Five Reasons Why We Should Talk About Writing

18 09 2016

writing 3

In my last post, I wrote about why it seems to me that the topic “teaching writing” is avoided in ELT conferences. Now I’m going to mention why I believe it is a topic that should receive more attention, and I’m going to do so by relating it to some of the hot topics in the last Braz-Tesol conference and others I’ve attended recently.

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Why don’t we talk about writing?

11 08 2016

writing books

The fabulous 15th Braz-TESOL International Conference ended almost a month ago and I am still processing all the information I acquired in the many presentations I attended during the event. The program was varied both in terms of topics and presenters, and everything I chose to watch was meaningful in one way or another. I myself gave a talk, together with my colleague and CTJ course supervisor Silvia Caldas, on how we adopt and adapt the process-genre approach to writing in our context.

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Ten tips for effective peer revision of EFL writing

14 12 2014

(This post was originally written for the Richmondshare blog.)

My last post addressed the main excuses given for not doing peer revision of writing in the EFL classroom, especially in contexts such as Brazil, where peer revision is unheard of in most L1 writing classrooms.

Having hopefully convinced you that it is worth at least trying peer revision in your classroom, I will now focus on some helpful tips for effective peer revision activities.

peer feedback

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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Five bad excuses for not doing peer revision of writing in the EFL classroom

24 11 2014

(This post was originally written for the Richmondshare blog and is crossposted here.)

 

My dear colleague Luiz Otávio Barros wrote a recent post providing ten tips to help teachers give feedback on writing. The ten tips are all very useful and are certainly in-keeping with contemporary ESL/EFL writing pedagogy.

 

Just like Luiz Otávio, I  also consider White and Arndt’s 1991 book Process Writing a seminal work on how to teach process writing in the ESL/EFL classroom. Other books that have contributed to enhancing my knowledge on second language writing are Campbell’s 1998 book , Teaching Second-language Writing: Interaction with Text, the University of Michigan Press’s 2002 series on Second Language Writing (Carnagarajah, 2002; Ferris, 2002, Liu and Hansen, 2002), and Ferris and Hedgcock’s 2005 book Teaching ESL Composition: Purpose, process, and practice.

writing

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Process Writing in a Product-Oriented Context: Challenges and Possibilities

9 07 2014

revista brasileira de linguistica aplicada

 

I’d like to ask my interlocutors for permission to share an article of mine that was just published in a renowned Brazilian journal called Revista Brasileira de Linguística Aplicada. It is based on my doctoral research and here is the abstract:

This case study analyzed to what extent localized process writing pedagogy is applicable and effective in an EFL context and how students respond and react to it. A class of 16 intermediate-level teenage students in an ELT Institute in Brazil was selected. A carefully planned project on process-based writing was followed, and students’ performance in and reactions to each stage of the process were analyzed. Concurrently, the study also investigated the teaching of writing in students’ native language – Portuguese – in their regular schools. It could be concluded that the teaching of writing in the regular schools focuses more on the product than on the process and that a pedagogical approach focused on the process in the EFL classroom can serve to fill in the gaps left by the students’ experiences with writing in L1.

It took me a while to have this article published and I´m glad that it came out in a Brazilian journal, but I’m also glad it is in English, enabling me to expand my circle of interlocutors. If you are interested in the topic, have a look and let me know what you think. Feedback will be very much appreciated!





Going Blended: If I can do it, so can you! Part II – Time for feedback

23 06 2013

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In my previous post, in which I focused on my IATEFL 2013 talk, I described my process of learning about blended learning and MOODLE and transforming a traditional writing course for teachers into a blended one. Using a unit on Narrative Essays as an example, I explained the choices made regarding what to do online and what to do in class so that both types of teaching modes would be logically interconnected and form a coherent unity.

Now it’s time to focus my attention on how students reacted to the blended version and the feedback given.  In the two semesters that I piloted the program, I had 15 students, none of whom had ever taken an online or a blended course, so they had to learn how to navigate the MOODLE platform and acquire a new type of autonomy and self-direction in order to do the asynchronous online activities required for each week.  Of the 15 students, two had serious difficulties performing the online work on time; one managed to complete the program because she was given an extension, while the other one dropped out at the end, saying she would like to take the course again, and perform all the activities.

Feedback from the students about the blended course was provided in two different ways. The first one was by way of their final assignment – an argumentative essay in favor or against implementing the blended course in the Teacher Development Course. This assignment was preceded by a heated debate in which students were given a viewpoint and had to think about arguments to defend it. Then they were asked to choose the point of view they would really like to support and write an argumentative essay.  Of the 14 students who completed the course and, thus, wrote this final essay, 12 defended the blended format for various reasons, as the excerpts below taken from their essays show:

  •  Society is constantly changing as technology keeps evolving every day. The learning environment should follow this process and take the best aspects of it without ignoring the more traditional methodologies. The blended format takes the best of both face-to-face and online formats to offer a complete, contemporary course.
  • Since learning is a lifelong process, a blended approach respects individual differences and helps students become more independent as they make these adjustments gradually.
  • As part of the vision of Casa Thomas Jefferson is to empower students to fully develop their linguistic skills, this course can offer these future teachers the opportunity of exploring new pathways of learning by experimenting the traditional face-to-face classes and becoming familiar with the innovations available in the online environment.
  • In a face-to-face class, many students are not comfortable voicing their opinions because of shyness. However, this issue can be easily resolved by the use of online media like forums, written tasks and portfolios, where students can post their ideas. Conversely for those students who have a better performance by interacting with teacher and colleagues in person, face-to-face classes will meet their needs of socializing and engaging through hands-on exercises and group activities performed in the classroom.
  • In a blended writing course, the student can improve his/her writing skill because there is more time to reflect about what was taught in class. Having a face-to-face class only once a week instead of twice is great because it allows the student more time to assimilate better the content given in class. Besides, the student will have more time to reflect and to research before doing his/her homework.
  • The students who shared this newly divided module were able to do certain activities following their own pace instead of being pressured to write in an unnatural speed. Most of these students also managed to interact online almost as much as they would in class through the use of comments and spontaneous student-created discussions instead of only keeping to what they were formally instructed to do.
  • Many (if not all) of the students in this course are already employed, and job obligations often get in the way of class attendance. The possibility of transferring activities from one day to the next, or simply doing them during the night, is excellent for the students to participate more and better. As a result, very few students miss class, since the face-to-face activity only takes place once a week.
  • Online classes develop knowledge of the Internet and the ability with computer tools which will aid students in their lives. Furthermore, a blended learning environment brings a sense of commitment on each one’s part to learning and this builds self-confidence and encourages students to take responsibility for their learning.

 

Two students, however, had mixed feelings about the blended format and argued that it really depended on the learner’s profile, as the excerpts below show:

  • The last difference is the concentration needed when trying to learn through these methods. A student inside a classroom is already inside his studying environment, a place that is expected to be learning-friendly. Nevertheless, if a student is seated in front of his or her own computer, there is a universe of possible distractors around him or her. People are ready to learn inside a classroom, but not in front of a computer. No matter how much they are used to using this tool, many people can’t find the concentration necessary to forget about all the different possibilities around them and just focus on what is necessary.
  • Another aspect a student may want to consider is the workload involved in an online class versus that of a face-to-face class. Since a face-to-face teacher has to budget time for students who may be slower, or for students who may have questions, they end up developing activities that take those factors into consideration. On the other hand, teachers in an e-learning environment can assign more work since students have a longer time period in between grading periods or classes.

As shown above, the greatest advantages pointed out were flexibility, self-regulated learning, attending to different learning styles, opportunity for deeper learning and better writing production, and student-teachers’ need to become familiarized with new technologies and online learning environments. Students also rebutted the argument that there is no interaction online. On the other hand, two students argued that blended or online learning wasn’t a good fit for every learner, only for the more disciplined and autonomous ones. One of them went on to argue that teachers may create more demanding and time-consuming online activities than face-to-face ones, resulting in more work for the students.

Students also completed a survey about the course which contained specific questions about the online activities. Here are the responses of the 13 students who completed the survey.

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All in all, the piloting experience was shown to be successful, but there is still a lot to work on, especially regarding facilitating students’ navigation on the MOODLE platform, providing clear instructions for the online work, and balancing even better the face-to-face and online activities.

When is there NOT a lot of room for improvement in our courses and our teaching, right? That’s what keeps us going!





Going blended – if I can do it, so can you! Part 1

27 04 2013

Going blended cover

I’ve just returned from the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, where I gave the talk Going blended – if I can do it, so can you. I hope I’m not being overly optimistic, but it seems that the participants enjoyed the talk, in which I explained how I transformed an existing 100% face-to-face (F2F) Writing Course for EFL teachers into a 50/50 blended variety.

I started out by providing contextual background: the Composition Course is a 32-hour module that is part of a five-semester, 360-hour Teacher Development Course, similar to a TEFL Certificate, attended mostly by prospective and novice teachers, but also by more senior ones seeking professional recycling. The main goal of the TDC Writing component is to:

  • Improve student-teachers’ writing and provide an authentic experience with the process approach – focus on multiple drafts and peer revision

In order to reach this goal, the course enables the students to:

  • Read authentic texts critically, identifying and explaining how a text’s style, structure, and context contribute to its meanings and implications. (discussions, journals, essays).
  • Identify the major types of academic essays and their rhetorical features (Organizational structure; types of cohesive devices; typical vocabulary).
  • Produce different types of well-organized, clearly written essays and texts in the genres that they will need to produce as teachers, based on needs analysis.
  • Use low-frequency, powerful vocabulary and discourse markers.
  • Develop metacognitive awareness of own writing process and skills.
  • Follow the different stages of the writing process, applying strong drafting and revising techniques.
  • Assess content, organization and language use of peers’ paragraphs and essays.
  • Develop a repertoire of relevant web tools to support the teaching, learning, and showcasing of ESL/EFL writing.

One of the reasons for transforming the Teacher Development Course into a blended variety was the fact that most of our own novice teachers weren’t able to attend it due to their busy teaching schedules, which we felt could also be the case of our student-teachers in our ELT community. In addition, we hoped to reach teachers from neighboring cities, where there aren’t so many professional development opportunities. Having face-to-face classes only twice a month, rather than every week, would be beneficial to both busy teachers and teachers living far away. Above all, though, we wanted to experiment with an online component in teacher development, as we have been working with online courses since 2008.

I prepared myself to develop online activities on MOODLE by exploring a myriad of tutorials about MOODLE on YouTube and Slideshare, reading books on online course development, such as Vai and Sosulski (2011) and also taking an online course myself, through a U.S. Department of State E-Teacher scholarship program with the University of Oregon. These experiences were essential in providing me with the necessary expertise to attempt to create a rich and effective online learning experience for my learners that would also be closely connected to the face-to-face ones.

going blended - references

The crucial aspect in developing a blended course is choosing the blend, that is, deciding what is to be done in class and what is to be done online. In the writing course that I piloted, half of the course work hours were to be done online and the other half in class.

We decided to continue using the same coursebook used for the F2F class – Greater Essays by Keith Folse and Tyson Pugh. However, just as in the previous F2F-only course, we didn’t restrict ourselves to the book, but rather, used its organizing structure as a springboard for additional, authentic resources. As the blended-version piloting teacher, I decided to focus the writing topics on learning and teaching EFL, one that unified the group. Authentic models of the different types of texts discussed in the course were provided.

Going blended - the blend

For my thirty-minute talk, I selected a lesson on the Narrative Essay to illustrate the choices of F2F and online activities. Theoretical material and more mechanical exercises, such as reading the introductory remarks on Narrative Essays, checking topics appropriate for narrative essays, and suggesting additional topics don’t need to be done in class and are perfect as independent tasks. Thus, the students were asked to read the introductory pages, take a quiz on the topics appropriate for narrative essays, just like the exercise in the book, and post additional topics on a Forum. They were also asked to read an authentic narrative – How I Became a Teacher – and relate it to the information in the book and in an additional resource on narrative essays, also provided on their course page. Specific guidelines as to what to comment on in their post and minimum and maximum number of lines were also provided.

In the following F2F class, we started out by commenting on the Forum posts regarding the narrative text read and reflected upon, then moved on to an analysis of the suggestions of topics for narrative essays, provided by students in another forum post. Following that, students selected their narrative topics, performed a “free-talking” activity aimed at generating ideas for the essay, and wrote an outline of their essay, with a view to organizing the ideas that had been previously generated. Next, students gave feedback to each other on their narrative essay outlines, using a form provided in the coursebook. They were thus ready to go home and write their essays.

One of the next online activities consisted of a peer review of the narrative essays, using the wiki on MOODLE. Students received an essay by e-mail with a number and had to post their answers to the questions in the peer review form in the book. In the end, there were as many responses in the wiki as there are students in class and each writer was able to identify the response about his/her text by the content of the answers, as neither the reviewer nor the writer knew each other’s identity.

Thus, the work with narrative essays began online, continued in the F2F class, and culminated in their again online work,writing the essay and giving feedback to each other. The online and F2F activities were closely connected and interrelated, forming a course unity. The coursebook and the authentic online resources were weaved into the online and F2F lessons and complemented each other.

Going blended - interconnectedness

In addition, all levels of thinking in the revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy were included in the course activities, as shown below.

Going blended - blooms taxonomy

In my upcoming post, Going Blended – If I can do it, so can you! – Part 2 – I’m going to discuss what my learners in the three blended Writing Course groups I’ve taught say about this type of learning. Stay tuned!








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