Response Paper

Response to “EFL writers’ social networks” by Orna Ferenz 

“EFL writers’ social network: Impact on advanced academic literacy development” by Orna Ferenz is a research study aiming to show how social networks affect literacy acquisition for second language (L2) learners. Ferenz states that the attainment of academic literacy is dependent on the interactive relationships of students, teachers, advisors, and classmates, which make up the educational environment. In a sense, she conducted this study to see if these relationships/social settings, may in some way, impact the student’s approach to L2 academic literacy. 

The research was conducted at a large Israeli University, where the predominant language was Hebrew. Data was collected from interviews, a phenomenological approach was taken, with post-interview questions with six MA and Ph.D. students for an in-depth analysis. Ferenz chose the sample based on student familiarity on L1 academic literacy. The participants’ goals and social identity were also assessed, identifying them as either academically or professionally motivated. Each interview was transcribed verbatim and then categorized according to four recurring patterns:

      1. academic environment                              2. social environment

      3. participants’ identity and goals                 4. L2 advanced academic literacy practices

In the end, the study shows that the students who engaged in more academic-oriented social networks had strengthened their academic literacy. These students were exposed to more disciplinary language, practices, and activities that helped sharpen their literary skills. The students, who engaged in less academic oriented social networks, still maintained general literacy practices. 

When I began this class in spring 2020, I never thought in a million years; I would come out being able to read and actually understand a research paper. I don’t words to express how accomplished, proud, and grateful I feel. I can’t believe I am sitting here, able to discuss and kind of add in my two cents about someone else’s research paper. 

I thought this particular research paper was an exemplary model to look at while we are in the process of conducting our own research. There were some flaws I found in the structure of the paper while reading, such as Ferenz never mentioned the research method she took while conducting this study. If Dr. Nelson never stated it, I would have never guessed it. I would have also liked the literature review section to be a bit denser. Ferenz includes 21 citations in her study in just two paragraphs, which I thought was a bit vague. It is ok for someone who knows about L2 language acquisition, but for someone like me, who has no prior knowledge, I would have liked more information on the citations (maybe more of a summary).

Besides the construction of the paper, I also found this research pretty interesting. You never think about how social networks can impact your academic literacy or literacy in general. I have a funny story relating to this topic, not academic literacy, but how social networks affected my mother’s literacy when she first moved to America. Her first job in America was in a clothing factory which consisted of mainly Spanish workers. My mom learned Spanish as her first language in America, which is pretty ironic. It’s hilarious to think about; her social network was full of Spanish people, so she learned the second language of America before the first.

Additionally, I grew up speaking Gujarati as my first language, my social network until I was five was my native parents and my native baby sitter. I spoke English the way my parents spoke English, I still remember in first grade I told my friend I ate at White Castle, but I pronounced the t in the word castle, not knowing it was silent because that’s how my parents always said it. I still remember the embarrassment I felt that day; that’s the day I become more involved in academic language. I never wanted to mispronounce a word ever again.

Academically speaking, I can say that the type of social networks you develop makes a tremendous difference. Comparing myself to my best friend who never got the chance to complete her college education, there is a world of difference in our language. Literacy is always excelling, depending on your social network. There is a mass difference in my language/writing from high school to college and even more of a significant difference from my time as a bachelor vs. master’s student.

My developed language has differed at every stage of my life. I have found myself reflecting and mirroring the type of reading, writing, and speaking, my professors, advisors, and peers deliver. So yes, social networking is essential, and I can 100% agree with Ferenz that it does affect advanced academic literacy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has social networking/interacting contributed to your academic literacy?
  2. Do you think social networking has changed and will ultimately diminish now due to social technologies? 
  3. How much do you agree with this study? Do you believe social networking does ultimately impact AAL and Literacy in general?

Work Cited:

Ferenz Orna. “EFL Writers’ Social Networks: Impact on Advanced Academic Literacy.  Development” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 4 (2005) 339-351 secondlanguagewriting.com/documents/Ferenz_EFL-socialnetworks_2005.pdf. 

Reflecting on My Research Proposal: Using Orna Frenez’s “EFL Writers’ Social Networks: Impact on Advanced Academic Literacy”

Social Media Network

In her article, Orna Frenez states her research interest in “investigating the role of the social environment in developing graduate students L2 advanced academic literacy within an English as a foreign language (EFL) setting.” She defines the social environment as “the interactive relationships with students, teachers, advisors, and classmates.” In the Theoretical Background and Rationale, Franez uses an interconnected theoretical approach by taking existing research on “valued literacy practices” and applying this theory to the context of an EFL setting. In one sentence, she cites three sources; in another sentence, she cites fourteen sources. She also looks at social networks and draws upon the research of others to examine the impact of a student’s identity on the selection of a social community. She concludes that students may not have access to certain academic and social communities to achieve advanced academic literacy. Franez is careful to use qualifying language by using conditionals such as “may,” and she is careful in anticipating rebuttals. 

In terms of Methodology, Franez uses phenomenology where she “explores students’ perspectives” and provides a “descriptive investigation” in the form of interviews. She provides a table to describe how participants were selected. In Table I, Dr. Nelson pointed out that researchers use pseudonyms. In terms of data collection, Franez recorded the interviews. Then the data were categorized into four themes and patterns: 1.) academic environment; 2.) social environment; 3.) participant’s identity and goals; and 4.) L2 advanced learning practices. In terms of Data Collection and Instrument, she had the students complete an after-interview questionnaire. As for the Results and Discussion, she provides results in the following areas: 

1.) Academic Environment, Franez concludes that students exposed to language in a solely academic environment such as learning from lectures and books may not be able to acquire advanced literacy skills. 

2.) Social Environment: Students who interact with advisors, professors, students, and co-workers help develop advanced academic literacy by providing feedback to students and revising their essays. Specifically, Franez concludes that “academic social networks contribute to promoting advanced literacy skills by establishing goals, modeling literacy practices, and establishing academic expectations.” She also notes that non-academic social network members such as colleagues play a role in promoting advanced literacy skills. 

3.) Participants’ Identity and Goals: Franez conludes that a student’s self-categorization as academic, professional, or personal as motivation for them to seek certain types of social networks.

4.). L2 Advanced Literary Practices: Franez concludes that the more academically motivated students are more likely to acquire advanced literacy skills. 

Unlike other phenomenological studies, she offers her conclusions at the end of the article. She ends by saying that L2 instructors need to adjust their literacy expectations based on the motivation of their students. Do the students consider themselves academics? The students’ identity and social networks that they seek are factors in the acquisition of advanced literacy skills. 

Frenez’s article, along with Professor Nelson’s commentary, was helpful during the revision process of my Research Proposal. From our April 13 class, I realized that as a novice researcher that I needed a framework when my research proposal, which reminded me of Thomas Groenewald’s Introduction in” “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated,” where he stated that within phenomenologists do not follow a prescribed research design. However, I contend that novice researchers need a framework to help them with their first research proposal. Drawing upon my experience of writing my first research proposal, I argue that high school students need a structure to help them with longer writing assignments. It is not necessarily formulaic to provide them with a 5-paragraph structure as long as they are encouraged to break this structure when they are more confident writers.  

So, the purpose of Blog 9 is a metacognitive exercise on the revision process based on Franetz’s article and Professor Nelson’s commentary.

Here are thoughts about my Introduction: Did I draw the reader in by stating the purpose of my topic in the first sentence? Yes, I provided the significance of my research proposal. I did not realize that the Introduction should be around two paragraphs. Why are we not including an Abstract? I also decided to move the background information on Grammarly to the Introduction, which is similar to Fanez’s definition of academic literacy. For now, I am satisfied with the Introduction.

Now, moving on to the Literature Review (or the Thereothetical Background and Rationale). Did I hear correctly, six to eight pages for the Literature Review section? In Franetz’s article, she wrote two lengthy paragraphs. Based on a lack of research on the efficacy of online grammar checkers for non-native English learners, I decided to use an autoethnographic approach since I am a frequent user of online grammar checkers.

As for Methodology, I decided to focus my study on my writings and not my students’ writings since it will require an extensive IRB process that does not appear too practical while my school district is grappling with COVID-19. I am pretty sure that my principal has more pressing issues to address. So, why is this research study on grammar checkers essential in light of this pandemic? During remote learning and remote working, the primary mode of communication is through emails, memos, or letters. Having clear writing is crucial now when it is our primary mode of communication.

Overall, I am happy with the flow of ideas in my research proposal. My next step is to reflect on and examine my previous essays. I will need to create a chart and analyze the types of errors Grammarly can pick up.

At least, I have more clarity in my research design and need to complete the Data Analysis and Results and Conclusions. 

Here is my revised draft as of April 19, 2020:

My Experience with AI-powered Digital Writing Assistants: An Illustrated Autoethnographic Study

Introduction: Although online grammar checkers have gained popularity in recent years, there has been limited research conducted on the impact of AI-powered assisted digital writers on students’ revising and editing skills (Cavaleri, 2000). Therefore, my interests lie in the intersection of writing, specifically grammar, and technology; the focus of my research study is Grammarly, which is considered one of the most accurate grammar checkers and the most user-friendly. 

Briefly on Grammarly for those who are unfamiliar with it. It was founded in 2009 by Max Lytvyn and Alex Shevchenko. To use Grammarly, users copy and paste a text into the input box, or upload a document. “Grammarly’s free version provides grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure and style support” (see Figure 1). “The premium subscription, which costs $139.95 a year, checks and additional 150 grammar points and provides plagiarism detection, vocabulary enhancement suggestions, and a contextual spelling feature and gives users a score out of 100” (Grammarly, 2015) (see Figure 2). It also provides short explanations of each grammar issue it addresses and provides corresponding feedback, which often includes examples of both correct and incorrect usages in green and red, respectively (see Figure 3). Users can click the suggested correction to apply it to the text, or click “ignore” to move on. Users can also read through the feedback without needing to accept or ignore each comment. Before reviewing the text, the premium version also asks users to select audience, formality, domain (academic, business, general, technical, casual, and creative), tone, and intent” (Grammarly, 2020) (see Figure 4.) (Moré, 2006). There are other online grammar checkers on the market, such as Paperrate, Grammark, After the Deadline, and Language Tool, which I intend to test the accuracy and effectiveness in my study.

My study examines the algorithm of Grammarly, evaluates other AI-powered assisted digital writers on the market and provides my perspective as a high school English teacher who offers students access to Grammarly Premium and as a graduate student who uses Grammarly Premium for my writing assignments. Overall, my study will provide best practices and recommendations to enhance the overall learning and teaching experience for students and teachers who are interested in purchasing a paid personal or institutional subscription to Grammarly Premium.

Literature Review and Theoretical Background and Rationale: A majority of the studies on the impact of online grammar checkers involve non-native English speakers in other countries. Two Australian researchers Michelle Cavaleri and Saib Dianati contend that online grammar checkers such as Grammarly promote “self-directed learning and student self-efficacy” (2016). Furthermore, research from Potter and Fuller found that the use of online English grammar checkers increased students’ motivation, engagement, and confidence in grammar rules and English language proficiency” (2008). 

Because there is a dearth of research on the efficacy of A.I. writing assistants in high schools in the United States, I plan to use autoethnography, which is a [qualitative] research method that “seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experiences (ethno)” (Ellis, 2011). Specifically, I plan to use a “layered account which focuses on the authors’ experience alongside data, abstract analysis, and relevant literature” (Ellis, 2011). Therefore, I am the subject of the autoethnographic study. I offer my 19 years of experience as a high school English teacher English and my two years of experience as a graduate student, pursuing an M.A. in English Writing Studies.

Methodology

Subject of My Data: I provide the perspective of an English teacher teaching a large suburban public high school in New Jersey. Some teachers are reluctant to embrace online grammar checkers because they feel that the machines will replace them. That is not true. I believe that AI-assisted digital writing assistants will help teachers rather than hurt them. The reality is that there is overcrowding in public schools, and unlike private schools, public school teachers do not have the luxury of having a class size of 10-15 students. In 2020, public school teachers face a class size of 20 – 30 students per class, and with the increase of students in English classes, there has been an impact on the quality of writing instruction. As a teacher in a large public school in New Jersey, I have had 28 students in my A.P. Language and Composition class. (There are teachers across the country with class sizes up to 30 students.) In my high school, we have 40-minute class periods. During writing workshops, it is mathematically impossible to revise and edit every students’ essays promptly. Students would sign up for a writing conference with me and would want me to revise and edit their entire essay. It takes me at least 10 minutes to look over a draft and multiply that by 28, which is 280 minutes or over 4 hours per one assignment. However, some of the writing conferences would take longer than ten minutes. I tried limiting the writing conferences. I tried teaching the students to revise and edit their essays. I tried scheduling writing conferences during the students’ study hall, and after school, but it became overwhelming and time-consuming. So, this year, in 2019, I took a leap of faith and purchased Grammarly Premium ($139.95/year). I allowed my 10th-grade students in my Level I (college prep) and Level II (regular track) to use my personal Grammarly Premium account to revise and edit their synthesis essays. 

Data-Collection Methods (Layered Account):

I offer “vignettes of my experience with various online grammar checkers, multiple voices, and introspection” (Ellis, 2011). I provide first drafts of my writings for graduate classes and for blogs that I have written with and without the use of Grammarly Premium. I want to examine the reduction of errors in my essays and to assess the types of errors that online grammar checkers successfully were able to catch. Cavaleri and Dianati make an essential distinction that “grammar checkers do not claim to teach grammar; they are tools to bring potential problems to the writer’s attention” (2016). Grammarly cannot replace a human editor.

To Be Continued…

Literacy Networks for ESL/EFL

The English language is a universal language with many people around the world and should be taught in schools if students are interested in working professionally where they will need to communicate in English.  However, I am not saying to lose one’s cultural identity with their own language, but to increases opportunities, they strive for.

Having these ESL/EFL students’ ability to use these platforms to learn literacy is extremely important. We are now in a digital age, where everything is online, including business, education and all forms of communication. Being able to communicate one language is an easier way to share important information around the world. 

Impact on advanced academic literacy development

Summary

In this article, Orna Ferenz (PhD in Linguistics) conducts an experiment based on L2 English learner, NNSE graduate students, with experience in a required EFL academic writing course. Each participant within the study holds different degrees, study backgrounds, and native language: 2 PhD, 4 MA; 5 Hebrew native speaker and 1 Russian native speaker. This study shows how a socially driven environment has an impact on the students’ advancement in English literacy skills. Ferenz wants to know if social networking beyond the basic groups (ex: teachers, classmates, advisory, and etc) will progress the students’ abilities in building social and academic relationships.This research conducted interviews and post interviews to collect data from the participants. 

My Thoughts

In my personal opinion, I believe there should have been more participants. Even though it was pretty simple to follow through (thank you!), I think the research would have came out a lot different. Six people can not generate enough information to go off. Referring to Megan’s post:

“I think this study could have been done differently. Out of 31, 200, to choose only six representatives ( 5 females and 1 male), is not proper. I understand choosing different academic departments, but I think Ferenz could’ve used more samples, split the six into an equal gender amount (3 boys and 3 girls), or expand the study outside the university to possibly other universities with similar departments and/or increased the length of time for the study (half a year).”

I totally agree with Megan in the sense of adding more diversity. But now even questioning Ferenz research, it makes me ponder on my own…

Making Connections

In a way, my research approach is somewhat similar to Ferenz (specifically surveys being conducted.. possibly some interviews). I am hoping that I have at least 10 students using my program (T.A.W.P) and fun fact.. a lot of the students I will be working with are L2 learners (Spanish and Creole being the native languages). My expected time frame of working with them is September 2020 – November 2020. Obviously my subjects are much younger and do not hold the educational background as the subjects in Ferenz study, but there are some common ground: L2 learners, all at the same school, etc.