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Tool Box helps students improve on their weak points

Anne-Marie van Hoof is working as senior teacher of English at the language centre of the University of Tilburg, and she is a project member of INTUIT. She has taught the Grammar Skills Preparation Course, a course in which the INTUIT Language Tool Box was used. We asked Anne-Marie about how she and her students have used the Tool Box. Combined with the interview with Edith Schouten, this interview shows that the Tool Box can be used successfully with very different groups of students.


Can you tell us something about the course Grammar Skills Preparation Course?

Grammar Skills is a preparation course for students International Business and Business Studies. All first year students in that programme had to do a placement test and the 80 weakest students had to follow this obligatory course. It is an English course which is basically about grammar, but we also pay attention to for example vocabulary.


Can you tell us something about the group?

They were all businiess students. Most of them were first year students who had just finished high school. It was an international group consisting predominantly of Dutch and Chinese students, but there were also some Germans. The course was obligatory and was taught outside their regular programme. The time at which the course was thaught was not very good, from 4:45 pm until 6:30 pm. The course was obligatory, and students were not looking forward to taking the course. Their attitude was somewhat double. On the one hand they did not like the course because it was obligatory, on the other hand they did see it as a chance to improve on their knowledge and work on their weak points.


How have you used the Tool Box inside and outside class?

Each class consisted of two sessions of 45 minutes each. In the first session explanations were given and in the second session students could work with the Tool Box themselves. Every lesson a new topic was explained, students could then practice with that topic during the second hour. If the students already understood the topic (which could be visible in, for example, the Ellips score) then they were allowed to work on other aspects of which they felt extra practice was needed. We thought it useful to let them work with the Tool Box during the second hour and because of the late time we did want to offer them a challenge. Outside class we have asked them to do exercises, via Ellips for example, but this was not compulsory.


Which things went well?

In class students worked with Ellips and that went very well. If there was a problem with logging on, for example, we could look at it together and we could usually solve the problem right away. It was also possible to give students additional feedback if they made a mistake but did not know why their answer was wrong. Because everyone was busy, students dared to ask more questions. It is also a good thing that students can choose from many different exercises en topics which part they want to work on and what exercises they want to use. They can partly decide themselves what they want to work on.


Which things did not go well?

During class, students have the tendency to do other things on the internet, such as e-mailing or reading newspapers. It is not a problem if students want to step away from the exercises for a few minutes and read a newspaper, as long as they are reading an English newspaper! Also, some students complained that they would rather do the exercises at home, instead of in clas, but we think that doing (obligatory) exercises in class and getting direct feedback from their teacher made sure that students really started working with the material, which would probably be different if we would have allowed them to do it at home.


In general, students are positive about working with the Tool Box, does that surprise you?

No, not really, because the way they can practice in a compulsory course is stimulating. It works better than a book, because they can work at their own pace with those exercises that appeal to them the most.

In tje questionnaire you have asked an additional question about the use of a grammar book or the Tool Box. It turns out that 52,7% of your students prefers the Tool Box to a book for learning grammar. When it comes to doing exercises 66,7% prefers the Tool Box to a book. That's a difference of 14%, can you explain that difference?  

We have used the Tool Box predominantly for doing exercises. The difference is hard to explain, but perhaps students find it easier to find information in a book. The Tool Box is very practical, it does contain pieces of theoretical information, but these are sometimes not very elaborate. That probably explains why some students prefer a book for learning grammar, but rather use the Tool Box for doing grammar exercises.


What will happen next?

If I were to decide, I think we should continue with the set up lessons in this course. The time at which the course is taught should change, because it is very late now, which is demotivating for students. We also use the Tool Box more and more in other courses, but in those courses we mainly use it outside class. Working with the Tool Box was a positive experience, and we will certainly continue to use it!


Thank you!


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