lunes, 16 de noviembre de 2009
The use of face-to-face and e-letters peer correction techniqueS to improve informal writing
By: Teresa Reyes Arias
Master in English language teaching at La Sabana University
This study shows how peer correction helps fourth graders improve their informal writing of letters in the classroom and using e-mails as a technological tool. Eighteen students were selected from a female bilingual school located in Bogota who wrote informal letters, peer corrected them in class and sent them to their friends through the e-mail to have a final correction. Based on the qualitative and quantitative approaches and the trend analysis of surveys and documents, the results showed that peer correction is a useful technique to improve students’ informal writing. This technique should be implemented in the classroom and in the computer room at school to avoid absenteeisms and lack of participation.
Key words: peer correction, e-mail, informal writing, letters
Writing is one of the linguistic skills that students find more difficult to learn because they need to find out the appropriate word, spelling, punctuation, correct word order and paragraph structure to express an idea in the written form. Bearing this in mind, it is necessary to find a technique that helps students overcome this problem. Peer correction is a technique where the students learn from their mistakes and provide feedback to their classmates. As they are children, they need coaching and extra motivation to correct their classmates’ work and make this activity interesting for them. Through the writing of informal letters in the classroom, peer correcting them in face-to face classes and then using e-mails to make more corrections, the students find another reason to give feedback to their peers by using a technological tool.
Peer correction happens, according to Mishra (2005), when the teacher assigns a work to students and is shared among them; then they look up errors to be corrected. After the students make peer correction, they correct themselves which makes them become more aware of their mistakes. Harmer (2005) establishes that this technique is a valuable element in the writing process. Similarly, Orlich (1990) states that peer correction can also be a way to help disadvantaged or special students overcome their writing difficulties.
According to Harmer (2007), when teaching writing we can either focus on the writing process itself or on the product of that writing. He also (1998) says that the type of writing we ask the students to do depends on their age, interest and proficiency level; when the teacher asks the students to write sentences, paragraphs or longer compositions, she is allowing them to use the target language in real contexts or situations which can be formal or informal. In informal writing, the teacher requests students to write specific questionnaires, dialogues, invitations, essays and descriptions following certain rules in order to have an effective impact. In a later work in 2007, he established that there are several strategies to consider in the process of teaching writing such as pre-writing phases, editing, re-drafting and finally producing a final version of their work. The ideal is to provide students with situations where they can use the language naturally.On the other hand, Evans (2000) mentions that informal letters is one of the ways to give the students reasons to write. Similarly, Krashen (1984) established that the best acquisition of the language will occur in environments where anxiety is low and defensiveness absent. The peer correction techique allows students to reduce this anxiety, increase their self steem and believe on what they produce.
However, it is necessary to find out how we can motivate students to write and peer correct. Nowadays, technology is an essential resource in the educational field and children are attracted to it. UNESCO (2002) mentions that e-mail correspondence enhances collaboration, involves students in real life communication within the classroom, stimulates intellectual curiosity and provides a meaningful context, peer-to-peer communication and a genuine exchange of views between key partners; it also encourages learners to communicate clearly and offers a sense of enjoyment that will move students from a passive role of recipients into the active role of builders of knowledge. Additionally, e-mail activities, as types of informal letters, are easy ways to enhance student’s learning as it is mentioned in Beatty (2003). Veiga, M. R and Lupion, P. (2009, pp 31) mention that e-mail tasks contrast with traditional classroom interaction in which students have limited time to practice. Moreover, Chapelle & Jaieson (2008) mention that computers mediate communication and that this adds more dimensions to face-to-face conversations.
Nowadays, researchers like Claudio de Paiva (2008) from Brazil and Bui Thi KimHgan (2009) from Vietnam are working on peer correction techniques and some of their findings are similar. Both of them point that peer correction is a positive technique to use in the classroom since students feel confident when they receive a feedback from their peers and improves their written production involving collaborative work from both the teachers and the students. On the other side, if technology is involved in the writing process, the students’ participation and positive attitude in the classroom will increase significantly helping them improve their writing. The above theories led to the following question.
How can face-to-face and e-letter peer correction techniques help fourth graders improve their informal writing?
1. to teach students how to write informal letters
2. to identify the structure of paragraphs
3. to develop face-to-face and e-mail peer correction
Students find many difficulties in learning a second language skill, especially writing. Writing is a process that develops by making the students aware of their mistakes. This project was especifically designed for a group of students who had difficulties with coherence and cohesion of ideas when writing informally. The objective was to teach these students how to write informal letters by using face-to-face and e-mail peer correction as a technique to motivate them to improve this process. The students benefited from this project by developing skills on peer correction, learning on how to hold communication via e-mail and improving their informal writing by making their productions more accurate and effective.
Type of Study
The type of study implemented was a Descriptive Action Research. This project was developed in the classroom and designed to confirm information. In this action research project, observations, data collection techniques and the description of the findings made it a qualitative approach. However, this study also had a quantitave approach because the student’s achievements were measured with a scale from one to seven according to the school policies used to score the girls’ academic performance.
As this was a mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches, the study was based on observations, reflections and analysis of the data collected during the project. Sagor (2005) mentions that people use action research when they want to do something about a problem they see in the classroom in order to design a strategy to help the students overcome those problems. By applying this Action Research project the students will improve their learning of informal writing as a process and learn how to work collaboratively with their peers.
The study group consisted of 18 girls from Grade 4. They were between nine to eleven years old; even though all these children liked doing dynamic activities, reading and performing in class, their fluency and skills in writing still needed to be developed more because their level of English was heterogeneous.
Data Collection Procedures
To carry out this project, it was divided in three stages: The Pre-, the While- and the Post- stages.
In the pre- stage, a pre-survey was applied which showed the students’ interests and preferences. The survey was available at:
Then, it was necessary to send the students’ parents a consent letter in order to approve their children participation in this project and publication of it.
In the while- stage the project was actually implemented. Before starting the activities, the students were trained to send and received e-mails using the school web. Training the students to write e-mails made me sure that they would reply to their classmates for the last draft. They applied the different activities (documents) they chose as favorite and in order to assess students’ progress it was necessary to create a Rubric which was designed to grade the student’s performance according to the school scale.
In the post- stage, a post test was applied to compare the students’ performance in the pre-test to their final results. Next the students answered an online post survey stating their awareness about the project and what they had learned from it, their likes and dislikes about peer correction; all these opinions were taken into account for the conclusions and enriched the data analysis in terms of students’ acceptability of the project. Available at:
In this project it was important to take into account the Pre- the While- and the Post- stages.
The pre-stage was used to introduce the project, organize activities, the tools and motivate the students to work on it actively. Beside this, a consent letter was sent to parents to obtain their permission to work this type of communication by e-mail with their children.
After that, a pre-survey and a pre-test were applied in order to know about the students’s interests, preferences and their level of proficiency before giving the guidance on how to produce their letters. A schedule was also designed to prioritize the different activities that the students should carry out. Lesson plans were written for all the activities. The lessons and activities were plannned taking into account the students’ preferences. During the pre- test, the students were requested to write a letter about vacation time. At that time, they did not receive any instruction about the layout, connectors and structure of paragraphs. Rather, they received explanations on what a rubric and the categories were and the way they would be graded according to the rubric. It shoul be remarked that the activities analized were the pre-test and the post-test where the students could see their improvement in terms of quantitative results.
During the while-stage, the students developed the activities. In activity No.1, the students identified the parts of an informal letter and a paragraph. After that, the students were informed about the characteristics of informal letters and some connectors to make their paragraphs more coherent; examples of them were ‘after that’, ‘then’, ‘finally’ and ‘later’. When the students identified that information, a model of an informal letter was provided by teacher to show students an example on how to write it and how the parts fitted.
After that procedure, the students were requested to produce their own letters according to the lesson plan. They wrote informal letters in the classroom and then joined a classmate to check spelling mistakes, word order, punctuation, structure of paragraphs and layout. Later on, the students had to send the correction of the letters via e-mail to one of their classmates who would make a final correction; the author of a letter corrected it again and sent the final version to another friend and the teacher to file it. After that, a rubric was sent with their feedback and a score for each one of the students.
The post- stage served the purpose of doing activities to check the students’ improvement after taking the post test. In this activity the students wrote a letter to their family. While the students were working on their e-mail activities, the eighteen students worked autonomously because they wrote the informal letter individually without asking for instructions, layout of the letter or meanings of words. They had received the instructions by mail, read them and started to work immediately. Then, they got together with their friends to have peer correction, wrote their e-mails and sent them to their friends. Unfortunately, three of the students forgot their parents’ passwords and had to do their work in handwriting.
The last activity applied was the post-survey; here the students showed their feelings about the project, what they noticed about their improvement in their writing and provided suggestions for the next project to work with.
During the pedagogical intervention the students showed interest, paid attention to the correction of the mistakes coming from their friends and had a special awareness on what they had to do in each one of the activities
In this Action Research that is called, the Use of face-to -face and e-letter peer correction techniques to improve informal writing peer correction was a way of collaborative work and correcting other classmates’ work was essential because it was the aim of this study. Similarly, technology was a tool used to motivate students to edit and correct the second draft written by their classmates and knew about their interests and needs. To organize and analyze this data I based the observations on Sagor’s (2005) point of view. He mentions that responding to three questions will help to compile and review the data that was collected during a study. Those questions are 1.What did I do? 2. What changes occurred regarding the achievement targets? 3. What was the relationship between actions taken and any changes in performance on the targets?
Consequently, I followed three steps to analyze the data collected. First, I created a worksheet with a chart illustrating the time the study would take to be finished. This pedagogical intervention was implemented in four weeks during which the drafts, peer corrections and the e-mails were done. Simultaneosly, the final informal letters that the students produced were collected and filed in a folder in order to have a record of them. This part of the action research project started on April 15th 2008 and finished on May 08th 2008.
Then the students wrote their letters using repetitive patterns or steps. The students sent their final informal letters to a friend and a copy to their teacher to be filed in a folder that she opened for each one of her students. Based on the information from these documents, the rubrics, the observations the teacher did from her students’ peer correction and the reflections she wrote in the journal, she noticed that there were three procedural patterns that were repeated in different moments of the pedagogical intervention; first, as soon as the students received the explanation and understood the instructions they started to write their informal letters individually without questioning or asking for help; second, when they were with their peers they made their corrections and received the feedback with respect and attention. This fact allowed the students improve their informal writing by experiencing collaborative work which was present all the way through the project and led the students to work autonomously. The third pattern had to do with e-mailing the informal letters in order to have the last peer correction via e-mail.
As for the project timeline, this action research had the following distribution in terms of percentages according to the activities done. Approximately twenty percent of the class time was allocated to model activities and give input to the students for the following activity. Around fifteen percent of the class was for feedback on the previous activity in order to avoid students make the same mistakes. Approximately thirty percent of the class time was for the students to write their own drafts of their informal letters. Similarly thirty percent of the time was dedicated to peer correction. The remaining five percent was for questioning, clarification of the asignment and writing the homework assignment in the students’ agenda.
The trend analysis questioned about the changes occurred regarding the achievement. To do this analysis, I decided to take into account the following variables: First, I chose a specific group of eighteen students who finished the activities completely and, secondly, I analyzed the pre- and the post- tests because they showed the average of the students’ improvement.
The range tells the difference between the highest and the lowest of a number of scores. This table shows that the quality in writing informal letters among the students’ at the beginning of the project was lower (pre-test 3.4) than at the end of the project (post-test (4.00). This means that the use of face to face and e-mail peer correction was effective and made the lower students increase their ability to write informal letters and improve their accuracy in written production.
Regarding the mean, there is 1.4 of difference between the pre-test and the post test results. It shows that there was a remarkable improvement concerning the lower students and that at the end of the project, almost all the students achieved similar scores bridging the gap between the best students and the low achievers. Again, we can see that the use of face to face and e-mail peer correction played an important part in making students’ improve their writing of informal letters.
The standard deviation shows in the post-test results (0.95) that in this last activity the students improved their written production a lot; there is more variation from lower to higher scores compared to the variability of the pre-test (0.92) . Again this means that the difference in writing informal letters was reduced among the members of the study group; it tells about the significance of using face to face and e-mail peer correction.
Similarly, the samples show that the students’ written production became more accurate after they were more aware about their writing process not only to produce their informal letters but also to correct their peers in an appropriate and effective way.
The standard deviation tells that each student’s performance gap in relation to the general average was smaller in the pre-test than in the post-test. These results hold the evidence that students can improve their informal writing by means of face to face and e-mail peer correction.
Comparing and contrasting the students’ performance between the pre-test and post-test, it was confirmed that the students showed a very good performance at the end of the project. We observed that the students felt confident in answering the follow up activity; probably because they knew that if they needed any help they would have it in a synchronous way. But they did not ask for any help. They received the instructions and started to work inmediately. The students worked autonomously, peer corrected their classmates and used the computer in a very skillful way. Furthermore, the vocabulary the students had to deal with in the last activity was easier for them than the one used in the post-test.
The last question asked about the relationship between actions taken and any changes in performance on the targets. To analize this relationship it was essential to focus on the working patterns that were repetitive most of the time.
The first most repeated pattern was peer correction where the students showed understanding, commitment with the class, their classmates and the process; motivation, respect for their peers’ suggestions and corrections, awareness and responsibility. Even though these students are very young and are in the elementary level, the corrections they did were effective and appropriate. The changes the students experienced after using this technique were positive. The students learnt and were aware of their reality and shared their knowledge with others by the action of correction. This type of collaborative work made the students increase their confidence on what they were producing and giving opinions about the other’s work, paying heed to each other and being tolerant of their mistakes. So, I can say that peer correction was one of the categories that increased in effectiveness because it pervaded throughout this project. Peer correction, as Jordan (2006) mentions ensures an active involvement of the students in the correction of each other’s writing, in pair or groups under the teachers’ monitoring. The following is a student’s diagnostic test.
Hellos how are you? I fin. I am sending this e- mail because of your birday ,
I want that you have a great birthday and that your parents give of the love that you need to live, that good protect you and that you get fun; and the other reason is to tell you about my new campaign is about protecting the planet
I want that you form part of my campaign do you want? Please answer to me in faster way to apart you a very beautiful button of the campaign
After practising the peer correction technique, this was the follow up activity for the same student
83 no 22a58
Dear dad and mom,
Hello, how are you? I am fine. I want you to know that you are the best parents of the world.
This is the day that I can congratulate you, but I think that it is better if a say thank you every single day of my life. You make me very happy and make me know that I am important person for some one. This is why I wanted you to know love you very much thank for my school, cell phone, house etc.
Good by your daughter,
This evidence shows that even though the student still makes some mistakes, after the peer correction technique process she improved her written production remarkably. She wrote two paragraphs, included more vocabulary, used more complex sentences and proportionally made fewer mistakes than in the first activity.
The second pattern was e-mailing informal letters. Since the beginning, it was proposed in the project that the students would send the second draft of the informal letter by mail, have a feedback and send the final paper to their friends with a copy to the teacher. E-mails, as Harmer (2000) establishes have benefits such as speed, repetition of the messages, reception of feedback and filling of the letters.
In the post-survey that was applied at the end of the pedagogical intervention, the students gave the following answers about the project, peer correction and use of e-mail. Sixty-seven percent of the students felt comfortable by receiving peer correction from their friends, considered they learned from their mistakes and improved their informal writing when sharing with their friends and accepting the others’ help and corrections. Ninety-four percent of the students considered that they improved their accuracy in their pieces of writing, in this case informal letters.
This data analysis provided significant information about face-to face and e-letter peer correction techniques in order to confirm how effective this technique is in helping students overcome difficulties in written production.
This action research project confirmed that peer correction technique helps students overcome difficulties in their writing process. Collaborative work in terms of peer correction is a way for students to learn from their mistakes, correcting and being corrected by their friends, learning from their ideas and justifications because of mutual trust, sense of support, belonging and membership.
Additionally, this study demonstrated that technology is a tool teachers can use to develop collaborative work in the classroom and make the students improve their informal writing. Through the project the students learned to work autonomously not only to produce their informal letters but also to peer correct their friends
Another aspect was collaborative work in terms of peer correction that was present all the time. The students showed interest to correct their friends and accept the corrections with a gentle attitude, never complaining but being polite while they were online.
To sum up, the study group students improved their informal writing substantially by working peer correction as a technique in the classrooms and giving the students a tool to motivate them to keep correcting their classmates. They recognized that they learned from their mistakes, especially if suggestions were coming from a friend and from the teacher whose role was that of a guide working with them, monitoring them and helping them whenever it was necessary.
In addition, this project confirmed that if we give the students a variety of activities, use technology in the classroom and have an appropriate guidance about peer correcting their classmates, they will write more effectively in their attempt to exchange communication.
Peer correction technique is an excellent way for the students to improve their written production. However, it is recommended to train students on how to peer correct their friends and especially to let them know the type of mistakes they have to focus on.
Moreover, the students need to have a training class. In this session they learn how to send and receive e-mail letters in order to give peer correction feedback to their friends and make sure that all the students participate without claiming lack of this knowledge or skill.
Another aspect to consider is working the e-mailing activity at school. Some students showed reluctance when doing the last activities because they did not like homework assignments too much and peer correction was just one more assignment for them. To assure students’ acceptance to do all the activities, it is suggested that this project be done largely at school.
Working on this project gave the students the possibility to use technology through the school’s web platform in order to have communication among them, receive feedback and learn from their mistakes about informal writing and structuring paragraphs.
However, there are some important reflections to take into account for the second cycle of this action research project. First, it is relevant to consider that all the students have access to Internet because some of the students participating in the project did not have this service in the area where they lived. This situation made it difficult for them to participate on time and use technology as a meaningful tool. Second, some students were usually alone at home; they were really autonomous for taking time and working responsibly on the activities they needed to write, correct and send back. Third, some students were not able to work on the activities on time because they did not have their own passwords; they forgot theirs and only had their parents’.
To overcome these problems and be more successful, I recommend that the school sets a computer’s room for the project where the teacher can plan her classes, especially the first session when the teacher needs to explain the methodology of the project and the way the students will send, receive and answer their e-mails. Similarly, the teacher should also know the students’ passwords to provide them with their codes in case they either forget or lose them.
The improvement in the students’ informal writing was remarkable because at the end of the project, they produced paragraphs taking into account their rhetorical structure. Their ideas were expressed in a coherent way and they followed the appropriate layout for informal letters.
Further research studies need to be pointed on developing peer correction only online. It is suggested to work this project only in the computer room at school in order to encourage students more in the use of technology. The next step could be the implementation of peer correction using a wiki, a blog or another tool for the students and the teachers to explore.
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