Introduction

In my daily teaching practice I have seen that writing is the most difficult skill for children, for that reason, I decided to implement a writing process through a tool like portfolio. I selected six students from fifth grade and with them I carried the portfolio process, they freely accepted to participate in the process. To began I applied an entrance test in order to check their writing fluency; after that, they wrote an activity per week and they received feedback in personal conferences after every activity, the students had the opportunity to observe and analyze their mistakes and overcome them, at the end of the process, I could see how portfolio was useful due to the results which are show in this text.  

The purposes of this writing process are two is to find new strategies inside the classroom that can be use for the teacher in order to develop the writing skill in children. The other purpose was to make students reflect about their own writing mistakes and in that way propitiate an autonomous awareness in children.

The main concepts are writing, writing process in children, portfolio, portfolio process and portfolio assessment the main theory sources are: White (1981), and Bell and Burnaby (1984). Skidmore (1998), and Nortz (2001), (O`Malley and Valdez, 1996)

In order to collected data two instruments were use

The first was an entrance test which purpose was find the real writing fluency of the students.Portfolio: this was the main tool in this process with this I can collected all the writing activities five in total from my students and also they could observe and analyze their mistakes to work on them.

Finally I describe how the process was activity by activity and I show the progress of each of the six students in a quality way  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Context

The research was carried out was at the School of Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, which is a Catholic institution located in Laureles neighborhood; it is stratum 4.  the group was fifth grade; the process was carried out with six students, in  English at  UPB primary school is work in team teaching and the students receive five hours of English per week, also in UPB primary school there is a library and a language laboratory.  

Description of the problem 

 Teaching writing is something that I face every day in my classes and most of the times it is difficult for many reasons, here, I am going to mention only two: students do not feel motivated to write because they are afraid of making errors and the other reason is they do not master vocabulary, coherence and cohesion.

It is hard when you, as a teacher, see that you students make the same mistake over and over or you see that they do not make any progress, despite all actions that you take in the classroom; for that reason, I decided to implement  effective alternatives that would help students to improve and overcome their mistakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 HYPOTHESIS

  Systematic feedback improves writing competence in 5th graders.

GENERAL OBJECTIVE

 To describe how systematic feedback improves writing competence in 5th graders.

SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

To diagnose students writing competence at the beginning of the process (august 2008.)To assess students’ writing process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The writing system is a graphical representation of a language through signs taped or drawn on a support. It is a method of human intercommunication and it is done through visual signs that constitute a system.

Writing is the most difficult skill, for many authors like White (1981), many people learn to speak or listen at the first or foreign language, but all the people have to be taught how to write. Bell and Burnaby (1984) point out that writing is an extremely complex cognitive activity in which the writer is required to demonstrate control over a number of variables such as control of format, sentence structure, vocabulary, punctuation, spelling, and letter formation. Beyond the sentences: the writer must be able to structure and to integrate information into cohesive and coherent text.

The writing process begins in the infancy, children produce writing, although it is not a conventional writing; it could be drawings or signs.

Drawings are the beginning of the writing process. Children may consider their drawings to be actual writing. If asked to "read" their text, these children will respond with a clear message or story. Older children may recognize that drawing is an illustrative form, but still continue to use it as writing. 

Many authors speak about the steps in the writing process, and all the definitions are quite similar; for my research project, I took the five steps (brainstorming, first draw, feedback, revise and edit and the final copy) that Skidmore (1998) proposes because he gives an important place to feedback inside the writing process. Other authors like Nortz (2001) also speak about the steps in writing process; Nortz proposes seven steps, which are:

1.  Prewriting: this step consists in the brainstorming students do about the topic that they select in order to select the topic.

2.  Rough draft: the students write down their ideas without worrying so much for the grammar, spelling or punctuation, the purpose of this step is to focus on the main ideas without distractions.

3. Peer editing: the students share the rough draft with a classmate and the classmate suggests and asks a question that helps in the process.

4 Revising: the children apply the suggestions.

5. Editing: the students make changes to their writing according to the teacher`s feedback

6. Final draft: black and white version of the composition.

7. Publishing: the student shares the text in a school billboard or magazine.

On the other hand, these are the steps that Skidmore (1998) proposes which, as I said beforem are very similar to Nortz’s:

1. Brainstorming: the student gives all ideas about what he is going to write.

2. First draft: the student writes down the ideas freely.

3. Feedback: The feedback step is a crucial part in the writing process, according to Skidmore (1998), “(…) in traditional writing situations, feedback is a grade at the end of the writing process. In the writing process feedback is not a grade, it is a series of suggestions that and student will use to improve his o her composition.”  Teacher’s feedback should let students know their strengths and weakness in their writing. One advantage of constant feedback is that it increases students’ self confidence by praising important details of their writing. The teacher will also use prompts to get students to write when they revise, prompts like: tell me more about it, what else happen, explain that etc. Teacher should also give feedback on the grammatical and stylistics errors, the teacher input will help students in the writing process.

4. Revise and edit: The student corrects the text and use all the feedback.

5. Final copy: The fifth and last step of the writing process is the final copy. At this point students work must be ready, as teacher you must give the importance of your students work and the best way to do that is publishing their final work.

Portfolio

The word portfolio comes from a Latin word port meaning to move, the second syllable, folio, means paper or artifacts, thus, a portfolio is a moveable collection of papers and/or artifacts or samples. A portfolio is a collection of evidence that represents achievement and learning within a module/course or program of study. Portfolio is an excellent tool to record students’ strengths and weakness in writing because the teacher can have the evidence of the achievements and mistakes.

The essential elements of portfolios are: samples of student’s work, which are writing samples (articles, text) and the contents may depend on the student’s preference, but they are not a systematic collection, a portfolio has clear purposes and objectives. The second main element the portfolio may have is students’ self assessment, without self assessment a portfolio is not a portfolio, “a portfolio is a unique opportunity for the students to learn to monitor their own progress and take responsibility for meeting goals set jointly with the teacher.” (O`Malley and Valdez, 1996) A third essential element of portfolio is clear criteria, students may know how they are going to be evaluated, and the teacher must state clear objectives for this process.

Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio assessment is learner- centered, which means that the student has input in the topics, the evaluation and it is up to the student the way he or she managed the portfolio. One of the main aims of the portfolio is to create a reflection from the students about their own process. The Teacher monitors the process, but portfolio is a big change for the student to monitor his o her process.

For this entire portfolio is an excellent tool to develop writing process in children due to its features. The teacher should accompany the process and encourage students to write devoting time to each student and help them to reflect about their own writing process

METHODOLOGY

Type of study

The study was carried out as an action research, which is an interactive inquiry process that balances problem solving actions implemented in a collaborative context with data-driven collaborative analysis or research to understand underlying causes enabling future predictions about personal and organizational change (Reason & Bradbury, 2001).

Participants: I selected six students from fifth grade who were good at English class and also who can enjoy the portfolio process, the response of the students in front of the process was very good and positive.

Procedures

To start, I selected six students who had  writing fluency for their age, what I did first was to encourage them to participate in the project; I was very honest with them and I told them that it was not just a homework or activity for a grade. I explained them that it was a project for improving their writing skills, that they had to write articles about their favorite topics (animals, sports, sci-fi), make interviews to their classmates and keep all that material in a folder, which was up to them to decorate it. We negotiated the schedule of activities (they were supposed to give me a text per week), also I negotiated the topics and the interviews with them, they had to use all the grammar, vocabulary, and structures seen during the classes, I did not push them to participate in the project, they freely accepted it.

Instruments

To start the project, I applied  an entrance test  which consisted of five written questions in which they had to use the grammar they were supposed to master until that date (present simple and continue, past simple and future using will and going to).

Then, the second activity that I did with them was about writing how their moms cooked their favorite recipe, for that, they were asked to use adverbs of sequence and conjugate the third person in present tense. The third activity was about designing a future city using there will be or there won’t be for, example there will be robots... there won’t be enough trees. The next activity was an interview about their future plans using Wh questions and will or going to.

In the fourth activity, they had to write, in a couple of paragraphs, their future plans using will or going to, the objective of this activity was to check their writing fluency and the usage of connectors; the final activity was a free text in which they had to use most or all of the structures and vocabulary seen in the period, the text was free, but I gave them some ideas like: imagine a monster from the future and describe it, imagine that you are an adult and you win the lottery how will you spend your money, and imagine that you become a famous soccer player how will you live? What will you do? Every student received constant feedback about the activities unless once a wee

Data Analysis 

Entrance test: The results showed that most of the students mastered very well those grammar structures, in the data analysis, I numbered the students from six to one in order to explain their mistakes.

Students two and five had difficulties using the third person in simple present, the question that they have to answer was “where does your father work?” And they answered “my father work” instead of my father works. This test allowed me to know the writing fluency and mastery of grammar structures of my students. Everybody received feedback in personal conference.  

Recipe: After the feedback of the entrance test, I found that students two and five corrected their mistakes in this activity they had to conjugate the third person in present tense and, as I said, they demonstrated to have mastered the conjugation of the third person in present tense with sentences like: “my mom bakes…, she fries the potatoes, she washes the carrots.” But student three had vocabulary difficulties because he wrote some words in Spanish: “huevo, fritar, revolver.”

Future city:  Student three had difficulties: he used verbs with ing after there will be: “there will be playing soccer, there will be eating pizza;” the others students used the structure very well.

Interview: All of them asked the questions correctly to their classmates and the answers were also excellent. “Where are you going to play soccer?” “What will you study in the university?” “Will you get married in the future?” “Are you going to study this weekend?”  Those were the most common questions in the interview.

Future plans:  Student six, who had vocabulary problems he wrote “I will follow.” instead of “I will live.” Everybody received feedback in personal conference.

 Final text: the results were excellent the students who made any mistakes in previous activities corrected those mistakes in this final paper.

· Student one demonstrated to have mastered very well all the structures during the whole process; he did not make any mistakes in the activities.Student two overcame the difficulty that he showed in the entrance test of using third person in present tense, and he demonstrated it in the activity about the recipe.Student three stopped using words in Spanish: I suggested him to use the dictionary more often, and also corrected the usage ing after will or won’tStudent four did not make any writing mistake during the process, but it is important to mention that he asked very frequently questions about vocabulary or word order.Student five corrected the conjugation of third person in present tense and he demonstrated it in the activity about the recipe.· Student six demonstrated to have mastered very well all the structures during the whole process; he did not make any mistakes in the activities. Example:” In the future there will be a lot of robots… I won’t have children in 15 years… Where are you going to play soccer?”  

CONCLUSIONS

It is necessary to be creative and design meaningful activities for the children. The portfolio fits very well into this because children are free to select the topics: the decoration, and even the teacher negotiates the dates of the activities; also the portfolio shows students’ their progress or difficulties, and students can monitor their own work, and focus on the difficulties in order to overcome them.

In the research process, I could see how they made a writing mistake in a text, but later in the next activity they corrected that mistake, so It could be said that the portfolio is an effective tool to improve writing skills; also, the portfolio motivated them to write because they wrote about things that they liked (animals, science fiction, sports),  and I could see how they applied the grammar seen during the classes and as the most important thing, I could see how they improve their writing.

Feedback is a crucial step in the portfolio process; the teacher must support and guide students in the process, since one main aim of portfolio is to create autonomy and reflection in the students about their own process.

  

 

References

Bonnie Nortz. Writing Process. http://mason.gmu.edu/~cwallac7/TAP/TEST/writing/2.html (July 2008)

Brown, Douglas. (2003).Language Assessment Principles and Classroom Practice. Longman.

Kimeldorf, Martin(1997). What is portfolio? http://plar.humber.ca/portfolio.htm. September 2008 (July 2008)

O`malley, Michael. Valdez, Lorreine (1996). Aunthentic Assesment for English Language Learners. Longman .

Skidmore, Charles. (1998) Process writing portfolio. Addison Wesley Publishing Company.