Reformulating Second Language Writing

The English proficiency level of the students at my current school varies greatly. This presents a challenge when dealing with corrective feedback on writing assignments because we don’t know exactly what each of our students knows; we know what they were taught in 7th grade (I teach 8th grade), but with new students coming in all the time, it only helps so much. Corrective feedback on structural and/or grammatical topics the student has never learned gets them nothing except more confused, as it does with oral correction. We needed a way to help the student notice their errors, provide corrective feedback, and NOT overwhelm them with a page or red ink.

The answer to our question was first presented in 1978 by Levenston. I wasn’t around then, but it was a great year – Darkness on the Edge of Town and Van Halen were released, so ‘reformulation’ is in good company. Reformulation is when a native speaker rewrites a student’s piece of writing. The native speaker writes to make the piece sound more natural, making organizational and grammatical corrections while preserving the content of the original text. For more information on the history of reformulation and present status of reformulation research, read “Reformulation, Noticing, and the Development of L2 Academic Writing” by Jackie Dannatt.

We chose to use this technique with our struggling writers because it is naturally scaffolded and student-centered (Reid, 1994, Cited by Tardy, 2006). As you can see in the example below, we ask the student to do several things. First, they have to identify the change and write the original text and reformulated text in the table. Next, they have to describe the change. What I like about this is that it allows all students to comment on the change. The student could say something like ‘moved words’ or ‘fixed fragment’, depending on how much they understand. Finally, they have to check yes or no to let us know if they understand the change. This will help us plan follow-up support for the student, in groups or individually.

wp_essay reformulateAfter getting the completed tables back from students and doing this on future writing assignments, we’ll be able to plan more appropriate practice as students pre-write and draft.

I’ll be updating this post in the next few weeks with some samples of the completed tables so please check back.

References:

Levenston, E.A. (1978). Error analysis of free composition: The theory and the practice. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 1–11.

Tardy, C. (2006). Appropriation, ownership, and agency: Negotiating teacher feedback in academic settings. In K. Hyland & F. Hyland (Eds.), Feedback in second language writing: Contexts and issues. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Helping non-native teachers improve English classroom language

The goals of our EFL teacher training program are two-fold. First, we aim introduce/re-introduce pre- and in-service teachers to the field of ELT. Second, we strive to make them better users of English, both as people and as English teachers. Within the program, trainees have several opportunities to plan and practice the English classroom language. The practice of planning teacher talk is quite an eye-opener as students realize that it’s language they’ve never been taught. Quite often, our most proficient students embarrassingly fumble in front of the class as they interact with students and realize that speaking English and teaching in English are two very different beasts. Planning teacher talk does a good job of giving the trainees a head-start in their development. In addition to planning teacher talk, trainees also need the chance to teach and create teacher talk on the fly. 

Within the SLA course, trainees have several opportunities to analyze learner language (click here for my previous post on the topic). What they learn about language and language analysis early in the semester is then applied to their own teacher talk. In there rest of this post, I will share the activity and some example responses. This is just one of the ways we try to make our teachers better at teaching in English.

Here is the actual assignment…

teach talk analysis assigment

Through this reflective analysis we hope that trainees can notice patterns in their own teacher talk and brainstorm ways to get better. All of this should result in trainees paying closer attention to pieces of language that cause difficulty. Since this assignment comes up half-way through the semester, the trainees have several opportunities to consider their analysis on future assignments/microteaching presentations.

The initial reaction from trainees was shock. They couldn’t believe how many errors they made. Here is an examples what they found…

ellen transcriptThis is for about five minutes in front of the class. In this example, the trainee is trying to figure out what the class knows about gerunds and infinitives. She then introduces a matching task.

ana tableHere we see the errors that she has identified. She labels the error type (not always successful) and writes the reformulation. Since much of a non-native teacher’s success depends on their ability to clearly give directions and model target-like language, what the trainee has done here is invaluable. In the next two questions, she reflects on her errors.

ana 1 ana 2The trainee talks about what she did and what she can do to prevent this from happening again. As a result of this, she may consult a textbook or other materials to confirm her understanding of the issues she discovered, ask a question to the teacher, or pay more attention to it in the input she’s exposed to.

In sum, this activity complements the planning of teacher talk that happens earlier in the semester and gives students a chance to notice things that may have been overlooked on earlier assignments. This is our first time to include teacher talk analysis in our course and we are extremely pleased with the results.