Rubric and Saudi Students’ Writing: Research Design

Introduction

The paper provides a thorough discussion of the intended approaches of the research methodology for studying the impact of using rubrics as a self-assessment feedback tool on students’ writing. The gap between educational efforts and achievements in Saudi Arabia has often been of interest to scholars (Al Sadaawi, 2010; Mustafa, 2012). In present research, the researcher intends to study self-assessment rubrics as a probable solution to this gap. The focus area of researcher is on self-assessment feedback in English as a foreign language, with special attention to rubrics as a self-assessment tool.

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In this study, there are mainly three research questions, which are detailed in the next section, followed by research objectives. The paper discusses the rationale for pursuing rubrics as self-assessment tool in the current study. The discussion has moved further to the paradigm of research that has guided the adoption of mixed-methodology that is being used as the primary research strategy in this study. In addition to it, the information has been presented about the participants of the study, context of the study, details of quasi-experiment and data gathering processes.

Rationale

There are two main motivations behind the current research study that are fostering researchers to carry out study on finding the impact of using rubrics as self-assessment tool on learning of students. The first stems from the personal experience of the researcher in teaching and learning English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabian schools. Whereas, the second stimulus is driven by the lack of evidence in literature about the outcomes of using rubrics as self-assessment feedback on students’ writing in the Saudi context.

In the personal experience of the researcher as a learner and as a teacher, it was found that feedback is often not used effectively in teaching and learning. By effective, the researcher means that feedback should improve the learning outcomes significantly and it is offered during the learning of students. The effective feedback is able to promote the learning of students and it offers strategies to assist the student towards the improvement (Evans, 2015). In order for this to happen, the researcher has felt that assessing teaching and learning should be more formative rather than concentrating on tests or summative assessment. However, in Saudi schools, summative assessments are more frequently used than formative assessments and current research studies can guide the practitioners to bring modifications in assessment of students with the aim of enhancing learning of students (Al Sadaawi, 2010).

There is significant research that is suggesting the positive impacts of effective feedback on learning and there is considerable agreement of researchers on ‘what constitutes good’ regarding feedback (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p.9). However, all of the students are less likely to be benefited from the criteria of goodness of learning, as it is implemented uniformly without considering the contextual variables and individual differences into account. It is noted able that there are only a few studies that have investigated the assessment feedback on students’ writing in the Saudi context (Mustafa, 2012). The literature does not provide sufficient information about the outcomes of students’ writing, while using rubrics as a self-assessment tool in the Saudi context. There is sufficient evidence available in the literature about the association of using rubrics on learning of students (Claxton, Mathers & Terry, 2006). The research has found that when students are given rubrics to guide their writing, the result has shown in the form of improved drafts of students (Shute, 2008). This research is important as it addresses the gap in the literature and has the potential to positively impact learning and teaching in the Saudi Arabian context.

Along with this, it is important to mention that Saudi schools are dominated by traditional teaching approaches of teaching English as a foreign language (Al‐Hazmi, 2003). Students are passive recipients and their involvement in learning process is not significant. The researcher of current study has found through experience in Saudi Arabian institutes that students have faced difficulties in writing in schools and even in the universities. The students are offered limited opportunities to play an active role in their learning of English as a foreign language and reliance on traditional methods are hindering their eagerness to work for their improvement (Elyas & Picard, 2010). Therefore, the present study attempts to improve students’ writing by using self-assessment approaches in learning so that students could become active learners.

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According to Black & William (2003), assessment is a supportive as well as a measuring tool in learning and it can also be used to support teaching and learning, apart from using it to measure students’ progress and achievement. Assessment feedback is a constructive tool that can guide students towards their goals and enhance their learning (Hattie & Timperly, 2007). It can be done by highlighting the core areas where the students are weak and suggesting further improvements in the work of students. Thus, it is highly important to devise strategies that can help the students to enhance their learning. Nitko & Brookhart (2011) indicate that formative assessment, which is ongoing feedback, gives students the opportunity to receive feedback on certain areas that they need improvement in. However, the end of unit assessments (summative assessments) like examinations do not provide formative objectives (McAlpine, 2002). Naturally, formative feedback can be more productive as this is given during the learning process, and not at the end of it – i.e. enabling learners to improve their performance based on guidance offered in feedback (Shute, 2008). Therefore, the importance of feedback mentioned so far highlights the importance of using rubrics as formative and a self-assessing feedback tool. This understanding is now put to the test in this research study.

Research Aim and Objectives

The current research study aims to investigate the impact of rubrics as self-assessment feedback on improving the students’ writing, in terms of the following traits; ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation, in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class in Saudi Arabia. It is based on the notion that self-assessment exercises will have in improving the learning of students.

The study will help to achieve the following key research objectives:

  • To evaluate and compare students’ writing in specific traits (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation) before and after the intervention by pre-test, mid-test and post-test writing essays.
  • To evaluate and compare students’ perceptions of their self-efficacy in writing before and after the intervention.
  • To explore and describe the students’ perceptions about using the self-assessment approach.

Research Questions

The research questions that are being addressed in the present research study are hovering around the investigation of impact of relying on rubrics as self-assessment feedback on improving the writing of students in EFL class in Saudi Arabia. The writing will be improved in terms of following particular aspects; ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation. The rubrics will be used as self-assessment feedback tool and it is assumed by the researcher that it will serve as enhancing the level of learning of students in EFL class of Saudi Arabia. In order to test this assumption, the rubrics are designed to test the outcome of interventions in terms of bringing improvement in students’ writing in EFL classes.

  1. What is the impact of using rubrics as self-assessment tool on students’ writing in particular traits (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation) in class of EFL in Saudi Arabia?
  2. What are students’ perceptions of their self-efficacy for writing an essay in EFL prior, during and after the intervention?
  3. What are students’ perceptions towards using rubrics for self-assessment to improve the students’ writing in terms of following traits; ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation, in EFL writing after the intervention?

Research Paradigm

The present research is driven by a pragmatic paradigm that reflects the way the researcher views the underlying research problem and how it can be understood. The reliance on pragmatic paradigm is not new and it has widely been adopted by the prior researchers (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). Pragmatists concentrate more on what and how of the research question (Creswell, 2014). Without doubt, the pragmatic paradigm best translates the theoretical underpinnings of present research for underlying research problems because it gives the freedom of using any method and strategy to answer the research questions. The pragmatic paradigm mainly focuses on finding different ways to understand the impact of suggested intervention in present study (Feilzer, 2010). Rather than setting pragmatism as a philosophical position along with others, it would be considered more as a philosophical tool to solve the research problem (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010).

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According to the foundational tenets of the pragmatism theory, a specific ideology must provide some value for the society in order to be defined as true. In other words, from the perspective of pragmatism, a theory does not have to fit a specific framework; instead, it has to provide the foil for a positive change in the target society (Gray, 2013). The identified concept suits the framework of the research since it creates prerequisites for a better understanding of the effects that the application of self-assessment is going to have on the learners and their performance. In other words, the concept of self-assessment is going to be judged solely on the basis of the consequences that it has on the learners’ ability to acquire the necessary information and develop the relevant skills. Furthermore, it will be necessary to determine whether the use of self-assessment affects the quality of the students’ writing and their ability to develop a better understanding of the language.

Furthermore, the issue of information objectivity needs to be touched upon. The application of the pragmatism theory will help reduce the biases that may appear after reviewing the pieces of evidence that may contradict each other (Neuman, 2011). Although the use of the mixed method allows retrieving credible results, the fact that the participants of the research are not going to be arranged in groups based on specific criteria is likely to increase the probability of a sampling error (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). Furthermore, one must bear in mind that the appropriateness of the research problem may be questioned by some of the research participants (e.g., students with special needs that may have specific issues studying the English language in the setting of a Saudi Arabian school). The use of pragmatism, in its turn, will allow introducing the concept of data triangulation into the study (Gray, 2013).

Ontology

The ontology of the research reflects the theories and beliefs about reality and whether it exists (Hammersley, 2012). This concept can be interpreted as the endeavor at determining the phenomenon of existence and the nature thereof (Neuman, 2011; Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011). In other words, introducing an ontological question into the study, one will have to define existence as a phenomenon and determine its origins. However, the very process of defining a particular phenomenon cannot be viewed as isolated from the influence of one’s cultural and philosophical standpoint. Therefore, the process of developing the research ontology implies that the researcher should incorporate their own concept of the phenomenon (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010). Applied to the subject of using rubrics as a self-assessment to enhance the learners’ performance, the ontology of research will include determining whether self-assessment and improvement in the writing abilities of learners are connected in any way.

The application of ontology will help consider the process of self-assessment in an objective manner since the framework suggests that the interpretation of the phenomenon is inevitably affected by the philosophy and beliefs of the person rendering it. Therefore, the process of acquiring the associated writing skills needs to be viewed as an amalgam of the existing opinions and perspectives on the subject matter. The identified approach will help shed light on the effects that the self-assessment process will have on the students’ performance. The different perspectives on the ways in which self-assessment affects the students’ ability to use their writing skills will help design the approach that will allow meeting the needs of learners in a diverse environment. Thus, the process of skills acquisition can be enhanced (Andrade, Du, & Mycek, 2010).

Epistemology

The epistemology of research is concerned with the ways in how this knowledge is constructed (Hammersley, 2012: Thomas, 2013). The epistemology offers that there are different available approaches that can be used for approaching the knowledge and for understanding any particular phenomenon. In this research, the researcher is planning to rely on both subjective as well as objective approaches for understanding the underlying research phenomenon. Tashakkori and Teddlie (2010) indicated that the pragmatic paradigm is not linked with a certain method but rather on “a consequential action-knowledge framework” to answer our research questions (p.132).

Therefore, the learners’ ability to acquire writing skills will be viewed as the construct of truth as an integral part of epistemology. As far as the belief-related aspect is concerned, the assumption that self-assessment has a positive effect on the efficacy of learners in developing the necessary writing skills can be interpreted as a belief in the epistemological framework of the study. Furthermore, the results of the tests that will be run in the course of the study and the outcomes of the findings’ analysis will become the justification of the judgments made in the course of research (Mertens, 2012).

Thus, the use of the mixed-method research can be justified by viewing the problem from an epistemological stance. Mixed methods research is not just about collecting and analyzing data, it is about using both the qualitative and quantitative methods together to enhance the overall strength of the conducted study (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). It is used when either of the two singular approaches (qualitative and quantitative) seems short of offering the best understanding of the research problem (Creswell, 2014; Tashakkori & Creswell, 2007). Because of the presence of a paradigm in a study, in general, and in the current research, in particular, there is a need to view the analysis of writing skills acquisition from the epistemological perspective. As a result, insightful conclusions about the effects that self-assessment has on the learners’ ability to write can be made.

Context of study

The current research study is carried out in the context of Saudi Arabia. The main focus of the study has remained on analyzing the impact of rubrics as self-assessment feedback on improving the writing of students in Saudi Arabian classes of EFL. The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic and it is being used mainly in daily lives. It is important to note that students face considerable issues in writing in English language. The main focus will remain on EFL class and the results will offer significant implications for improving the learning of students who are learning English as second language.

Methodology

In present research about the impact of a suggested self-assessment strategy on students’ writing in EFL classrooms in Saudi Arabia, the researcher plans to use a self-assessment strategy in order to test the impact of the intervention on students’ writing skills and to explore students’ perceptions about the self-assessment approach. The approach of research will be a mixed methodology, using both qualitative and quantitative measures.

Mixed-Method Design

The emergence of mixed methods as third type of research methodology has been witnessed in the last decade of 19th century and it has been widely used by the researchers (Allen and Herron, 2003). Tashakkori and Creswell (2007) defined mixed methods as a collection and analysis of data, combining qualitative and quantitative approaches or methods. The researcher can combine the strengths of qualitative and quantitative research approaches in the mixed methodology approach and therefore, highly valid and generalizable results can be generated (Creswell et al., 2003). In this study, an embedded design will be implemented by using quantitative data with the integration of qualitative data concurrently throughout the process. The embedded design of the research is highly aligned with the research questions of the current study, as they are complex and evidence from both quantitative and qualitative data will assist to answer the research questions in effective manner. Creswell (2014) has indicated that collecting a variety of data maximizes opportunities to understand the research problem instead of depending on qualitative or quantitative separately. By integrating quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, a better understanding of the impact of a study can be achieved (Creswell, 2014).

Population and Sampling

There are two main approaches for sampling: probability sampling technique and non-probability sampling technique (Cohen et al., 2011; Neuman, 2011). In the probability sampling, the researcher selects the sample randomly, while in non-probability sampling, the sample is not randomly selected (Cohen et al., 2011).

In order to draw sample for current research study, the non-probability sampling technique is implied. Among the non-probability sampling method, the purposeful sampling technique has been considered as appropriate by the researcher. Purposeful sampling is a type of non-probability sampling where the researcher selects the sample by a judgment from an expert or by a specific purpose (Neuman, 2011). One type of purposeful sampling is typical case sampling where the sample represents the most typical characteristics of the population needed to be studied (Cohen et al., 2011). The purposeful selection of the case allows focusing on specific characteristics of the population and thus will help to find answers for the research questions. This approach will be supplemented by random purposeful sampling, i.e. choosing random participants from the sampling frame of people, who are assumed to be helpful for completing the research (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010).

Therefore, the sample will be made up of the students of Saudi Arabia who are learning English as second language. This criterion will be the foundation of the purposeful sampling. Furthermore, participants will be randomly chosen among those who correspond with the initial requirement, i.e. study in a Saudi Arabia school and learn the English language as the second one.

The Participants

The participants of the quasi-experiment are (n= 70) female students from a public secondary school in Saudi Arabia, particularly in Riyadh. Their ages are between 17 to 18 years old. The class of grade 12 has been chosen because of their relatively advanced level in writing compared to other grades. They have studied English for 6 years. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider that participants are highly relevant to answer the underlying research questions.

There will be two groups in the fundamental quasi-experiment including; control group and the treatment group. The treatment group will be comprised of a class of year 12 (about 35 students) and a control group will also be comprised of a class of year 12 (about 35 students). The two classes have the same EFL teacher, to limit the differences in the teaching methods of the two classes. Their teacher will be participating in training students in using the rubrics and assessing students’ essays with the researcher.

The treatment group will be trained to use rubrics for self-assessment in addition to the teacher-written feedback on their written essays. On the other hand, the control group will only receive teacher-written feedback on their written essays. After the intervention, 12 students of the treatment group will participate in two focus group interviews to understand their perceptions regarding the intervention of using rubrics as self-assessment.

Research Instrument

The first section of instrument for the current research that will be used for both control and treatment group will be comprised of pre-test, mid-test and post-test writing essays. The writing essays for treatment group will serve to reflect the impact of using rubrics for self-assessment along with teacher feedback on the writing improvement of treatment group. However, for the control group, the writing essay will only contribute to investigating the impact of teachers’ feedback.

Secondly, the pre-test, mid-test and post-test questionnaires for self-efficacy will be used as a research instrument. The self-efficacy questionnaire will also be administered to both treatment groups as well as a control group. The questionnaires will be administered at three different times such as prior, during and after the intervention. Self-efficacy will be measured by the ‘Writing Self-efficacy Scale’ by Andrade, Wang, Du, and Akawi (2009). The scale is highly reliable and its validity has been reported in the literature, therefore, it is expected to be credible.

Moreover, the treatment group will be exposed to 6+1 Writing Trait rubrics. The writing trait rubrics will help the treatment group to carry out self-assessment with an aim of improving their writing. Along with this, the 12 students of the treatment group will also be exposed to a focus group interview.

Methods of Data Collection based on Research Questions

Research Question Method Participants Schedule
1. What is the impact of using rubrics as a self-assessment strategy on students’ writing in particular traits (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation) in class of EFL in Saudi Arabia? Quasi-experiment
Treatment group
(Combination of teacher-written feedback and self-assessment feedback by using rubrics)
Control group
(Only teacher-written feedback)Pre-test
Mid-test
Post-test
Treatment group
A class of grade 12 (17-18 years old) = about 35 studentsControl group
A class of grade 12 (17-18 years old) = about 35 students
1stweek
5thweek
8thweeks
2. What are students’ perceptions of their self-efficacy for writing an essay in EFL prior, during and after the intervention? ‘Writing Self-Efficacy Scale’ questionnaire
Prior (Pre-questionnaire)During (Mid-questionnaire)After (Post-questionnaire)
Treatment and control groups 1stweek, after the pre-test

5thweek, after mid-test

8thweek, after post-test

3. What are students’ perceptions towards using rubrics as a self-assessment strategy for supporting their learning? Focus group interviews Two focus groups:
6 students from the treatment group
6 students from the treatment group
9th week

Pilot study

The pilot study will be carried out for two weeks prior to the main study. Creswell (2012) encourages applying a pre-experimental design to smoothen the path for the real experiment. According to Neuman (2011), pilot study is beneficial for increasing reliability of the study and obtaining results. More than that, it is an option for analyzing the potential impact of the conducted experiment and intervention (Creswell, 2012). Therefore, before the actual application of the self-assessment strategy, the researcher will conduct a small pilot test of the intervention on a group of participants. A small pilot test will be applied to test the use of rubrics for self-assessment. The pilot test will be carried out using the rubrics, post-tests for the written essays, self-efficacy questionnaires, and focus group interviews. The practice of writing essays and using rubrics for self-assessment will be practiced in the two weeks of the pilot study. At the end of the pilot study, students will fill out the Writing Self-efficacy scale questionnaire. Then the researcher will conduct a focus group to understand students’ perceptions about the intervention. After the pilot study, the researcher will be adopting any changes to the research instruments and intervention where appropriate.

Quasi-Experiment

The current research study is relying on a quasi-experiment that is characterized by two groups; treatment group and control group. The treatment group will be exposed to treatment on writing trait rubrics with the teacher’s written feedback on their essays.The participants will be given rubric list with an aim of self-assessing their performance of essay writing. On the other hand, the control group of the quasi-experiment will not be exposed to any treatment and the participants will only receive written feedback from their teacher. The progression of participants will be measured through pre-test, mid-test and post-tests using the 6+1 Trait Writing rubric.

Pre-, Mid- and Post-Tests

The pre-tests will be carried out at the beginning of the intervention. In the current study, the pre-tests will serve as the basis of students’ level in writing essays for both the control and experimental group. In this phase of the experiment, the treatment group and control group that is comprised of two classes of grade 12 will be given a prompt to write an essay. The essays will be assessed by the 6+1 Trait Writing rubric and will be given marks for each category. The key qualities of the 6+1 Trait Writing model comprise: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation. This model is considered to be highly effective for assessing the writing performance of students and prior researchers have used it as well (Culham, 2003).

Then students in the treatment group will be trained to read and discuss model essays and generate good qualities of effective writing. Students will be introduced to each quality of the 6+1 Trait Writing model. The students will work in pairs to use the rubrics to assess examples of already written essays. Both groups will receive written feedback on their essays from the teacher. However, rubrics will be utilized only by the treatment group for self-assessing their essays.

Pre-, Mid- and Post-Questionnaires for Self-Efficacy

Three levels of questionnaires are planned – pre-, mid-, and post-questionnaires aimed at measuring self-efficacy of a respondent. Just like in the case of tests mentioned above, pre-questionnaires will be conducted before the intervention. Mid-questionnaires will be distributed during the intervention. Finally, filling in the post-questionnaires will be requested after the end of the intervention. It is essential to note that the questionnaires will not be different, i.e. all of them will include the same questions, which focus on various aspects of essay-writing and requirements of rubrics. The major idea is to find out whether the assumption that rubrics are helpful for achieving better educational outcomes and writing more detailed essays (Andrade et al., 2010) is true.

Once all three levels of questionnaires are filled in and all the data is collected, it is imperative to compare the obtained findings (Andrade et al., 2009). It should be done in order to estimate the progress of students in the treatment group and find out what aspects of essay-writing (staying focused, providing relevant details and facts, proper use of paragraphs and voice of writing, spelling and grammar rules, etc.) are influenced by the implementation of rubrics, if any. At the same time, this strategy will be beneficial for understanding whether improvements, if any, are witnessed only during the intervention or remain once it is completed.

Observations

Observations are a common technique for collecting qualitative information. In fact, this instrument is commonly chosen by educators due to its potential value for obtaining relevant data (Neuman, 2011). More than that, observations might reveal details, which were not collected during questionnaires and will not be gathered during focus group interviews because a whole group is observed and their interactions and different roles are investigated (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010).

According to Creswell and Plano Clark (2007), gathering field notes is the foundation of this technique. There are two ways for gathering them – as a participant of the educational environment or as an observer. For the purposes of this research, the role of a nonparticipant observer is chosen. Choosing this role diminishes the risks of bias (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). In this way, the primary focus will be made on observing the behavior of the treatment group in the classroom with specific attention to the way its members use rubrics, discuss it with their partners and a teacher, how much time they spend on studying it, and other related details. In addition, it is imperative to estimate the overall atmosphere in the classroom and the interactions between a teacher and students, as well as among the members of the treatment group as a whole.

Focus group interviews

Once the intervention is implemented, the research will use the focus group interviewing method for completing the data collection procedure. Focus group interviewing is a specific qualitative research technique, which helps to estimate public attitudes and personal behaviors (Neuman, 2011). This approach is valuable because it reveals collective attitude toward an issue under investigation through viewing interactions between group members and offers a broader range of details (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007; Gaiser, 2008). According to Neuman (2011), an appropriate framework for deploying this technique is to form groups of six to nine people from a homogenous environment and comply with a particular set of requirements such as their background and experience. It is necessary in order to reveal their collective attitude to a studied issue. A recommended length of a focus group interview is up to 90 minutes (Neuman, 2011).

Therefore, some of the students will be chosen to form focus groups. There will be two focus groups made up of six students. A small size is chosen to pay specific attention to each member of a group and encourage all of them to participate in the conversation (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). The participants will be chosen randomly among all members of the treatment group without regard to their role in the classroom and educational performance. The objective of the focus group interviewing is obtaining an in-depth understanding of the perception of intervention based on collective feedback and concluding whether it had an influence on students’ learning and their attitude to rubrics as a self-assessment tool.

Conclusion

To sum up, the researcher is planning to design rubrics as self-assessment feedback for students who are learning English as a foreign language in a Saudi Arabian female secondary school. The researcher will use a mixed methods research design approach to deduce the impact of the intervention on EFL students. The researcher will integrate quantitative and qualitative methods to reach the findings and analysis of the present study. Studying the impact of rubrics as a self-assessment feedback tool may not be adequately achieved by either qualitative data points or by quantitative data points. It is a research topic that can be best answered by the power of the mixed methods approach. As a researcher, the researcher expects to obtain a better understanding of the impact of intervention by selecting this research design.

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