ERG SES D 08, Academic Achievement and Education
This paper reports initial stages of research about how international postgraduate students exercise self-efficacy and utilise peer support to identify their academic writing difficulties and develop strategies to improve them. The study will investigate the methods that the students use in order to improve their writing and how they take responsibility for their writing difficulties.
Postgraduate students were chosen because the writing of a thesis requires competency in the English language as well as in academic writing styles. International students often enter postgraduate programmes with strong subject knowledge but weakness in English and in academic writing. Writing difficulties negatively affect academic goals.
Studies of second language academic writing in countries other than USA, Australia, Canada and the UK are rare (Heng & Abdullah, 2004). This study is based in New Zealand, at a University, as the policy of the country is in internationalising their universities and so increasing the number of students (Greenwood et al., 2014).
Academic writing is also an important issue for university professors as they have to give written feedback to L2 learners: it would benefit them to know what feedback would be most useful (Brunton, 2009). Van Lier (2006) and Livingstone (2011) state that if errors continue to occur, it will lead to students and supervisors becoming frustrated.
Shaughnessy (1977), stated that students use new structures to improve and grow, for that they need to have made mistakes and learnt from them. Therefore, seems that students need to take responsibility for their own learning by identifying their difficulties and the areas in which they need to get feedback. This study investigates the process.
There has been a large number of studies that have been devoted to many aspects of students’ and teachers’ perceptions of literacy, but as Kern (1995) points out not many have investigated students’ and teachers’ perceptions of developing effective practical literacy through participatory action research.
Action research is considered a flexible research methodology that combines research and active change. Action research is built through overlapping cycles of research and planning. The purpose of action research is to deepen understanding and learning as well as creating change in a local context. Action research’s main point of focus is in its participant community and how they affect the research process (Zuber-Skerritt, 2011).
As postgraduate students in New Zealand do not normally, as a part of their study, attend classes that teach writing they need to have willingness and motivation to overcome their difficulties, emphasising the importance of self-efficacy to make changes. Bandura’s (1986) research also found that students with higher self-efficacy improved more in writing regardless of their ability. Self-efficacy in an academic context is defined by Gore (2006) as "one’s confidence in his ability to successfully perform pro-academic self-regulatory behaviours– the degree to which students metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally regulate their learning process".
The researcher’s role within the study, as an international postgraduate student, has two aspects. On one hand, I am the researcher of the study, who collects data, interviews, establishes the learning community and observes. On the other hand, I am a co-learner in the study, not a mentor or an expert with academic writing difficulties, and am taking responsibility for my own English academic writing.
This research may be considered as a case study. Stake (2013) defines a case study as an approach that tries to deeply study either one or more instances of a phenomenon with the use of various tools, such as observation or interviews (Creswell, 2007). This presentation reports on the initial stages of the first study: the action research project involving students in a learning community. I will invite international postgraduate students who want to better their writing skills to be members of a writing group. A group of eight to twelve students studying at the University will be developed. Sessions will be held every two weeks for the period of six months. Interviews, observation, self-reflection and group discussions will be the main source of gathering data. The aim is to collect rich, contextually grounded data that will allow inductive interpretation (Alam, 2016). The study involves an emergent design that allows the study to further develop data collection and analysis. Considering PAR and self-efficacy, participants, as individuals, will have to take control of their own progress by collaborating with each other to make progress. With the use of PAR the research would rely on the participants, although triggered by the researcher as an external interventionist but led and controlled by the community (Given, 2008). From the beginning of the study, the participants will be asked to write a reflective journal where they record and consider their difficulties, struggles, insights, strategies they adopt and critically reflect on how their writing is improving. Particpants will be invited to share their reflections with the group or the researcher alone, as they choose. I as the researcher will also keep a reflective journal and will make my own analytical and critical observations on the processes of the group. At this stage I anticipate that the progress of the learning community and of each individual will be captured in narratives that highlight critical moments in identifying problems, development of strategies for improvement and shifts in understanding. These shifts in understandings and practices will be indications of students’ self-efficacy in improving their writing. A further element in the project will be to describe the workings of the learning community.
The qualitative data will provide an overview of international academic students’ writing difficulties, their strategies used in improving these difficulties and their self-efficacy in improving their writing. It will also provide an example of the operation of a learning community. The scope and impact of participatory action research depend on the community and the project. Noteworthy is the AR’s contribution to access the participants’ knowledge and gain a better understanding of change and development. Researchers by being involved in the process gain a better understanding, reflect, and make sure that the knowledge developed to incorporate the goals of the study (Given, 2008). In this research, the focus will be on emphasising the role and participation of individuals and groups. A considerable number of studies have emphasised the relationship between beliefs in academic self-efficacy and academic performance (Yeperen, 2006). The process of students taking control of their writing can contribute to understanding the effect of self-efficacy in learning. In participatory research the members of the community will be involved in the research and their critical reflection on the working of the community as well as on their own learning, the findings, thus, can contribute to the development of stronger communities as well as strategies of improving academic writing. As Greenwood et al. (2014) states, reflective practice and PAR both aim at making changes in order of achieving goals. The results gained from action research can be used both in practical and theoretical ways (Zuber-Skerritt, 2011). Teachers can gain from the knowledge of how their students address errors and progress their writing competency needs; researchers can deepen understandings of how postgraduate language learning takes place, and students can access examples of how they can take responsibility for improving their language competency and academic writing.
Alam, S. (2016). Teachers, collaboration, praxis: A case study of a participatory action research project in a rural school of Bangladesh: A thesis in education (PhD thesis). University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand Bandura, A. (1986). The explanatory and predictive scope of self-efficacy theory. Journal of social and clinical psychology, 4(3), 359-373. Bruton, A. (2009). Improving accuracy is not the only reason for writing, and even if it were…. System, 37(4), 600-613. Creswell, J. W. (2007). Exploring the dialectic tensions in the discourse in mixed methods: What is mixed methods research? Paper presented at the QI2007 Conference, Urbana-Champaign, IL Given, L. M. (Ed.). (2008). The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods. Sage Publications. Gore Jr, P. A. (2006). Academic self-efficacy as a predictor of college outcomes: Two incremental validity studies. Journal of career assessment, 14(1), 92-115. Greenwood, J., Alam, S., & Kabir, A. H. (2014). Educational change and international trade in teacher development: Achieving local goals within/despite a transnational context. Journal of Studies in International Education, 18(4), 345-361. Heng, C. S., & Abdullah, A. N. (2004). Exploring affect in ESL writing behaviour. The English Teacher, 12. Kern, R. G. (1995). Students' and teachers' beliefs about language learning. Foreign Language Annals, 28(1), 71-92. Livingstone, K (2011). Computers and their suitability for second and foreign language error correction. Baraton Interdisciplinary Research Journal 1 (2), 66-78. Shaughnessy, M. (1977). Some needed research on writing. College Composition and Communication, 28(4), 317-320. Stake, R. E. (2013). Multiple case study analysis. Guilford Press. Van Lier, L. (2006). The ecology and semiotics of language learning: A sociocultural perspective (Vol. 3). Springer Science & Business Media. Yeperen, N. W. (2006). A novel approach to assessing achievement goals in the context of the 2× 2 framework: Identifying distinct profiles of individuals with different dominant achievement goals. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 32(11), 1432-1445. Zuber-Skerritt, O. (2011). Action leadership: Towards a participatory paradigm (Vol. 6). Springer Science & Business Media.
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