Switching Gears: What To Do When Nothing Works

by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

susanSusan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. 

The school year is rolling along as the temperatures drop and the hurricanes move out to sea. Back in the classroom, students of Lucy Calkins have stepped away from narrative writing and moved on to non-fiction or persuasive writing. Except, as it turns out, they haven’t. After two weeks of intense instruction and support, pre-writing planning conversations still went like this, “One day, my dad and I were in the car. Then we saw a dog.”  Not non-fiction, not an opinion…a story.

It all started off so promising. Two weeks ago in grade 1 and 2, we wrapped up our narratives with a publishing gallery and tea party. We celebrated!

Then Monday arrived. In Grade 1, with our Content and Language Objectives duly formulated, we prepared children for their adventures in non-fiction, Writing Teaching Books with Independence, with a read-aloud Sharks!  Then, we had them think of themselves “teaching” about a topic, and imagining things they were experts at.

octopusHowever,  tasking 6 year-olds to come up with something they know and could teach someone about proved to be challenging for some students and their first efforts tended to be whatever topic their teacher had chosen for the lesson objective. Or, for reasons still not understood, octopuses.

So, the next day we scaffolded strategies for coming up with many things first graders IMG_1224can be experts on. For example, even Mrs. Zimmerman’s grandson EJ, can be an expert!

Once we had topics, we practiced using our fingers to tell what we know.  Then we used our fingers to tell our partners all about it!

In Second grade we began our journey into non-fiction and opinion writing by reading The Great Kapock Tree by Lynn Cherry. We learned how good writers use reasons to persuade their readers. Then we explored our own opinions by tasting and choosing our favorite cookies.

We came up with reasons to persuade our partners why our favorite cookie was the best. We practiced talking about it! We even used graphic organizers to help us remember our reasons.

IMG_9923

Finally, we chose topics to write about and planned across our fingers.  Using our sentence frames and our fingers, we shared with our partners again!

At last, having anticipated our students’ misunderstandings, having formulated both Content and Language Objectives, and having scaffolded their intended language production, we were ready to write. And this is what we heard…

“My dad and I were in the car.  We saw a dog…”

And this is what we read…

“My mom said, “ We’re going to the store…”

So, now what?

IMG_9927We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and started all over again with a mini-review. And then…we LISTENED!  We hunkered down with each of our students (something a lot easier to do in a co-teaching situation) and listened to what students were saying and what they thought they were writing. We pointed out confusions, prompted for opinions, gave thumbs up, and moved on to the next child.

Maybe the most challenging aspect of the Lucy Calkins program is that we tend to forgetIMG_9924 how important student conferencing is.  Those of us in highly diverse schools are so caught up in the minutia of scaffolding what good writing should look and sound like that we forget the point of it… “[We] are teaching the writer and not the writing. Our decisions must be guided by ‘what might help this writer’ rather than ‘what might help this writing’” (Lucy Calkins, 1994)

IMG_9922Student conferencing – working one on one with students – is too often a catch-as-catch-can occurrence, when in fact it is one of the most important tools in the LC writer’s toolbox. It needs to be carried out regularly in an an intentional and purposeful  way. Good writers make connections with their readers – whether they are telling a story or writing an opinion. Good teachers make connections with their students. As you travel through the changing focus of your writing program throughout the school year, please don’t forget the reason we are teaching writing in the first place: to connect and build relationships with our most important audience, our students.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Writing Language Objectives for Lucy Calkins, Step One: PANIC!

Writing Language Objectives for Lucy Calkins, Step One: PANIC!
by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

susanSusan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. Rebecca Guzman is also an elementary ESL teacher in a local school system and consultant with English Learner Portal.

I started this blog as a way to “think out loud” about the struggle I’ve been having since fall as an ESL teacher supporting the Lucy Calkins writing program in K-Gr 2.  I knew that my best bet was to develop academic language by creating language objectives and scaffolding instruction that explicitly tied student learning to the target writing output.  HOW this is actually getting done is still very much a work in progress. As you read this post, I hope that you will think about your own challenges and successes you have had adapting academic language strategies to the LC writing program, and give me some feedback, suggestions, and recommendations on what has worked – and not worked – for you.

Help me out here.  Last Monday, the Lucy Calkins’ teaching point in our second grade writing lesson, verbatim from the guide, was:

“Today I want to teach you that when writers do something new, they don’t just try it once and give up. Writers are bold too. You can try new things in your writing, even if they’re not perfect.  Then you can see what you think. You can ask yourself, ‘Did it work?’ or ‘Should I try it a new way?’”

So tell me, readers, what’s the Language Objective?

SIOP training had been a “thing” at my school a few years ago, and several team members had been sent to training. However, in subsequent years several of the trained teachers cycled out to new schools and each fall the district served up another round of “critical” achievement goals and performance measures that filled our teachers’ plates to overflowing.  The idea of creating and teaching language objectives faded away into “just another thing I don’t have time for.”

susansgrouoBut as I reminded myself and my team last week, in a diverse school like ours (70% FARMS, 40% Hispanic, 40% AA, 55% ELL) all content objectives truly need to have accompanying language objectives that “articulate for learners the academic language functions and skills they need to master to fully participate in the lesson and meet the grade-level content standards (Echevarria, Short, & Vogt, 2008).” Feeling empowered, I promised my team at our weekly planning meeting that I would provide a language objective for their daily writing content objectives and create scaffolded lesson plans to support them.

Up to now, while I was getting better acquainted with the the Lucy Calkins program, I’d been supporting students classes by following up on earlier lessons that hadn’t  “worked” for my English learners (ELs). Basically I re-packaged and scaffolded the same lesson classroom teachers had written in more visual and engaging ways, throwing in some appropriate academic language points, oral practice, sentence frames, and vocabulary along the way.  

But now that I had hastily offered to deliver daily and meaningful academic language instruction, I realized I might have gone way outside my comfort zone. I panicked: What IS the academic language required for students to “make a bold move” and try things in new ways? And, was I the only person to find Lucy’s teaching points difficult to break down into language objectives?

I sought out trusted colleagues, and was relieved to discover I was not alone. Rebecca Guzman, an experienced classroom, SIOP, bilingual and ESL teacher helped me beckynkidsunderstand the disconnect.

“Her (Lucy Calkins’) thinking is that we are constantly introducing students to a menu of strategies they can apply to create a variety of writing genres; in other words, we are teaching  them how to be writers not how to write. However, our English learners (ELs) need repetition and coaching to create productive written work, rather than a quick  “I teach you-now go practice” approach.“

“Our elementary school ELs frequently come with a lack of background knowledge and writing  experience in their own language, so it’s almost like we are rushing them through all of these strategies but not giving them enough time to practice and get good at one thing before moving on (quality vs. quantity). I worry that if they do not feel successful at something it will stop them from wanting to continue learning how to write much less how to be a writer. “

Knowing that I am not alone in my confusion about whether to address content or language was reassuring.  Guzman writes weekly, not daily, language objectives, and further explained how she and her co-teacher approach the task: “I mostly focus on the actual content lesson activity to figure out what kind of language students will be expected to produce. I start by focusing on a specific language domain. Then I pull a language feature to focus on (i.e. grammar, vocabulary, etc..) followed by the language function (verb: explain, retell etc..) and then pick language supports that match the activity and/or student proficiency levels in the class.”

Her explanation helped me re-frame my question, “What is the language objective that supports “Writers are bold too. You can try new things in your writing, even if they’re not perfect,” to “What are the language objectives that will support the overall objective of Unit One: Lessons from the Masters Improving Narrative Writing.” Often the guide will give us a clue: In Grade 2, Unit 1, Lesson 3,  for example, Stretching Out Small Moments, as Authors Do, it is clear we will need to focus on sequencing words.  

But sometimes it’s not so obvious, as in my case of  asking students to make “bold new moves?” In these cases we should go back to the unit objective: writing narratives, and review our students’ work to identify their academic language needs and, over the course of our unit planning, ensure that we have mini-lessons that will  address all three of the WIDA Features of Academic Language: Linguistic Complexity, Language Forms and Conventions, and Vocabulary Usage across all of our students’ proficiency levels.

Easy peasy, right?  I can’t say yet.  I only just puzzled this out a few days ago.  Stay tuned for my adventures in Lucy Calkins Language Objective Land, but more importantly, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, let me know what has worked for you. Or what hasn’t.

quotetogetherdosomuchLike most ESL educators, I’ve attended training, read the word of experts – even talked to them, taken online courses, and attended my district’s workshops. But nothing – NOTHING – helps teachers more than the experiences of other teachers. I’m all alone in my school as I struggle to work this out; I hope you will share what you’ve tried, what worked, and other strategies and ideas you have tried. “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”  My students need you, and there is so much left to do….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Writing with English learners: Why plagiarism is serious business

frank

Frank Bonkowski is an educational writer, English language teacher, and e-learning specialist, passionate about learning and teaching. As a lover of writing, Frank has a twofold mission: to teach English learners to write better and to train language teachers in teaching effective academic writing. He was a teacher trainer at several universities, including McGill, Concordia, and TELUQ, a center of distance education.  We are thrilled to have Frank as a member of our online course community at English Learner Portal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In today’s post, let’s look at ways you can help learners avoid plagiarism. The text is based on a lecture in Module 3 of my three-credit graduate course in teaching writing.

Why plagiarism is serious business

cartoongirlcomputerIn this lecture, we tackle the serious problem of plagiarism. If a learner is caught plagiarizing, it can have serious consequences.

At college or university level, the least serious penalty could be getting a zero grade on an assignment; a more serious penalty would be failing the course altogether. The most serious penalty would be getting thrown out of the school.

Learners need to be able to properly paraphrase, summarize, and quote the ideas of others when doing research. In doing these things learners avoid plagiarism.

In this lecture, we’ll first look at who is guilty of plagiarism. Then, we’ll review two strategies for helping learners avoid plagiarism: taking notes and paraphrasing.

Who is guilty of plagiarism?

Ask learners if they have ever taken parts of someone’s writing without citing the source.

Ask learners if they have ever used quotations without giving credit.

Inexperienced writers make these mistakes. It’s easy, simple to do, and seems harmless. If learners haven’t mastered the intricacies of English, it may be tempting to plagiarize. This is true for both native and non-native speakers of English alike.

Plagiarism, also called “cyberplagiarism” by McWhorter, has increased dramatically with cartoonlightbulbthe widespread use of the Internet (Successful 592).

It can take 3 different forms:

  1. a) “borrowing” information from online sources without acknowledging it,
  2. b) cutting and pasting material directly without citing the source,
  3. c) buying essays or papers online and using them as your own work.

Copying the ideas of others is not new. Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Martial complained about others stealing his poetry.

Plagiarism is not just a violation of another’s writing. it’s also harmful to creators of music, videos, and graphics. For example, here is an interesting anecdote.

Songwriters sometimes commit plagiarism and may get heavy fines if found guilty. In 2014, the Marvin Gaye family was awarded a whopping $ 7.3 million for copyright infringement of a 1977 Gaye song by another singer.

Any way you look at it, plagiarism is theft—the stealing of somebody else’s ideas. Plagiarism is just dumb.

So how can writers avoid plagiarism or be more conscious of it?

The answer is simple. They can learn and practice how to take notes and to paraphrase.

Tip #1 for avoiding plagiarism: Take Notes

nocountryforoldmenLearners need to get into the habit of reading carefully and taking good notes.

Here is a student example using the two-column method (which I explain in another lecture of the online course) presented in an academic English classroom course I teach. The student had to take notes using an online film review.

Film: “No Country for Old Men”

Keyword and questions

  • Unpredictable narrative
  • Breathtaking
  • Sanguinary film
  • Remarkably
  • Sharpest
Notes (key ideas and facts) A modern movie
“Remains remarkably grounded in the everyday”
“Sharpest Coen Bros. film in years”
“Excruciating violence to ratchet up the tension”
“Shocks ’round every plot twist”
Summary:

Review by Bob Mondello , art critic: A really great movie and even the best Coen’s Brothers film in a while.

The movie has a surprising narration and is remarkably authentic and realistic.

The violence keeps the tension high and shocks viewers at every turn in the plot.

Tip #2 for avoiding plagiarism: paraphrase

Paraphrasing is a restatement of an original text in the writer’s own words. It could be a restatement of an entire sentence, part of a sentence, or one or more paragraphs, written in about the same length as the original.

It shows that a writer understands clearly the meaning of the original text. Paraphrasing is a useful way for all writers, but particularly non-native speakers of English, to improve their writing skills.

Here is a useful 10-point paraphrasing checklist you can share with your students.

checklist

Sources:

Douglas, Scott Roy. Academic Inquiry: Writing for Post-secondary Success. Don Mills: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

McWhorter, Kathleen T. Successful College Writing: Skills, Strategies, Learning Styles. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.​

Williams, Julia. “Unit 4: Art History.” Academic Connections 4. White Plains: Pearson Education, 2010. 75+. Print.

For more helpful teaching tips, enroll now in Teaching Writing to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners and earn 3 university credits.

In the next blog post, we will take a look at the SQ3R method based on a lecture in Module 4 of the writing course.

JOIN me on June 28 for a 2-hour online writing workshop

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Teaching Writing: What is successful language teaching?

frank

Frank Bonkowski is an educational writer, English language teacher, and e-learning specialist, passionate about learning and teaching. As a lover of writing, Frank has a twofold mission: to teach English learners to write better and to train language teachers in teaching effective academic writing. He was a teacher trainer at several universities, including McGill, Concordia, and TELUQ, a center of distance education.  We are thrilled to have Frank as a member of our online course community at English Learner Portal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Teaching Writing: What is successful language teaching?

In today’s post I give you a peek into part of the lecture “What is successful language teaching?” in Module 2, from my new three-credit graduate course in teaching writing.

JOIN me on June 28 for a 2-hour online writing workshop!

New Online professional development course

Teaching Writing to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners is now available. This 3-credit graduate course is aimed at beginner and experienced English-language teachers who want to improve their knowledge and skills in teaching academic writing.

Teaching Writing, a multimedia course containing five modules, is your complete guide to teaching academic writing. Each module has a short video introduction, several recorded lectures, an accompanying tape script, a reading, an interview with a writing expert (in three of the modules), and a self-assessment exercise. To obtain university credit for the course, participants must complete five quizzes and two assignments.

A peek inside “What is successful language teaching?”

Agenda

In today’s lecture, we’re going to paint a broad picture of effective English language teaching and learning.

We are going to answer the following questions:

  • How can teachers help students learn successfully using a model called ESA: engage, study, activate?
  • What can teachers do to engage students?
  • What are some effective study activities?

ESA Model

blog2aThe ESA model—which involves equally teacher and learners—is based on the ideas of Jeremy Harmer from his influential book, How to Teach English.

In a nutshell, this teaching/learning model is based on these three principles: learners need to be motivated, exposed to meaningful language, and provided chances to use the language.

blog2b

I will illustrate these three principles using examples from my own teaching with second-language learners. I will present different materials and activities dealing with the story “The 39 Steps.”

Engage

In the language classroom, for students to learn it makes good pedagogical sense to engage them. You need to “arouse the students’ interest, thus involving their emotions” (Harmer 25).

In my experience, even before you get students interested, you first have to catch their attention. When I started second language teaching in high school many years ago, I was lucky to have a brilliant pedagogue as school principal. He would often remind teachers about the importance of being enthusiastic and engaging ourselves in our subject matter. You can’t expect learners to be interested if you are not passionate about what you’re teaching. I have never forgotten that sound advice.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

As you can see in the chart below showing Bloom’s Taxonomy: The Affective Domain, the very first level is “receiving phenomena.” Learners need to be aware, show willingness to hear, and be attentive. In my very first meeting with new second-language learners at the beginning of a new term, I always demonstrate and practice “receiving.” How so?

First, I tell learners my name. Then I mention something interesting about myself, such as how I like to do triathlons—a combination of swimming, running, and biking. This always catches their attention, even if they are not particularly interested in sports.

I then ask students to say their name and something memorable about themselves. This is not only stimulating but also challenging for learners. By the end of this exercise, an added bonus is that I’m usually able to remember about 80% of the students’ names.

Notice in Bloom’s Taxonomy, it is at the second level: “response to phenomena” that learners can be expected to participate actively in the class.

Bloom’s Taxonomy: The Affective Domain

blog2c

Useful activities and materials

Here are some useful activities and materials to engage students’ interest (Harmer 25):

  • Stimulating pictures
  • Games
  • Music
  • Discussions
  • Dramatic stories
  • Amusing anecdotes

The 39 Steps: activity

For example, in each new term I take learners to see a live play. But before talking about the live play students will be attending, I show a stimulating picture. Recently I took students to see “The 39 Steps.” I showed this picture and asked students to guess what they think the play is about, who the man is, what the menacing hand suggests, and what the title means.

blog2e

By the way, I shared these interesting fun facts with students. The 39 Steps was originally a spy novel written in 1915 by John Buchan. Alfred Hitchcock made it into a suspense film in 1935. Later, it was brought to the Broadway stage as a thriller/romance/comedy in 2005 and won numerous awards.

In addition, since students usually have their cell phones handy, I asked them to work in pairs and to Google the term “The 39 Steps.” I gave them 8 to 10 minutes to take notes and then share what they found with the class.

When students saw how excited I was about this story, they participated well in the activity.

Study Activity: 3 parts

In study activities, students focus on language or information and how it is constructed. For higher-level students, these activities can range from the study and practice of new vocabulary to an analysis of how a writer achieves an effect.

There are different ways to do study activities: the teacher can explain or demonstrate a particular point or students can work alone, in pairs, or small groups to discover language for themselves.

Let’s look at this three-part language activity I used with learners before they attended the play “The 39 Steps.”

In the first part of the activity, I had students watch the first 15 minutes of Hitchcock’s 1935 movie that is available on YouTube. Interestingly, one student commented to me after seeing the live play that viewing the opening of the film was extremely helpful in understanding the complicated plot.

In the second part of the activity, I referred learners to the synopsis of Act 1 that was in the Teacher Guide (See below). Initially, I asked learners—working in pairs—to define the verbs that are underlined in the first paragraph.

These verbs include: rings out, turns out, trailed, lurking, seek, on the run, and clear.

Then I asked them to define any other verbs in the text that they did not understand.

In part three of the activity, I asked learners to write down in their own words the principal events in Act 1. I instructed them to use either the simple present or the present progressive tense in rewriting the plot.

Here’s an example of what I asked students to write:

  1. Richard Hannay is attending a play in London.
  2. Someone shoots a gun in the theater.
  3. A lady called Annabella goes home with him.

Act 1 (Teacher Guide)

After heading to a London theatre to find some excitement, a man named Richard Hannay is watching a performance by a man with a photographic memory named “Mr. Memory”, when an unexpected gunshot rings out. As the audience clears out, a woman named Annabella follows him home, and that’s when the real excitement begins. She turns out to be a spy on a dangerous mission, trailed by assassins who want her dead. Aware of danger lurking outside, she warns Richard about a dark figure at the head of an international espionage ring and “The 39 Steps,” which she does not explain. Her plan is to seek help from a professor in Scotland at a place called Alt-Na-Shellach the next day, but before Richard can get more details, she is killed, sending Richard on the run in an effort to clear his name and save Britain from its enemies.

Exiting his building cleverly disguised as a milkman, he hops a train to Scotland, with the law hot on his trail. When police begin to search the compartments, he masks his identity by kissing a female passenger. Although this buys him some time, the woman (named Pamela) isn’t buying his story, and she quickly turns him in. Luckily, he is able to jump from the train, and eludes capture.

Later that night, with Alt-Na-Shellach in the distance and the cold reality of the Scottish moors setting in, Richard convinces a poor old farmer named Crofter to offer him some shelter. However, tension arises when Margaret, the man’s beautiful young wife, finds herself attracted to her guest, and he to her. Feeling threatened, Crofter calls the police in the middle of the night, but Margaret wakes Richard to warn him. He then pays the farmer for his silence and steals a few kisses from Margaret before slipping out with Crofter’s best Sunday coat on his back.

After eluding the police, he is welcomed at Alt-Na-Shellach by the professor and his wife. However, the amiable pair is not what they seem. Richard realizes too late that the professor is missing part of his little finger and is the spy Annabella warned him about. Before he can act, the professor shoots him in the chest and leaves him for dead. Lucky for him, the hymnbook in Crofter’s coat pocket stops the bullet and saves his life. (Cleve 4-5)

For more helpful teaching tips, enroll now in Teaching Writing to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners and earn 3 university credits.

In the next blog post, we will take a look at the lecture on “Plagiarism“ in Module 3 of the course.

JOIN me on June 28 for a 2-hour online writing workshop

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Teaching Writing: Problems Students Face

frank

Frank Bonkowski is an educational writer, English language teacher, and e-learning specialist, passionate about learning and teaching. As a lover of writing, Frank has a twofold mission: to teach English learners to write better and to train language teachers in teaching effective academic writing. He was a teacher trainer at several universities, including McGill, Concordia, and TELUQ, a center of distance education.  We are thrilled to have Frank as a member of our online course community at English Learner Portal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

In today’s post I want to introduce you to a new three-credit graduate course in teaching writing.  I’ll give you a peek into one of the lectures in Module 1, “Problems students face in learning.”

JOIN me on June 28 for a 2-hour online writing workshop

New Online professional development course

Teaching Writing to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners is now available. This 3-credit graduate course is aimed at beginner and experienced English-language teachers who want to improve their knowledge and skills in teaching academic writing.

Teaching Writing, a multimedia course containing five modules, is your complete guide to teaching academic writing. Each module has a short video introduction, several recorded lectures, an accompanying tape script, a reading, an interview with a writing expert (in three of the modules), and a self-assessment exercise. To obtain university credit for the course, participants must complete five quizzes and two assignments.

A peek inside Module 1

peekinsideThe first module explores the context for teaching and learning academic writing to adolescent English language learners. Topics include some effective ways for teaching academic writing,  problems English language learners face in learning, the distinction between comprehensible input and output, and an overview of the WIDA writing rubrics with Kelly Reider. In today’s post, I want to share with you parts of Lecture 2.

Teaching Writing

Module 1: Problems student face in learning

External issues

externalissuesHow well do you know your students? Experienced teachers realize that they have to take the time to get to know their language students as human beings. I have always taken the time to relate to my students, to understand where they are coming from, to learn about their interests and hobbies, and to ask about what they are good at.

Language teachers need to understand the external and personal issues in the lives of their students, so well described in “Teaching writing to diverse populations” (Fowler). Let’s look at three external issues.

First, learning to write well is challenging cognitively and linguistically, not only for English language learners but also native speakers of English.

Second, some English language learners come from disadvantaged homes at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. Many students work part time which cuts into their study time. In addition, some of them have learning disabilities. In the school where I teach ESL, over 10% of the students are dyslexic or have learning difficulties often related to stress.

Third, English language teachers may not be up to the task. They may lack the pedagogical knowledge as well as effective strategies and techniques to teach academic writing. They could benefit from professional development courses to upgrade their teaching skills, such as this course.

Furthermore, English language teachers may not have access to good resources. They may not know how to implement consistently academic writing into their program.

Let’s now move on to three personal issues or problems that English language learners may have (Fowler). Learners often lack the knowledge and skills to write well. Even more importantly, they may not be motivated to write well or write at all.

internalissuesPersonal issues

Knowledge problems

I teach academic writing to intermediate and advanced ESL learners. Yet many of them do not know what good writing is. They do not know how to start to write, thinking that just putting ideas on paper pell mell is good enough. They need to improve their knowledge of vocabulary—using synonyms and antonyms for example.

Moreover, students often have a poor sense of sentence structure and variety. Learners may know who the latest pop stars are, but they have limited knowledge of current events or social issues in general.

Finally, learners are not always familiar with some of the purposes of writing, such as to persuade or inform readers.

Skill problems

Let’s move on to skill problems that many English language learners face (Fowler).

A common problem I see among learners is that they are not interested in planning. They fail to plan which effectively means that they plan to fail.

Another problem is that they do not how to revise their writing. It is like pulling teeth to get them to reflect on their writing. Another issue is that they do not know how to self regulate their ideas and actions. It is a metacognitive skill that they have perhaps never been taught.

As most teachers know, learners have limited attention spans. That is not surprising. The latest research shows that the attention span of adults is only eight seconds. As I mentioned before, many learners have either visual or motor disabilities.

Motivation problems

Let’s have a brief look at some of the motivational issues that English language learners have (Fowler). For example, they have rarely been taught to develop writing goals. So they do not know how to achieve success. Some think that they fail to write well because they are not smart enough. They may have this erroneous self-belief that they can never succeed.

In addition, many learners are not very persistent in their attempts to write well. They are easily discouraged by constant failure.

What are some effective ways to teach academic writing?

lightbulbEnglish language learners need to be taught how to write effectively. They need to know how to achieve their goals within a given context. Learners need to be taught how to express themselves effectively. They need to learn how to write well-organized, clear texts.

Here are three effective strategies for teaching writing that we will explore further in later lectures (Graham, 1-2).

  • First, teachers should explicitly teach learners appropriate writing strategies. They should use effective instructional models, such as Engage-Study-Activate that we look at in lecture 2.1 (Harmer, 25-29).
  • Second, teachers should help learners develop their reading comprehension skills to become better writers. Reading can be an important tool to develop writing skills (Writing). Both reading and writing can help learners think and learn better. Teachers should show learners good texts, highlighting their outstanding features.
  • Third, students should receive regular feedback to keep track of their own success in writing. This feedback can take the form of teacher to students, students to students, and student self-reflection, using for example the Virtual Writing Tutor. More about this online tool in lecture 5.5.

Other strategies that we can mention include teaching grammar explicitly, providing challenging activities, and helping students build their vocabulary (Writing).

In Teaching by Principles, Brown recommends teachers get students to:

  • Use the practices of “good” writers, such as following an organizational plan as they write
  • Do prewriting activities, such as conducting outside research or discussing a topic or question.

In the next blog post, we will take a peek into one of the lectures in Module 2,  “What is successful language learning?”

JOIN me on June 28 for a 2-hour online writing workshop

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Do you receive the English Learner Portal monthly newsletter?  Sign up HERE!  Visit our online professional development school HERE!  Want to know more about us and what we do?  Visit our website at https://englishlearnerportal.com.