How will the use of blogs help intermediate students improve their formal letter writing skill?
To develop overall accuracy skills in formal letter writing through the use of blogs
· To increase students’ motivation towards formal letter writing through the use of blogs
· To provide students with various tools to independently edit and self-correct their writings
· To encourage students to develop autonomous learning behavior---
The theoretical foundations of the current research project are in essence the following four: writing skill, formal letter writing, teaching writing with ICT and using blogs to teach writing. First, I delve into the writing skill and the formal letter writing notions in order to ascertain some of the required features of this project. Second, the significance of using ICT when teaching writing is highlighted giving space to support the last construct, using blogs to teach writing. All the constructs take also into account the equivalent state of the art or different research samples carried out in Colombia and/or abroad.
Type of study:
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
Service courses – English 7 - 11 university students, between 18 and 25 years old, majoring different careers.
Data collection instruments:
Diagnostic survey, pre-test, rubric, and list of conventions; students’ and teacher’s reflection log and, samples from students’ work; final survey and post-test.
The pedagogical intervention took place in six ninety-minute lessons and another ninety minutes of independent work among classes. The objectives established were the following: through an online project, based on the use of blogs, students were going to practice their formal letter writing in order to improve their writing skill, and students were also going to become familiar with three different types of formal letters: letters of complaint, letters of application, and request letters. They had to create a blog individually, so that they were able to work during class, post individual products, wait for teacher’s feedback via e-mail, correct their work taking into account the rubric and the list of conventions given, upload their final product, answer questions from the reflection log and send it to the teacher’s e-mail account.
Regarding the lesson plans, they were useful to structure the objective of each of the lessons and at the same time, to organize the activities involved in the project. They were created by the teacher for the students to follow the activities suggested during the class time and finish them as individual work. It was necessary to plan six ninety-minute sessions, in which students were going to work autonomously, but with the teacher’s guidance. All the sessions were held at the language resource center, where students had enough computers available to carry out the suggested activities.
The teacher was in charge of giving the feedback necessary for students to correct their formal letters using the rubric and the list of conventions. The teacher corrected mainly writing, spelling and format, providing students with their work with corrections made with the list of conventions and the rubric with a grade corrected under twenty points and some comments to improve their works. Students, as independent work, had to check the list of conventions and understand the feedback from the teacher to be able to correct the letter taking also into account the comments from the rubric.
As presented by Sagor (2005, p.76) the three generic ACR action research questions, which referred to their foci: “A” for action, “C” for change, and “R” for relationships, that can provide valuable professional insight when used with nearly any project are the followings:
- What did I or we do? (This focuses on action)
- What changes occurred regarding performance on achievement targets? (This focuses on change)
- What were the relationships, if any, between actions taken and the changes in performance? (This focuses on relationships)
These questions were analyzed in detail.
Having analyzed the data gathered through a trend analysis approach in response to answering the three ACR research questions, the discovery of the two following categories is evidenced: blog’s influence and writing improvement. Each of the categories took out two subcategories respectively: motivation towards formal letter writing and development of autonomous learning behavior, and formal letter format and self-correction practice. The categories and subcategories were verified with specific data gathered after applying the data collection instruments.
Taking into account the first category, blogs’ influence, it can be said that this category revealed that technology, more specifically blogs, can improve the formal letter writing skill influencing students performance when rising the level of motivation for writing formal letters and when developing an autonomous learning behavior by using time cleverly to complete the tasks and by self-correcting their first products, using the list of conventions and the rubric, with the feedback provided by the teacher. Its first subcategory, motivation towards formal letter writing, shows that by the end of the project implementation, students accepted the importance of the project and expressed the results of their motivation to work during the project as well as their pleasure for visiting their blogs to review the differences between the initial and the final version of their letters. For the other subcategory, development of autonomous learning behavior, students took advantage of the time given to work on the project, asked for help with any problem, resolved their doubts in relation to blogs and formal letter writing by asking or looking for information and they self-corrected their products after feedback.
Regarding the second category discovered, writing improvement, students show progress after correcting their formal letters using the rubric and the list of conventions. For the first subcategory, formal letter format, it was evident a change in the way they were presenting their formal letters. Students were able to comprehend that there are various formats for writing formal letters, but they were also conscious about the one that the teacher was requesting and followed it, after realizing that it was the one most used in the business sector according to some research made during the introductory lesson. For the second subcategory, self-correction practice, it is important to highlight that letting students spend time self-correcting theirselves following some guidelines is a valuable way to make them aware of their opportunity of taking action one way or another on their learning process and to incorporate them in their own language learning process.
In conclusion, the categories and their subcategories tell us that using blogs to improve formal letter writing helped students to enhance their formal letter writing skill through the writing process which triggered the different formal aspects of formal letters whilst fostering a self-correction practice and an autonomous learning behavior.
Reviewing the general and specific objectives, which were to develop overall accuracy skills in formal letter writing through the use of blogs and to increase students’ motivation towards formal letter writing through the use of blogs, to provide students with various tools to independently edit and self-correct their writings and to encourage students to develop autonomous learning behavior, it is possible to say that there were accomplished satisfactorily to the extent of having improve students’ performance, but opening doors for further applications and research related to the topic.
In consequence, the answer for the central question which was “How will the use of blogs help intermediate students improve their formal letter writing skill?” is, through self-correction practices, through the motivation towards formal letter writing by means of technology, specifically blogs, and through the development of an autonomous learning behavior.
within the pedagogical implications I had in mind after carrying out this action research project, I will highlight the following. First of all, my colleagues and other language teachers should take into consideration the usage of different available tools, and within them all the technological tools, that with some mediated and well planned interventions, could help students to improve their second language skills, to be motivated to engage in learning tasks and to accept their autonomous role as fundamental in their learning process. It is very difficult to expect students to write perfect formal letters if practice is not promoted. It is also necessary to realize the importance of allowing students to self-correct and check their improvements after each task through the use of blogs or any other technological tool, such us wiki or webpages, so they can notice their strengths and weaknesses.
In the same way, I consider that the writing skill should be taken as a more serious area for students to learn and improve their level in order not to have problems in their daily performance as students or professionals. As we already reviewed, many professionals are constantly struggling, for they are not able to appropriately write within certain accepted standards, and do not have the basic skills to express their ideas in an accurate and straightforward manner.
Likewise, the use of blogs to improve writing can be considered as an educational tool by any other field within the educational area, since students with low levels of written literacy or students that require their written skills to increase can also profit from using this e-tool as a part of their formal educational courses. Additionally, as most university students have to undertake standardized proficiency exams as requirements to either enroll on a specific course or to be able to graduate, it is undeniable that a well developed formal letter writing skill might help them to succeed during the application of this types of tests. Teachers should have in mind, that if students practice in advanced these types of tasks they can be prepared enough to face these assignments.
The data collection process took place during six lessons, without many problematic situations. Since there was only one computer available in the classroom where my students and I held our classes, this aspect was the first one to be addressed. In this manner, students started working at the language resource center, where sufficient computers were readily available for them to individually work on the project. Resources were made available for every lesson and most distracting factors were kept to a minimum. The rhythm of work might have been too much for a few students, who, in a couple of classes, felt helpless and frustrated when not being able to finish their work as fast as expected. Some were as tired as to barely write a few sentences, while expressing their commitment to finish the activities at home. In general terms, most of the students were able to carry out the project without any relevant problems. Out of the eleven students belonging to this level, only seven were present and attended to most classes during the development of the project. The remaining four students, were absent before, during and after the project was held. Most of the activities performed during classes, not independent work, were done within the ninety minutes of class available, but the time planned for each activity changed according to the students’ attitude and mood. What concerns the time I initially calculated as appropriate for the teacher to provide and send feedback to all the formal letters created by students, it was definitively not accurately planned, for the assessment process took twice the time expected.
Some recommendations for possible further research that can be offered in relation to the use of blogs to improve formal letter writing skills are the following:
· Further research is needed about the different ways to improve the quality of the writing teaching practice.
· Further investigations about different ways to motivate students and help them to improve their formal letter writing skill are desired.
· Additional studies are required into weather the use of blogs can help students to improve their formal writing.
· More data are needed in relation to the pedagogical application of different technological tools (ICT) and among them the pedagogical application of blogs.