ERG SES H 01, Language and Education
The aim of the study is to decide whether the intervention carried out in the Masaryk University Learning Management System and the Peer Review Application resulted in the development of discourse competence in English as a foreign language (EFL) academic writing of B.A. and M.A. students participating in the CJV_AW Academic Writing_ONLINE course delivered at Masaryk University, Czech Republic, and to describe the extent and specifics of the prospective development.
Main research question:
Did the intervention result in the development of discourse competence, i.e. the development of text structure and organisation, lexical cohesion, and grammatical cohesion (conjunction) in the participating students’ EFL academic writing?
Partial research questions:
1 Did the level of text structure and organisation in the participants’ EFL academic writing differ before and after the intervention? If so, how?
2 What types of lexical cohesive devices did the participants use and what was the frequency and appropriateness/accuracy of this usage before and after the intervention?
3 What types of grammatical cohesive devices (connectors) did the participants use and what was the frequency and appropriateness/accuracy of this usage before and after the intervention?
According to the currently predominant foreign language teaching and learning paradigm, the main aim of foreign language instruction consists in developing learners’ communicative competence.
Discourse competence represents one of the main “components” of communicative competence and has been part of communicative competence models since the early 1980s (see e.g. Canale, 1983; Savignon, 1983; Bachman, 1990; Celce-Murcia et al., 1995; Usó-Juan & Martínez-Flor, 2006 or Celce-Murcia, 2007). Usó-Juan & Martínez-Flor (2006) define discourse competence as “the selection and sequencing of utterances or sentences to achieve a cohesive and coherent spoken or written text given a particular purpose and situational context” (p. 17). Recent approaches (e.g. Tanskanen, 2006) see cohesion as one of the factors that can contribute to coherence. This view is adopted also in the present study. Therefore, for the purposes of this research, discourse competence is defined as the ability to produce coherent, meaningful, and logically organised written texts respecting particular communication purpose and situational context. The key features of discourse competence that are in the centre of attention in this study include text structure and organisation, lexical cohesion and grammatical cohesion (conjunction).
The intervention whose effect on discourse competence is being investigated consists in participation in a one-semester e-learning course of academic writing CJV_AW Academic Writing_ONLINE provided by the Masaryk University Language Centre. The intervention is realised solely in the Masaryk University Learning Management System and the Peer Review Application and as such involves no face-to-face teaching or learning.
The course design draws on the fundamental principles of cognitive and socialconstructivism (active learning, learner autonomy and collaborative learning in particular) as well as the common principles of the student-centred approach, such as personalised instruction, “partnership” between the teacher and students, and positive/motivating criticism.
The approach to teaching and learning writing follows the process/genre-based approach (for details, see e.g. Badger & White, 2000; Nordin & Mohammad, 2006).
In terms of the current second language theories, the intervention is mostly grounded in the Output Hypothesis and the three functions of output formulated and reformulated by Merill Swain (e.g. Swain, 1985; Swain, 1995; Swain, 2005). The “core” of the intervention was the composition of two writing assignments (a comparison/contrast essay; an argumentative essay) with the help of teacher and peer feedback. Next, participating students were asked to provide peer feedback on their fellow students’ writing. Thus, it is expected that the intervention facilitated all three function of output contributing to language learning: noticing, hypothesis-testing as well as reflection.
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