AUTHOR: Alison Mackey
TITLE: Input, Interaction, and Corrective Feedback in L2 Learning
SERIES TITLE: Oxford Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Ferit Kilickaya, Kocaeli University

SUMMARY

This book, part of the textbook series ‘Oxford Applied Linguistics’, investigates how interaction, together with input and corrective feedback, is involved in second language learning. It reviews a considerable amount of research carried out over the last two decades as well as very recent work. The book is composed of four parts with two chapters each, for a total of eight chapters. The structure enables readers to read chapters independently of others as it is organized thematically.

In Part One, under the theme of ‘Theoretical foundations and methodological approaches’, Chapter 1, entitled ‘Introduction to the roles of input, interaction, and feedback in L2 learning’, the author provides a clear and concise overview of the interaction approach and associated constructs such as input, feedback, and output. When discussing these, the author first presents the historical development of interaction research and then focuses on studies within the framework of interaction and learning, pointing to work dealing with these constructs. This chapter lays the foundation for the next chapters by providing a synthesis of research, and brief but effective overviews of findings of studies conducted over the last two decades.

Chapter 2, ‘Methodology in interaction research’, highlights the key considerations used in interaction research. As indicated throughout the book, second language development is assured through interaction, and in this chapter, a detailed review of typical tasks used in such research has been provided. In the course of this review, these tasks are provided in categories depending on the characteristics of the tasks, such as whether they are open or closed, and whether they encourage one-way or two-way communication. The chapter also focuses on introspective methods such as stimulated recalls and think-aloud protocols considered invaluable ways of getting participants to recall their thinking.

In Part Two, under the theme of ‘Contextual and instructional factors and applications in interaction-driven L2 learning’, Chapter 3, entitled ‘Classrooms, laboratories, and interlocutors’, examines how context plays a role in interaction. It also presents a range of views based on studies conducted in laboratory settings and in classrooms. In other words, a critical perspective is provided on how interaction occurs and which factors affect interaction in both laboratory and classroom contexts such as what learners notice in the feedback provided (learners’ noticing of feedback) and interlocutor effects.

Chapter 4, entitled ‘Tasks and the provision of learning opportunities in interaction’ deals with task-based instruction and focus-on-form instruction (FFF) and how these types of instruction can foster second language learning through interaction. In this vein, the chapter focuses on tasks and interaction and how they evolve in particular settings. As mentioned with regard to previous chapters, the discussion is guided through brief summaries of the studies conducted in this area, pointing to different types of tasks and factors that might affect interaction such as planning time and familiarity.

In Part Three, under the theme of ‘Cognitive and learner differences influencing the interaction-learning relationships’, Chapter 5, entitled ‘Learner characteristics: age and interaction-driven L2 learning’, discusses what interaction-based research says about how age and interaction affect second language learning in children and older learners. It is noteworthy that the author covers a wide body of literature on both populations, drawing attention to the need for research on older adults, especially in interaction-driven second language learning.

Chapter 6, entitled ‘Cognitive processes: the role of working memory in interaction-driven learning’, focuses on the role of working memory (WM) in interactive activities in second language classrooms and it discusses different models of WM such as Baddeley’s four-part model. Several issues emerge in the discussion such as verbal working memory and phonological short-term memory and how research links these issues to language proficiency.

In Part Four, under the theme of ‘Understanding and extending interaction research’, Chapter 7, entitled ‘Negotiation, corrective feedback, and recasts in SLA’ further extends the discussion provided in the introductory chapter and focuses on how interaction can be improved through interactional modifications, implicit and explicit feedback, recasts, error correction and how learners can structure their interlanguages.

Chapter 8, ‘Driving interaction research forward’, presents social, cognitive, and pedagogical directions for future interaction research. As Mackey suggests, questions about interaction research should be geared towards how interaction can impact second language learning, rather than whether it affects learning. Although this chapter might be seen as a conclusion, it really serves as the first step toward further research to be conducted in the interaction-driven second language learning, noting gaps in the related literature and suggesting directions.

EVALUATION

Considering the review of a wide body of research conducted for the last two decades and the suggestions on further research provided by the author, I can safely state that the author has achieved the goals with the book, dealing thoroughly how interaction, input, and corrective feedback go hand in hand within the framework of several differences and factors in second language learning. This would definitely be not only an invaluable textbook but also a must-have reference for research students and researchers alike in interaction research and in the field of second language acquisition.

In their chapter on the “Interactionist approach” in ‘The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition’ (2012), Mackey, Abbuhl, and Gass touch on the core issues of the present book clearly but briefly, including theoretical foundations. Moreover, in the same volume, chapters on “The role of feedback” by Loewen and “Age effects in second language learning” by DeKeyser further enrich the discussions presented on how feedback and age can affect communication, interaction, and learners’ attainment in language classrooms.

To fully benefit from and to utilize what is covered in the present book, readers are urged to refer to these works as well as others like these on various issues such as how to provide feedback to learners, different perspectives on interaction, and how corrective and oral feedback is perceived by both learners and teachers: Bookhart (2008), Mackey and Polio (2009), Yoshida (2010), and Lyster, Saito, and Sato (2013).

The volume is well-structured, offering independent chapters that can be studied depending on your needs and a comprehensive review of the studies that will surely interest many in the second language acquisition world. The book actually delivers a coherent sense of the discussion related to interaction, starting very first from the theoretical foundations to meet the needs of those new to the roles of input, interaction, and feedback in L2 learning to more advanced issues such as cognitive and learner differences influencing the interaction-learning relationships, cognitive processes, and the role of working memory in interaction-driven learning.

The book has quite a few strengths beyond my power of summary. Among others, one major strength lies in the book’s organization and the overviews of the key interaction-driven studies on several important issues. The suggestions provided throughout for further research and the issues noted in each chapter are especially noteworthy since the author takes great care to present challenging ideas and studies. The book stresses the need for more research to be conducted on laboratory and classroom contexts as well as older adults especially in interaction-driven second language learning. The author draws the attention to the fact that further research should be geared towards how interaction can impact second language learning considering the factors discussed throughout the book, rather than focusing on whether interaction affects language learning or not.

I cannot help wishing that the book had been published before I completed my studies. The only thing that I would suggest for a future edition would be the inclusion of a glossary of key terms at the end of the book. Overall, this will be the first book that teachers, lecturers, researchers, and students in interaction-driven second language learning should consult for previous and current research, and ideas for further research.

REFERENCES

Bookhart, S. M. (2008). How to give effective feedback to your students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

DeKeyser, R. (2012). Age effects in second language learning. In S. M. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 24-40). New York, NY: Routledge.

Loewen, S. (2012). The role of feedback. In S. M. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 442-460). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lyster, R., Saito, K., and Sato, M. (2013). Oral corrective feedback in second language classrooms. Language Teaching, 46(1), 1-40. doi:10.1017/S0261444812000365

Mackey, A., Abbuhl, R., & Gass, S. M. (2012). Interactionist approach. In S. M. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 7-23). New York, NY: Routledge.

Mackey, A., & Polio, C. (2009). (Eds.). Multiple perspectives on interaction: Second language research in honor of Susan M. Gass. New York, NY: Routledge.

Yoshida, R. (2010). How do teachers and learners perceive corrective feedback in the Japanese language classroom? The Modern Language Journal, 94, 293-314.

This review appeared originally in the LINGUIST List at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-966.html

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Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) has been recently growing as a flourishing area of research and rising as an outgrowing practise in the field of second language teaching and learning. Thanks to its wide promises for language learners, such as providing them with the chance to learn anywhere and anytime , the potential benefits of using these technologies have been researched on different language skills. This study investigated how it consolidates L2 learners’ vocabulary in comparison to two other means and compared the effectiveness of supplementary vocabulary materials delivered via mobile phones (in the form of multimedia messages), on web pages and in print form. With a quasiexperimental research design,  it looked at whether there is an improvement in the post- tests and in the delayed post- tests after these treatments. The research questions were as follows:

1.What is the effect of the use of mobile phones for supporting language learners’ vocabulary acquisition?

a. Does the gain scores (the difference between post and pre- tests) in the vocabulary achievement tests differ among the three groups: mobile, web and paper-based?

b. Is there a significant difference between three groups’ (mobile, web, and paper-based) English language vocabulary retention?

The participants were 103 students attending English preparatory classes at a university in Turkey.  To compare the effectiveness of these three means, 6 groups were formed such that 18 students in the elementary level and 17 students in the pre-intermediate level composed the mobile group, 17  students in the elementary level and 17 students in the pre-intermediate level formed the two paper-based groups and 18 students in the elementary and 16 students in the pre-intermediate level formed the two web groups. The English words used in these supplementary materials were chosen from the vocabulary items in the regular classroom instruction. These materials were not used in the class but rather used to supplement the classroom activities. In all these groups, the same content was used which consisted of the definition of words, exemplary sentences, related visual representations, information on word formation and pronunciation of these words. For the web groups, a SQL database was used to register the participants into the system and track their logs. The treatment lasted for four weeks. To administer the study, a pre-test was carried out before the treatment. A post test was distributed after the treatment and it was followed by a delayed post test one month after the post test.  One Way Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was used to compare these six groups. The results indicated that the mobile groups in both elementary and pre-intermediate groups outperformed all the other groups not only in post- test but also in delayed post-test. The findings are striking so that they, by and large, provide promising evidence to support  the use of mobile tools in language learning  and teaching and paves the way for further research on the potential benefits of these for different language skills.

The study, I beleive, is a valuable one since it offers new perspectives concerning the language tools used in L2 classes and sheds light on new ways to improve L2 learners’ vocabulary. Considering that nearly every individual owns a mobile phone and is quite occupied with using it in their daily lives, it may be a practical way for them to use these devices to develop their language skills. The time and place constraints are also eliminated with these tools, which is also a great advantage for language learners.

References

Saran, Muran & Seferoğlu, Gölge, Supporting Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning Through Multimedia Messages via Mobile Phones. “Hacettepe University Faculty of Education Journal”, 38, (2010), p.252-266.

 

 

 

As educators, we are all teachers, researchers, learners, material developers, writers, and evaluators in educational systems; so we have different roles and sometimes we have to see who we are and what we are doing from different perspectives. This article is completely on this issue and it reminded me to evaluate my teaching style from the students’ perspective or my researching skills from a teacher’s perspective.

In this study, the findings of a project, titled “A student-teacher made teaching materials project: looking at teaching from the other side of the fence” and carried out at the Institution of English Language Education, Assumption University, Thailand, were presented in detail. The project was carried out with 11 MA students and each student conducted a demonstration lesson for their friends and the other students evaluated this demonstration lesson using a checklist. The teachers were also responsible for preparing supplementary materials for the course. The aims of the project were listed as raising the critical awareness of student-teachers concerning the classroom effectiveness of their planned activities and materials, producing a set of sample texts made by student-teachers to be modified and used for teaching writing and increasing awareness of the value of self- and team-resources when designing teaching materials in addition to published materials. After the project, the supplementary materials prepared by the participants were collected, compiled and utilized in real classroom settings.

At the end of the project, it was concluded that this kind of project which include demonstration lessons and peer evaluation helped the participants to gain insights and benefits and these were categorized in five groups as (a) experiencing both teaching and learning, (b) becoming a learning community, (c) taking risk and trying out new ideas (d) benefits from peer- and self-evaluation and (e) benefits gained from the materials development.

  • Experiencing both teaching and learning:

Many people have suggested the focus of peer observation for professional growth should be on the observer and not on the observee (p.255).

When I read this sentence, I remembered the days when I observed my students while they were teaching in practice teaching course. They presented such creative and interesting techniques and activities in some classes that I admired and used their activities in my own courses. The observers usually compare themselves with the observee and this helps them to improve their teaching strategies. In other words, the observee is like a mirror for the observer.

  • Becoming a learning community:

A learning community is an intentionally developed community that promotes, stimulates, and maximizes the group’s and group members’ learning (p.256).

It was claimed that the project encouraged the student-teachers to help each other while improving their teaching profession. This is one of the characteristics of learning communities. Helping, sharing and caring for each other are quite important terms in this kind of communities.

The project also enabled them to learn from each other, discover and value the diverse teaching ideas and expertise of their peers (p257).

While they were designing learning materials, demonstrating the lesson and participating the lesson as students, the main purpose was to improve the quality of the course. As they had a common purpose for being there, they really helped each other during the demonstration lessons. They all felt that they were members of a learning community and they really learned.

  • Taking risk and trying out new ideas: As the situation was not a real classroom setting and just a simulation of a classroom environment, the student-teachers were more courageous enough to try out new techniques and activities. The students were willing to help to the student-teacher to find out an effective teaching style. During the project, there were some situations in which the techniques failed at first but needed just a few modifications. In these cases, the students had some recommendations and this helped to design an effective course. In this kind of situations, mistakes could help to improve. Here, I really like what one of the participants stated about taking risks:

I like it here, because this project witnesses my failure and success. I still remember clearly, how sad I feel because of a lot of complaints from my first demo lesson. That kind of experience should not be forgotten;however, I also remember that excited feeling when I finish my second demo lesson successfully, this kind of experience is memorable forever! (pseudonym, Maria) (p.257).

  • Benefits from peer- and self-evaluation: Although evaluation causes a bit more threatening atmosphere, it helps both the observer and the observee. In this article, it was also mentioned that teachers usually prefer to be evaluated by their peers instead of their supervisors. Here, the participants used a checklist for the evaluation and this made the evaluation more objective and effective. Instead of just saying “it was good” or “it was poor”, the participants evaluated their peers in detail.
  • Benefits gained from the materials development: As a result of the project, the participants developed materials for a real class, English One. As they recognized that their audience was not an artificial audience and they were working for a real classroom, they were more motivated. Moreover, as they participated in demonstration lessons as students, they found the strengths and weaknesses of the materials both from a teacher’s perspective and a student’s perspective. This showed that if the teachers took parts in curriculum design, materials development and course design, the courses would be more effective.

Finally, several implications of this project were presented. First of all, this project helped the student-teachers to look at their teaching from different perspectives. They had different roles during the demonstration lessons, such as teaching, participating as a student, evaluating, developing material, etc.; and this helped them to evaluate their teaching styles from a wider perspective. Secondly, the student-teachers noticed the importance of demonstration lessons before teaching a real classroom. Although this is not always possible to rehearse for all courses, it would be very useful if we have the chance. Finally, student-teachers became aware of the fact that they could develop supplementary materials and they could modify the exercises in the published book. Their objective is not only conveying what the book says but also to design new supplementary materials.

Actually, not only in teaching but also in many situations, it is quite useful to change your perspective and your point of view in order to better see the situation. Most of the time, teachers claim that their students, administration, chairperson do not understand them; however, it would be better to look at the situation from their perspective and this would make our profession much easier and enjoyable.

Reference: 

Tan Bee Tin. 2006. Looking at teaching through multiple lenses. ELT Journal 60/3: 253-261.

AUTHOR: Keith Richards, Steven John Ross, and Paul Seedhouse

TITLE: Research Methods for Applied Language Studies
SUBTITLE: An Advanced Resource Book for Students
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2011

SUMMARY

This book is one of the series of comprehensive textbooks, Routledge Applied Linguistics. It provides readers a step-by-step approach to the processes of research, from research questions to a complete research project, serving as are source text for students and scholars in the field of second and foreign  language learning. The book comprises eight chapters, each followed by  exploration tasks to help the reader better comprehend and apply the knowledge  and practice presented.

In Chapter 1, ‘Introduction to research in language teaching and learning’, the authors, after introducing the aim and the focus of the book, provide an overview of research and what phases it involves. The authors present a research design flow chart summarizing the processes of research, and go through these processes in turn: The research questions, how they relate to the literature, the justification for doing the research, the evidence to provide an answer to research questions, type of data, better methods of collecting data, choosing appropriate methodology, writing research proposals, getting permissions and ethical approval, data collection, analysis and relating these to the research
questions, and finally, writing up an article, dissertation, or thesis. Following the discussion of these processes, quantitative and qualitative approaches are explained in detail, with a focus on ethnographic research and
conversation analysis.

Chapter 2, entitled ‘Interaction and pedagogy’, highlights two pivotal concepts in second language (SL) classrooms: spoken interaction and pedagogical action. Noticing and repair, the two important concepts in interaction analyses,
are discussed taking into consideration the research design and findings of two prominent articles in SL research. Moreover, through using SPSS data provided the readers are guided through a test of independence conducted between ‘noticing’ and interrogative ‘development’.

In Chapter 3, ‘The classroom as a language learning environment’, the distinction between two basic approaches to research, descriptive and hypothetical-deductive, are investigated. The first part of the chapter specifically examines ethnographic observation, going into details of grounded theory and thematic analysis. The examination is enriched with several excerpts from articles published on these issues. The second part discusses intervention studies, focusing on an exemplary article discussing the impact of task-based practice on the students’ development of automaticity. The chapter ends by providing an application of t-test in a study related to vocabulary learning.

Chapter 4, entitled ‘Affect and belief in language learning’, deals with interviews and surveys. The first part focuses on types of interviews and how interviews can be conducted, discussed in detail and step-by-step analysis. The reader, as in previous chapters, is guided through exemplary articles benefiting from interviews and self-ratings as data collection instruments and statistical analyses such as multiple regression and Rasch.

Chapter 5, ‘Language learning tasks’, highlights task-based learning in pedagogy and research in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) and exemplifies how ‘tasks’ are integrated into the research process in the excerpts from two articles provided in the chapter. Discussions are enhanced with statistical analyses through ANOVA and ANCOVA.

Chapter 6, entitled ‘Interaction, context and identity’, discusses the use of qualitative approaches such as Conversation Analysis and ethnography in describing and analyzing the relationship between context and identity in spoken interaction.

Chapter 7, ‘Assessing language and accessing constructs’, discusses the constructs in language learning such as fluency, motivation and teachability, and pays special attention to implicit and explicit knowledge, and proficiency through excerpts of several articles published on these constructs. The discussion of these issues is accompanied by statistical analyses through Factor analysis and Bivariate correlation analysis, explaining each step involved.

Chapter 8, entitled ‘Mixed-methods studies and complexity’, is the concluding chapter of the book, combining the methodologies in a mixed-methods approach to analyze complex systems. After examining the characteristics of a complexity theory approach within research in language learning and teaching, the chapter elaborates on how different methods can be combined, suggesting three possibilities: Discourse analysis and corpus linguistics, SLA and corpus
linguistics, SLA and conversation analysis. The chapter further considers conceptual issues: reliability, validity (internal, external, ecological, and construct), epistemology and ontology.

EVALUATION

This would be a useful textbook for postgraduate courses in foreign/second language learning. The book will provide graduate students majoring in Applied Linguistics with an opportunity not only to analyze but also to evaluate research articles written by leading researchers in the field. The major strength of this book lies in the use of key readings published on the core areas of applied linguistics, together with key questions and tasks that combine
the pivotal concepts. The exercises and tasks provided makes this book unique as the readers have the opportunity to apply what they have acquired to proposed questions, coming up with their own reflections.

We have a variety of books recently published on research in foreign/second language learning (Mackey & Gass, 2005; McKay, 2006; Larson-Hall, 2010; Porte, 2010; Mackey & Gass, 2012). The structure of the current book is very different
from the books published by Mackey & Gass (2005) and McKay (2006). This book does not follow a linear structure focusing successively on issues in research such as data collection measures, quantitative and qualitative studies, etc. It
deals instead with the core issues in applied linguistics, and discusses research design taking these issues into consideration (excluding Chapter 1, which aims to provide a very clear and brief introduction to the steps,
summarizing the processes of research). This non-linear approach, if correct to label it this way, can be a little problematic for students used to following a linear approach. For instance, in Chapter 2, a test of independence is conducted and the readers are guided through the analysis conducted on ‘noticing’ and ‘interrogative development’, while Chapter 3 is devoted to discussion of ethnographic observation, going into details of grounded theory and thematic analysis, together with an application of t-tests in research conducted on vocabulary learning.

The analyses conducted using SPSS present screen shots of SPSS to guide the reader; however, there is no information provided on how to present the results in a scholarly way. This lack of information on presenting the results from statistical analyses persists in the following chapters, such as in Chapter 5, focusing on analyses conducted through ANOVA and ANCOVA. The readers can compensate for this through reading Chapter 13 (pp. 245-274) of the book edited by Mackey and Gas (2012), which provides example reports of the analyses conducted.

The reviewer suggests that the authors of the current book should include information on how to choose the appropriate measurement test, especially for quantitative studies, which would further enrich the book (such as the flow chart provided by Porte (2010), on pages 292-293, reprinted from Hatch and Lazaraton (1991)). As it is clearly stated that the target audience is upper undergraduates, postgraduates, teachers and researchers in the field of language learning, the book is more suitable to be used in classes where students have taken research courses on social sciences and language related issues. In order to fully benefit from the key readings and concepts, tasks and practice provided by the current book, this reviewer suggests that the readers refer to the statistical analyses provided by Larson-Hall (2010) and Pallant (2010), which present a simple, step-by-step guide to data analysis process using SPSS without focusing on the  mathematical underpinnings and to conversation analysis discussed by Liddicoat (2007).

Overall, this book provides readers an advanced introduction to quantitative and qualitative research methods frequently used in research projects as well as in articles published within the field of second and foreign language learning. It is a well-structured book, offering clear discussion and explanation powered by tasks on key articles in the field and follow-up questions for anyone, not just students, interested in language related issues.

REFERENCES

Hatch, E. and Lazaraton, A. (1991). The research manual: Design and statistics for applied linguistics. New York: Newbury House Publishers.

Mackey, A. and Gass, S. M. (Eds.). (2012). Research methods in second language acquisition: A practical guide. Wiley-Blackwell. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Mackey, A. and Gass, S. M. (2005). Second language research: Methodology and design. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

McKay, S. L. (2006). Researching second language classrooms. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Larson-Hall, J. (2010). A guide to doing statistics in second language research using SPSS. New York: Routledge.

Liddicoat, A. (2007). An introduction to conversation analysis. New York: Continuum.

Pallant, J. (2010). SPSS Survival Manual: A step by step guide to data analysis using SPSS (4th ed.). New York, NY: Open University Press.

Porte, G. K. (2010). Appraising research in second language learning: A practical approach to critical analysis of quantitative research (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

This review appeared originally in the LINGUIST List at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3069.html

Sun (2012) examined how speaking practice through voice blogs would have an effect on college students’ speaking performance and investigated the participants’ perceived gains in speaking. The participants were 46 college students (15 females and 31 males) in Taiwan, studying English as a FL with an average of 9 years. Two research questions were addressed in the study (p. 496):

  1. Does extensive speaking practice via voice blogs improve learners’ speaking performance?
  2. What are learners’ perceived gains in speaking skills after extensive speaking practice via voice blogs?

In order to address the first research question, the participants’ oral performances in their blog entries were compared through a quasi-experimental research design. To investigate the second research question, following the speaking practice conducted through voice blogs, a survey including seven Likert-type items was administered to the participants.

The English class the participants attended aimed to improve their oral and public presentation skills and was conducted for 18 weeks. During that time, as an out-of-class activity, the participants were asked to provide 30 entries in their voice blogs as well as 10 responses as reactions or replies to their classmates’ voice messages. The participants decided for themselves while providing their entries on their blogs. That is, the teacher did not provide a strict requirement for the participants to follow. Moreover, grammatical accuracy was not stressed by the teacher. The first and the last three voice blog entries provided by the participants were subject to content analysis. Two raters analyzed the entries in terms of fluency, pronunciation, accuracy, and complexity.

The results showed that 76% of the participants believed that their oral proficiency was improved through providing entries on their voice blogs (Mean =3.89, SD =0.75), which means that they showed positive attitudes towards the use of voice blogs and agreed that voice blogs had positive effects on their speaking skills. However, these perceived improvements were not supported by the analysis of their blog entries. The content analysis comparing the participants’ first and last three voice entries indicated that there was not any difference regarding accuracy, pronunciation, and complexity prevailing in these entries. As also indicated by the author, this may be attributed to the fact that as students were free on deciding what and how to say, they may not have paid attention to accuracy, pronunciation or complexity. In other words, this out-of-class activity provided them to express themselves freely without caring about what was generally taken into considering in a classroom. The author did not provide any details on whether these activities were graded or evaluated; however, as far as I understand, these activities did not count towards their course grade. As such, this might also account for the fact that the perceived positive attitudes or gains in their speaking skills were not reflected in their entries. As stressed by the author,

…. the insignificant improvement in speaking skills in the study may be due to the fact that development of speaking skills might take more practice and longer time than the development of writing skills in an EFL context. Future research employing longitudinal study could shed new light in this regard (p. 501).

References

Sun, Y. (2012). Examining the effectiveness of extensive speaking practice via voice blogs in a foreign language learning context. CALICO Journal, 29(3), 494-506.

“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”  Dewey (1916)

Dewey stressed the importance of the quality of mental process; in other words, how thinking is evolved is considered more important than providing correct answers.  I do think that today’s instructors are well aware of the quality of mental process. However, since there are several reasons such as  the nationwide examinations which are commonly used as gatekeepers to admission to colleges, and the expectations of stakeholders, parents and students, instructors are forced to focus on the production of correct answers.

Leung and Andrews reports the findings of the study which they conducted on the role of textbooks in a high-stake assessment reform: School Based Assessment (SBA) as part of the 2007 Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in English Language (HKCEE). The SBA reform, if briefly stated, aimed at involving students’ own teachers as both facilitators and assessors in all stages of the assessment of their students’ English, which contributed to 15 per cent of the students’ final English score in the HKCEE. As stated by the authors, this reform challenged the teachers who were used to teaching to the test. The overall aim of the study was to investigate to what extent SBA textbooks changed the way the teachers teach and use materials in their classrooms.

Four popular SBA textbooks were analyzed, including materials such as the CD-ROMS accompanying these books.  As a data-collection instrument, a teacher questionnaire with six-point Likert scale items and open-ended questions was developed and administered to 185 teachers working at Hong Kong secondary schools. These teachers were all trained in SBA.  Of the questionnaires, 93 were analyzed since some of the teachers responded that they did not any experience of teaching SBA.

The analysis conducted on the four SBA textbooks indicated that only two of them provided activities to improve students’ speaking skills, while the other two books served as a guideline to how to select suitable materials instead of providing oral activities although speaking skill is evaluated in SBA. The responses provided to the items on the questionnaire revealed that teachers did not rely on heavily on SBA textbooks as they were involved in SBA duties in their schools, and SBA encouraged them to be better evaluators of the materials and the practices involved in assessment. The responses provided to the open-ended questions indicated that the majority of the teachers developed materials for their students so that their needs and interests were also covered in the materials.

The major finding of the study regarding the discussion of SBA and a high-stake language examination is, I think, that when teachers are involved in the assessment of their students’ language proficiency, and when they become a part of it, teachers’ are more willing to contribute to assessment practices through developing materials and becoming less reliant on the textbooks. However, a word of caution is due here. Since as in this study, teachers were both facilitators and assessors, and their assessment of their students’ proficiency contributed to 15 per cent of the students’ final English score, some reliability issues may arise.

References

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. The Macmillan Company . Retrieved from http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/publications/Projects/digitexts/dewey/d_e/chapter13.html

Leung, C. Y., & Andrews, S. (2012). The mediating role of textbooks in high-stakes assessment reform. ELT Journal, 66(3), 356-365.

Listening is one of the most pivotal skills that language learners need to improve, and thanks to technological tools such as MP3/4 players, websites such as YouTube, and companies producing language learning software such as TELLMEMORE, language learners as well as teachers have almost no difficulty in accessing listening materials, whether authentic or created for language learning purposes. Today’s teachers and students, with no doubt, are luckier than the ones in the past when it comes to listening, not to mention reading and other skills.

Research on language learners’ listening skill in L2 has looked into various aspects of listening such as speed of delivery, note-taking, and background knowledge. East and King (2012), in their article, investigates whether slowing down the tempo of IELTS-type listening materials will have any effect on the participants’ performance on the tasks given and their perceptions regarding the difficulty of these tasks. With this aim in mind,

The authors worked with 120 intermediate-level (B1 level on the Common European Framework) English language learners in New Zealand. The participants were divided into four groups considering the results of initial listening test based on the published materials of the IELTS examination and delivered once at normal speed:

a) normal speed (control group)

b) tempo reduced by 15%

c) tempo reduced by 22.5%

d) tempo reduced by 30%.

The same listening test materials were used in all these four groups. The independent variable was the speed of delivery and the dependent variable was the scores that each group had at the end of the test. In the control group, no change has been made to the speed; however, in the other groups, the listening materials were slowed down by using Audacity. The participants were also asked to provide responses to the questionnaire on the speed and the test difficult of the listening materials.

The results showed that all the experimental groups performed significantly better than the control group. However, there was no difference among the experimental groups. In other words, slowing the speed of the listening materials did affect the performance, but the degree of slowing speed (-15%, 22.5%, -30%) did not lead to any significant difference in performance. Moreover, the responses provided to the questionnaire showed that the participants in the experimental groups perceived the test less difficult. As stated by the authors, the study provided contradictory results regarding the review of the studies discussed in the literature review of the article and indicated that the speed of a listening test greatly influenced the test results and the participants’ perceptions.

I thought as much when I read the results since my own experience and the discussions that I hold with my students clearly show that although the level of the students and their listening habits play a great role in their performance on this kind of test, the speed of delivery of any listening material will naturally affect their performance. However, as also mentioned in the article, there remains a question: Since high stakes language exams such as TOEFL and IELTS include authentic listening materials; that is, speed of delivery is by no way slowed down or changed, will it be a good strategy to expose our students to listening materials whose speed or tempo is slowed down? For beginner students, the answer will most probably be ‘yes’, but what about students of higher levels?

By the way, I have included some links to popular websites that aim to provide learners of English with ample practice in listening.

http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/

http://www.elllo.org/

http://www.esl-lab.com/

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/programindex.html

http://www.eslvideo.com/ For those who are willing to create quizzes using YouTube Videos.

References

East, M., & King, C. (2012). L2 learners’ engagement with high stakes listening tests: Does technology have a beneficial role to play? CALICO Journal, 29(2), 208-223.