Teaching Upper Intermediate Students To Take Notes English Language Essay

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1.1. Introduction

The purpose of this assignment is to report on an EAP course design simulation. I have decided to focus on EAP for two reasons. Firstly, I am currently teaching at a university in Turkey where I have the task of preparing students for life in an English-medium learning environment. This assignment provides me with an opportunity to examine this learning context and identify factors that influence learning. Secondly, I conducted a similar project whilst completing an MA in Applied Linguistics. During this project, I designed a pre-sessional EAP course for a group of multi-lingual students entering a university in England. I now work predominantly with mono-lingual groups in a non-English speaking country and am interested in investigating how these factors influence course design.

1.2. Theories and Principles

EAP rose to prominence in the 1970s (Jordan 1997) and its importance has since increased with the emergence of English as the lingua franca of the global academic community (Hyland & Hamp-Lyons 2002). EAP has been defined as the teaching of English with the goal of enabling learners to use that language to study or conduct research (Flowerdew & Peacock 2001) and involves helping students to develop linguistic, academic and cultural competence (Gillett & Wray 2006). EAP courses may be taught in English speaking contexts, or in countries in which English is used as a foreign or second language (Jordan 1997).

EAP is categorised as a form of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and a distinction has been made between English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) and English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) (Blue 1988). EGAP courses, like the one employed in my own context, teach a 'common core' of language and academic skills that all university students require. In contrast, ESAP courses focus on the language and skills needed in one particular academic discipline. However, despite this divide, analyses of EAP courses have revealed that they generally share the following defining features (Robinson 1991: 2):

They are goal directed.

They are based on the needs of the students.

The duration of the course is clearly specified.

The students tend to be adults over the age of 18.

A high level of English proficiency is not necessarily required.

The need to develop academic as well as linguistic competence has received considerable attention in EAP literature (Ballard 1996; Sowden 2003). Ballard (1996) argues that foreign students often require help adjusting to the distinctive academic culture of western universities. For instance, she identifies students struggle to adapt to the critical approach to learning expected of them in western universities. This argument applies to my own teaching context because many of the lecturers are either from or have been educated in western countries and, consequently, have particular expectations about how students should behave.

The need to incorporate both linguistic and academic skills into EAP courses has lead many writers to consider the type of syllabi to employ during these courses. Task-based or process syllabi are centred on the cognitive acts students perform at universities. These syllabi emphasise the use of authentic activities and English is viewed merely as the medium through which these activities are performed (Ballard 1996). Similarly, skills-based syllabi, as employed in my own institution, advocate the development of skills that students need to succeed at university. In contrast, content-based syllabi emphasise the material students study at university. These syllabi promote the analysis of language within relevant discourse (Spanos 1987). Likewise, text-based or genre-based syllabi facilitate the examination of language within authentic contexts (Feez 2002). Importantly, Flowerdew (2005) highlights that, depending on student needs, elements of different syllabi can be combined to create an integrated course.

1.3. My Own Experiences

My current teaching position is my first classroom exposure to EAP and EAP students. Research conducted into this group of students suggests that they have a number of defining characteristics. For example, Todd (2003) identifies that these students are usually more mature and motivated. Waters and Waters (1992) suggest that successful university students are able to think critically and logically, are self-aware and self-confident, and are willing and able to take responsibility for their own learning. Unfortunately, in my own context, the students have generally just finished high school and have not yet fully developed these characteristics. For instance, many students expect teachers to tell them what to do and are unsure about how to manage their own personal study time. Therefore, teachers must help students develop personal traits as well as linguistic and academic skills.

My previous experience of designing an EAP course highlighted the enormity of the task. Whilst analysing the needs of the students, I listed the skills and sub-skills successful university students employ. On completion, I had created an unmanageable list of skills and a pre-sessional course could not explicitly address all of them. Therefore, the course I eventually designed employed a task-based syllabus that allowed students to experience and reflect on the learning activities they would participate in at university. They then built their weaknesses into long-term development plans.

1.4. Implications of the Literature and My Experience

Based on the literature and reflection on previous experiences, I believe the following implications are relevant to the design of the EAP course and the needs analysis process.

The needs analysis must identify the academic departments the students will be entering. If the students are studying similar subjects, an ESAP approach may be adopted. However, if they are studying different subjects, an EGAP has to be used.

The needs analysis must examine the students' needs in relation to their linguistic, academic and cultural competency.

The needs analysis must be used to identify the students' main areas of weakness. It will not be possible to teach all of the various skills and sub-skills that the students need to succeed at university. Instead, the course must prioritise the primary weaknesses.

A decision will have to be made regarding the most appropriate syllabus type to meet the needs of the students.

2. Needs Analysis

2.1. Group Profile

To promote a learning-centred approach, a questionnaire (see Appendix 1) was used to collect data about learner needs (Hutchinson and Waters 1987). A questionnaire was the most practical method to collect this data. The results (Appendix A) are summarized below:

Learner Characteristics

21 students (13 males and 8 females).

The average age is 20 (ranging from 18 - 26).

18 Turkish and 3 Iraqi students.

The students are entering various departments at an English-medium university.

Sport, films and music are common interests.

Learner Preferences

Both deductive and inductive approaches.

Working on their own, in pairs and in groups.

Having input into what and how they learn.

Both teacher and self-assessment.

Self-Assessment

The students perceive reading and speaking as their stronger skills. Listening and writing are skills they need to improve.

The students also completed a learning styles questionnaire (Appendix 2). They favour a combination of visual, auditory and kinesthetic activities (Appendix B).

2.2. Identifying Needs

Needs analysis (NA) is the process teachers use to determine and prioritize the needs for which a particular group of learners require a language (Richards 2001). These needs may originate from the students or from other stakeholders such as the institution. To assess the needs of this class, I performed a target situation analysis (TSA) to identify the skills students require when they enter the university (Munby 1978). I examined the syllabus used within my institution. This was the most practical method because this syllabus was created following a language audit and, thus, provided a comprehensive breakdown of target needs. The TSA highlighted my institution employs a skills-based approach.

As discussed in section 1, successful university students must employ a vast range of sub-skills. Consequently, I performed a present situation analysis (PSA) (Richterich & Chancerel 1980) to enable me to identify and prioritize gaps between the students' current skill-set and those they require. I used diagnostic tests to collect information about reading, listening and writing because they are the most practical method to obtain accurate quantitative data about students' knowledge (Hughes 2003). I used classroom observations to test speaking because this was the most practical way to collect information about a large number of students. Following the findings of the TSA, I employed a skills-based approach and assessed the students listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

2.3. Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic tests are conducted at the beginning of a period of study to collect data about students' current state of language development (Hughes 2003). To ensure the students perceived these tests as being useful; thus satisfying the condition of face validity (Gronlund 1998), I replicated activities the students perform in the institution's examinations. This also satisfied the condition of content validity.

Skill

Procedure

Listening

Students took notes while listening to a lecture and then answered comprehension questions using their notes (Appendix 3).

Reading

Students answered comprehension questions about an academic text requiring them to scan, skim and infer meaning (Appendix 4).

Writing

The students wrote an academic paragraph (Appendix 5) that was marked for grammar, vocabulary, content and organisation. To increase scorer reliability, a colleague checked the grades (Hughes 2003).

Speaking

The students were observed in class and marked on grammar, vocabulary, fluency and pronunciation. Once again, a colleague checked the grades.

Grammar and Vocabulary

These items were assessed indirectly through writing and speaking.

2.4. Results

2.4.1. Present Situation Analysis

The diagnostic tests revealed that, on average, the students achieved passing marks (above 60%) in reading and speaking, but failed in listening and writing (Appendix C.1). This matches the students' self-assessment. The writing scores highlighted the greatest difficulties concern grammar, vocabulary and organisation (Appendix C.2). The students struggled to use a range of lexis and had problems with grammatical and lexical accuracy (e.g. Appendix 6). However, during feedback, the students self-corrected the majority of their grammar mistakes. This suggests they were performance rather than linguistic errors. The students said they have problems studying vocabulary and usually just translate from L2 to L1. The students also had difficulty using cohesive devices and organising their writing to meet academic conventions and answer questions directly.

The note-taking sheets (e.g. Appendix 7) revealed the students struggled to isolate important information and recorded redundant information. The students failed to employ strategies to help them record information quickly. Interestingly, when the students completed the listening test as a while-listening task, they had little difficulty answering the questions. This suggests the students' problems concern note-taking rather than listening. The students explained they have had little experience of this task. This supports the notion that these students must develop academic competency.

2.4.2. Target Situation Analysis

The syllabus of the institution revealed successful students must be able to use a variety of skills and strategies when taking notes from lectures and writing (Appendix D). To investigate these skills further, the students completed a self-assessment questionnaire (Appendix 8). This questionnaire performed the dual function of collecting data about the students' abilities, and increasing their awareness of the skills and strategies needed to succeed at university (Allright 1982). The results showed they are not particularly confident about writing and note-taking sub-skills (Appendix E).

2.5. Priorities for the Planned Course

The course will teach EGAP because the students belong to different faculties. The results of the diagnostic tests revealed taking notes from lectures and writing to be common weaknesses. This confirms the students' self-assessment of their needs. The course will focus on these skills and provide the students with opportunities to develop and practice strategies they can employ when taking notes. The course will also raise awareness of the organisation of academic writing and promote effective vocabulary use and error correction. Finally, as mentioned in section 1, because the majority of students have just finished high school, the course will aim to increase awareness of university study.

3. Course Proposal

3.1. Course Proposal

In accordance with the NA, this EGAP course will focus on taking notes from lectures and, academic writing. It will be taught over 1 week and consists of 20 hours of classroom time with 4.5 hours of additional writing tutorials (3 extra tutorial hours will be available if extra teaching is needed). It will supplement the 8-week course the students are currently taking. The course will enable the students to reflect on, intensively practise, and consolidate the skills and strategies they have already started developing. This will allow the students to address weaknesses and develop confidence in preparation for next course. As such, the supplementary course will be taught at the end of the students' current course.

3.2. Goals and Objectives

Curriculum designers state the goals and objectives of courses to imbue their creations with purpose and direction (Graves 2000). Goals can be defined as statements concerning the general purposes of a course while objectives are specific statements describing how goals are to be realised (Richards 2001). The goals of this course are to develop the students' abilities to write academic essays and paragraphs and, take notes from lectures. The course also aims to increase the students' confidence of taking notes and raise their awareness of how to succeed in academic life. To achieve these goals, I have formulated 19 objectives: 4 listening objectives (LO1-LO4), 4 note-taking objectives (NO1-NO4), 8 writing objectives (WO1-WO8), 1 vocabulary objective (VO1), 1 grammar objective (GO1) and 1 affective objective (AO1). For full details of the goals and objectives see Appendix 9.

3.3. Approach

As identified in sections 1 and 2, the students need to develop an awareness of what life is like in university departments (Sowden 2003). Consequently, the course will employ an integrated skills approach that simulates the canonical sequence of university study (Appendix F). The lectures the students will listen to and take notes on will provide lexical input about the topics they will write about. The students will supplement this input through further reading and vocabulary study outside class (e.g. Appendix F, Day 1). This self-study responds to the students' learning preferences and encourages them to take responsibility for their learning, a characteristic crucial for academic success (Waters and Waters 1992).

Based on the analysis of learner needs, a variety of different approaches will be employed in the classroom. First, the listening and note-taking component will include awareness raising and reflection activities. The students have little experience of this task and these activities remedy this. Secondly, both inductive and deductive learning will be employed because the students enjoy both. Thirdly, the course will incorporate individual, pair and group work. For example, the students will brainstorm ideas for writing tasks in pairs before sharing with the group. The students will perform the writing individually. Finally, the course will employ both P-P-P and T-T-T lesson shapes depending on whether the students are encountering concepts for the first time or revisiting them.

3.4. Course Content

The listening and note-taking component of the course builds from part to whole (Richards 2001). The diagnostic tests revealed the students have difficulty identifying important information and using note-taking strategies. This course allows the students to increase their awareness of and practise listening and note-taking strategies in isolation before having opportunities to use them, first, in tandem and, then, holistically (e.g. Appendix F, Day 1). Moreover, the students will practise these strategies whilst reading before applying them when listening. This componential approach recycles objectives and, allows students to automatise strategies separately so, when using them holistically, they find it less cognitively challenging (Field 2008).

The writing component of the course builds from simple to complex (Richards 2001). The diagnostic tests revealed the students have difficulty answering questions directly and developing ideas logically. Consequently, the students will practise this skill in body paragraphs before progressing to full essays. The writing component will also develop from whole to part (Richards 2001) with students examining the organisation of full texts before analysing and practising writing the individual components (e.g. Appendix F, Day 2). The students identified they enjoy inductive learning and this methodology facilitates this. The students will complete the writing outside class. This removes the pressure of time limits and emphasises the writing process rather than product (Walker and Pérez Ríu 2008).

The grammar and vocabulary teaching will be reactive as the diagnostic tests highlighted the students' difficulties mainly concern performance rather than linguistic errors. The students' writing will be marked with grammar and vocabulary mistakes highlighted using an error code. The students will then re-write and self-correct their texts in the tutorials. The students enjoy both teacher and self-correction, and both inductive and deductive learning. This methodology responds to these needs. The tutorials will contain fewer students so the students will have greater access to a teacher if they need to ask questions.

3.5. Materials

The materials to be used in this course have been designed for the purposes of English teaching (Appendix F). The language is graded and, in the lectures, the rate of speech is slower. This will allow the students to focus on developing the targeted skills and strategies instead of worrying about language. It also responds to the students' affective needs. They are extremely anxious about taking notes and, if exposed to authentic lectures, might be overwhelmed (Guariento and Morely 2001). The use of inauthentic material is also offset by the authenticity of the tasks. The students will have to take notes and write essays in their departments so they are likely to be motivated (Long and Crookes 1992). Unfortunately, the use of graded material limits the topics to those in the coursebooks. I have chosen lectures on the topics of health, society and relationships. These topics are accessible to all of the students and the TSA revealed they feature in the coursebooks and exams of the institution.

3.6. Institutional Constraints

A number of institutional constraints have influenced the design of this course. Firstly, the availability of teachers affected the tutorials. Ideally, the tutorials would contain a maximum of five students. However, this would require in excess of 5 teachers and this was not possible. Consequently, two teachers will conduct the tutorials and the class will be halved. Secondly, the institutions' examinations influenced the methodology used on the course. The students will sit a skills-based examination shortly after participating in this supplementary course. Consequently, I decided to use comprehension questions to measure note-taking ability. The students perform similar tasks in their exam so they will probably be more motivated because they can apply the strategies they practise during this course.

4. Assessment

4.1. Assessment Principles

Assessment is an umbrella term referring to the collection of data about the abilities or achievements of learners taking a particular course (Brindley 2001). It may occur formatively (during the course) or summatively (at the end of the course). Assessment can be performed using both quantitative and qualitative methodology (Jordan 1997). Qualitative methodology may include classroom observation or interviews while the main quantitative method is testing.

Tests may be employed at various stages during a course. Proficiency and diagnostic tests are administered at the beginning of a course to provide information about learners' existing abilities (Hughes 2003). In contrast, achievement tests are used formatively or summatively to assess students' progress and identify what they have learnt from a particular course (Brindley 2001). In order to be effective, tests must be both valid and reliable (Hughes 2003). Validity concerns the ability of tests to measure what they are supposed to while reliability is the extent to which tests can be repeated achieving consistent results (Brindley 2001).

4.2. Monitoring Learner Progress

Progress in the listening and note-taking component will be assessed through comprehension questions and self-assessment (Appendix 10, Days 1, 3 and 5). This assessment is integrated into the course and will be conducted in the final block of note-taking days. The comprehension questions include multiple choice and short open-ended questions. The self-assessment requires the students to reflect on their use of strategies practised and rate themselves (e.g. Appendix 11). The students will also collect their note-taking sheets, comprehension questions and self-assessment sheets in a Learning Portfolio (LP). These will function as records of their learning processes and, be used for summative assessment and reflection purposes (Nunes 2004).

Progress in the writing component will be assessed through the completion of three writing tasks: one paragraph and two essays (Appendix 10, Days 2, 4 and 5). The students' use of grammar and vocabulary will be assessed indirectly through these tasks. The students will write a first and second draft for each task and both drafts will be marked and graded. The first drafts are to be completed outside class. The second drafts will be started in writing tutorials and finished outside of class. Both drafts of each task will be included in their LPs.

4.3. Assessing Learner Outcomes

The students' LPs will form the basis of the summative assessment (Appendix 10, Day 6). The students will reflect on their work and self-assess their progress in each of the objectives (Appendix 12). In one to one tutorials, the students will discuss this self-assessment and form long-term development goals to respond to their weaknesses. This assessment will be low stakes because the students will soon be taking a high stakes examination in the institution and do not need further pressure.

The decision to use both teacher and self-assessment in the formative and summative assessment responds to the students' learning preferences. Self-assessment also encourages students to be more active and take responsibility for their learning (Harris 1997). The use of LPs combines formative and summative assessment, and this helps students to better understand their strengths and weaknesses (Lam & Lee 2009). It also allows the students to monitor their development in note-taking; thus, increasing their confidence.

4.4. How Assessment Principles Influenced Assessment Methodology

The assessment methods aim to conform to the principle of validity. Adopting a skills-based approach achieves construct validity. The TSA revealed my institution advocates this theory and the assessment methods of this course reflect this. The students will be assessed on their ability to employ skills and strategies when taking notes from lectures and, writing paragraphs and essays. The course also follows theoretical developments in written assessment. The use of LPs rather than timed exams emphasises the writing process rather than the product (Walker and Pérez Ríu 2008). The use of skills-based assessment also satisfies the conditions of both content and face validity. The assessment tasks mirror those performed on this course and, during regular courses and examinations. Consequently, the students are likely to view the course and assessment techniques as appropriate (Gronlund 1998).

The assessment methods also aim to conform to principle of reliability. The listening and note-taking component of the course will be assessed using multiple choice and short open-ended questions and, these will be marked using a standardised answer key. This will increase scorer reliability. The written tasks will be marked using the writing criteria of the institution. These criteria are regularly standardised. Therefore, although subjective, scorer reliability will be enhanced.

4.5. Constraints and Opportunities

Whilst planning how to assess this course, I encountered a number of constraints. Firstly, I decided to use comprehension questions to assess listening and note-taking because this is how my institution assesses these skills. The students are familiar with this form of assessment so, had I chosen a different method, I may have experienced negative backwash with students failing to value my choice of methodology (Hughes 2003). Moreover, by using comprehension questions, I can exploit backwash from the examinations positively to motivate the students. Secondly, I faced practicality problems with the written assessment. The students will complete their writing tasks at home and have tutorials about them the next day. Therefore, to allow for marking, tutorials would have start at 10am with regular classes being taught in the afternoon. The students will submit their work via e-mail by 8am. This provides the teachers sufficient time to mark and, also imposes deadlines on the students. Such deadlines are part of university study and the students must take responsibility for meeting them.

4.6. Course Evaluation

Evaluation is the process of collecting information about a course, both formatively and summatively, with the purpose of determining how effective it is and to guide decisions about teaching and learning (Murphy 2000). The evaluation methods to be used on this course are summarised in Appendix 13. In this course, LPs play a crucial role in evaluation. The data in these portfolios will help me make both formative and summative judgments about whether objectives are being met. The formative judgments will be particularly useful because they will help me to decide whether to use any of the free tutorials to provide additional teaching. In addition, the students will complete a questionnaire to evaluate the course summatively (Appendix 12). This questionnaire will allow the students to rate the usefulness of the activities, materials, teaching and assessment methods, and make open-ended comments about the course.

5. Conclusion

5.1. Conclusion

Studying at university is an extremely complex process requiring students to participate in a variety of learning activities and, use a vast array of skills and sub-skills (Munby 1978). The task of EAP practitioners, who help students acquire these skills, is unenviable because, in addition to teaching linguistic competence, they also have to help students develop academic and cultural competence and, personal characteristics. When designing my course, I responded to this challenge, by conducting an analysis of the students' needs. This analysis enabled me to identify and prioritise the most pressing weaknesses of the students. Therefore, I was able to maximize the benefit that the students would receive from what is a relatively short course. I believe that, having taken the course, the students will, not only be better equipped to take notes from lectures and, write paragraphs and essays, they will also feel more confident about doing so.

The task of designing an EAP course for my students was made even more challenging because most of them have just finished high school and are unfamiliar with university study. Therefore, I believe that my decision to design the course to simulate university study will be particularly valuable to them in the long-term. Although the students will still have a lot more to learn about academic study, I believe that, when they enter their departments, they will be more aware of what is expected of them both inside and outside of class. Moreover, I feel that, through being exposed to the use of LPs as a method of learning and assessment, the students will have taken a huge step towards to becoming more self-aware and responsible for their own learning. These characteristics will play a fundamental role in their lives as successful university students.

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