Homework Focus On Language 2

This study analyzed whether the relationship between academic performance and homework follow-up practices depended on the type of homework follow-up practice used in class. We found that the five types of homework feedback were associated with student academic performance, despite the unbalanced number of teachers in each condition, and the low number of sessions (six sessions). The magnitude of the effects found was small, which may be due to the two previously mentioned limitations. Data from the ancillary analysis collected in the two focus groups run to identify the types of homework follow-up used by EFL teachers in class, and data from the post-research evaluation meeting run with the participating teachers contributed to the discussion of our findings.

Types of EFL teachers' homework follow-up practices and academic performance

As Model C (see Table ​4) shows, and once the effect of the pretest was controlled for, the differences among the types of EFL teachers' homework follow-up practices on students' performance were statistically significant, as hypothesized. Moreover, considering the positive value of the coefficients shown in Table ​4, the data indicate that students' performance improved from homework follow-up types 1–5 (see also Figure ​2), and also that the differences between the five homework follow-up types are not of the same magnitude. In fact, after checking the error rate for comparison family using the FDR procedure, two homogeneous subsets of treatment means were identified. The first subset encompassed homework follow-up types 1 and 2, whereas the second accounted for homework follow-up types 3–5. As shown in Table ​5, significant differences were found between adjusted treatments' means for both subsets (homework follow-up types 1 and 2 vs. homework follow-up types 3–5).

What are the commonalities and differences between these two subsets of homework follow-up types that could help explain findings? Homework follow-up types 1 and 2 did not yield differences in school performance. One possible explanation might be that neither of these types of homework follow-up provides specific information about the mistakes made by students; information which could help them improve their learning in a similar way to when EFL teachers provide feedback (Hattie and Timperley, 2007). Besides, as the control for homework completion is low for these two types of homework follow-up practices, students may not have put the appropriate effort to complete the homework. The following statement was shared by most of the teachers that participated in the focus group and may help explain this latter finding: “[in class] I only ask students if they have done their homework. I know that this strategy does not help them correct their mistakes, but if I don't do it, I suspect they will give up doing their homework …” (F2P3).

In homework follow-up type 2, EFL teachers only addressed difficulties mentioned by the students, so some mistakes may have not been addressed and checked by the EFL teachers. This type of practice does not provide feedback to students. As the following quotation from a participant in the focus group revealed: “At the beginning of the class, I specifically ask students if they have any questions about their homework. The truth is, students who struggle to learn seldom ask questions…I guess that they don't do their homework, or they copy the answers from peers during the break, and just asking questions does not help a lot…but they are 28 in class.” (F2P4).

The second group of homework follow-up practices includes types 3–5. Our data indicate that there were no statistically significant differences among these three types of homework follow-up (intra-group comparisons) at posttest performance (see Table ​4). Under each of these three conditions (homework follow-up types 3–5) homework contents were checked by the teacher. In these three types of homework follow-up, students experienced opportunities to analyze EFL teachers' explanations and to check their mistakes, which may help explain our findings and those of previous studies (see Cardelle and Corno, 1981; Elawar and Corno, 1985).

According to Cooper's model (1989, 2001), homework follow-up type 5 may be considered the homework feedback practice, because when EFL teachers grade students' assignments and provide individual feedback, students' learning improve. This idea was mentioned by one of our participants: “I collect students' exercise books, not every day, but often enough. That is because I've learned that my students improve whenever I comment upon and grade their homework assignments. I wish I had time to do this regularly…That would be real feedback, that's for sure.” (F1P6).

When analyzing students' conceptions of feedback, Peterson and Irving (2008) concluded that students believe that having their reports graded is a “clearer and more honest” (p. 246) type of feedback. These authors also argued that good grades generate a tangible evidence of students' work for parents, which may also give way to another opportunity for feedback(e.g., praise) delivered by parents and peers (Núñez et al., 2015). It is likely that students see graded homework more worthwhile when compared to other types of homework follow-up practices (e.g., answering questions about homework). This idea supports studies which found a positive association between homework effort and achievement (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2006b, 2009b). Walberg et al. (1985) claimed that graded homework has a powerful effect on learning. However, Trautwein et al. (2009a) alerted that graded homework may have a negative impact whenever experienced as overcontrolling, as “…students may feel tempted to copy from high-achieving classmates to escape negative consequences” (p. 185). These findings (Trautwein et al., 2006b, 2009a,b), aligned with ours, suggest the need to analyze homework feedback in more depth. For example, there are several variables that were not considered in the current research (e.g., number of students per class, number of different grade levels teachers are teaching or number of different classes teachers teach, different level of students' expertise in class, type of content domain; but also career related issues such as frozen salaries, reduced retirement costs), which may help explain our results.

We also noticed that the effect of EFL teachers' homework follow-up practices on performance was affected by students' prior performance, confirming our second hypothesis, but not by the number of homework follow-up sessions (i.e., the number of homework follow-up sessions was only marginally non-significant as a secondary factor, not as the principal factor). A quotation from a teacher under the third condition may help illustrate this finding: “reflecting on my experience under condition 3 [checking homework orally], I can tell that students' prior knowledge was very important for explaining the variations in the efficacy of this strategy. Some of my students, for example, attend language schools and master vocabulary and grammar, but others clearly need extra help. For example, checking homework on the board so that students may copy the answers and study them at home would be very beneficial for many of my students” (M15).

The results of this preliminary study were obtained in a real learning environment and focused on homework follow-up practices commonly used by EFL teachers. We acknowledge the difficulties to set up and run a randomized-group design in a real learning environment (i.e., motivating teachers to participate, training teachers to follow the protocol, control the process). Still, we believe in the importance of collecting data on-task. Plus, we consider that our preliminary findings may help teachers and school administrators to organize school-based teachers' training and educational policies on homework. For example, studies conducted in several countries (e.g., Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel) reported that checking homework completion is the homework follow-up practice most often used by teachers to keep track of students' homework (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2009a; Kaur, 2011; Zhu and Leung, 2012), and in some cases the only homework follow-up practice used in class (e.g., see Kukliansky et al., 2014). However, this type of homework follow-up does not provide students with appropriate information on how they may improve their learning. Our data show that, when EFL teachers offer individual and specific information to help student progress (e.g., homework correction, graded homework), the impact on school performance is higher, even when this help is provided for only 6 weeks. This main finding, that should be further investigated, may help teachers' in class practices and contribute to foster students' behaviors toward homework and school achievement.

In sum, our findings indicate that the time and effort teachers devote assessing, presenting, and discussing homework with students is worth the effort. In fact, students consider limited feedback an impediment to homework completion, and recognize teacher's feedback as a homework completion facilitator (Bang, 2011).

During the focus group interviews, and consistent with findings by Rosário et al. (2015), several EFL teachers stressed that, despite their positive belief about the efficacy of delivering feedback to students, they do not find the necessary time to provide feedback in class (e.g., comment on homework and grading homework). This is due to, among other reasons, the long list of contents to cover in class and the large number of students per class. Pelletier et al.'s (2002) show that the major constraint perceived by teachers in their job is related to the pressure to follow the school curriculum. Data from the focus group helped understand our findings, and highlights the need for school administrators to become aware of the educational constraints faced daily by EFL teachers at school and to find alternatives to support the use of in class homework follow-up practices. Thus, we believe that teachers, directly, and students, indirectly, would benefit from teacher training on effective homework follow-up practices with a focus on, for example, how to manage the extensive curriculum and time, and learning about different homework follow-up practices, mainly feedback. Some authors (e.g., Elawar and Corno, 1985; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2012; Núñez et al., 2014; Rosário et al., 2015) have warned about the importance of organizing school-based teacher training with an emphasis on homework (i.e., purposes of homework, homework feedback type, amount of homework assigned, schools homework policies, and written homework feedback practices). With the focus group interviews we learned that several EFL teachers did not differentiate feedback from other homework follow-up practices, such as checking homework completion (e.g., see F2P7 statement, Table ​1). EFL teachers termed all the homework follow-up practices used in class as feedback, despite the fact that some of these practices did not deliver useful information to improve the quality of students' homework and promote progress. These data suggest a need to foster opportunities for teachers to reflect upon their in-class instructional practices (e.g., type and purposes of the homework assigned, number and type of questions asked in class) and its impact on the quality of the learning process. For example, school-based teacher training focusing on discussing the various types of homework follow-up practices and their impact on homework quality and academic achievement would enhance teachers' practice and contribute to improve their approaches to teaching (Rosário et al., 2013).

Limitations of the study and future research

This study is a preliminary examination of the relationship between five types of EFL teachers' homework follow-up practices and performance in the EFL class. Therefore, some limitations must be addressed as they may play a role in our findings. First, participating EFL teachers were assigned to one and only one of five homework follow-up conditions, but 19 of them were excluded for not adhering to the protocol. As a result, the number of EFL teachers under each condition was unbalanced, especially in the case of homework follow-up condition number 5. This fact should be considered when analyzing conclusions.

Several reasons may explain why 19 EFL teachers were excluded from our research protocol (i.e., three were laid off, six did not report the work done correctly or submitted the data requested, and ten did not followed the protocol closely). Nevertheless, during the post-research evaluation meeting the EFL teachers addressed this topic which helped understand their motives for not adhering to the protocol. For example: “I'm sorry for abandoning your research, but I couldn't collect and grade homework every week. I have 30 students in class, as you know, and it was impossible for me to spend so many hours grading.” (M7). Our findings suggest that teachers' attitudes toward homework follow-up practices are important, as well as the need to set educational environments that may facilitate their use in class.

We acknowledged the difficulty of carrying out experimental studies in authentic teaching and learning environments. Nevertheless, we decided to address the call by Trautwein et al. (2006b), and investigate teachers' homework practices as ecologically valid as possible in the natural learning environment of teachers and students.

Future studies should find a way to combine an optimal variable control model and an authentic learning environment.

Second, a mixed type of homework follow-up practices (e.g., combining homework control and checking homework on the board) was not considered in the current study as an additional level of the independent variable. In fact, some of the excluded EFL teachers highlighted the benefits of combining various homework follow-up practices, as one EFL teacher remarked: “I was “assigned” condition 5 [collecting and grading homework], but grading and noting homework every week is too demanding, as I have five more sixth grade classes to teach. So, although I am certain that giving individualized feedback is better for my students, I couldn't do it for the six homework assignments as required. In some sessions I checked homework orally.” (M24). Thus, future studies should consider the possibility of analyzing the impact of different combinations of types of homework follow-up practices. Our research focused on sixth grade EFL teachers only. To our knowledge, there are no studies examining the impact of homework follow-up practices in different education levels, but it is plausible that the type and intensity of the homework-follow up practices used by teachers may vary from one educational level to another. Hence, it would be interesting to examine whether our findings may be replicated in other grade levels, or in different subjects. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to conduct this study in other countries in order to explore whether the follow-up practices identified by EFL Portuguese teachers match those found in other teaching and learning cultures.

Third, the fact that in our study the differences found were small suggests the importance of examining the type of homework follow-up used and students' interpretation of teachers' practice. Future studies may analyze the hypothesis that students' behavior toward teacher homework follow-up practices (e.g., how students perceive their teachers' homework follow-up practices; what students do with the homework feedback information given by teachers) mediates the effect of homework on student learning and performance. In fact, the way students benefit from their teachers' homework follow-up practice may help explain the impact of these practices on students' homework performance and academic achievement. Future studies may also consider conducting more large-scale studies (i.e., with optimal sample sizes) using multilevel designs aimed at analyzing how student variables (e.g., cognitive, motivational, and affective) mediate the relationship between teacher homework follow-up type and students' learning and academic performance.

Finally, future research could also consider conducting qualitative research to analyze teachers' conceptions of homework follow-up practices, mainly feedback (Cunha et al., 2015). This information may be very useful to improving homework feedback measures in future quantitative studies. Investigating teachers' conceptions of homework follow-up practices may help identify other homework feedback practices implemented in authentic learning environments. It may also help understand the reasons why teachers use specific types of homework feedback, and explore the constraints daily faced in class when giving homework feedback. As one teacher in the focus group claimed: “Unfortunately, I don't have time to collect and grade homework, because I have too many students and the content that I have to cover each term is vast. So I just check whether all students completed their homework” (F2P1).


Students for whom English is not their first language (referred to as L2 students in this handout) have been a steady presence in US higher education recently. You may receive papers in which interesting ideas are deeply buried in numerous language-use errors, and you may ask yourself: How can I grade this paper? How can I best help this student with my feedback? This resource offers answers to questions like these and shares with you some effective practices for responding and grading L2 papers.

Table of Contents

• General Considerations for Working with L2 Students
• Strategies for Providing Feedback
• Strategies for Grading L2 Papers
• Further Reading
• Supplement 1: Theories on Second Language Acquisition
• Supplement 2: The Error Type Table
• Supplement 3: The Error Code List
• Supplement 4: Sample Use of the Error Code List to Respond to an L2 Paper
• Supplement 5: Sample Draft before and after Language Use Feedback

General Considerations

Before we offer any tips on working with L2 students, we would like to acknowledge the similarities between L1 and L2 students in the broad sense. For example, both groups employ a recursive process involving planning, drafting, writing, and revising when composing a paper. Both groups benefit from personalized instruction that builds on their existing literacy, cultural, and intellectual backgrounds. Neither group is likely to benefit from frontloading grammar instruction. That being said, there are a number of unique characteristics of L2 students that instructors need to be aware of in order to make their teaching equally effective for their L2 students.

The Complexity of the L2 Student Population
Various names have been used to describe this population: “Second language (L2) learners,” “foreign language (FL) learners,” “English language learners (ELL),” “English as a second language learners (ESL),” “bilingual students,” “international students,” “multilingual students,” “resident ESL students,” “generation 1.5 students,” etc. While the selection of these terms suggests the speaker’s scholarly stance or scholarly interests, the discrepancy of these terms suggest how complex and multifaceted this population can be. For example, you may think where the student learned the language is most important, and thus call someone who learned English in the US a second language learner, whereas you may call another person who learned English in their home country a foreign language learner. Or, in the US context, you may think the origin of the student is most suggestive of this population, and you will call them international students. Or, if you talk with K-12 teachers very often, you might think of these students as resident English language learners. All in all, there is not one single term that can characterize this population adequately and inclusively. The current practice is to use multiple terms concurrently. Researchers from different fields have their preferred terms, but when it comes to interdisciplinary communication, a detailed description of the target learner group will be most helpful. As this handout is primarily targeted at higher education practitioners, we only introduce these names so that our readers will know that when different names are used, they may or may not refer to the same group of students. Our focus is on the characteristics of this group. We need to know our students well; then we can provide and adjust our practices to best support them.

The Continuum Between International Students and Resident English Learners
Resident English learners is term most frequently used in the US context. They refer to students who came to the US at a young age and naturally acquired the English language. International students, on the other hand, is a term usually used to talk about students who came to the US for higher education. These students are thought to have learned the English language at school in a foreign country.

Traditionally, we have adopted a more extreme view to consider these two groups. We tend to think the first group is similar or identical to a native speaking student as they often have no accent and are quite familiar with the US culture. While for the second group, we are likely to think they speak English with a foreign accent and are not too familiar with US culture. However, the internet and global migration of people have made the distinction between these two  groups less clear. There are many international schools all over the globe. Some students may have attended these schools since kindergarten. There are also a large number of native English speakers living in foreign countries and nonnative speakers frequently visiting or summer camping in English speaking countries. These, among other influences from the internet and the media, have made simulating an English speaking environment easy for many students who want to learn English in a foreign place.

One reason that students were initially distinguished as belonging to one group or the other was to determine the support necessary for their learning. For resident ESL students in the higher education context, additional support is often automatically justified as unnecessary; for international students, ESL courses are often automatically compulsory. But this way of accommodating these two groups cannot stand any more due to the decreased gap between these the groups. We thus recommend instructors not decide a student’s English academic literacy based on his/her passport . Rather, we recommend that instructors examine students’ proficiency on a spectrum of the following categories:

Eye learner ←→ Ear Learner
Language can be learned at school or through interaction with native speakers., If international students attend a traditional local school and have few interactions with native speakers, they will likely learn English through studying English textbooks. They are thus nicknamed “eye learners.” On the other hand, if a child immigrated to an English speaking country at a young age, s/he likely learned the language first through playing with his/her native speaker peers. In this case, they are considered to have learned the language through ears, or “ear learners.”

“Eye learners” are likely to read and understand texts easily, but they may not be able to comprehend ongoing conversation as easily as “ear learners.” They may also be more reluctant to talk in class. Several reasons can explain this: the most direct one is the lack of practice. If a student learned the language through texts, s/he may not have enough exposure to the syllables. S/he needs to listen more and talk more. The second reason is cultural. In most Asian cultures, students are not trained to talk in class. It is not because English is a foreign language; they simply haven’t spoken much in previous classes. This, again, requires practice. It may take the student some time to adjust to the more “talkative” US classrooms. Thirdly, it may be because of the student’s worry to make speech errors in public. The L2 student may have been taught and reminded countless times by his/her previous English teachers that he/she has grammar or pronunciation issues. When in the US context, this self-awareness get intensified because the student thinks he/she is the only one who will make language errors. He/She is worried if his/her instructors and peers would think him/her less. It takes time for the student to walk away this feeling, and a supportive and relaxing classroom environment will accelerate this process.

If “ear learners” later had good schooling in the immigrated country, they may be quite similar to native speaking students. But if the student comes from a socioeconomically disadvantaged immigrant family, s/he may have experienced some setback or discontinuity in his/her literacy development. This is when additional support is needed. Although the student may sound and appear like a native speaking student, s/he needs extra support to meet college-level English expectations, especially in academic writing.

When we use “ear learner” or “eye learner” to think of our students, we should not take an absolute stance as to assume international students are automatically “eye learners” and resident English language learners are automatically “ear learners.” Yet, we can use this spectrum to gauge where our students may fall and offer appropriate strategies accordingly.

Content Knowledge in L1 ←→ Content Knowledge in L2
One important aspect that less experienced instructors tend to forget is students’ prior knowledge. Here “knowledge” is used in a very loose sense. It includes students’ prior intellectual levels, literacy levels, cultural knowledge, etc. If we evaluate students on these scales, resident ESL students are more likely to have higher levels of mastery of the content knowledge in English, whereas international students are more likely to have higher levels of mastery of the content knowledge in their first language. In other words, students come to our classes readily equipped with some useful knowledge. Whatever that knowledge is, their instructors are very likely to be better off if they can rightly activate and build on their students’ prior knowledge.

Cummins, a bilingual researcher who created the Common Underlying Proficiency theory tells us that for those who have developed grade-level cognitive proficiency, it may take L2 students a longer time to demonstrate that proficiency in a way meaningful to their content course instructors. Their language skills, together with their knowledge of the target classroom culture need to catch up. This also explains why so many students like to write about topics related to their home country in first-year English composition classrooms---that’s where these students’ expertise lies at this early stage. Acknowledging and integrating students’ home culture is likely to be a good practice to build on students’ prior knowledge. Another aspect worthy of mentioning is the instructors’ attitudes towards students’ use of their mother tongue. Due to the influence of the initial research on L1 interference, some instructors tend to think students should be required to think and speak in the target language (e.g., English) only, since they came to the target culture to learn the language. However, this requirement is hard to implement and may not prove really useful either. Not all students can control what language comes to mind when they are thinking. While the more proficient students may have difficulty meeting this expectation, the less proficient students may be left feeling discouraged. Take the writing process for instance. Abundant evidence has shown that using their first language helps students generate more ideas. While we want to request students use more target language and know more of the target culture, leaving some space to students’ L1 use is also conducive to their L2 development.

There are many other characteristics (e.g., literacy levels, oral communication skills, attitudes towards the target language and culture) that L2 students have. For more in-depth discussion of the second language acquisition process, please refer to Supplement 1: Theories on Second Language Acquisition.

Generally, we would advise instructors to adopt a continuum perspective to think of our students. We would caution against simply assigning an L2 student to the “resident” or “international” L2 category. Rather, we advise instructors to think of the student as combinations of different characteristics and to be open to the possibility that a given L2 student may resemble typical international students in some categories but appear identical to typical resident L2 students in others.

Strategies for Providing Feedback

When you provide feedback to students’ written work, we would recommend you consider the following:

1. Higher Order Concerns vs. Lower Order Concerns
Focus the majority of your feedback on higher order concerns, such as organization, analysis, etc. It may occasionally be necessary to model more elegant or accurate use of language when you provide feedback on higher order concerns, but make sure that your feedback doesn’t focus solely on language-use issues.

2. Use Error Code to Provide Language Error Feedback
When you do provide feedback on language-use issues, try to do so in a way that will complement the workings of the language acquisition process. Here are some steps:

  • Step 1: Spend ten to twenty minutes in class talking with students about what the codes mean and give them some examples of how you will use the codes. You can also solicit their feedback on the table and make revision accordingly
  • Step 2: Identify some syntactic or semantic errors that your students make. You can also use the categories in Supplement 2: The Error Type Table for a detailed explanation of the types of errors students make and whether correcting them would yield the expected pedagogical result.
  • Step 3: Read through the student paper to determine which errors are persistent error types and address them accordingly. Supplement 3: The Error Code List provides a coding scheme to mark the errors and Supplement 4: Using Error Codes to Respond to an L2 Paper provides an example of using the error code list to mark a student paper.
  • Step 4: Use the code consistently throughout the semester. As language learning takes time, it will be more helpful to if you can offer consistent feedback. If you decide to use the error code approach to respond to L2 language errors, it will be more beneficial to them more if you can stick to one coding scheme throughout the semester.

3. Be Selective in Providing Language Use Feedback
In general, feedback on language-use errors will complement the workings of the language acquisition process if it adheres to the following suggestions:

  • Don’t mark every single error. Focus only on those errors that either interfere substantially with meaning and/or that the student is likely to be able to correct without your assistance. Supplement 2: The Error Type Table offers advice on determining which errors a student is likely to be able to correct without your assistance.
  • Allow students a chance to correct them. We recommend you mark errors in a way that not only indicates what type of error the writer committed but also allows the writer an opportunity to correct the error. L2 students don’t come to the classroom with the same degree of preparation in their language as L1 students. Allowing them a chance to correct their errors can provide valuable space for real learning to happen.
  • Create semantic or syntactic models. When you notice students consistently using a word or sentence structure incorrectly, rather than offering a simple comment like “word use errors” or “this sentence structure is problematic,” it will be more beneficial to their learning if you can offer a correct use of the word or sentence structure in a similar context.
  • Focus on use rather than fixed rules. There are ambiguities and inconsistencies even in native speakers’ language. Rather than stipulating a rule, it may be more useful to explain why one use is more preferred in a certain context. For example, the selection of a particular tense can be quite tricky. It’s hard to explain why the experienced writer’s mixed use of tense makes sense yet L2 students’ mixed use is confusing. In this case, simply asking students to use a recommended tense may be less effective than a more contextualized explanation of why a particular tense is preferred in the context.
  • Be more lenient on determiners. Errors involving the use of determiners (words such as “the,” “a/an,” “all,” “some,” “none,” “my,” “your,” and “many”) generally don’t affect the writer’s meaning in substantial ways. Therefore, it’s not an effective use of your time to focus on these errors. If determiner errors are the only kind of error made consistently by an L2 writer, then it may, indeed, be worth the time and effort of correcting or calling attention to each error. However, it’s best to focus your time and attention on other types of errors first. Once these other errors have been addressed, you can address errors in the use of determiners that affect the writer’s meaning. Finally, if time permits, you can address determiner-use errors that do not substantially affect the writer’s meaning.

4. Oral Feedback can be more Efficient
When you encounter a really incomprehensible paper, instead of spending hours deciphering the text and crafting feedback, it will be much more efficient to simply send the student an email, inviting him or her to discuss this paper with you in your office. Students may be surprised or uncomfortable at first, but that feeling will soon go away once they realize this is simply a more effective way for them to receive clear feedback from you. In our practice, face-to-face communication is most efficient in responding to these papers.

Strategies for Grading L2 Papers

When grading the written work of L2 students, it can be difficult to “read beyond” substantial language-use errors to focus on the quality of higher order elements, such as organization, analysis of evidence, and appropriateness of the rhetorical devices used. Moreover, language-use errors may, in some cases, affect the higher order elements of a paper in ways that are both unintended and unrecognized by the author. The following strategies may help you assign a grade that evaluates the quality of higher order elements, rather than the correctness of students’ language use.

1. Explain your evaluation criteria in class. This could benefit both L1 and L2 students, but L2 students in particular need explicit discussion of the instructor’s expectations. Remember, they come from a different cultural background and may have some obstacles understanding some standardized rubric language. It will be helpful if you can spend five minutes in class going over your evaluation criteria for each assignment.

2. Conduct a peer review session before assigning the final grade. Pair up all of your students or put them in small groups provide class time for the partners to talk about their ideas and to draft language that accurately expresses what they want to say. The partners can serve as a “check” for each other: if partner A’s use of language interferes with Partner B’s comprehension, both partners can work together to find a new way of expressing partner A’s ideas. Instruct students to pay particular attention to the language used to perform the following rhetorical functions: express the thesis, transition between sections of the paper, and introduce and analyze quotations. To help with this process, you might consider strategies offered in the resource Using Peer Review to Improve Student Writing.

3. Hold conferences with students who struggle to express themselves. Talk through the ideas contained in each student’s paper and help him or her devise ways of expressing those ideas more precisely.

4. Request an outline. If a student consistently struggles to express him- or herself accurately in English, require that he or she submit an outline with each major written assignment. The outline can help you see which ideas he or she wanted to express, how those ideas relate to one another, and what the overarching point of the paper is. Alternatively, you may create a form or worksheet that students must complete and submit with each major written assignment.

5. Ask for an alternative assignment. If a student consistently encounters substantial difficulties expressing him- or herself accurately in English, consider allowing him or her to submit alternate assignments that demonstrate understanding of content without relying quite so heavily on traditional written academic English forms. Such alternate assignments might include an oral presentation, graphs, tables, or drawings. You can assess such assignments both for content and for the qualities of good writing, such as clarity of argument, depth of thought, organization of ideas, meaningful use of transitions, etc.
6. Use an analytical rubric. An analytical rubric may look more complex than a holistic one, but it can offer a more straightforward view of your expectations. The advantage of an analytical rubric is it sends a relatively clear message to the students about how points will be docked. For example, you may use a grading rubric for each major written assignment with categories and “weights” like this: Focus; Structure; Analysis of Evidence (See “Analytic Rubric” in Giving Feedback on Student Writing). You can also add a language category if needed. The analytical rubric can give L2 students a clear sense how much you value their use of correct English versus how much you value their clear articulation of ideas, and how inadequate language use may affect the reader’s comprehension and evaluation of the paper.

7. Allow students some time to correct their language use errors. If you must assign a grade for language-use (commonly referred to as “grammar”), or if you feel that it is a good idea to assign a “grammar” grade, consider assigning this portion of the student’s grade after the final draft of the paper has been submitted and students have had a chance to correct language-use errors identified in earlier drafts. For example, in point 2, we discussed how peers can offer feedback to a student’s writing. You can also ask students to grade each other’s paper on “language effectiveness” or “proofreading” in the peer review session. That poor grade will remind a sloppy writer or an L2 student to spend more time on language use. But it won’t hurt their final grade once they make the revision accordingly. You can update the student’s language score in the final draft. Supplement 5: Sample Draft before and after Language Use Feedback shows a student paper before and after peer feedback on language use.

Further Reading

Bruce, S., & Rafoth, B. (2004). ESL Writers: A guide for writing center tutors. Plymouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Ferris, D. (2002). Treatment of error in second language student writing. Ann Arbor: University of MI Press.

Ferris, D. (2003). Response to student writing: Implications for second language students. Mahwah: NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ferris, D. (2009). Teaching College Writing to Diverse Student Populations. Ann Arbor: University of MI Press.

Griffin, R. (2004). The output hypothesis revisited: An examination of learner noticing and its relationship to L2 development in writing.

Tomita, Y., & Spada, N. (2013). Form-focused instruction and learner investment in L2 communication. The Modern Language Journal, 97(3), 591-610.

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