The article that I chose to review is called “Designing and developing a language environment for second language writers.” APA citation:

Knuttson, O., Pargman, T. P., Elundh, K. S., & Westlund, S. (2007). Designing and developing a language environment for second language writers.Computers & Education49(4), 1122-1146

When beginning their discussion, the authors state that it is essential to provide second-language learners with tools that will facilitate their developing an enjoyment and understanding of writing in the target language. They argue that this can be done by developing computer-language tools, specifically, saying that computational linguistics can be expanded. Grammar checkers, verb conjugators, “set-expression translators,” bilingual dictionaries, online grammars, etc. are some examples of computer-based language tools.

The authors make their first point by answering the question of why they chose to focus on errors. To do that, they explained the taxonomy of errors made by language-learners, categorizing them as slips, mistakes, errors and solipsisms. They then address the role of written feedback, ultimately arguing that it can in some cases be largely effective at improving students’ second drafts and that students appear to want the feedback, ultimately tying this back to why the focus on errors in writing instruction.

Next they move to detailing the study itself: they chose participants who are learning Swedish as a second language and focus on the Granska grammar checker. This grammar checker is genre-based but overall more accurate than Microsoft Word. The learners were preparing to take a Swedish TOEFL-equivalent test that would allow them to study in Swedish universities. Ultimately the study is measured through the number of grammatical judgements that the participants made while using Granska.  The results were that users found this tool difficult to use. The authors concluded that the teacher is an important part of the feedback process. The study appeared to reinforce the importance of feedback in second-language writing instruction. They found that students want explanations to accompany their feedback and that both students and instructors had a difficult time trusting Granska.

The authors then took what they learned from the Granska study and applied it in a program titled Grim, where they were able to apply the focus on form approach and add tools that made grammatical categories explicit, as well as focusing on authentic language use. However, they concluded that Grim is not a “pedagogically neutral tool” because teachers must invent their own settings when and if they decide to use the program.

In my brief experience in a second-language writing class, I have seen the importance of human connection in writing instruction. As Downs & Wardle show, the writing student’s feelings about writing in general can influence their performance. I think that a caring instructor who will provide personalized feedback is an integral part of creating a learning environment that is comfortable for students so that they will be receptive to instruction. Having said that, I would recommend this article because I think it is important to have explicit and empirical explanations available for the sake of credibility. As technology expands, it is important to understand when and how its use is appropriate in the classroom, and this article contributes to that larger conversation.

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