Article #4 from an ongoing Series
The technology I like best is a piece of chalk, but since I ask my students to do research papers, I’ve had to accept that the Internet has replaced card catalogues and, to some extent, hard copy references guides and microfiche. In Spring 2003, I worked with Bonnie Gratch-Lindauer, CCSF reference librarian, and, using suggestions from CCSF Librarian Andrea Niosi, developed a lesson that helped ESL 130 students use the Web and narrow their searches. Their guided research assignment required them to find 6 newspaper articles on AIDS from the early 1980’s on microfiche (many Web sources only go back about 10 years), and select 3 to summarize. They also had to find 6 newspaper articles on AIDS from 6/02/-12/02 off the web and select 3 with the following criteria:
- a) I can read it with minimal help from a dictionary.
- b) I can summarize it in less than half an hour with my vocabulary in English.
- c) The article looks interesting because x, y, and z. (Give 3 reasons.)
- d) The article is a good example to support the argument that media coverage of AIDS/HIV was very technical and not extensive in the 1980’s.
This assignment heightened students’ awareness of the limits and efficiencies of the Web. One student found she loved the microfiche and counseled her classmates to use it instead of the Web, which she found inefficient. By the end of the semester, my students were trading URLs for their 3rd research assignment.
I also use CPR, Calibrated Peer Review, which is an online, Web-based computer application. CPR was developed by the Molecular Sciences Project at UCLA. CPR gives my students the ability to anonymously review each other’s written work. CPR can reduce the workload of instructors whose students are native speakers of English. However, using CPR in ESL classes, the workload of the instructor may increase. ESL students may review a mediocre, plagiarized or grammatically flawed written assignment as “average” since he/she finds the work “understandable.” Conversely, ESL students may review a sophisticated, grammatically complex written assignment as “average” or even “not passing” since it is “inaccessible.”
The computer skills required are fairly simple: basic word processing skills to submit assignments and point and click for answering multiple-choice questions regarding the content and style of their peers’ work. For students who have never used computers, this application is not overly daunting.
CPR has greatly enhanced my effectiveness as an instructor. By creating CPR lessons, I’ve had to become very specific about what I expect from students. Before I began using CPR, I was guilty of waiting for the A and B students to rise to the surface. There are always a few students in every class who intuit (or have learned beforehand) how to go beyond the assignment. CPR has taught me how to better instruct the C students as to what, exactly, “A” work is and how they can work towards that ideal.
CPR enhances student learning because it gives students an opportunity to have the same experience an instructor has. As instructors, we read 25 versions of the same assignment and apply certain specific and/or abstract criteria to them in order to make judgments, and then we repeat that experience many times over the course of our careers. With time, we develop a “sense” of what a good abstract, or report, or essay, or case study is. Our “sense” is typically organic rather than systematic. Students, on the other hand, rarely have an opportunity to view that there are “many ways to skin a cat.” Grades are mysterious. Many students believe that Jill’s paper is an “A” because Jill is an “A” student and the only way for them to get an “A” is to write Jill’s paper or be Jill. They cannot see that Jill, Jeffrey, and Jamila have all written “A” papers, which are very different from each other. When students have to systematically apply the same set of criteria nine times in a single CPR lesson, learning takes place.