Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Fluency, Accuracy, and Complexity in Graded and Ungraded Writing

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Fluency, Accuracy, and Complexity in Graded and Ungraded Writing

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study describes the effect of grades on second language writing performance. Do students write better when their essays are graded, and what implications might this have for foreign language instruction? This study compares three different types of student writing: graded compositions; for-credit online discussion boards; and ungraded, not-for-credit, essays. Data were collected from writing samples provided by students enrolled in a 4th-semester Spanish class. Each sample was coded for T-units, errors, and clauses and then analyzed to determine the fluency, complexity, and accuracy of the different writing samples. Findings suggested that grades had little effect on student writing, and therefore more frequent and more varied ungraded writing assignments may be a productive pedagogical tool for improving the form and content of student writing.

Key words: error correction, foreign language writing, grading L2 writing, writing policy


Writing well is a skill that is acquired over time and with much practice. While it may be easy to compile grocery lists and learn to punctuate, using the written word to persuade, explain, and opine is hard work. How much more difficult a task is it for language learners when they are faced with writing in a foreign language and being penalized for every mistake in grammar and vocabulary? If instructors do not dissect and grade every oral exchange in the foreign language classroom, it is worthwhile to consider why every written exchange should be so rigorously critiqued. In order to write well, students need opportunities to write more frequently and without grades. Greenia (1992) suggested engaging students in a variety of writing activities even at the elementary and intermediate levels, adding that while instructors should provide students with comments on their writing, they do not need to grade every assignment. Intuitively this seems desirable because it allows for more contact with the target language; students have more opportunities for self-expression, and new technologies provide even more outlets for writing. Students can e-mail, journal, blog, instant message, microblog, text, create wikis, or participate in discussion boards in the foreign language (cf. Bloch, 2007; Ducate & Lomicka, 2005; Godwin- Jones, 2008; Kessler, 2009). Moreover, they can write to/for someone other than the instructor. This seems an appealing idea, but what type of writing do students produce when it is not graded? Are there significant differences in accuracy, fluency, and complexity between graded and ungraded assignments?

This study compares and analyzes three types of writing produced by students in a college-level Intermediate II Spanish class. Student samples consisted of one graded essay (GE); one ungraded, noncredit, in-class essay (UE); and postings to an online semester- long discussion board (DB) for which students received credit for participating but no grade. FollowingWolfe-Quintero, Inagaki, and Kim (1998), the author examined each sample for measures of fluency, complexity, and accuracy as determined by seven different measures: the mean length of T-unit (MLTU), themean length of error-free T-unit (MLEFT), the mean length of clause (MLC), error-free T-units (EFT), error-free T-units per T-unit (EFT/T), errors per T-unit (E/T), and mean length of clauses/T-unit (C/T).

Review of Literature

Reichelt (2001) suggested that there was little consensus about the purpose of writing in the foreign language curriculum. Do instructors ask students to write in order to fine-tune their language skills? Do they write to learn the craft itself? Do they write to improve their self-expression? Do they write to analyze texts? In addition, there are questions regarding the quantity of writing assignments and the role of error correction and feedback. How much and how often should students write in the foreign language? How much should instructors correct? …

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