Highlighting the Value of a Writing Course

2233349300_9646c5864eOn Monday, I wrote a bit about what an in-person college writing course offers that free resources typically do not.

I also shared my opinion that these offerings seem to be overlooked quite frequently, and that including them in the syllabus is not enough.

Today, here are some routines and one-time actions that teachers can take to help students make the most of their ESL writing course.

Cohort

  • First class – names, ice-breakers, exchanging contact information with at least one other student
  • Activity – debate
  • Activity – brainstorming
  • Activity – communicative group work (e.g. jigsaw or grid activities)
  • Routine activity – peer review

A Teacher Who Knows You

  • First class – learn names quickly
  • Activity – early writing assignments where students can explain their own experience and opinions
  • Routine – use grading rubrics
  • Routine – be available before and after class, even though for so many of us it’s unpaid
  • Routine activity – conferencing

“Free” Services From The College

  • First class – emphasize that they are paying for their classes AND tutoring centers AND the library (and the gym, and so on)
  • Routine – when outlines and drafts are coming due, suggest (again and again) that students visit the writing center
  • Routine activity – offer bonus points for students who go to an appointment with the writing center
  • Activity – invite a librarian to class, or take a field trip to the library
  • Activity – initiate a chat with a college librarian during class
  • Activity – evaluate internet sources

 

Photo Credit: Benson Kua on Flickr

You’re reading Highlighting the Value of a Writing Class, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

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The Value of a Writing Class

5818134689_781773b3ddThere is an incredible wealth of writing resources available for free on the internet.

Aside from the ability to earn credentials (certificates, degrees, etc.), what do college ESL writing classes offer that is more valuable than the freebies?

Here are three strengths of in-person writing courses, such as ones I’ve taught and assistant-taught at various community colleges:

A Cohort

  • other students at approximately the same level going through the same difficult class provide cameraderie
  • people to brainstorm, develop ideas, and debate with
  • peer review exposes students to each other’s styles and scaffolds self-editing and metacognition in writing

A Teacher Who Knows You

  • teacher provides direction, assignments, accountability
  • teacher available during (and usually after) classes for in-person questions, plus emails
  • teacher provides individualized feedback on assignments

“Free” Services From The College

  • writing centers
  • tutoring centers
  • libraries with access to hundreds of electronic databases and full of academic librarians to help with research, citation, etc.

 

So What?

I was a decently successful college student. This was due in part to my fluent English, and also my strong academic background, with some luck and some sleepless nights thrown in. It really had nothing to do with my intelligently using course and college resources, including all of the ones listed above. That wasn’t even on my radar.

From casual observation of many students over the years, it doesn’t look like these elements of the class are on their radars, either. But of course, our students aren’t fluent, often have interrupted educational background, and have not enough luck and way too many sleepless nights as it is. As a group, they really need support.

So I think that we as the leaders and assistant leaders of the classroom should make sure that this support is front and center.

Including it on the syllabus and mentioning it in passing on the first day is not sufficient.

 

Some specific action items coming up on Thursday.

 

Photo Credit: POP on Flickr

You’re reading The Value of a Writing Class, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Three Links About Seeing

So much important reading this past week.

Please check out these three short pieces. Each one is worth much more than the 30 seconds it takes to read it.

 

“Five years ago, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I wanted to dye Easter eggs with my kids.”

 – Seeing Things from Another Angle by Alanna

 

“The whole ESL class walked to the library yesterday. Young children, too. When we emerged, it was raining. Then this happened.”

 – Something Right In The World by Marilyn

“Emotional connection is our default. We only added words and symbolic logic much later.”

 – With The Sound Off or On? by Seth

Activity Corner: Language Experience Approach

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

4856159509_b5e34f2735The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is one of those “activities” that can actually just replace the curriculum.

It’s typically used with students with low writing ability. This usually means they have low (English) speaking ability also, but not necessarily. The genius of it is that accommodates students’ language ability because the students generate the text.

16559888601_0d74dc9defIt works with children and adults. It works with students from pre-literate cultures, “regular” ESL students, and low literacy students who are fluent in English. It’s always interesting and always fresh and new.

So what is it?!

Procedure

First, you do something as a class. Take a walk, go on a field trip, do something real in the classroom. Everybody attends, everybody participates.

Then, the students dictate a true story about what they just did.

This text (based on the original experience) can then be used as a springboard for vocabulary building, grammar study, cloze activities, reading practice, conversation practice, memorization, etc.

This is probably the shortest procedure I’ve written so far in the ESL Activity Corner! This is also probably the richest activity I’ve included here.

Example

Back in a lesson journal post from 2011 (almost a full 6 years ago?!), I mentioned a slight modification of LEA for my intermediate level class. I’m going to re-explain it, but this time through the lens of LEA.

First, our classroom was switched on us in the middle of our term. We went from a spacious square room with an entire wall of windows to a small irregularly trapezoidal room with literally no windows. I thought of to myself as The Cave. This was the “real” thing that formed the basis of the LEA activity.

Now, my students were not a bunch of complainers. They kept attending, they kept studying… but they were clear that they did not like this room. I had spoken to the building manager, who told me they were going to be renovating that wing of the building. But we kept an eye on it, and the renovation did not seem to be happening.

It came up in class one day that they were still not pleased with the classroom, and that the old room was still untouched and unused. So we did a group writing assignment.

I set up a really simple chart on the board to compare the old room and the new room. I asked them for examples of what was better in the old classroom and worse in the new one. They came up with many examples!

Then together we chose the top three or four strongest points from the brainstorm. I set up some flip chart paper and began a letter to my boss, “Dear ___,” Students took turns suggesting sentences, and the group talked about them and made changes or agreed, and then I wrote down their thoughts on the giant letter.

They outlined why their old room was better and pointed out that it was sitting empty. They insisted on ending the letter with something like “Thank you for free English classes,” which I thought spoke volumes. All of us signed the letter.

I folded it up and hand-delivered it to my boss, and the next week we were back in our beautiful old classroom.

 

It was a really worthwhile activity as it was, and I could have easily extended it more by recycling the text into sentence-scrambles, cloze activities, and a conversation circle topic.

Variations

  • interesting demos are another option, though full-participation experiences are generally better, especially at the lower levels.
  • as students’ abilities increase, they can write the story rather than dictating.
  • in a multi-level class, the lower level students can dictate to the higher level students.
  • it works well one-on-one
  • for students who have a fairly solid vocabulary and some workable grammar, it works well even with activities that are not shared. The story-telling process becomes an even more authentic communication, conveying new information to the reader.
  • using the text – cloze, students or teacher write comprehension questions, change the verb tenses, re-imagine the ending, create a vocabulary list, scramble the sentences…
  • extending the topic – have the general topic of the experience be the topic for a conversation circle session, or ask students if they’ve had a similar experience before and work with them to generate texts about those experiences.
  • keep the LEA texts the students generate as a class portfolio. It’s like the students are writing their own textbook!

This is just a wonderful activity to do with students at and below the Intermediate level. I hope you will try it!

Photo Credit 1: jelm6 on Flickr

Photo Credit 2: COD Newsroom on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Language Experience Approach, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Journal: Snow Day Victories

Well, it turns out that a scant inch of snow is enough to delay my place of work from opening until noon.  Since I have a morning class, that means a snow day!

I was of course uneasy about the possibility of my students coming to class to find nobody there, so I called everybody.  I also told every single person and voicemail I spoke to that in the future I would not be calling. See the homework blog for more details.  I’ll have even more options for them in person tomorrow, but I’m not posting them because they highlight where exactly I work.

Victory #1:

I spent the morning registering for a class for my own professional development as an ESOL teacher.  Yay!  It starts Monday and will meet weekly all the way through mid-May.

Victory #2:

high five? by StephVee on Flickr
high five? by StephVee on Flickr

I also spent time getting my work email to run through Gmail instead.  Success!  My mistake from Monday was trying to accomplish what I wanted through the college email system instead of through Gmail.  Maybe tech support could have pointed me in that direction instead of just saying that my request was “impossible,” but I got there eventually.  🙂

I’m so excited about this change for these reasons:

  • General annoyance: Gmail’s interface is just better from log-in to reading to sending.
  • Gmail has a SPAM filter.  I see no evidence of one in my work email.
  • Personal boundaries maintained: I set up a new work Gmail separate from my personal account.
  • Inbox overflow issue solved: messages will only stay in my work email for a moment before flying to my new, huge work Gmail.
  • My replies will be faster: I’ve set up filters in my work Gmail that will forward important messages straight to my personal account.
  • More flexibility for me: I can now email my colleagues from my personal account but have it look like it’s from my work account.

In other words, I’m in charge now, not the email system. It’s a good feeling!

I’m not going to do a complete email victory dance until I’ve seen my set-up in action for a week or two, but I’m very happy with my progress!

Happy snow day to all!

PS – Yesterday: 20 students, engaging grid activity warm-up about the students’ exercise habits, beginning of the Getting In Shape unit, reading charts, talking about the calories that various activities burn.  Very fun!

How Much Information Do You Want?

This is part three of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here’s a link to the series intro.

I think it’s a common phenomenon for a given organization to be absolutely convinced that it’s the most important one out there. From that standpoint, it’s understandable that information is often given out with gusto.

I can just see the meetings at some of the huge nonprodits that ask for gifts: “Why send a 1 oz mailing when you could send 5 oz?!”. “Why send a short email newsletter when you could send a enormously long one?!”

If they’d ask, I’d tell them:

The less stuff you send me, the more likely I am to read it.

Less. Please.

How Many Requests are Too Many?

This is part two of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here are links to the series intro and the first question.

How many requests are too many?

The heaping pile o mail again by Charles Williams on Flickr
"The heaping pile o' mail again" by Charles Williams on Flickr

I think that sometimes, super-dedicated, highly-motivated nonprofit development staff can get carried away with just how often they and their teams ask for contributions.

A couple years ago, my father’s cousin’s wife passed away.  In lieu of flowers, she asked that donations be made to a certain international nonprofit.  I prefer to focus on local efforts for my regular giving, but I gladly gave to them in her memory.  This organization has been clogging my snail mail at least monthly ever since, despite not ever hearing from me again.  They have not made it simple for me to switch to a different option, such as a quarterly email or an annual snail mail, and I’m neither impressed nor inspired.

My friend (the other Disgruntled Donor) told me that a few holiday seasons ago, her father’s alma mater contacted him by phone six days in a row asking for money.  Just sit on that one a moment and wonder how anyone could have possibly thought that was a good use of time or a respectful way to treat an alumnus.

I get that during tough times and toward the end of the budget year, sometimes pushes are necessary.  At some point the repetitive asking grates. It usually comes across to me as either incompetence or an arrogant assumption that the only reasonable way to spend my money is to funnel it to the pestering organization.  Neither impression inspires me (or anyone else I can think of) to give.

Organizations can avoid crossing that line by asking individuals what kind of volume of contacts they care to receive. They can ask this on a simple survey that also asks how they’d like to be contacted.  Quarterly or biannual requests work best for me, except for one or two organizations that are very close to my heart.  I’m happy to tell this to any organization who will both listen and make that communication process simple and efficient.

Where do you draw the line between what’s a reasonable request rate and what’s pestering?

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday for the third question I wish nonprofit fundraisers would ask me.