Break it down to build it up: feedback on writing with the Macmillan IELTS Skills app18-Mar-2013
Our previous posts in this series have looked at the reading and speaking sections of the Macmillan IELTS Skills app, and it’s to the writing section that we now turn. Often cited by students as the most difficult skill to improve, we will look at some of the key features of this part of the app and how they have helped our students to develop in this area of their studies.
This section includes useful practical information, such as the importance of timing in the two writing tasks, as well as more technical strategies that students can apply when approaching the questions themselves – and of course, there is a range of tasks to cover the specific question types that arise in each section.
Once again, we have enlisted the help of our students to provide feedback on what the app offers in terms of writing skills development. This time, we will see comments from two Pre-Master’s students: Putra from Indonesia and Ksenia from Russia.
From Putra and Ksenia’s comments, we can see that they found a use for both the ‘administrative’ information (for example, relating to planning, timing, and explanations of each test component) and the practice tasks themselves. The ease of access afforded by having all this information in one place – and, crucially, a place which students are likely to carry with them most of the time anyway – seems to be a winning factor for our students. Like in other sections of the app, being able to manipulate and move the information with their fingertips seems to help students to visualise the goal of the task better, and is cited as one of the app’s major benefits. It seems worth noting here also that Ksenia talks about the usefulness of the app in confronting the more challenging parts of the test; I’m sure that in some stage of our careers, we have all taught students who would rather skip the difficult bits, so perhaps the structure of the app helps to make these parts seem less daunting.
Several other comments were made specifically about the writing section of the app, including:
• ‘The Golden Rules are very useful and give good advice on how to do each activity and avoid wasting time’
• ‘The writing section helps us to build a good structure and link sentences’
• ‘The introduction part is good. Now we know the rule that we can’t copy the rubric in our introduction’
• ‘The writing activities are good, as there are many useful tips and exercises which can be helpful for the IELTS exam’
• ‘The multiple choice answers help us to analyse and understand the tasks’
• ‘In task 2 writing exercises, we learn some good vocabulary’
• ‘The task 1 pie charts activities are useful to help us get critical information and show us how to organise the sentences’
Putra made the point that using the app had helped him to identify where and why he had gone wrong in previous IELTS tests, showing the ability to self-evaluate. As teachers know and students find hard to grasp, this self-assessment is often key in helping students progress continually, so it is promising that the app prompted such spontaneous reflection and that Putra was able to identify areas of weakness. However, for Ksenia, the app was useful as an introduction to IELTS before her first test, and helped her to understand the requirements of each writing task. These different experiences illustrate the usefulness of the app for students at any stage of IELTS preparation.
Another positive aspect of the writing section is that, like in other sections of the app, it breaks down the tasks into micro skills, and in doing so, it’s easier for students to identify weak links in the chain. It is therefore easier for them to work on these and see an overall improvement. Breaking up the writing process in this way is essential to make it seem less overwhelming, and to give students small, focused tasks they can achieve and then put together to build a whole text.
Importantly, all these individual skills are analysed and tested with interactive tasks at each stage, from checking understanding of the task, to specific language features to incorporate, to ideas on structure to checking for mistakes. It really is interactive all the way through and this helps to keep students’ interest – especially important in writing which can otherwise become rather dry.
There is, of course, a limit to what any app can do – the most obvious example being that it is not able to mark a student’s written work in the same way that a teacher can – but we feel that the app is useful in exposing students to controlled tasks such as multiple choice questions, and through these interactive tasks they can build up useful model answers upon which to base their own work.
Next week’s post will cover the final skill section: listening. Please do join us again and let us know how your students have been getting on with using the app themselves.
The IELTS skills (complete) app is now available for just £3.99 (was £9.99) and is available for download here.
Let us know your own thoughts on the app in the comments section below.
Read more in this series here: