization has had arguably positive effects on developed and developing countries. This phenomenon, which has often been associated with interdependence, interconnectedness, integration and the flattening of the world has been viewed from different perspectives, both favorable and pernicious. Compare and contrast these two perspectives.
  2. The phenomenon of globalization has been viewed from different perspectives: (1) an inclusive view which underscores the positive effects of globalization on developed and developing countries and a marginalist view which maintains the globalizing processes benefit some countries but marginalizes others, or (2) favorable and pernicious. Compare and contrast these two perspectives in light of two aspects, e.g., economic outcomes and changes in business firms or societies.

*(ES1102 English for Academic Purposes, National University of Singapore)

Reading and blogging assignments
In preparation for their essay writing, students were assigned four journal articles to read. They were also required to post a comment in response to a tutor-generated blog post on each of the articles, in addition to participating in class discussion. Students were generally expected to write no more than 150 words for each post. There was no stipulation on the number of comments which they had to make and no word limit was imposed on the comments. The wordings of the four blog posts were as below:

Assignment 1:
In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman says that “the flat world empowers the forces of darkness as well as the forces of light” (p.482). Indeed, globalization brings with it both advantages and disadvantages. Do you think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or vice versa? Who do you think benefits more: developed countries or developing ones? In less than 150 words, share your views and respond to the views of others on this blog.

Assignment 2:
In his article, “Why the World Isn’t Flat,” Pankaj Ghemawat refutes Thomas L. Friedman’s claim that globalization is creating a massive impact on the world. What are the bases for his argument? What examples does he use to support his views?

Assignment 3:
In the article, “The Globalization Index,” globalization is measured by how much or how little a country is opening itself up and connecting with the rest of the world. In measuring the extent of globalization in a country, these categories are taken into account: economic integration, personal contact, technological connectivity and political engagement. In your opinion, why are some countries more globalized than others?

Assignment 4:
In his book, Making Globalization Work, Joseph Stiglitz discusses the problems and limitations of globalization. Do you see the same problems and limitations in your own country?

A class blog was set up for each of the three classes involved in the study. Each class consisted of 13-16 students. One reading assignment was given per week over a four-week period.  Students were required to post a comment in response to a tutor-generated blog post on each of the given articles.

Peer review
After reading the articles and producing the first draft, students were asked to review each other’s work through blogging, with the same criteria as the one they had used with Essay 1 (see Appendix 1). A copy of the checklist is found in Appendix 1. The online peer review was conducted in a computer laboratory. Students were organized in groups of three for this purpose. They were asked to upload their essays on their assigned blogs for their group members to read. At the end of the 1 hour 20 minute session, each student had read and given written comments on the essays of the other two members of their group, and received comments on their own essays from the same. The purpose was to compel students to reflect more, work on expressing their ideas more clearly, and collaborate on improving each other’s writing. The fact that students had to express themselves in open cyberspace compelled them to pay more attention to the quality of their content and the accuracy of their language.

Participants
The subjects of this study were undergraduates from three classes (totalling 43) taking an English for Academic Purposes course (ES1102). They were from a variety of national and linguistic backgrounds. Details of the student composition are given in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Nationality and linguistic background of students.BlogMingCherk Table 2

Typically, the Chinese students (16 in total) among this group had started learning English as a foreign language from the age of 12. The Malaysian students (6 in total) were from Chinese or Malay medium schools where English was taught as a second language from primary school upwards. The Indonesian student (1 only) and Myanmar student (1 only) were taught English as a foreign language from secondary school. Only the Indian students (2 in total) and Singaporean students (17 in total) had gone through a school system where English was the medium of instruction throughout their school years. All students were observed to be technically competent enough to carry out blogging activities independently.

Research methodology
An eclectic approach was adopted to answer the research questions. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to provide triangulation.

Quantitative methods
Content Analyses
Open coding was adopted to identify recurring types of activities. Four categories were identified through this process. While “regurgitating,” “reflecting” and to some extent, “relating” fall within the domain of cognitive constructivism, “responding” is found within the realm of social constructivism. The list of codes and their corresponding descriptions is given in Table 3.

Table 3. Codes used for content analysis.BlogMingCherk Table 3

Questionnaire survey
A short survey was carried out to find out more about students’ blogging experience. The responses were made on a Likert scale of 1 to 4 (4 = strongly agree; 3 = agree; 2 = disagree; 1 = strongly disagree). They were then counted and presented in percentages. The results (see Appendix 2) were then corroborated with the qualitative analysis of student comments to derive a fuller understanding of their experience of blog writing on this course.

T-test
A T-test was run to compare the essay marks obtained by students who commented on the blogs more frequently (≥4 times) with those of students who commented on the blogs less frequently (≤ 3 times).

Qualitative method
Comments given at the end of the questionnaire survey were analyzed.

As the online peer review through blogging did not lend itself to the coding pattern established for the reading assignments, it was analyzed qualitatively, with focus on the content and type of discourse found during the online discussion.

Collectively, Table 4 below shows the methods used to answer the research questions.

Table 4. Methods employed to answer research questions.BlogMingCherk Table 4

Results and discussion
Research question 1: In what ways has blogging enhanced the process of writing?
Content Analyses of Online Discourse on Reading Assignments
The results for the first research questions showed that the online discourse in the blogs were mainly cognitive constructivist in nature. In other words, students tended to write more for their personal consumption than to engage an audience.

A content analysis was carried out using the sentence as the unit of analysis.  The percentages of occurrence in each of the categories are given in the table below.

Table 5. Percentages of occurrence.BlogMingCherk Table 5

The figures show that although student blog comments were mainly individualist and cognitive constructivist in nature, there was no consistent preference for either regurgitating, reflecting or relating.  One possible reason was that the way students commented on the blogs was dictated by the content of the article they were reading, the difficulty of the article and the questions posed to them on the blog. However, it was evident through online writing, students were compelled to grapple with the content in the journal articles, compare ideas across articles, reformulate the ideas, and even extend them. On the other hand, it was also clear that there was a much lesser tendency to engage fellow students in online discussions during this stage of the essay writing process. It was likely that students’ unfamiliarity with the topic made it difficult for them to comment much on it or engage fully in a discussion.

It cannot be assumed that the blog by itself would automatically bring about higher levels of interactivity. Karagiogi and Symeou (2005) warn that social constructivism, or collaborative learning, is a learning philosophy and not a learning strategy or system, and so it poses great challenges when adopted in real classroom situations. Not all learners are able to competently take control of their own learning. Some of them may not benefit as much as intended. In addition, blogging per se does not necessarily move discussion towards higher order thinking. One must note that the level of engagement is largely dictated by the topic of discussion and the nature of the assignment given in each blog post. In general, most discussions tend to remain at the information sharing and brainstorming stage (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). As such, many studies have suggested the need for appropriate task design, teacher facilitation and direction as there seems to be a close link between teaching and cognitive processing. (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Meyer, 2003; Murphy, 2004). Critical reflection also has to rely on the teacher’s moderation because students may not be skilled enough to clearly articulate different points of view (Lee, 2011).

Nonetheless, the tendency to be more individualistic in blog responses should not be viewed negatively as regurgitating, reflecting and responding are valuable activities that allow students to explore and synthesize ideas, and rehearse their writing for their essays.

As shown in the questionnaire, the students were generally positive about their blogging experiences. In the first part of the questionnaire survey (entitled “writing about assigned readings”), all the respondents (100%) agreed that blogging had helped them understand their assigned readings better. Also, the vast majority (97%) incorporated the ideas which they wrote on the blogs into their essays. From this, we can deduce that blogging has helped students gain a better grasp of their essay topic.

A student reported thus,

In this English class, I tried my best in completing every single reading that are given and as a result, I found that ideas accumulate in my brain before I notice them. Writing an outline therefore, no longer is considered as a tough job. (Loh Pei She) [sic]

However, a noticeable minority (21.2%) did not read what others had written in the class blogs. Also, slightly more than half (54.4%) reported that they did not respond to what other people had written on the blogs. Despite the fairly low level of interactivity among users, most of them (87.9%) still felt that participating on the blogs had helped them write a good essay. This sentiment is well expressed by a student who thought that the blogging helped him to understand, reflect and refine ideas for his essay:

I feel that the compulsory readings provided me with the background knowledge that I required to write the essay. The blogging assignment ‘forced’ me to process and group the information that I have read from the articles and they tested my understanding of the readings. The multiple drafts, writing assignments and the blogging assignments allowed me to read and re-read whatever that I have written and check whether they sound logical. (Koh Rui Yang) [sic]

Analyses of Online Peer Review
Given the nature of the peer review, it was impractical to analyze the online discourse with the same categories developed for the online discourse on the reading assignments. The discourse was therefore analyzed qualitatively. Interestingly and unlike the types of comments on the assigned readings, the online peer reviews reflected much higher levels of interactivity. The types of turns taken by reviewer to reviewee included giving complements, asking for clarifications, making comments, suggesting changing and even developing an argument further for the reviewee to consider. The types of turns taken by the reviewee to the reviewer included agreeing or disagreeing, clarifying questions raised by the reviewer, explaining and defending a point, and attempting to make changes suggested by the reviewer.

Also, as seen in the nature of their comments, the students did not deviate too far from the checklist (see Appendix 1), provided by the teacher. Table 6 shows the type of online discussion that took place:

Table 6. Information on content discussed in peer reviews.BlogMingCherk Table 6

According to a student, this was what had happened:

Peer reviewing allows interaction and discussion among friends and classmates, and this might be more relaxed for students. By openly discussing and pointing out each other’s mistakes and good points, students are able to support one another and also learn from each other’s mistakes. (Ke Wei En) [sic]

Also, according to the questionnaire survey (question 7), most students (75.1%) felt that the feedback which they had received on the blog helped them to revise their essays. This is confirmed by written comments such as the following:

Peer review allows me to look through and comment on other people’s essays, hence looking at potential mistakes that I myself may also make. This serves to inoculate me thus preventing me from making the same mistake. (Ke Wei En) [sic]

Similarly, most students (72.8%) felt that they had learned more about essay writing through giving feedback to their peers (question 8). Student benefitted by having their essays read through fresh pairs of eyes:

Peer reviews also give me the chances to view my essay with perspectives of my peers. It is interesting and useful. (Hou Nanjun) [sic]

Clarifications sought by peers and suggestions made by them helped writers hone meaning:

The peer reviews helped as they help me to get my message out more clearly. (Koh Ruiting) [sic]

However, despite the many positive features of peer reviews, the majority of students (63.7%) still preferred face-to-face tutor feedback to online peer reviews:

No doubt my peers are helpful in identifying my mistakes but certain errors are best explained by the tutor. (Benjamin Khew) [sic]

On the whole, blogging as an additional activity in the writing process was viewed positively, as revealed in the questionnaire survey results where 72.7% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that they did not mind blogging over and above attending classes and writing assignments.

Research question 2: Did blogging help students produce better pieces of writing?
A T-test was run to find out whether the frequency in blogging correlated significantly with the marks achieved for essay writing. To this end, a comparison was made between the marks of students who had posted comments 3 or fewer (≤3) times with students who had posted comments 4 or more (≥4) times.

On a 95% confidence Interval of the difference (two-tailed), it was found that there was no significant difference (equal variances assumed; lower: -3.36302; upper: 1.80746).

Given that this was students’ first attempt in using computer mediated communication to enhance essay writing, the results were predictably unreliable. Several repeats of the same process would have yielded more robust information.  Also, the comparison between students who commented frequently (i.e.  times) with students who commented less frequently (i.e. ≤3 times) was an arbitrary one. A clearer comparison would have been drawn between students who had not blogged at all with students who had.

Conclusion
The research has shown that despite the less-than-convincing statistical results, blogging does enhance the writing process. Qualitative findings have revealed many cognitive activities taking place during online discourse. Through reiterating, reflecting and relating, students were inadvertently rehearsing what they would eventually include in their essays much more than they would do in a conventional class. Finally, the blog allowed all students an equal opportunity to be heard. Even the most reticent pupil in class could still make his or her views known.

Unlike the earlier blog discussions on the assigned readings, the peer reviews done through blogging were more successful in engaging students in discussions and problem solving. Having the asynchronous discussion recorded in writing, students could go back to it and better evaluate each other’s work, make suggestions, defend their choices of writing style, content and organization, and decide either to take on or ignore suggestions given by peers. The different levels of interactivity found in blog commenting on reading assignments and that found in the online review is a powerful indication that task design, students’ familiarity with task and content are important factors determining the nature of student engagement and learning outcomes.

Throughout the blog writing processes, the tutor was able to monitor the discussions closely and step in at appropriate times either through the blog or during follow-up class discussions. She also had the opportunity to evaluate the validity of the comments posted and discuss them in addition to the essays per se during the one-on-one conferencing sessions. This helped to build up students’ metacognitive awareness and move them on to becoming more independent writers. In other words, blogging facilitated closer monitoring and more follow-up work than what would have been possible in traditional classrooms.

In all, blogging adds value to the learning process. Not only can it achieve what conventional pedagogies do, but it also allows students to become more engaged, and enables teachers to monitor their progress more effectively.

Acknowledgements
The author wishes to acknowledge the originators of the two essay prompts used in this research, Dr. Luisa Sadorra (Senior Lecturer, CELC) and Ms. Fong Yoke Sim (Lecturer, CELC), coordinators of the English for Academic Purposes Module (ES1102) in the 2011-2012 academic year.

References
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2): 89-105.

Garrison, D. R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues and future directions. American Journal of Distance Education, 10(3): 157-172.

Karagiori, Y., & Symeou, L. (2005). Translating constructivism into instructional design: Potential and limitations. Educational Technology & Society, 8(1): 17-27.

Lee, L. (2011). Blogging promoting learner autonomy and intercultural competence through study abroad. Language Learning & Technology. 15(1): 87-109.

Meyer, K. A. (2003). Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher order thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3): 55-65.

Murphy, E. (2004). Identifying and measuring ill-structured problem formulation and resolution in online asynchronous discussions. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 30(1), 5-20.

Murray, L., & Hourigan, T. (2008). Blogs for specific purposes: Expressivist or socio-cognitive approach? ReCALL, 20(1): 82-97.

Appendix 1: Student checklist for reviewing essays
Content

  • content is informative and reflects critical thinking
  • content addresses the essay question in an in-depth manner
  • information is relevant (no digressions)
  • topic sentences are clear
  • topic sentences relate to the thesis
  • supporting details relate to the topic sentences
  • supporting details are specific and logical
  • in-text and end-text citations are excellently used

Organization

  • introduction: background information is well connected and flows logically
  • introduction: thesis statement is clearly stated and not merely rehashed from the essay prompt
  • body: ideas are logically connected
  • body: ideas are appropriately connected with transition markers
  • conclusion: summarizes information mentioned in the body paragraphs
  • conclusion: restates the thesis
  • conclusion: ends appropriately

Language

  • a variety of sentence structures (simple, compound and complex) are used
  • sentence structures are correct
  • grammar is correct; grammar items to note are: word form, noun, pronoun, article/determiners, preposition, modal, verb form, verb tense, subject-verb agreement, parallel structures, sentence fragment, connector & transition, run-on sentence and comma splice
  • a sophisticated range of vocabulary and expressions is used
  • excellent use of reporting verbs for citing source

Appendix 2: Results of questionnaire survey on blogging

BlogMingCherk Table 7


About the author
Blog_LeemingcherkLee Ming Cherk is a full-time lecturer at the Centre for English Communication, NUS. Prior to that, she was teaching in tertiary institutions both in Singapore and in Hong Kong. Her academic interests include second language writing, raising grammar awareness through writing, language policy, quality and change management, peer conferencing and more recently, the social media.

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