Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)


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They are used in early childhood education, in all types of schools and educational settings, as well as in teacher training. In the foreign language classroom, the European Language Portfolio is prevalent but open portfolio formats are also used, for example audio portfolios focusing on listening and speaking skills, and writing portfolios. The latter are the focus of this study. The use of portfolios is expected to improve teaching and learning on several levels, for instance by individualizing learning, promoting learner autonomy and by offering an opportunity for a fair and holistic assessment of complex skills or competencies Grittner ; Kara These results show that the positive effects of portfolios can encompass improved language and writing skills, improvements with regard to metacognitive and strategic aspects as well as changes that concern the affective level.

However, little is known about the process of portfolio work that leads to these outcomes. The research questions are: How does the teacher use the portfolio to promote and assess writing skills? How do students perceive the portfolio as a tool to improve their writing skills? How do they perceive portfolio-based assessment? Based on this deep understanding of the processes of portfolio use and the underlying assumptions and attitudes, implications for the development of tailored portfolio concepts will be presented in the last part of this article. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection.

Several features that are common to all kinds of portfolios are subsumed under this rather broad concept: Portfolios are tools to document learning for the learners themselves as well as for others, including teachers, classmates and parents. Moreover, they are tools of reflection and assessment. The current concept of portfolio does not just refer to the actual folders but is rather the manifestation of a specific approach to teaching with a set of assumptions, decisions and techniques. The broad understanding of the term writing skills, as it is also used in the context of portfolio work, relates to more than just the ability to write correct and well-structured texts.

Writing skills are not solely measured by the output, in this case a good text, but also by an adequate process. For L2 writing, language skills, knowledge of culturally specific features of text types and intercultural competence need to be added to the list. Based on this understanding, writing skills need to be developed by completing writing tasks which have to be specific, embedded in a context and communicative Ballweg a: Portfolios were introduced into the writing classroom when the focus of instruction and assessment shifted from the product of writing to the writing process.

Yet, the above-mentioned criticism, which is also closely related to post-process theory, has to be taken seriously. This approach, however, suggests applying the three steps of planning, formulating and revising less strictly as there might be, for example, students who do not work with first drafts in a narrow sense.

However, this is neither the case in any of the research quoted here nor in the writing class that formed the context of my own study. In general, in many cases L2 writing portfolios do not represent L1 aspects of the L2 writing process. It is self-evident that feedback and interaction with potential readers is essential for developing the ability to write reader-based texts:.

From this point of view, the idea of negotiation between writer and reader is introduced into the composition process. This kind of negotiation between writer and reader can immediately help writers to improve the texts on which they are working. The most common form of feedback is comments by teachers. The findings on effective teacher feedback, however, are contradictory and inconclusive, as Busse shows in her meta-analysis of recent research on the influence of feedback on writing motivation.

To successfully integrate feedback in writing and learning processes, learners have to take the responsibility and demand feedback at the individually relevant stages in their writing process, which is something they also have to learn Cresswell If learners comprehend its different function, they show a high acceptance of peer feedback and are able to use it to improve their writing.

This may be one of the reasons for the negative attitude towards peer feedback in L2 learners e. In general, peer feedback is considered a useful supplement to teacher feedback as it focuses on comprehensibility rather than on correctness. Learners need to be prepared to both give and receive feedback. Furthermore, an atmosphere of trust is essential to allow helpful feedback.

It must then lead to action, which again requires a setting in which the revision of texts is valued e. Writing portfolios are used as a tool to reflect on strengths, weaknesses, personal objectives as well as those specified by the teacher, the individual writing process, and more.

As it is assumed that the monitoring and control of the writing process does not automatically develop with writing experience e. The reflection in the portfolio and in conferences with peers and teachers are shown to have positive effects on the writing performance. What the above-mentioned studies have in common is that their authors strongly emphasize the potential of portfolio use and that their findings point in this direction as well.

In general, more research into considering the settings and the way in which portfolios are used is required in order to better understand the described effects and the conditions that are necessary to achieve these effects. Another field in which portfolios are expected to have much potential is assessment. This can neither be assessed using standardized tests that focus on vocabulary or morphosyntactic correctness, nor can it be assessed using essays.

Portfolio-based assessment can take account of most of these ideas. Products and processes are both shown and contextualized. These positive consequences are chiefly attributed to the frequent feedback sessions with peers and teachers. The students who were working with a writing portfolio achieved better results in an IELTS essay test than those in the control group.

For the examined aspects of writing performance, portfolio-based instruction and assessment seems to have clear effects. The broad understanding of learning outcomes discussed above, and also described by these authors as a major benefit of portfolio use i. It can be assumed that the idea of learning achievements and assessment described above is hard to introduce into the classroom and into research likewise.


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As stated above, portfolio work is based on a set of assumptions and techniques of foreign language teaching. Only few of the studies cited in this article that show the positive effects of portfolio use in the L2 classroom describe how portfolios were actually used in the classroom and thus which aspect of the portfolio has ultimately led to these positive effects. Therefore, my study Ballweg a aimed at exploring the use and the perception of writing portfolios in German as a Foreign Language at tertiary level.

In this chapter, I will present one aspect of this bigger study and elaborate on it. The study is based on the assumption that there is a major gap in research on portfolios because apart from an action research study on the introduction of the European Language Portfolio by Kristmanson et al. However, in practice only few teachers in Germany using writing portfolios have actually been prepared to use them. For that reason, I focused on how an experienced language teacher with no prior experience in portfolio work introduces and uses this tool.

The results show how the teacher is constantly struggling to find an adequate way of using the portfolio while a multitude of options is available and difficult decisions have to be made Ballweg a: Chap. Moreover, the data show in detail which prerequisites make portfolio work positive and useful to learners and to the teacher Ballweg a: Chap. The teacher was an experienced teacher for German as a Foreign Language. She had heard and read about portfolios and worked with checklists from the European Language Portfolio before.

In the semester before the study was conducted, she had tried to introduce portfolio work into a course with the same title. Still, she considered herself a novice in using portfolios in the classroom. The students were asked to keep a portfolio with several drafts of texts. Apart from three shorter texts of only one paragraph, the students were asked to write a summary, a discussion essay, a further essay, a CV and a cover letter for a job application.

At the beginning of the semester, the teacher had intended to give more writing assignments but as portfolio work proved to be time-consuming, she refrained from this.

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Classes were used to give input on how to write a good text and to prepare for the writing assignments. The texts were written as homework and discussed with the peers in the session that followed. Two of the texts had to be handed in via e-mail for feedback but the teacher encouraged the students to hand in more than two texts so that she could better support the students. However, only one student made use of this opportunity. The others sent in two texts or even fewer. She offered them information on the structure of texts as well as on strategies for planning, writing and revising texts.

She did so by discussing these aspects in class and working with sample texts from the students. Moreover, she used peer feedback to encourage students to reflect on text quality in general and especially on the quality of their texts by applying the criteria discussed to the texts of their peers and to their own texts. The teacher gave several suggestions on what to include in the learning log but did not give any guidelines. So in most cases they consisted of notes on the content of each class and a list of vocabulary. The teacher encouraged them to include material from other language or engineering classes if they considered them useful to demonstrate their writing skills in that semester.

For this reason, the portfolios that the students submitted for grading at the end of the semester differed significantly in length. In addition to the weekly classes, the teacher held a portfolio conference with groups of two to four students at the weekend before the last session in class. While portfolio conferences can have a wide range of foci, for this specific conference, the teacher asked the students to prepare general questions on the organization of their portfolios and to present their most recent versions of them.

In most cases, the students took turns reporting on their work with the teacher giving feedback to each of them while the others were listening. Only in one group, the students started discussing their portfolios and their questions with each other. Whereas previous research on writing portfolios placed a strong emphasis on the effect of portfolio use on writing proficiency e. More specifically, the following questions will be addressed:. How does the teacher use the portfolio to promote and assess writing skills? How is the portfolio used and perceived as an assessment tool?

As the research questions indicate, the study aims at an in-depth exploration of portfolio-based writing instruction over the course of nine weeks. The result is not the presentation of causal connections but rather the identification of patterns in the data that allow an understanding of a phenomenon on a more abstract level. For the generation of data 3 , the lessons and the portfolio conferences were audio-taped. The core of the 25 hours of audio-taped and transcribed data, however, was formed by four interviews with the teacher and three interviews with each of the seven students participating, which were conducted over the course of one semester.

Four of them were enrolled in degree programmes in engineering, three were exchange students in the same field. Four of them were female, three were male. The time they had already spent in Germany ranged from one month to two years at the start of the semester. After transcription, the data were coded in accordance with Grounded Theory.

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improve german writing skills

This step was followed by focused coding. Focused coding is used to bundle codes into categories. Hints to what aspect might be relevant are, among others,. The second step of data interpretation in accordance with Grounded Theory is axial coding. Here, the data are taken to a further level of abstraction.

Developing Writing Skills in German

Data that have been segmented during the phase of the open coding are put together again. In the case of the study at hand, data from the portfolio conferences were added. In this manner, all facets of a phenomenon as well as its conditions and influences can be reconstructed. The data in this study were coded and interpreted as described above to answer the research questions and to shed some light on the way the teacher used the portfolio in the writing classroom 5.

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The findings can best be summarized by the term of a gain-loss effect 5. However, it can be anticipated that the results of this case study are of a high explanatory value and can be used as a starting point for further research. The teacher explained that she aimed to prepare students with a proficiency level in German of B1 to B2 according to the CEFR for academic writing, teaching them the features of different text types and helping them to understand their own writing process UB 1, 28—48 5.

In the second interview in the middle of the semester, she stated that through teaching this class, she would gain experience that would be necessary to use portfolios reasonably in the following semesters. She considered herself a novice in using portfolios and felt she was struggling to introduce the tool into her teaching, which showed in different ways in the data.


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How a novice perceives portfolio work is closely related to the category of insecurity, which served as one of the head categories under which several other categories were subsumed during axial coding. In this manner, the quality and context of the insecurity could be described in more detail: Elements of insecurity, doubts and fears showed and were explicitly mentioned at several points in all of the interviews with the teacher so that it can be understood that her insecurity was not an initial one that was caused by the confrontation with a new challenge but was present all the time.

For this reason, she introduced the portfolio with all possible functions at once, namely as a tool for reflection, self-assessment, personal development, learning, documentation, consultation and promotion of writing skills. Furthermore, she explained that it could replace a textbook, would help her to give the students feedback on their texts and that it could be used for assessment Ballweg a: Her actions were guided by the general idea that portfolios, learner autonomy and individualized learning are positive but she did not have more profound knowledge on how to adapt these broad concepts to her teaching.

Expecting students to become autonomous, to reflect their learning and writing processes and to adapt the portfolio to their needs may have been too ambitious an endeavour on both sides that most likely was to be disappointed. The portfolio was used for several purposes and, with this multitude of options, was eventually reduced to its very basic function, namely arranging the texts. Helping students to arrange the portfolio also became the major focus of the portfolio conference and of the last classes.

Encouraged by what she had found out about the opportunities writing portfolios can offer, the teacher placed a strong emphasis on cognitive and metacognitive aspects of writing and aimed at teaching knowledge about texts, for example, about the structure of texts and the features of different text types. This focus made students aware of their writing process and induced them to reflect on writing strategies and text quality and to use peer feedback to stress the writer-reader relationship.

In general, portfolios in L2 writing instruction offer a multitude of opportunities that cannot all be used at the same time. Therefore, teachers have to make many decisions as to both the focus of their teaching of writing and the use of the portfolio.

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The necessity to make decisions can reveal insecurities, incongruities and a lack of knowledge on the part of teachers that had previously existed but were only revealed through portfolio work. Instead of making decisions based on instinct, teachers have to set priorities, to consider the multiple aspects of writing and portfolio use as illustrated in Fig. As the students had initially expected a stronger focus on writing in this class, some of them were disappointed and did not find the class and the portfolio useful.

Instead of perceiving the portfolio as a tool to promote their writing skills, these students experienced it as separate from their learning. Other students were more interested in, or at least open to, learning more about text structures and specific features of text types. This was the case when they acknowledged that they would benefit from the emphasis on metacognitive learning e. Later, a change towards a more positive stance was observed in some students: They acknowledged that the display of their achievements in the portfolio made them feel better about their writing skills but they still had the feeling that the portfolio did not help them to learn German or to improve their writing skills.

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Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills) Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)
Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills) Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)
Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills) Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)
Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills) Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)
Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills) Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)
Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills) Developing Writing Skills in German (Developing Writing Skills)

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