Advancing writing skills in the foreign language classroom

In the context of my research on the effects of telecollaboration (CMC between native and non-native speakers) on L2 learners’ language skills, I have recently begun analyzing factors impacting students’ involvement and success in cross-cultural virtual projects. This involvement can, for example, be seen in the amount students write when there is no length requirement. In one of my cross-cultural e-mail exchanges, the amount written varied from a total of 876 words to as much as 6697 words. It was apparent that some students were much more engaged with the project and willing to go beyond the required two e-mails per week. I was interested in finding out where these differences come from, because understanding factors impacting student involvement with telecollaborative tasks can be a first step to identifying how one can maximize student participation and hence the learning opportunities provided through these projects.

My recent analysis revealed that one important factor for students’ involvement in a telecollaborative project is motivation. Perhaps this does not seem too surprising, but I observed that students’ motivation to participate in the projects greatly impacted their overall participation, their willingness to complete the writing tasks, and the overall learning outcomes. I think that this finding has great implications for writing instruction. My research has revealed that student motivation for L2 writing seems to increase if the students have an authentic audience to write to who is interested in learning more and has questions for the student, instead of simply providing answers to a given question for the instructor.

When thinking about how to help students develop advanced writing abilities, motivating students for these kinds of activities is one important step. Writing only for the purpose of writing (or for the purpose of getting a grade from the instructor who is most likely the only person reading the assignment) may not be an inspiration for many students. Having a real person to write to, who is genuinely interested in reading a message and opinion may be much more of a motivator for students; it may push them to provide more information, write in greater detail, take more care with their composition, and feel a real sense and purpose to their writing task.

I think as we consider ways to help students advance their writing skills we should take these issues into consideration. I came across this article which shaped my idea of the importance of motivation in L2 writing: Kormos, J. (2012). The role of individual differences in L2 writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 21(4), 390-403.

Another thought: several studies claim that task complexity or task structure impact students’ L2 writing  (see below for examples), but my first investigation of this issue in the context of telecollaboration suggests that motivation and an authentic audience may be equally or more important factors that impact students’ L2 writing performance.

Thanks for reading!

Some studies on impact of task complexity on  L2 writing:

Rahimpour, M., & Hosseini, P. (2010). The impact of task complexity on L2 learners’ written narratives. English Language Teaching, 3(3), 198-205. 
Salimi, A., Dadaspour, S., & Asadollahfam, H. (2011). The effect of task complexity on EFL learners’ written performance. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 29(0), 1390-1399. doi:
Tavakoli, P., & Foster, P. (2008). Task design and second language performance: The effect of narrative type on learner output. [Article]. Language Learning, 58(2), 439-473. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2008.00446.x

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