Fellner, T., & Apple, M. (2006). JALT Call Journal, 2(1), 15–26.
In this paper, the researchers describe learner gains in writing fluency by comparing the number of words and word frequency levels in student blogs at the beginning and at the end of the program.
There were several variations from the beginning to the end. So, by the end of the CALL program there was nearly a 350% increase in the number of words used in students’ blog entries, as well as a substantial increase in the number of 2000 word level and even lower frequency level words.
As a form of online diary writing, blogs have become extremely popular in the past few years not only in writing classrooms for native speakers (Barrios, 2003) but also for second language learners.
A total of 21 seniors participated in the program in September 2004. The students scored fairly low in general on the TOEIC examination, with overall scores ranging from a low of 150 to a high of 370.
Since the program was to be held for only seven days, with about five and a half hours of class time each day from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the instructors (the researchers of this paper) decided to eschew textbooks in favor of a blend of CALL tasks and traditional classroom tasks. In a survey done the first day of the program, the instructors discovered that only two students had ever used computers in a high school or university classroom, and more than half of the 21 students in the program rarely used computers at all. Keeping this in mind, the instructors decided on several appropriate CALL tasks, and designed a program curriculum focusing on fluency and improving student interest in English.
A great difficulty in designing an integrated CALL program is determining which tasks are appropriate.
The criteria were:
1. Language Learning Potential
2. Learner Fit
3. Meaning Focus
5. Positive Impact
First, the use of students’ blogs met the seven criteria for CALL task selection. The blogs provided students with real learning opportunities to improve not only their written English but also their reading in English, as students were asked to read their classmates’ blogs and respond to them.
The class blog procedure
During the first class students set up personal email accounts in either Microsoft MSN/Hotmail or Yahoo! Email. Each morning thereafter students received a blog topic emailed to them from the instructors. Students spent twenty minutes freewriting an email message and then emailed their freewrites to the class blog. This time limit was strictly enforced by the instructors for several reasons. First, limiting the time made it difficult for students to rely on online dictionaries to find vocabulary and check their spelling; it also promoted the goal that self-expression was to be more important than grammar and spelling. Second, the
20-minute time limit encouraged students to begin writing immediately, rather than discussing the topic verbally with their friends. Third, the instructors had a great deal of material and activities to introduce during the program and preferred not to spend the majority of the time with student blogs.
The Wave Model is introduced now to enhance the recycling of comprehensible input.
This use of the integrated CALL environment through the Wave Model allowed for constant revisiting and recycling of lexical items, as learners began to express the previous lesson’s input in their own written blog output.
After students finished their email messages, they sent the messages to the blog email address for posting.
Discussion and Conclusion
The researchers theorized that by using blog tasks as part of an intensive English CALL program, they would promote writing fluency by encouraging students to recycle vocabulary and to notice their language use.
The improvement in writing fluency is also evidenced by the increased use of lower frequency occurring words. The researchers believed that bare timed word counts would not be an adequate measure of any improvement in writing fluency, as this would be to ignore the type of vocabulary items used.
Although the quality of the language used in the blogs may not have shown advanced English proficiency, the concepts expressed in the blog posts were quite complex and mature. It may very well have been the first time these students had ever attempted to write complex thoughts and ideas using English as their medium of expression.