Using Peer Response Groups Strategy to Improve Students’ Writing Skills: A Guide for EFL Teachers
These materials were developed to help guide an EFL teacher’s approach to incorporating peers groups as one of language learning strategy. Peer response groups aim to improve students’ self correction and writing skills. Writer think the strategy is useful because peer response groups leads to increased achievement by helping students develop judgment and skills more quickly than working individually. All students can benefit from this strategy in learning, especially start from learning writing in Senior High School.
Writing well is not just an option for students now; it has become a dire necessity in the study of a second or foreign language. Along with others skill in English, writing is considered as one way to measure individual’s language proficiency in most contexts education level in ESL/EFL country. From a pedagogical point of view, writing is not a natural activity but is a highly complex task. In general, students need to master the competencies expected based on five components in the profile of writing by Jacob (1981) which they are content, organization, vocabulary, language use and mechanic. We can say that, writing is a skill that involves a number of complex rhetorical and linguistic operations which must be taught.
Related to phenomena in Indonesian senior high school level, curriculum target in English Language Teaching (ELT) is required students to produce the types of text (genres) include short functional texts, monologues and essays of certain genres. However, almost students have greater difficulty every produce a piece of text than others skill. Many Indonesian’ students failed in writing skill such as writing sentences, paragraphs development (organization), and usage of correct grammar. Beside that, teacher’s factor also influenced students’ ability to develop and improve writing ability. Many teachers still use the traditional classroom management where the classroom organization was a teacher fronted one, with students sitting in rows facing the teacher.
Considering the explanation above, Indonesian English teachers must have responsibility as they are demanded to have teaching strategy in order to solve the problem faced by the students in learning writing skill. According Swan (2009:121) in order to teach the forms of the target language, the conventions for their use, and the receptive and productive skills necessary for their effective retrieval and deployment, teachers need interesting and engaging presentation and practice activities. So that, teachers need the strategy that can enrich the teaching of writing in many ways and can be used by students as their own language learning strategies, especially in writing.
Peer response group is one of the strategies of Cooperative Language Learning (CLL) that can be used in writing class. By implementing peer writing groups, teacher encourage students to give, seek, and react to oral feedback among themselves as they write, in addition to reacting to the teacher’s traditional comments on finished papers (Herman in Ericdigests : 2009). Working in peers group, students become skilled at cooperating with others and express their own opinions, ideas and feelings guided by the teacher. Students can help each other and themselves through peer response groups. Peer response groups, if set up carefully, can help students master writing skills, sharpen their editing skills, and become better editors of their own work.
II. The Nature of Peer Response Groups
The use of peer response groups in writing classrooms has become increasingly popular in recent years as emphasis has shifted from product to process. Though Gere (1987) notes that peer response can be traced back as early as the writing groups of colonial America, peer response was not popularized as a teaching technique until the dawn of the process movement. Moffett (1968) and Murray (1968) introduced the benefits of peer response two years later and then following Elbow’s germinal work (1973) “Writing without teachers”, there was a large boom in peer response and writing group literature during the mid-1970 and throughout the 1980.
There are a number of terms that are used interchangeably and refer to peer response group such as peer review, peer feedback, peer editing, peer critique but all of them share the same idea where students offer constructive criticism after reading and evaluating each other’s work. Liu and Hansen (2002) defined it as “the use of learners as sources of information and interact ants for each other in such a way that learners assume roles and responsibilities normally taken on by formally trained teacher, tutor, or editor in commenting on and critiquing each other’s drafts in both written and oral formats in the process of writing” (p.75). In short, peer response provides an opportunity for students to discuss and formulate ideas about the content of their writing as well as to help each other in developing writing skill.
a. Why Is This Strategy Useful?
Peer response groups aim to improve students’ language development and skills. The strategy pairs or groups students together to work on a task where teachers emphasize peer interaction and discussion to complete the tasks. This strategy is useful because collaborative learning in small groups leads to increased achievement by helping students develop judgment and skills more quickly than working individually. All students can benefit from this strategy, especially English language learners started from senior high school till university level.
Ferris, D and Hedgcock in their book Teaching ESL Composition state six principles for effective peer response:
1. Make peer response integral part of the course
2. Model the process
3. Build peer response skill progressively throughout the term
4. Structure the response task
5. Vary peer response activities
6. Hold students accountable for giving feedback and for considering any feedback they receive.
Based on the explanation above, EFL teachers can adopt and modify some basic principle of peer response group that suitable for EFL students context in English Language Teaching (ELT) in classroom instruction.
For examples, teacher can instruct students in tutoring practices or in assuming roles in a small group. In peer tutoring, two students take on the roles of tutor and tutee or coach and player. Teachers can use this strategy for tasks such as reading a passage aloud and answering comprehension questions. It can also be used in practicing conversations with guided discussion questions.
In peer response groups, four or five students share responsibility for a task. The task can be reading and answering comprehension questions. Another task can be editing a piece of writing. When editing as a peer response group, one student edits punctuation, one student edits spelling, and one student provides general feedback. Teachers can group students by age or ability or they can create mixed groups.
In this model of learning, learners have great responsibility for their learning as we are moving from teacher-centered to learner-centered approaches to teaching and learning. Finally, peer review activities build a sense of classroom community. Students learn to communicate effectively, and accept different perspectives while listening carefully, thinking critically, and participating constructively. Like Michael Swan has stated in his article that is not whether students ‘have read or listened successfully’, but what, if anything, they have learnt in the process.
b. The Implementing of Peer Response Strategy in Writing Classroom Activity
It is easy to think that you, as the teacher, are the only person who can or should respond to your students' writing, but don't forget the other people in the classroom as well, they are the students! Peer response group basically means as way made students interest in writing activity, develops values of caring and sharing among students. The efficiency of peer response group depends on two factors that are teacher planning and students training. In order to support the success of application of this strategy, there are some guidelines for EFL teachers when implementing peer response group in EFL writing class.
Firtsly, the students is encouraged to write paragraphs and essays and then they are asked to comment and give feedback on each other’s paragraphs and essays. In this activity, students having their papers workshopped will read their papers aloud while their group members listen attentively and follow along on their copies. Reading each other's work will expose the students to different ideas and different levels and ways of using English. This is engaging students in meaningful and problem-solving activities that promote their critical thinking skills and creativity rather than receiving and memorizing information.
Secondly, the students are asked to evaluate each other’s work based on a checklist that was given to them. The teachers train the students on how to give constructive feedback and demonstrated that on some paragraphs and essays. Teacher can ask students to answer questions about the organisation of the writing and the content, e.g. Is there enough information? Is it interesting? How can it be improved? It can be answered when they read of their classmates writing carefully several times and focus their attention on the meaning of text. Realise that peers have the opportunity to tell what they do not understand about his or her writing, to ask questions about it, and to point out what peers like about it. If students have any questions or do not know how to respond to their classmate's writing, they can ask teacher for help.
By the end of the process, the students exchanged their assignments and they were asked to comment on each other’s writings. Based on the comments that they gave to each other, they revised, reorganized and edited their work. They repeated the process several times before the submission of the final version to the teacher.
III. Problems and Discussion
Despite its perceived benefits, some researchers found that peer response group were viewed with some disappointed result and produced few benefits especially in EFL/ESL country. Students feedback considered does not help revision in drafting process because they are not capable of providing a high-quality feedback similar to that offered by their teachers. This peer response approach also contains complex and controversial issues in institutes or classroom contexts (Liu and Hansen, 2002). For instance, multi-cultural learners in the classrooms, especially ESL settings, often have difficulties addressing suggestions and ideas to peers because of few peer feedback activities. Cultural factors influence the interactions with learners and the revision processes in the peer response workshop.
Learners from Asian countries (e.g., China or Japan) become reluctant to remark on their products and are rather more likely to work toward maintaining a harmonious balance with others (Carson and Nelson 1996; Goldstein, 2005). This case will happen in Indonesian context that English as Foreign Language. Despite of culture, the mastery of target language is big obstacle to develop good response in group of writing.
Many researchers think that students should be given intensive training to enable them to participate fully in the process. Berg (1999) examined the effects of peer response on ESL students’ revision strategies and writing outcomes. The main question addressed in her study is whether trained peer responseinfluences writing outcomes, revision strategies, and peer talk about ESL student texts. The study revealed that “trained peer response positively affected writing outcomes, revision strategies, and peer talk about ESL student texts” (p.240). Berg confirmed the success of peer response training by making a comparison for revision outcomes after peer feedback by trained and untrained students. As a result, if it is introduced with caution and after training students, it could be a part of any English writing classroom instructions.
a. Preparing Students for Peer Response Groups
Students may have little exposure to different forms of assessment and so may lack the necessary skills and judgements to effectively manage self and peer correction. It is helpful to introduce students to the concepts and elements of peer response group. To suitable for EFL context in practices, the writer have assembled a kit of basic principles and tested exercises which is combining from many resourse. It could help teachers consolidate and improve the ways they teach peer writing and response in any course, with any size class, at any level of student mastery. Some of these activities can also be adapted for teaching more formal writing projects that undergo draft and revision.
1. Set aside time for the initial peer activities to happen in class.
The students spent two weeks doing pre-writing activities, generating ideas, reviewing the opinions in the textbook, organizing essay structures, and making a draft. After working on a draft for two weeks, the participants brought two copies of their drafts to hold peer feedback events and to receive written commentary from their peers. In each peer feedback session, all students randomly picked up one student’s essay and a peer feedback question sheet from a desk that the teacher prepared. They read the draft carefully and filled in the feedback sheet (expressing the good points, points to be revised, and suggestions).
2. Giving some understanding of peer resaponse group
In order for peer groups to produce such results, they require careful and detailed guidance about what is peer response?
peer (n) a person of your age group
response (n) feedback
3. Share responsibility
Everyone’s job is to provide feedback for other students.
Do not let one or two people dominate the discussion.
4. Be aware of time
§ Set a time limit for responding to others’ writing.
§ Everyone should get a turn.
§ Respond with general impressions first.
o what you liked
o what you didn’t understand
§ Give more specific feedback last.
o what can be added
o what can be deleted
o what can be changed
5. Allow time for reading
ü Prepare photocopies of your work for your peers.
ü Read your work aloud to your peers or give them time to read silently.
6. Be supportive and constructive
ü Be considerate of others’ feelings.
ü Focus on meaning, not on minor errors in grammar or spelling.
ü The writer makes the final decisions about comments and suggestions.
The best of peer response groups is can be helps students to interact and increase their motivation. The aim is to move from a teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered classroom where the students confer and help each other. They read and comment on each other’s work, thus increasing their opportunities for interaction and improving their social relations and increasing their self-confidence.
First, the use of such groups has increased with the shift to the process approach to writing (Flower & Hayes, 1981) and the consequent emphasis on helping students to acquire strategies "for getting started ... for drafting ... for revising ... and for editing" (Silva, 1990, p. 15).
Second, in the communicative language classroom the focus is on student- centered learning as opposed to the more traditional teacher-fronted class (Savignon, 1991). peer response groups are a form of cooperative language learning, the benefits of which are well researched (McGroarty, 1989). These benefits include academic achievement and language development as well as improved social relations and increased self-confidence (Coelho, 1992; Slavin, 1991) In short, the use of peer response groups is supported by general theories of language learning, principles of cooperative learning, the cognitive process theory of writing, and theories of second language acquisition.
In EFL context, peer response group have a positive effects in writing classes to enhance students’ motivation and improve their writing skills. Peer response in process writing classes should be an integrated component of every writing course. By providing students opportunities to write, and to work with their peers via writing, a teacher gives students an opportunity to become active agents in their learning. However, peer response still needs further inquiry into the effectiveness of writing development.
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