Results

We will first provide the results of our analysis of the students’ comments on the essays they graded, followed by our analysis of students’ reflections on the assignment. Both of these sources of data allowed for insight into both research questions (regarding the use of this assignment to inform future learning within and beyond the course). Note that while we perform some minor syntactic editing of the learner responses, they are largely left intact as they were written (i.e., without minor spelling and grammatical errors corrected).

Essay Comments: Artifacts of Previous Instruction

From student responses, we were able to infer certain learner beliefs about academic writing that we called “artifacts of previous instruction”; that is, general rules about writing that students must have been taught in earlier stages of their writing development and which they had internalized. Some of these artifacts are not necessarily serving them well because they represent oversimplifications or ignore important nuances. One minor example is the belief that you can never begin a sentence with the word because (without realizing that this is perfectly fine if the because is part of a dependent clause in complex sentences). Because our students are aware of different sentence types, it would be a simple affair to draw their attention to correct and incorrect usages.

Another example is the belief that one cannot ever write in the first person for any academic writing. Thus, even though the essays they were grading required the writers to recount a personal experience in the past, our students would often comment that the writing was not professional because of the use of the first person:

CA2: Certain sentences began with because and frequent reference of first person.

CB4: The writer use some phrases that not academic, such like "according to me."

Other artifacts of learners’ previous instruction could potentially lead to more serious misunderstandings. For example, many mentioned that stories (anecdotes, narratives) are not academic and/or are not support for an argument. In Essay 30, the author told a story of a difficult time in the past to justify why she would want to go back to that particular time. Respondents often stated that this was not academic or did not constitute good support, or that arguments and narratives do not go together.

CC11: The article just describes the personal experiences ... It is not academic enough.

CB4: The essay is just telling a story not that much arguments.

CC9: I can not concern it as a good academic essay. If judging this article based on literary levels, this essay could get better grade.

In addition, learner comments revealed that they expected to see transitional words begin every paragraph, as they had clearly been trained to do (e.g., First, Second, However, In conclusion). Because the writer of Essay 30 did not do this, a large number of learners reported that the text was confusing and difficult to follow, and poorly organized. However, the text had an introductory paragraph, followed a very standard chronological narrative, then had a conclusion. Cohesion was built through explicit textual references to previous ideas and pronoun referents (e.g., I feel greatly ashamed about this), so comments about its poor organization are not founded.

CA5: It was hard for me to recognize differences between each main point and support. The author did not use any linking devices in the essay. Therefore, I re-read the essay to distinguish them.

CB12: It was not easy for readers to follow because there had no linked word for each paragraph.

Students demonstrate with these comments that they would benefit from analyzing how cohesiveness is accomplished in a variety of text types, including (but not limited to) simply choosing from a list of cohesive devices. Another example of an artifact of previous instruction concerns thesis statements. Because students have been trained to explicitly state their thesis, and the thesis was implicit in Essay 30, students often reported that it had no thesis at all.

CA12: The author stated a clear idea about why his/her topic was chosen. However, an attractive introduction and a proper thesis are not provided.

CB5: There is no a thesis, and the support is weak, I can’t even understand what the writing said.

CA12: The whole essay was kind of confused and rough. The lack of thesis statement and detailed supporting ideas made the essay uncompleted.

Finally, from the students’ comments, they sometimes conceive the criterion “vocabulary” as word choice and variety, but also very often as spelling and even capitalization. Their understanding of “variety of vocabulary” was also too simplistic - it was not uncommon for students to remark that if a word like “difficult” was used twice in the essay, it was being overused.

 
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