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Communication Versus Correctness in the EFL Classroom

Steve Mullen, Canada and Czech Republic

Steve Mullen is a freelance EFL teacher from Canada. He has more than twenty-five
years of experience as a teacher, language school owner, teacher trainer, materials
developer and software designer in the Czech Republic. His life’s work is the LAMPA
(Lesson & Activity Management, Planning & Access) system designed for language
teachers and schools (www.mylampa.com). E-mail: steve.mullen@mylampa.com

As natives speakers, we all have did mistakes in our own language when we discuss
about stuff. This is normal – our tongues sometimes move more quickly than our brains
can put thoughts together. I make mistakes all the time when I am speaking English,
and I am sure that if we ask our learners which of them has never made a mistake in
their own mother tongue, very few hands will go up.

I remember going home to south-western Nova Scotia in Canada for a visit one
summer. On the second or third evening home, I went to the local pub to meet up with
a group of old friends. We were sitting around over a couple of beers enjoying a lovely
summer evening looking out over the harbour, chatting, having a few laughs and
catching up when I overheard one of my close friends, who is a secondary school
principal and a former EFL teacher, say, “No, I haven’t went there yet.” Immediately,
my ears perked up and I bleated out, “Brian! You haven’t GONE there yet!”

He calmly turned to me with a wry grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear and
replied, ‘Steve, … #!&@ *##.’

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t correct participle mistakes when learners make them,
but a normal person, i.e. almost any native speaker who is NOT an English language
teacher, would not have corrected Brian’s regional slant on the past participle of ‘go’.

Correcting mistakes and the decision to interrupt learners when they are
communicating should be based on a conscious assessment of the mistake. Although
some adult learners often ask to have their mistakes corrected, I usually reply with,
“Well, I’m not so sure that’s such a great idea.” In addition to the fact that some people
hate being interrupted while others think that to be corrected is the reason they are
taking the course, as an EFL teacher, I believe I am there to facilitate communication
rather than hinder it.

So what criteria do we use to decide what kinds of mistakes need correcting and how
do we correct with minimal interference in the communication? At the beginning of
every course, I think it is useful for teachers to explain the criteria we use for making
corrections, how we intend to correct and our reasoning for doing things in this way –
this is especially true with adult learners.

In my own courses, I consciously try to break mistakes down into four categories:

1. minor mistakes typically made when speaking faster than the brain is thinking;
2. mistakes made repeatedly or when the learner should know better;
3. utterances which I think that a normal English speaker on the street might not
understand;
4. and mistakes made when the learner is completely in over his/her head and seems to
be sinking in a quagmire of complicated vocabulary or grammar.

Generally, I try not to correct the minor mistakes unless I hear them again and again.
That’s when they move into the second category. In the case of repeated mistakes,
rather than letting the error fossilize, I softly but audibly repeat the word or phrase
correctly so the leaner has the option of either going back to repeat the utterance
correctly or making a mental note of the correction and continuing with the discourse.
This approach seems to satisfy both those who like being corrected and those who
don’t like being interrupted.

Correcting the utterances that we suspect a native English speaker on the street would
have difficulty with requires an interruption, usually saying something to the effect of,
‘Uh, sorry, Marie, I don’t think I quite know what you mean… Could you say that
again?’ The problem here is that the longer we teach learners of the same mother
tongue, the more calloused we become to the type of mistakes they often make –
we’ve heard it so often that we know what they mean without clarification and we tend
to forget that other native speakers might not understand. For instance, as an EFL
teacher in the Czech Republic, I have been asked hundreds of times, “How long are
you here?” But since I have a knowledge of Czech, I know that the person means,
“How long have you been here?” A native speaker with no knowledge of Czech or the
context might think the question, “How long are you here?” means, “When are you
leaving?” So, although I probably should ask for clarification in the classroom in this
case, I might let it go since I understand what they are saying perfectly well in spite of
the fact that the native speaker on the street might not have the foggiest idea what the
heck the learner is going on about.

Finally, there are situations when the learner is completely lost. This happens with
diminishing frequency as the learner advances. When the learner seems to be
drowning in an unfamiliar ocean of complicated language, I think it is best to resist the
temptation to jump in for as long as humanly possible and wait to see if he/she figures
out how to swim. Learning to survive on limited language is an extremely important
skill to learn. There is always more than one way of making a point, albeit a native
speaker might be able to use five words to articulate an idea that a pre-intermediate-
level learner may need 50 words to say.

The ability to think laterally to get around difficult language is one that needs to be
developed and ‘practice makes perfect’, as they say. In such situations, the problem
can be noted by the teacher and then we can decide whether it is prudent to teach the
language the learners lack later in the lesson, to teach it next lesson, or to let it go
completely knowing that it is something not essential at the moment and that it will be
dealt with further along in the curriculum.

Please check the English Language Improvement for Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English Language Improvement for Adults course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology & Language for Primary Teachers course at Pilgrims
website.
Please check the Methodology & Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims
website.
Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims w

Using Literature in the Language Classroom: An Integrated Approach

Carol Griffiths, Turkey

Dr Carol Griffiths has been a teacher, manager and teacher trainer of ELT for many
years. She has taught in many places around the world, including New Zealand,
Indonesia, Japan, China, North Korea and UK. She currently works as Associate
Professor in the ELT Department at Fatih University in Istanbul, Turkey. She has also
presented at numerous conferences and published widely, including her books
Lessons from Good Language Learners and The Strategy Factor in Successful
Language Learning. E-mail: carolgriffiths5@gmail.com. Website:
www.carolgriffiths.net

Menu

Introduction
Issues with using literature in the language classroom
Conclusion
References

Introduction

When considering using literature in the language classroom, we need first of all to
ask: what is literature? As Lazar (1993, p.5) points out, “there is considerable
controversy” about the answer to this question. The word derives from the Latin
literare, meaning to write, and it came into English via the French lire, meaning to read.
In its broadest sense, then (if we do not, for now, include oral literature, which takes
us into a rather different domain), literature is anything which has been written and
which can, therefore, be read. It can, therefore, technically be applied to anything
graphic, from the graffiti written on subway walls, to proverbs, riddles, newspaper or
magazine articles, short stories, novellas, novels, poetry (including songs), drama
(including TV and movies), and all the variations of these genres. The question of
whether it is “good” literature or not is a value judgement which rests with the
individual.

As for the question of why we should use literature in the language classroom, there
are a number of possible reasons which might be given. Firstly, literature is a
bottomless resource: it is unlikely that any one individual could ever read all the
available literature in one lifetime, meaning that literature can provide a limitless bank
of material on which the teacher can draw. Literature is motivating (Ghosn, 2002):
everybody loves a story, and learners who are caught up in a narrative will absorb
language implicitly in a way that the same language would have been “boring” if
presented in a vocab list or as a grammar exercise in a text book. It can expand
vocabulary, knowledge of idiomatic usage and provide a model of how the language
is really used. And, very importantly, it provides cultural background and helps to
develop intercultural sensitivity (Collie and Slater, 1987).

From a teacher’s point of view, a lesson based on a literary work can provide an
integrated approach to language development which few other approaches can match.
A piece of literature can be used to develop all four skills as well as language
awareness.

 Speaking in an unfamiliar language can cause a great deal of anxiety (e.g. Gkonou,
2014). Speaking skills can be developed by means of selecting a topic associated with
the subject of the chosen piece of literature and getting students to discuss in pairs or
small groups. This can be done at the beginning of the lesson as a “warm up” to
introduce the theme and activate background knowledge; or at the end as a way of
drawing the topic to a close; or at any appropriate place during the lesson.
 Listening: There are a number of ways that listening skills might be promoted (e.g.
Vandergrift, 2003). One way might be to find some information about the author of the
chosen literature and read this to the students before starting the literature itself.
Questions can be true/false or short answer (the latter being more demanding), and
the questions can be given to the students before they listen or they may be required
to listen first and then answer questions (again, the latter is more demanding and
memory-dependent). Alternatives might include reading part of the literary piece before
the students receive the full text and asking questions on that. Another option might
be to select part of the literary text or a related text and removing some of the words
to create a cloze-type activity which students fill in while it is being read. The reading
to which the students listen may be by the teacher, or recorded from an electronic
source, or by some native speaker if one is available and considered desirable. One
way or another, the important thing is that students should not be given the full written
listening text before they hear it, as otherwise it becomes more of a reading activity.
 Reading: As with the other skills, there is more than one way of approaching the
reading section of the lesson (e.g. Grabe and Stoller, 2011). One way is for the teacher
to read the text aloud and for the students to listen. This gives the students extra
listening practice and allows the teacher to pause for explanation at various points that
s/he might think necessary. This option may, however, be hard on the teacher’s voice.
Another way is for the students to do at least some of the reading. Some students may
be nervous about this, but others may be very happy and enjoy the opportunity for
some extra pronunciation practice. The important thing with this option is that any
“mistakes” are dealt with sensitively and in such a way as not to cause embarrassment.
Alternatively, students can read silently, which removes the opportunity for extra
aural/oral practice, and also presents the problem that students read at different
speeds, so it can be difficult to know when the class is ready to move on to the next
activity. Which of these is more suitable for a particular class or occasion is a matter
for the teacher’s professional judgement and inclinations based on knowledge of the
students.
 Writing is often best done for homework unless there is class time available or the
teacher has some particular purpose for doing it in class, such as observing and
helping students as they write, being certain that it is the student’s own work, or
teaching students to observe strict time limits (especially important for those preparing
for major exams). Options for the writing task might include writing a different ending
for the story, imagining what happens beyond the end of the current story, or, perhaps,
carrying out some research into some aspect of the literary piece (e.g. Hyland, 2016).
 Comprehension: In addition to the four skills, literature can provide a way of developing
language awareness, among which the ability to comprehend the new language is
among the most important. It can be reasonably easy to write comprehension
questions on a given text, and question types can range from the simple true/false/not
given formula, to short answer, to longer answers. Especially with higher level
students, teachers should try to avoid basing all questions on material directly stated
in the text and aim for questions which require some inferencing on the part of the
student; in other words, they have to think about the underlying meaning as well as
what is on the surface of the text (Hu and Nassaji, 2014).
 Vocabulary development is often considered the most important aspect of language
development, and it is beyond doubt that a large vocabulary is a major asset (e.g.
Nation, 2008). Because of this, it is impossible to ignore the potential provided by a
literary text for lexical expansion. A teacher will usually have a fairly good idea of the
lexical items in a given text that students will find difficult, and these can be chosen
and targeted for attention. Opinions vary over whether it is better to deal with the
chosen vocabulary items before or after reading. If it is done before, it prepares the
students for the text, which may then be easier for them to understand. At the same
time, it can be useful to leave some unfamiliar words and get the students used to
using context to infer the meaning, which is, in itself a useful skill. There is probably no
right/wrong answer to this issue. Maybe a teacher should sometimes do one,
sometimes the other to add variety to the approach, and to expose students to
whatever benefits there may be from both approaches. Options for exercise types
might include finding synonyms or antonyms, synonym matching, writing sentences
using the chosen word so that the meaning is clear, and so on.
 Pronunciation: For some reason, although there is general agreement that
pronunciation is important (e.g. Brown, 2008), it tends to remain near the bottom of the
language teacher’s list of priorities, and is often simply neglected or forgotten. And yet
beyond a doubt, the ability to pronounce a language clearly and intelligibly is important
(e.g. Jenkins, 2000). As such, teachers should avail themselves of the opportunity
presented by literature to focus at least a little on pronunciation. First it is necessary to
identify items in the text that students are likely to have trouble with. These items may
be the same as those in the vocabulary list, or they may be different. A clear model of
the pronunciation needs to be provided, either by the teacher or from some other,
perhaps pre-recorded source. Drilling may then be an option. A knowledge of phonetic
script can also be very useful when trying to explain sounds. But teachers should be
aware that that there may not always be just one “correct” pronunciation. There is, of
course, the well-known British/American (banana/tomato etc.) divide, but also there
are other words (such as “either”) that do actually have alternative pronunciations.
Furthermore, students may not actually want to sound “native”, since this may conflict
with their own sense of identity (e.g. Soruç and Griffiths, 2015). They may be happy to
settle for being able to make themselves understood. All of these issues are for the
teacher to judge based on his/her knowledge of the students involved.
 Grammar: Finally, a literary text can be used for grammar. The importance of grammar
has been disputed over the years, and has sometimes been treated as the “Cinderella”
of language teaching (Oxford and Lee, 2007), but in general, the importance of
grammar in target language development is well recognized (e.g. Ellis, 2006). Probably
the best way here is for the teacher to focus on something the class has been working
on and to use the language in the text to construct exercises which require the student
to manipulate the language to suit the target grammar. If the class has been working
on past perfect, for instance, the teacher can write sentences with gaps which require
the student to use verbs from the text in the required form. A similar procedure can be
followed with adjectives which can be extracted from the text and written as
comparatives or superlatives, and so on. Since these words are taken from a text that
the student has hopefully enjoyed, it is to be hoped that such an exercise would be
more meaningful than exercises just taken from a textbook without the associations
that a literary text can provide.

In fact, the potential for using literature in the language classroom is limited only by
the teacher’s imagination in view of his/her knowledge of the students, the student’s
own preferences, and the time available

Issues with using literature in the language classroom

There are, nevertheless, a number of issues which need to be considered when


thinking about the use of literature to teach language. These include:

 Simplification: There are now many examples of simplified texts available and opinions
vary regarding how acceptable it may be to take, for instance, a novel, simplify the
language and reduce its length. Certainly, simplification destroys the authenticity of the
original, but, while it is undoubtedly better for learners to read the original, sometimes
the original is difficult even for native speakers (e.g. Shakespeare, Dickens). As with
many debates in this field, there is no right/wrong answer here. Obviously, the original
is best. At the same time, there are some very good graded readers these days, and
there are a number of top publishers who provide what many consider to be excellent
simplified versions of longer and more difficult texts, and these can provide an easy
entry point, especially for reluctant readers, who sometimes then go on to get “hooked”
on reading. Certainly, it is better for learners to read a simplified version than to read
nothing.
 Metalanguage: Experts disagree regarding the degree to which literary metalanguage
(alliteration, onomatopoeia etc.) is useful or necessary. Again, there is probably no
clear answer to this issue, except to observe that an awareness of, say alliteration, can
help learners realize why a line like “While I nodded, nearly napping” (from “The
Raven”, by Edgar Allan Poe) is memorable, when, if Poe had written “While I dozed,
half-asleep” it would not have had the same impact, or have echoed down the years
as it has. Analysis of metalanguage, however, should not be allowed to interfere with
the meaning or the sheer fun of a poem or other piece of literature.
 Translation: It is a fact that many of the stories that English speakers read, often from
an early age, were not originally written in English. Examples of this include Aesop’s
and La Fontaine’s fables, the stories by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers
Grimm, novels by Leo Tolstoy, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Miguel
De Cervantes, Boris Pasternak, Amy Tan, Jung Chang, Orhan Pamuk and many
others. Does this mean that they should not be included in an “English” classroom?
Again, there is, perhaps, no straightforward right or wrong answer to this question. The
decision about which literature to include or avoid will probably depend a lot on the
students in any given class. It might be, for instance, that a class with many Chinese
students might enjoy an English translation of Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”. Then
again, they might want a story which would expand their knowledge of English culture,
and prefer to read Amy Tan in their own language. This is a decision that only the
teacher on the spot can make based on his/her knowledge of the students involved.
 Copyright: The issue of copyright is a thorny one. The fact is that literature was written
by somebody, and that “somebody” or the publisher actually owns it. We should
perhaps, always try to remember how long writing takes and to behave ethically
towards what writers produce.
Conclusion

As this article has attempted to demonstrate, there are many ways in which literature
can be used in the language classroom, and a bottomless pool of literary resources
on which to draw. If used judiciously, literature can be motivating, it can greatly expand
language ability and cultural awareness, and, perhaps as important as anything else,
it can be fun which in turn drives motivation and ongoing language development.

Over the next number of issues of HLTmag, a series of ready-made lessons based on
literature will be presented. It is hoped that these lessons will provide an accessible
source of material for busy teachers, that they will contribute to learners’ language
development in an integrated fashion, and, at least as importantly, that they will be fun

References

Brown, A. (2008). Pronunciation and good language learners. In C. Griffiths (Ed.),


Lessons from Good Language Learners (pp.197-207). Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Collie, J. & Slater, S. (1987). Literature in the Language Classroom: A Resource Book
of Ideas and Activities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Ellis, R. (2006). Current issues in the teaching of grammar: An SLA perspective.


TESOL Quarterly, 40/1, 83-107.

Ghosn, I. (2002). Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT. ELT
Journal, 56/2, 172-179

Gkonou, C. (2014). The sociolinguistic paramaters of L2 speaking anxiety. In M.


Pawlak, J. Bielak & A. Mystkowska (pp.15-32), Classroom-Oriented Research.
Heidlberg: Springer

Grabe, W. & Stoller, F. (2011). Teaching and Researching Reading (2nd edition).
Harlow: Pearson Longman

Hu, H. and Nassaji, H. (2014). Lexical inferencing strategies: The case of successful
versus less successful inferencers. System, 45, 27-38

Hyland, K. (2016). Teaching and Researching Writing (3rd edition). New York:
Routledge

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford,


UK: Oxford University Press.
Lazar, Gillian (1993) Literature and Language Teaching: A guide for teachers and
trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Communication Versus
Correctness in the EFL Classroom

Steve Mullen, Canada and Czech Republic

Steve Mullen is a freelance EFL teacher from Canada. He has more than twenty-five
years of experience as a teacher, language school owner, teacher trainer, materials
developer and software designer in the Czech Republic. His life’s work is the LAMPA
(Lesson & Activity Management, Planning & Access) system designed for language
teachers and schools (www.mylampa.com). E-mail: steve.mullen@mylampa.com

As natives speakers, we all have did mistakes in our own language when we discuss
about stuff. This is normal – our tongues sometimes move more quickly than our brains
can put thoughts together. I make mistakes all the time when I am speaking English,
and I am sure that if we ask our learners which of them has never made a mistake in
their own mother tongue, very few hands will go up.

I remember going home to south-western Nova Scotia in Canada for a visit one
summer. On the second or third evening home, I went to the local pub to meet up with
a group of old friends. We were sitting around over a couple of beers enjoying a lovely
summer evening looking out over the harbour, chatting, having a few laughs and
catching up when I overheard one of my close friends, who is a secondary school
principal and a former EFL teacher, say, “No, I haven’t went there yet.” Immediately,
my ears perked up and I bleated out, “Brian! You haven’t GONE there yet!”

He calmly turned to me with a wry grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear and
replied, ‘Steve, … #!&@ *##.’

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t correct participle mistakes when learners make them,
but a normal person, i.e. almost any native speaker who is NOT an English language
teacher, would not have corrected Brian’s regional slant on the past participle of ‘go’.

Correcting mistakes and the decision to interrupt learners when they are
communicating should be based on a conscious assessment of the mistake. Although
some adult learners often ask to have their mistakes corrected, I usually reply with,
“Well, I’m not so sure that’s such a great idea.” In addition to the fact that some people
hate being interrupted while others think that to be corrected is the reason they are
taking the course, as an EFL teacher, I believe I am there to facilitate communication
rather than hinder it.

So what criteria do we use to decide what kinds of mistakes need correcting and how
do we correct with minimal interference in the communication? At the beginning of
every course, I think it is useful for teachers to explain the criteria we use for making
corrections, how we intend to correct and our reasoning for doing things in this way –
this is especially true with adult learners.

In my own courses, I consciously try to break mistakes down into four categories:

1. minor mistakes typically made when speaking faster than the brain is thinking;
2. mistakes made repeatedly or when the learner should know better;
3. utterances which I think that a normal English speaker on the street might not
understand;
4. and mistakes made when the learner is completely in over his/her head and seems to
be sinking in a quagmire of complicated vocabulary or grammar.

Generally, I try not to correct the minor mistakes unless I hear them again and again.
That’s when they move into the second category. In the case of repeated mistakes,
rather than letting the error fossilize, I softly but audibly repeat the word or phrase
correctly so the leaner has the option of either going back to repeat the utterance
correctly or making a mental note of the correction and continuing with the discourse.
This approach seems to satisfy both those who like being corrected and those who
don’t like being interrupted.

Correcting the utterances that we suspect a native English speaker on the street would
have difficulty with requires an interruption, usually saying something to the effect of,
‘Uh, sorry, Marie, I don’t think I quite know what you mean… Could you say that
again?’ The problem here is that the longer we teach learners of the same mother
tongue, the more calloused we become to the type of mistakes they often make –
we’ve heard it so often that we know what they mean without clarification and we tend
to forget that other native speakers might not understand. For instance, as an EFL
teacher in the Czech Republic, I have been asked hundreds of times, “How long are
you here?” But since I have a knowledge of Czech, I know that the person means,
“How long have you been here?” A native speaker with no knowledge of Czech or the
context might think the question, “How long are you here?” means, “When are you
leaving?” So, although I probably should ask for clarification in the classroom in this
case, I might let it go since I understand what they are saying perfectly well in spite of
the fact that the native speaker on the street might not have the foggiest idea what the
heck the learner is going on about.

Finally, there are situations when the learner is completely lost. This happens with
diminishing frequency as the learner advances. When the learner seems to be
drowning in an unfamiliar ocean of complicated language, I think it is best to resist the
temptation to jump in for as long as humanly possible and wait to see if he/she figures
out how to swim. Learning to survive on limited language is an extremely important
skill to learn. There is always more than one way of making a point, albeit a native
speaker might be able to use five words to articulate an idea that a pre-intermediate-
level learner may need 50 words to say.

The ability to think laterally to get around difficult language is one that needs to be
developed and ‘practice makes perfect’, as they say. In such situations, the problem
can be noted by the teacher and then we can decide whether it is prudent to teach the
language the learners lack later in the lesson, to teach it next lesson, or to let it go
completely knowing that it is something not essential at the moment and that it will be
dealt with further along in the curriculum.
Online Discussions as a Way to Support Verbal Skills: Perception
and Outcomes

Heather M. Austin, Turkey

Heather is an English language instructor who graduated with a BS in


Interdisciplinary Studies and a TEFL certification from the University of
Central Florida. She moved to Turkey from the USA in 2012 and completed
her Cambridge ICELT. She teaches at Izmir University of Economics and is
a member of the Curriculum and Materials Development Unit. Her
professional insterests involve technology in the language classroom and
curriculum and materials development. She is currently a graduate student of
Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. E-mail:
hmaustin@live.com

Menu

Abstract
Introduction
Literature review
Methodology
Data collection tools
Data analysis
Results
Limitations and implications
Conclusion
References
Appendix

Abstract

This action research considers whether asynchronous online discussions can


help improve students’ speaking skills. It also looks at students’ perceptions
of using online interactive components in their language learning as well as
the teacher’s experiences in and reflections on implementing the research.

Introduction

In this day and age, technology has affected nearly every part of our lives.
Since the 1980s when electronic communication found its way into the
language learning classroom (Warschauer, 1996), the field of ELT has seen
many changes influenced by technology, from interactive whiteboards and
digibooks to record keeping and assessment methods. Thanks to digital tools,
new layers of interaction have been added to the ways in which we
communicate with one another, and this applies to the language learning
classroom by no exception. Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)
and Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL) are ever growing
fields and many advancements have been made, particularly involving the
ways in which teachers and students utilize technology to support second
language (L2) learning as well as to create further opportunities for L2
learning to occur. Online components of language learning coursework are
becoming more common, especially as more and more institutions feel the
pressure to integrate technology into their existing educational frameworks
(Walker & White, 2013). Finding ways to help students prepare for and
become more comfortable with producing in English has always been a
challenge for teachers, and many believe that technology can be a means to
achieve this. Such was the case for this action research in which
asynchronous online discussions via the Blackboard Learning Management
System (LMS) were incorporated into an English preparatory course at a
university in Turkey. For clarification purposes, it should be noted that
asynchronous online discussions and online discussions are used
interchangeably in this report to mean the same thing unless otherwise
specified.

With all of this in mind, the aim of this study was to discover if using
asynchronous online discussions could help to improve actual verbal skills in
face-to-face discussions as well as to learn how students perceive using
online interactive components in their L2 learning. The goal was not to see if
asynchronous discussions could have the same effects as synchronous
discussions (for more on this comparison, see Johnson, 2006), but rather to
see if asynchronous online discussions can prepare students for verbal
discussions on the premise that such digital interactions can afford learners
an interactive foundation from which they can grow to improve their
productive skills. Therefore, online discussions were implemented in student
coursework as a way of potentially preparing students for oral discussions in
class and in speaking assessments as well as to collect feedback from
students about the use of such technology in their English studies. Learners
were presented with video input and required to respond to it with the aid of
guiding questions, and then they were required to respond to at least one of
their classmates using functional language appropriate for discussions (giving
an opinion, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for an opinion, and asking for
clarification). Video topics were linked to the themes in their coursebook.
Later, they were asked to complete surveys about using the online
discussions, and after all online discussions were completed, a focus group
was held in order to collect more feedback. Observations of the students
interacting during the lessons, monitoring the online discussions, practicing
for speaking exams in class, as well as speaking assessment scores were
also used in data collection.

This report will outline the steps taken in conducting this action research,
including detailed explanation of the materials used in the online discussions,
how the online discussions were implemented, as well as how data was
collected and analyzed. It will then summarize student outcomes and
conclude with student and teacher perceptions.

Literature review

Walker and White (2013) mention that the concept of ‘talk’ is not limited to
spoken conversations. When applied to online environments, it takes on a
broader meaning to include text-based conversations as a type of computer-
mediated communication (CMC) (p. 106). In much of the literature, CMC as
being supportive of oral language production has been more associated with
synchronous technology like online chats or video-conferencing than
asynchronous tools, but while asynchronous discussions generally
encompass different characteristics, many of the principles that highlight
synchronous CMC tools as being a springboard for students’ L2 verbal skills
development can also be applied to asynchronous online discussion boards,
albeit in a more delayed fashion.

When utilizing text-based CMC, time is on the side of the learner. Fluency
often causes great anxiety in learners, and “being placed in a position where
they are ‘on the spot’, and where they have to produce spoken language
under time pressure is very stressful, especially as they often do not have
native-speaker strategies for gaining time to think and plan…” (Walker and
White, 2013, p. 38). However, in text-based discussions where time is
plentiful, students are able to plan, edit, and correct their output based on
their existing knowledge in what Krashen (1982) refers to as monitoring
(Arnold, Ducate, and Youngs, 2011). Students can check their work before
they submit it and self-repair – something students also do when speaking.
By creating more opportunities for students to produce via asynchronous
online discussions, students will become more comfortable with the
language, thus their production skills can improve. deKeyser (2007) notes
that producing output transforms declarative/explicit knowledge into
procedural/implicit knowledge, which is an key factor in learning that also
enhances fluency (as cited in Arnold, Ducate, and Youngs, 2011). In addition,
this ability to “take your time” is beneficial when thinking about how Swain’s
Output Hypothesis plays a role in text-based CMC. This hypothesis claims
that “the act of producing language (speaking and writing) constitutes, under
certain circumstances, part of the process of second language learning,”
(Swain, 2005). In other words, learners must produce language in order to
better process it – a sort of ‘practice makes perfect’. The more students
produce, the better they will become at producing. When students in this
study utilized online discussions, they were encouraged to use the functional
language that they would also use in spoken discussions, and thus practiced
expressing their ideas and interacting in this way. Additionally, with the help
of video input and guiding questions, they also practiced thinking critically –
a valuable skill that can be transferable to other areas. Johnson (2006) notes
that “Asynchronous discussion facilitates student learning and higher-level
thinking skills, perhaps due to the cognitive processing required in writing,
time to reflect upon posted messages and consider written responses, and
the public and permanent nature of online posting,” (p.51). In turn, students
may be able to perform all of these skills with more speed as they practice
them in online discussions, leading to the possibility of tapping into them
during more spontaneous, spoken interactions.

Another key component of using asynchronous discussions is that students


are also able to notice gaps in their linguistic knowledge – they realize they
do not know how to say what they are intending to say. Swain (2005) claims
that “under some circumstances, the activity of producing the target language
may prompt second language learners to recognize consciously some of their
linguistic problems,” (p. 474). This also relates to Schmidt’s (1990) notion of
noticing in which students become aware of a new form or notice a linguistic
gap (as cited in Arnold, Ducate, and Youngs, 2011). When students are
conscious of these gaps, they can take measures to fix them by referring back
to the input, negotiating meaning of the input, or asking for the input they
need. This can especially be effective in online discussion forums where
learners have access to the all of the posts and can reflect on them at any
time. As such, they may notice other students’ mistakes and increase their
awareness, which might “promote more syntactic processing and noticing
gaps in linguistic knowledge,” (Arnold, Ducate, and Youngs, 2011, p. 27), that
they can apply to all other skills, including speaking.

Asynchronous online discussion forums are also an ideal place for students
to test their linguistic hypotheses. The Hypothesis Testing function of the
Output Hypothesis claims that “output may sometimes be, from the learner’s
perspective, a “trial run” reflecting their hypothesis of how to say (or write)
their intent,” (Swain, 2005, p. 476). Students using online discussions can
express themselves and interact in a way that seems less stressful or ‘high-
stakes’ than in face-to-face interactions, which may lead to taking greater
risks in their output. After feedback, students can modify their output and
potentially improve their expressions and interactions in both a written and
verbal way that stemmed from their “test drive” in the digital forums.
Essentially, the online discussions may act as a type of ‘rehearsal’ for the real
thing.

In addition to all this, knowing what is expected in certain pragmatic situations


(discussions in this case) can help students perform better. Communicative
Competence (Canale and Swain, 1980) combines “knowledge about the
target language with an ability to use it effectively,” (Walker and White, 2013,
p. 37). In this action research, the focus on functional language use within
students’ posts as they express themselves and interact with other
classmates helps them to understand what can be expected of discussions
in English. It is impossible to focus on extra linguistic aspects of face-to-face
verbal discussions or strategies involving spontaneity that can also be found
in synchronous CMC, like using hesitation devices to gain time; however,
asynchronous online discussions still give students the opportunity to use
functional language common to discussions overall, focus on linguistic forms,
as well as practice critical thinking to give more meaningful answers.
Moreover, Goh and Burns (2012) proposed three speaking strategies
learners can use to keep communication flowing: cognitive (finding ways
around unknown vocabulary, like paraphrasing), metacognitive (monitoring
language while speaking), and interaction (checking understanding, asking
for clarification) strategies (as cited in Walker and White, 2013). I believe an
analogy can be drawn here in that students can also take advantage of these
strategies when participating in asynchronous online discussions. In
practicing and developing these skills via a different outlet, they are further
reinforced and feed back into students’ speaking performances and
communicative competence. The online written discussions therefore aim to
serve as a spring board from which they can improve their performance in
spoken discussion tasks.

There are also other benefits of text-based CMC in supporting L2 learning.


Not only is there often higher participation in CMC interactions, but
participation appears to be equalized across learners, possibly due to lower
anxiety levels than when interacting face-to-face (Leloup and Ponterio, 2003;
Walker and White, 2013; Warschauer, 1996). It also helps students who are
more likely to dominate face-to-face discussions to “learn to listen” to other
participants (Warschauer, 1996). Multiple studies have shown that by working
with synchronous and asynchronous CMC tools, “students are able to tap into
their autonomy and progressively gain more independence and confidence,”
(Arnold, Ducate, and Youngs, 2011, p. 35). In addition to all this, perceptions
of both students and teachers are also important to consider in CMC-based
tasks. In a survey by Branon and Essex (2001), educators found
asynchronous discussions useful for “encouraging, in-depth, more thoughtful
discussion…and allowing all students to respond to a topic,” while students
in a survey by Dede and Kremer (1999) indicated that asynchronous
discussions allowed for “richer, more inclusive types of interchange” (as cited
in Johnson, 2006). Overall, asynchronous discussions are viewed as being
an educational way to enhance learning outcomes (Johnson, 2006) and
students generally have a positive attitude toward CMC use in L2 learning
tasks (Leloup and Ponterio, 2003).

Methodology

Context

The study was conducted at the English preparatory school of a university in


Izmir, Turkey. The teacher met face-to-face with the students for four hours a
week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for Listening and Speaking classes, thus
the online discussions were meant to be supplemental to their in-class
coursework. The study took place in the third module (out of four) of the
academic year.

Design

The online discussions were prepared with the unit themes of students’
listening and speaking coursebook in mind. There were a total of 5
discussions that spanned 8 weeks (see Appendix 1). Each unit was started
and covered in depth, exposing students to both vocabulary and listening
input as well as allowing them to adequately engage with the topic, before the
correlating discussion was accessed. I chose to structure and scaffold the
discussions very carefully because students are not familiar with this type of
tool in their L2 learning. Additionally, structured discussions have been
associated with higher levels of complex and critical thinking compared to
unstructured discussions (Aviv et al., 2003, as cited in Johnson, 2006), so I
kept this in mind when planning as well.
For each discussion, students were instructed to login to the Blackboard LMS,
watch a short animated video, and respond to it by posting to the appropriate
discussion board using the accompanying guided questions (see Appendix
2) and their own ideas. These questions aimed to promote critical thinking
and were developed by the teacher under the influence of Bloom’s
Taxonomy. This post was considered to be the students’ main post (75-100
word limit) and was to be posted on Thursdays before midnight. Then
students were required to respond to at least one other person’s post. This
was considered to be the students’ response post (50-75 word limit) and was
to be posted on the following Monday before midnight so as to give students
time to read and respond at the weekend. They were required to use
functional language in all of their posts and were given a functional language
sheet to refer to. Sample student posts for each discussion can be referred
to in Appendix 4. Collective feedback was given in class via PowerPoint twice
throughout the course.

At three times during the course, in-class speaking tasks were given which
simulated the ‘discussion’ section of either the students’ in-modular speaking
A03 assessment (Speaking Tasks 1 and 2) or the exit level Gateway speaking
exam (Speaking task 3) (see Appendix 3). The aim of this was to both monitor
student progression and formally prepare them for the A03 and Gateway
exams. The speaking task topics were not directly related to the online
discussion topics, but the use of functional language requirement was the
same.

Participants

The participants were 18 intermediate (B1 exit level) learners of English at a


university preparatory English school in Turkey. Students’ age ranged from
18 to about 23. Only nine students participated in the discussions at least
once (see Appendix 10).

Materials

The online discussion tasks were produced to be used as supplemental tasks


relating to Unit 1 (Nourishment), Unit 2 (Community), Unit 3 (Space) and Unit
4 (Scale), and Unit 5 (Success) of Bohlke, D., & Lockwood, R. B. (2013).
Skillful Level 2: Listening and Speaking; Student's Book with Digibook
access. Ismaning: Hueber Verlag. Students were given instructions and
shown how to use the discussion board interface in the first week of the
course. Short animated videos relating to the themes mentioned above were
used as multimedia input for the students to respond to for each online
discussion. The videos included The Lesson of the Long Spoons from the
One Human Family, Food for All campaign; a compilation video of three It’s
Smarter to Travel in Groups commercials from Di Linj bus company; Skhizein
by Jérémy Clapin (with English subtitles); Bridge by Ting Chian Tey; and
Sweet Cocoon by a team of five French students of ESMA Montpellier (Ecole
supérieure des métiers artistiques). Guiding questions were created for each
video (see Appendix 2) for the students to use if they wished. A functional
language sheet was also provided so the students could utilize it as they
wrote their posts. Three speaking tasks were also implemented throughout
the course. They were created by the teacher in the likeness of the students’
in-modular A03 assessment and exit level Gateway speaking exam (see
Appendix 3). The same functional language sheet mentioned above was also
given to the students to refer to during the task.

Procedure

Discussion 1 (Nourishment)

The first discussion took place in weeks 2/3 and was related to the first unit
in their coursebook, Nourishment. The video they were to watch and respond
to was The Lesson of the Long Spoons video from the One Human Family,
Food for All campaign, which was about one minute long. To do this, students
signed on to their Blackboard accounts and accessed the Unit 1
(Nourishment) content folder. They followed three steps to complete the main
post of the discussion assignment: (1) they accessed the instructions, (2)
previewed the guiding questions (see Appendix 2) and watched the video,
and (3) posted their reactions, ideas, or opinions by midnight on Thursday of
week 2. For their response post, students had the weekend to read their
classmates’ main posts and respond to at least one of them on the following
Monday of week 3 before midnight. Students were encouraged to refer to the
functional language sheet when writing their posts. With the exception of the
dates and videos, each discussion followed the same procedure, so I will not
list it again for the remainder of the procedural outline.

Dicsussion 2 (Community)

The second discussion occured in weeks 3/4 and correlated with the second
unit of their coursebook, Community. The video they were required to
respond to was a one and a half minute compilation video of three It’s Smarter
to Travel in Groups commercials from Di Linj bus company. They wrote their
main posts by midnight on Thursday of week 3 and wrote their response post
on the following Monday of week 4 before midnight. The remainder of the
procedure was the same as that of Discussion 1.

Speaking task 1

Speaking Task 1 was given in class on Thursday of week 4, with the students
having had two full rounds of online discussions beforehand. The task was
developed by the instructor in the likeness of the in-modular A03 speaking
assessment (see Appendix 3), thus the in-modular A03 speaking assessment
speaking criteria was referenced for this task. Students completed the task in
pairs with only one pair speaking at a time. Students who were not speaking
were instructed to listen to their classmates and give them a score based on
a criteria provided by the teacher (1=needs improvement – 5=great) as a
while-listening task. I gave feedback and tips during the task as needed if
they struggled because this task was also their formal assessment practice,
but I took note of this in the marks I gave. There was no discussion post due
on the Thursday of this week so as to allow students to focus on the speaking
task as well as for the sake of timing among the remaining units.

Discussion 3 (Space)

Discussion 3 took place in weeks 5/6 and corresponded with the unit on
Space, the third unit of their coursebook. The video for this theme was
Skhizein by Jérémy Clapin (with English subtitles), which was a bit different
from the other videos used for the discussions. It was 13 minutes long and
was very artsy in nature, leaving much open to interpretation. I took a risk in
choosing this video despite its length in the hopes that it would lend itself to
greater critical thinking practice and expose students to a different style of
short film that they might never have considered otherwise. They wrote their
main posts by midnight on Thursday of week 5 and wrote their response post
on the following Monday of week 6 before midnight. The remainder of the
procedure was the same as that of Discussions 1 and 2.

Speaking task 2

The second speaking task was the same as Speaking Task 1 and took place
in class on Thursday of week 6. The same task and procedures were used in
order to give students further practice for their in-modular A03 speaking
assessment the next day. The topics were shuffled and students were given
a different prompt from the one they had in Speaking Task 1.

Discussion 4 (Scale)

Discussion 4 was done is weeks 6/7 and was related to the theme of the
fourth unit in the coursebook, Scale. Bridge by Ting Chian Tey was the video
used for this task, which has a run time of about two and a half minutes. They
wrote their main posts by midnight on Thursday of week 6 and wrote their
response post on the following Monday of week 7 before midnight. The
remainder of the procedure was the same as that of Discussions 1, 2, and 3.

Discussion 5 (Success)

The last discussion was held in weeks 7/8. The theme of the discussion was
Success, which was the topic of the fifth unit of the students’ coursebook. The
video for this discussion was six minute long was called Sweet Cocoon by a
team of five French students of ESMA Montpellier (Ecole supérieure des
métiers artistiques). They wrote their main posts by midnight on Thursday of
week 7 and wrote their response post on the following Monday of week 8
before midnight. The remainder of the procedure was the same as that of all
the other discussions.

Speaking task 3

Speaking Task 3 was on Tuesday of week 8, with the students having


completed all of the online discussions beforehand. The task was developed
by the instructor in the likeness of the exit level Gateway speaking exam (see
Appendix 3), thus the exit level Gateway speaking exam speaking criteria was
referenced for this task. There were two parts to this task and students
discussed each of them in pairs with only one pair speaking at a time. Similar
to Speaking Tasks 1 and 2, students who were not speaking were instructed
to listen to their classmates and give them a score based on a criteria
provided by the teacher (1=needs improvement – 5=great) as a while-
listening task. Since this task was also being used as formal exam practice, I
gave feedback and tips to the students as necessary if they struggled.
However, this was again reflected in the grade they received as per the
criteria.

Feedback

Feedback regarding the discussions was given twice during the course. The
first feedback session consisted of a whole-class error correction activity via
PowerPoint using collected errors from Discussions 1 and 2. It was
implemented in week 4 after Discussion 2 was completed. The second
feedback session was identical in nature but used errors from Discussions 3
and 4. It was done in week 7 after Discussion 4 finished. Unfortunately, there
was no in-class feedback given for Discussion 5 due to time constraints.

Data collection tools

Data was collected through the use of three instructor-created surveys that
students completed immediately after the completion of Speaking Tasks 1
(Survey 1) and 2 (Survey 2) (see Appendix 6 and Appendix 7). Students were
allowed to answer in either English or Turkish for all of the surveys. A focus
group was also conducted in Turkish after Speaking Task 3 with the help of
a Turkish-speaking Teacher Development Unit (TDU) member. In addition to
these, I gathered data by means of monitoring the online discussions (sample
student responses can be referred to in Appendix 4 and Appendix 8),
observing classroom interactions and other exam practices, as well as using
the scores from both the in-class Speaking Tasks and the students’ exam
scores and percentages (in-modular A03 speaking assessment and the exit
level Gateway speaking exam) (see Appendix 5). The number of participants
in each of the online discussions was also kept in mind throughout the data
collection and analysis processes (see Appendix 10).

Data analysis

a. Survey 1

After the first speaking task in week 4, two different surveys were given.
Survey A was given to nine students who had participated in the online
discussions at least once, and Survey B was given to the seven students who
had never participated. Two students were absent on the day the survey was
administered, but they would have taken Survey B. Data has been analyzed
and illustrated in Appendix 6.
b. Survey 2

After Speaking Task 2 in week 6, 17 students were given an open-ended


survey in which to write their own thoughts and opinions. One student was
absent on the day the survey was given. Sample answers have been collated
and included in Appendix 7.

c. Focus group

After Speaking Task 3 in week 8, a focus group was conducted in Turkish


with six students (two students who participated in all of the discussions, two
students who participated in some, and two students who never participated).
A TDU member joined the focus group to take note of and translate their
comments. Questions and sample student answers have been collated and
included in Appendix 9.

d. In-class Speaking Tasks 1, 2, and 3 and Speaking Assessment and


Exam Scores and Percentages

For each of the three in-class speaking tasks (see Appendix 3), the students
were given a score according to the respective criteria (A03 or Gateway-
related). The scores have been totaled and collated, and they are shown in
Appendix 5. The students’ formal in-modular A03 speaking assessment and
exit level Gateway speaking exam scores were also collected for analysis. It
should be noted that these official test scores were given by a different
instructor. They have been included in the chart in Appendix 5 as well. In
addition to students’ scores, a percentage of these was taken to reflect
students’ performance by adding up the total points earned and dividing it by
the total points possible (110 points/85 points for the non-eligible Gateway
students). This is also included in Appendix 5.

e. Monitoring discussions

The discussion forums, which consisted of student responses and


interactions, were monitored by the teacher. Some of the language used by
students in the discussions was also analyzed by the teacher (see Appendix
8).

Results

a. Survey 1

The results in this survey show that the majority of the students who
participated in the discussions up until that point felt positively about their
experiences with it in terms of both their interactions with the other students
and the effects the discussions may be having on their speaking skills. It is
interesting to note that some students felt less positively about interacting with
their classmates online as well as in integrating online coursework into their
learning. This could be because of the class dynamics as well as generally
being unfamiliar with using this type of technology for educational purposes.

Students who did not participate in the online discussions were instructed to
circle all answers that applied as well as add any other reasons that were not
listed. As shown in Appendix 6, students mainly claimed they did not have
enough time or didn’t have access to a computer at home. Access to
technology is an important aspect of digital coursework, so I was sure to
remind students that they can use the computers on campus in the library to
solve this issue. Two students felt they did not understand how to use the
online discussions, and I followed up with them after the survey to show them
how to do so again. Despite this, they never joined the discussions, perhaps
for the other reasons they listed on their survey. Other reasons students listed
for not participating included internet problems, long commuting times eating
into their free time, as well as a broken computer at home. It’s interesting to
note that none of the students circled the “I don’t think it will help” reason.

b. Survey 2

Survey 2 was more open-ended in nature, and most of the comments


students gave were positive. In particular, students enjoyed the video
selections and believed they were helpful in improving their productive,
thinking, and interaction skills. They also believed the online discussions were
good practice in general and for their exams. Areas of critique again included
lack of time, feelings of worry about classmates reading their posts as well as
negative feelings about being required to comment on others’ posts and the
tasks being incorporated into their homework. There were very few negative
comments overall, and it’s interesting to note that none of them were entirely
specific to the online discussion tasks compared to other unrelated tasks
done in the course. In other words, the negative feedback was similar to other
negative feedback students sometimes give regarding other components of
the course outside of this study.

c. Focus group

The focus group was also mostly positive, and I was happy that students felt
comfortable with giving their honest answers, opinions, and criticisms during
the meeting. The main things they liked about the online discussion tasks
were again the videos as well as appreciating the in-class feedback and the
help the online discussions gave towards preparing them for exams. The
main things they disliked again included some of the procedural
requirements, the fact that there was only one video for each discussion (no
options), as well as potentially copying other students’ mistakes in the posts.
One point that was also made during the focus group was that there were too
many online platforms for the students to manage, which became confusing
and resulted in the student ceasing participation in the online discussions.
Overall, the students felt the tasks were helpful in improving various skills,
including critical thinking and writing.
Interestingly, some students mentioned that they thought the online
discussion tasks were more logical than the speaking homework they had
every week which involved them recording themselves talking about a topic
and uploading it onto Blackboard for teacher feedback. This was especially
intriguing for me because it showed they saw how the asynchronous online
discussions and in-class speaking tasks helped to support their speaking
more than the video recording homework did. However, some students had
trouble seeing the link between the online discussions and speaking skills
while others felt face-to-face speaking practice would have been better, but
this didn’t surprise me considering integrating technology into language
practice in this way is still new to them. I was also not surprised to learn they
felt they would have participated in the online discussions more if the tasks
would have been worth more points. Nevertheless, I walked away from the
focus group feeling like students had generally good experiences, but I also
see where adjustments can be made in order to better accommodate the
circumstances that are unique to this learning context.

d. In-class Speaking Tasks 1, 2, and 3 and Speaking Assessment and


Exam Scores and Percentages

The in-class speaking scores showed varying results, with many of the scores
either remaining constant or decreasing from Speaking Task 1 to Speaking
Task 2 for those who had participated in the discussions. From Speaking
Task 2 to the in-modular A03 speaking assessment, scores mostly increased
for these students with a few decreasing. The same also holds true for those
who did not participate in the online discussions. I believe this may be
because the nature of in-class practice is different from that of exam
conditions and students tend to not take the practices as seriously. Speaking
Task 3 went well for the majority of students, and many of their scores were
higher. For the exit level Gateway speaking exam, nearly all of the students
who participated in the online discussions improved their scores in
comparison to Speaking Task 3. All of the students were given a percentage
to show their overall performance by adding up their total points earned and
dividing it by the total points possible (110 points). Five students were not
eligible to take the exit level Gateway exam, so they do not have a score to
consider. For this reason, their percentages were taken out of 85 possible
points. Overall, there was an increase in all of the students’ scores from the
beginning to the end of the course, but the scores and percentages belonging
to the students who participated in the online discussions appear steadier, as
seen in Appendix 5.

e. Monitoring Discussions – Student Interaction Sample

As illustrated in Appendix 8, a student interaction sample has been analyzed


in regards to Goh and Burns’s (2012) speaking strategies. When looking at
the squared sections, it can be seen that Rengin used paraphrasing and
interactional language (confirming and agreeing) in her response to Yaren
(cognitive and interaction strategies). It can also been seen when looking at
the straight-underlined sections that she used deduction (Yaren never
explicitly states that she was affected by the video but her last sentence helps
Rengin to understand this) and paraphrasing to agree as interactional
language (cognitive and interaction strategies). Lastly, looking at the
squiggly-underlined section of Yaren’s post shows her use of circumlocution
to deal with unknown vocabulary, as she was most likely looking for the
words/phrases “fought (over)” or “changed (their ways)” (cognitive strategy).
The metacognitive strategy is difficult to identify in text-based discussions
since the student wrote the response out of class and thus unwitnessed by
the teacher. Overall, this sample shows that, at least to some extent, students
used Goh and Burn’s (2012) speaking strategies in their text-based
discussion.

Limitations and implications

This study has shown that digital components are generally welcomed in the
classroom by both the teacher and students and that they believe using
asynchronous online discussions can be supportive of speaking skills in
different ways. I think creating online discussion tasks that were well-
structured and purposeful were of key importance in this study. However,
given the points-oriented nature of students in this context, I also believe
these tasks need to hold a greater weight in students’ overall score for the
course if the tasks are to be effective to their full potential. I attribute this as
being one of the main reasons for low student participation in the online
discussion tasks of this study (see Appendix 10). It’s also important to
remember that students may not be used to using technology like this for
educational purposes, let alone in a language different from their native
tongue, so it may take time for them to adapt. With all of this in mind, it might
be a good idea to involve students more in deciding the procedural details,
such as posting date requirements or word limits, so as to allow them to feel
they have more ownership of the task and their own language learning.
Encouraging students to do the online discussions by making the rationale
explicit and reminding them of this throughout the course was essential,
especially when students already felt overloaded by other coursework
requirements. In the future and with the above adjustments, it may be
worthwhile to repeat this study with multiple classes for comparison and
further data collection. I also believe this study could be adapted to faculty
English courses and would be very suitable for freshman English learning
students, especially since they generally have fewer contact hours.

Conclusion

As my interests in CALL and TELL grow, conducting this action research has
proved to be an incredibly intriguing and refreshing experience for me
personally. I enjoyed exploring tasks and topics that are important to me and
my students as well as the extent to which these can impact both my students’
learning and my own teaching practices. The investigative aspect of this
research was the most enjoyable for me, as I liked interacting with my
students on a more personal level to figure out how they feel about using
technology as well as how they perceive the benefits of doing so. While every
class is different, I see the allure of action research not only as being as a
way to better understand my classroom, but also as a means of professional
development in learning what works (or doesn’t work) in the classroom, why,
and what role I should play in all of that as the instructor. In becoming more
familiar with the ins and outs of action research, I am learning how to view
the dynamics of my classroom from a different perspective, one that may work
to suit the needs of my students in a more efficient way. I now have more
questions, especially regarding the use of technology in language learning,
and I see these as open doors that may lead to other research opportunities
in the future.

In this study, I found that students generally felt positively about using
asynchronous online discussions in their L2 learning and that they felt the use
of such tech-based tasks helped them to develop their skills in English. While
any type of correlation between the use of the asynchronous online
discussions and students’ speaking performances cannot be clearly drawn, I
do feel that the online discussion tasks helped the students develop this skill
as well as the strategies students use when speaking. All elements of this
study must be considered in light of the fact that there was a small study
population and the participation rate among this population was low for
various reasons, resulting in a relatively small data set. However, in my
experience in conducting this research, I believe incorporating asynchronous
online discussions into the coursework was beneficial for the students overall
in supporting their speaking, writing, critical thinking, and technology-related
skills and strategies. I would also consider doing so again in future classes
with a few adjustments as mentioned in the Limitations and Implications
section above. Regardless, it is clear that more research in this area is
warranted in order to better understand the effects asynchronous online
discussions can have on English preparatory students’ verbal skills
development.

References

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Johnson, G. (2006). Synchronous and asynchronous text-based CMC in


educational contexts: A review of the research. Techtrends, 50(4), 46-53.

Leloup, J.W., Ponterio, R. (2003). Second language education and


technology: A review of the research. In Eric Digest, EDO-FL, 03-11.

Swain, M. (2005) The output hypothesis: theory and research. In E.Hinkel


(ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 471–84.

Walker, A., & White, G. (2013). Technology enhanced language learning:


Connecting theory and practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Warschauer, M. (1996). Comparing face-to-face and electronic discussion in
the second language classroom. CALICO Journal, 13, 7-26.

Appendix

APPENDIX 1

Discussion Dates, Speaking Task Dates, and Exam Dates

APPENDIX 2

Guiding Questions for the Discussions

D1

 What happens in the video?


 Is there a theme?
 What happens after the people start helping each other?
 What would happen if the people in the video didn't help each other?
 What is the main idea/message of the video?
 What life lesson does the video try to teach? Is it an effective video?
 Does the video relate to Unit 1 in Skillful (Nourishment)?
 Give an example of mental, physical, or emotional nourishment from the
video.
 Does the video make you think about world problems? Give examples.
 How can people help each other in everyday life?

D2
 What happens in the video?
 What is the theme of the video?
 Are groups and communities the same? Why or why not?
 Why do the characters in the video travel in groups?
 What would happen if the characters in the video didn't travel in groups?
 Which group from the video did you like best? Why?
 What didn't you like about the video? Why?
 Are communities important? Why or why not?
 Give an example of how groups are beneficial in real life.
 Give an example of how groups can be bad in real life.
 What life lesson does the video try to teach? Is it an effective video?
 Does the video relate to Unit 2 in Skillful (Community)? Give an example.

D3

 What happens in the video?


 What is the theme of the video?
 How did Henry feel in the video? How do you know?
 What happens at the end of the video?
 Create a different ending to the story.
 What would you do if this happened to you?
 What did you like best about the video? Why?
 What didn't you like about the video? Why?
 What advice would you give to Henry if you could speak to him?
 What lesson has Henry learned about life?
 What do you think will happen next in the story?
 Does the video relate to Unit 3 in Skillful (Space)? Give an example.

D4

 What happens in the video?


 What is the theme of the video?
 How is the beginning of the video different from the end of the video? (think
about scale)
 Did the larger animals' size help them cross the bridge? Why or why not?
 Did the smaller animals' size help them cross the bridge? Why or why not?
 Which animal would you prefer to be? Why?
 Why were the larger animals mean to the smaller animals?
 Why did the smaller animals untie part of the bridge?
 Do you think the smaller animals did the right thing? Why or why not?
 What lesson did the animals learn?
 How would you change the story?
 What did you like/not like about the video? Why?
 Does the video relate to Unit 4 in Skillful (Scale)? Give an example.

D5

 What happens in the video? - try to answer the other questions first
 What is the theme of the video? - try to answer the other questions first
 What adjectives describe the caterpillar? The other bugs? The bird?
 What did the other bugs do when they saw the caterpillar?
 How did the caterpillar feel in the video? How did the other bugs feel? How
did the butterfly feel? Why?
 Compare the caterpillar at the beginning of the video to the butterfly at the
end of the video.
 If you were one of the other bugs, would you stop to help the butterfly? Why
or why not?
 How did the other bugs react at the end of the video? Why?
 How would you change the video? Would you change the ending?
 What did you like/not like about the video? Why?
 Was the butterfly's situation fair? Why or why not?
 Does the video relate to Unit 5 in Skillful (Success)? Give examples from the
video.

Questions that were the same for each video:

 What is your first thought about the video?


 Is the video shocking, interesting, educational, etc.?
 How does the video make you feel?
 What kind of video is it (advertisement, movie clip, video blog, lecture, etc.)?

APPENDIX 3

Speaking Task Samples

Speaking Tasks 1 and 2

Student A: You think VIDEO GAMES Student B: You think VIDEO GAMES
ARE GOOD FOR CHILDREN. Discuss the ARE BAD FOR CHILDREN. Discuss the
topic using the ideas below or your topic using the ideas below or your own
own ideas. ideas.
• Educational • Social skills
• Creativity • Health problems
• •

Speaking Task 3

Part 2: Prompted Talk– two minutes

The pictures show some different types of transportation that have changed
our lives. Talk about the reasons people might choose each type of
transportation.

Part 3: Discussion – two minutes

You are going to discuss some questions. Talk about each question together.

 What is the safest way to travel? Explain.


 Do you think the public transportation in Turkey is good? Explain.

APPENDIX 4

Discussion Screen Shots

*Students’ last names have been removed


Discussion Forum Sample – Discussion 2

Discussion 1 Students’ Response Sample

Discussion 2 Students’ Response Sample


Discussion 3 Students’ Response Sample

Discussion 4 Students’ Response Sample


Discussion 5 Students’ Response Sample

APPENDIX 5

Students’ Speaking Scores and Percentages for In-class Speaking Tasks, In-
modular A03 Speaking Assessment, and Exit Level Gateway Speaking Exam

*Students’ last names have been removed


APPENDIX 6

Survey 1 (A and B) and Results


1. Nine Students took Survey A
2. The highlighted questions are about the online discussions and speaking
skills while the unhighlighted questions are about student perceptions of
online discussions overall.

1. Seven students took Survey B. Two students were absent, but they would
have taken Survey B.

APPENDIX 7

Survey 2 and Sample Student Responses


Sample responses*:

Regarding question 1:

 The videos are attention grabbing.


 They encourage us to do research, which helps us improve ourselves.
 We learn how to give a response in daily life and unexpected situations.
 It could help our speaking skills.
 I can learn to speak English or writing.
 I think it improves my communication skills.
 We can improve writing.

Regarding question 2:

 We cannot speak English everywhere so I try to speak as much as possible.


 I don’t have enough time and when I go home I feel very tired.

Regarding question 3:

 They help to my think.


 I feel it has improved my speaking and writing skills when doing homework.
 Good way to study exams.

Regarding question 4:

 The selection of videos was really good.


 It improved my discussion skills.
 It is a good practice for exams.

Regarding question 5:

 We have to make comments.


 I feel ashamed of speaking in front of the class.
 It is given as homework.
*The Turkish responses have been translated and the English responses
have been included directly.

APPENDIX 8

Student Interaction Sample

*Students’ last names have been removed

1. Each discussion board was turned into a .pdf for data collection purposes,
and it is for this reason that the above sample has a different appearance
from other samples in this paper.

APPENDIX 9

Discussion Group Questions Outline and Sample Student Responses

1. What did you like most about the discussions?


2. What did you like the least about the discussions?
3. Why did you stop using the discussions?
4. Why didn't you use the discussions at all?
5. Would you have used the discussions more if they had been worth more
points?
6. Do you think the discussions helped develop any of your skills? Which ones?
7. What would you change about the discussions to make them better?

Sample responses*:

Regarding question 1:

 It’s helpful for the exams.


 The videos are good and attention grabbing.
 Receiving feedback in another good point.

Regarding question 2:

 We copy our friends’ mistakes which doesn’t help our English.


 There is only one video, not many options.
 Setting word limits is not a good idea.

Regarding question 3:

 There is no specific reason.


 There are too many online platforms (Oasis, Blackboard, MyEnglishLab) and
it’s confusing.
 I got bored because it was homework. I have exams to worry about, not this.

Regarding question 4:

 I didn’t use the discussions as all because speaking face-to-face is better.


 It is assigned as homework which is why I don’t want to do it.

Regarding question 5:

 We would definitely join the online discussions more if we got more points for
them.
 The online discussions are more logical than the weekly video recording
homework [the video recording homework was a homework assignment that
is standard across the curriculum and done in every class in every level]

Regarding question 6:

 They encouraged us to think critically.


 I think it generally improved my writing.
 I don’t see the link between the online discussions and my speaking skills.

Regarding question 7:

 There shouldn’t be a time limit.


 It shouldn’t be every week.
 The time span between videos and response should be longer

*All responses were given in Turkish and have been translated here.

APPENDIX 10

Discussion Participation Summary

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Nation, I.S.P (2008). Teaching Vocabulary: Strategies and Techniques. Boston, USA:
Heinle
Oxford, R. & Lee, K. (2007). L2 grammar strategies: the second Cinderella and
beyond. In A.Cohen & E. Macaro (Eds), Language Learner Strategies, (pp.117-140).
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Soruç, A. & Griffiths, C. (2015). Identity and the spoken grammar dilemma. System, 50,
32-42. Communication Versus Correctness in the EFL Classroom

Steve Mullen, Canada and Czech Republic

Steve Mullen is a freelance EFL teacher from Canada. He has more than twenty-five
years of experience as a teacher, language school owner, teacher trainer, materials
developer and software designer in the Czech Republic. His life’s work is the LAMPA
(Lesson & Activity Management, Planning & Access) system designed for language
teachers and schools (www.mylampa.com). E-mail: steve.mullen@mylampa.com

As natives speakers, we all have did mistakes in our own language when we discuss
about stuff. This is normal – our tongues sometimes move more quickly than our brains
can put thoughts together. I make mistakes all the time when I am speaking English,
and I am sure that if we ask our learners which of them has never made a mistake in
their own mother tongue, very few hands will go up.

I remember going home to south-western Nova Scotia in Canada for a visit one
summer. On the second or third evening home, I went to the local pub to meet up with
a group of old friends. We were sitting around over a couple of beers enjoying a lovely
summer evening looking out over the harbour, chatting, having a few laughs and
catching up when I overheard one of my close friends, who is a secondary school
principal and a former EFL teacher, say, “No, I haven’t went there yet.” Immediately,
my ears perked up and I bleated out, “Brian! You haven’t GONE there yet!”

He calmly turned to me with a wry grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear and
replied, ‘Steve, … #!&@ *##.’

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t correct participle mistakes when learners make them,
but a normal person, i.e. almost any native speaker who is NOT an English language
teacher, would not have corrected Brian’s regional slant on the past participle of ‘go’.

Correcting mistakes and the decision to interrupt learners when they are
communicating should be based on a conscious assessment of the mistake. Although
some adult learners often ask to have their mistakes corrected, I usually reply with,
“Well, I’m not so sure that’s such a great idea.” In addition to the fact that some people
hate being interrupted while others think that to be corrected is the reason they are
taking the course, as an EFL teacher, I believe I am there to facilitate communication
rather than hinder it.

So what criteria do we use to decide what kinds of mistakes need correcting and how
do we correct with minimal interference in the communication? At the beginning of
every course, I think it is useful for teachers to explain the criteria we use for making
corrections, how we intend to correct and our reasoning for doing things in this way –
this is especially true with adult learners.
In my own courses, I consciously try to break mistakes down into four categories:

1. minor mistakes typically made when speaking faster than the brain is thinking;
2. mistakes made repeatedly or when the learner should know better;
3. utterances which I think that a normal English speaker on the street might not
understand;
4. and mistakes made when the learner is completely in over his/her head and seems to
be sinking in a quagmire of complicated vocabulary or grammar.

Generally, I try not to correct the minor mistakes unless I hear them again and again.
That’s when they move into the second category. In the case of repeated mistakes,
rather than letting the error fossilize, I softly but audibly repeat the word or phrase
correctly so the leaner has the option of either going back to repeat the utterance
correctly or making a mental note of the correction and continuing with the discourse.
This approach seems to satisfy both those who like being corrected and those who
don’t like being interrupted.

Correcting the utterances that we suspect a native English speaker on the street would
have difficulty with requires an interruption, usually saying something to the effect of,
‘Uh, sorry, Marie, I don’t think I quite know what you mean… Could you say that
again?’ The problem here is that the longer we teach learners of the same mother
tongue, the more calloused we become to the type of mistakes they often make –
we’ve heard it so often that we know what they mean without clarification and we tend
to forget that other native speakers might not understand. For instance, as an EFL
teacher in the Czech Republic, I have been asked hundreds of times, “How long are
you here?” But since I have a knowledge of Czech, I know that the person means,
“How long have you been here?” A native speaker with no knowledge of Czech or the
context might think the question, “How long are you here?” means, “When are you
leaving?” So, although I probably should ask for clarification in the classroom in this
case, I might let it go since I understand what they are saying perfectly well in spite of
the fact that the native speaker on the street might not have the foggiest idea what the
heck the learner is going on about.

Finally, there are situations when the learner is completely lost. This happens with
diminishing frequency as the learner advances. When the learner seems to be
drowning in an unfamiliar ocean of complicated language, I think it is best to resist the
temptation to jump in for as long as humanly possible and wait to see if he/she figures
out how to swim. Learning to survive on limited language is an extremely important
skill to learn. There is always more than one way of making a point, albeit a native
speaker might be able to use five words to articulate an idea that a pre-intermediate-
level learner may need 50 words to say.

The ability to think laterally to get around difficult language is one that needs to be
developed and ‘practice makes perfect’, as they say. In such situations, the problem
can be noted by the teacher and then we can decide whether it is prudent to teach the
language the learners lack later in the lesson, to teach it next lesson, or to let it go
completely knowing that it is something not essential at the moment and that it will be
dealt with further along in the curriculum.
Please check the English Language Improvement for Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English Language Improvement for Adults course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology & Language for Primary Teachers course at Pilgrims
website.
Please check the Methodology & Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims
website.
Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims w