Encouraging international and dyslexic students to develop more learning strategies for writing.

Mary Davis and Freda Yeang (SHSC)

This study focuses on an attempt to foster greater involvement by international and dyslexic students in learning strategies at the formative stage of academic writing.

The topic is of concern as both groups experience an above-average difficulty with academic writing. In the case of international students due to language level and lack of knowledge of UK academic conventions, and in the case of the dyslexic students due to problems manipulating language, poor short term memory and weak organisational skills. However, research has shown that the appropriate support from tutors in the formative stage can be of great benefit.

In both cases, students were offered an tutorial session using Turnitin originality reports at a formative stage in their writing. With the international students, Turnitin was used with first drafts of a 3000 word mini-dissertation in a pre-Master ’ s writing module, with formalized feedback using specific questions to engage students more actively in their own learning. Building on previous research, the checklist of areas of improvement between drafts covered: distinguishing between the use of standard academic phrases and words which need to be attributed to other authors; effective paraphrasing; correct in-text citation; accurate copying of quotations and avoiding a copy-and-paste approach. In the case of the dyslexic students, Turnitin was used with drafts of essays or sections of dissertations as part of the support provided in the writing process. The students ranged from first to third years and had different levels of knowledge of the conventions used in academic writing, which were discussed in tutorials.

In both cases, students seemed encouraged to engage more in their own learning. With the international students, in-depth discussion of the checklist in tutorial feedback gave students time to consider issues related to their own academic literacy, which had a positive effect on subsequent redrafting. With the dyslexic students, Turnitin was useful in highlighting areas which needed further clarification, particularly in patchy paraphrasing, in appropriate use of quotations and in the use of a wider range of literature. It highlighted areas in which further advice was required, such as strategies to improve note-making or paraphrasing, which students could apply to their subsequent drafts, and in writing future assignments.

This study builds on the previous research (eg Davis 2007) on the formative use of Turnitin for academic writing, by illustrating additional use for the reports, and demonstrating the benefit of structured tutorial clinics for students who may be perceived as being at a disadvantage.