Language Learning in Higher Education vol:1 issue:2 pages:1-22
Teaching foreign language writing often lacks adjustments to the requirements of today’s students of the “Internet Generation" (iGen): traditionally teachers set a – not very inspiring – topic, a deadline and then return a discouraging, manually underlined and/or annotated text without systematic labeling. The annotated document is then stored both by the teacher and the student, never to be looked at again. Whereas earlier student generations were educated and trained to process all annotations conscientiously and incorporate them in new assignments, today’s students need to be motivated by “triggers and rewards" in order to acquire new contents, skills and attitudes. Using digital marking and the internet can trigger their motivation and metacognitive strategies, but does not guarantee by itself a much higher learning effect. Psycholinguistic research on learning effects reports that more than half of the structures one learns are lost in less than 24 hours, recurrent exposure to the material being the only remedy (Cervero and Pichardo Castro 2000, Schmitt 2000, Hulstijn 2001, Wesche and Paribakht 2000). We therefore propose a setting of blended (i.e. combining traditional and electronic), task and research-based learning with a writing portfolio playing a central role in a phased, multi-stage coaching. The stages contain a set of triggers and rewards, such as inspiring topics and materials, motivating labels allowing insight into the student’s strengths and weaknesses, the use of self-assessment and peer assessment, and an evaluation system which rewards the student’s progress. In this paper, we present these stages and their positive effect on writing skills and attitudes on the basis of the results of four years of experiments with Spanish writing courses in Flemish higher education institutes, which show an improvement of the overall scores on writing tests and a significant decrease in the number of problems (or errors) between the first and the fifth writing assignment.