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.

Reluctant Writers

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project in a Highly Diverse School – Entry #2 by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

October 14, 2018

Reluctant Writers

“So, Jessica,” I asked my ELL second grader, “Let’s talk about what you’re going to write.  I really liked your last story about the time you had to put your cat in the car and moved her to your new house.”

Three-fifteen in the afternoon, last period of the day, and all around us writing partners were sharing their work, and checking their Tiny Moments notebooks for adjectives and details. I was hunched uncomfortably into my tiny primary-grade-sized chair, vaguely wondering how I was going to be able to stand up later.  Jessica fiddled listlessly with the edges of a woefully empty-looking writer’s booklet, her long brown hair spilling sideways over the purple too-large glasses perched on the edge of her nose in an attempt to avoid my gaze.

IMG_0949I looked at her new story pages.  “Can you read me the first page?”

Jessica stared down at the haphazardly written words on the page and read. “We got a cat. My mom said lets get a cat.”

Another story about a cat, I thought. Hmmmm. “OK, writers sometimes like to make sketches, draw pictures of what they’re writing about. Did you draw pictures on your other pages?”  She turned to the next page, but it was empty.  “OK, so let’s talk about this.” I tried to sound enthusiastic. “Tell  me what happens next so we can draw it.”

Jessica looked at me blankly and replied, “We went to get the cat.”

“OK!,” I responded, feigning excitement, “That’s great!  Tell me about that moment. Were you really happy? Did something interesting happen?”

“No,” she said, dully. “We went to this man’s house and we got the cat.”

“Oh OK, well remember that good writers like to talk about special moments in their stories, like when something interesting happened, or maybe you had a strong feeling about it.”

She glared at me, clearly bemused by my sudden fascination with her cat. I soldiered on, “Remember, in your LAST story it was funny when the cat started running around your car meowing really loudly. Did something like THAT happen?”

“No.”

For most students, taking time to plan what they’re going to write about before they start girl_teachercomposing is an integral step in the writing process. Nonetheless, I could tell that Jessica was getting annoyed with my constant insistence that she have a plan. Nevertheless,  I was determined, ‘So, maybe the interesting part of your story is later? What happened in the end? Were you really happy? Did the cat do something funny?”

“No,” she said, “I don’t  like cats.”

By now Jessica was totally disgusted with my interrogation about a cat she didn’t even like, and I had become a bulldog worrying a bone as I watched our precious conferencing time ticking down to dismissal.

In her supplementary text, Supports for English Language Learners in Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, Lucy Calkins and her colleagues reinforce the importance of oral practice for English Language Learners and on giving students multiple opportunities to plan and rehearse their stories out loud before they write. I knew that if I couldn’t get Jessica to talk about and plan out her story,  it might take too much work to revise it later. I didn’t want her to get discouraged about the whole writing process.

However it was 3:30 at the close of a long rainy day -with no outdoor recess.  Only 10 minutes of class remained, and Jessica’s stubborn and seemingly willful refusal to even try to make her story interesting, meaningful, or purposeful had me ready to pull out my hair. I scratched my head, gave her a beseeching look and blurted, “But Jessica, this story isn’t even  interesting. And you don’t even like cats! So why do you want to write about it?”

Startled, she stared at me. “Because I wrote about my cat the last time and you liked it.”

This was what I call a “face palm “ moment. I wanted to sink my head into my hands andsusan_facepalm rock back and forth on my tiny chair in despair. I looked deeply into her little 7-year old’s eyes, which clearly were not seeing what the big deal was all about,  and pleaded with her, “Come on, Jessica, isn’t there ANYTHING interesting in your life you could write about?”

“No,” she insisted.

“Really?” I begged. “You can’t think of ANY ONE THING you have done lately that you liked to do, made you happy, or something happened that was different than any other day?” By now I was nearly shrieking in frustration.

“No,” she shrugged, and continued nonchalantly “Unless like, when we went to Creepy Six Flags (a Halloween-themed event at the local amusement park) and these scary clowns came out and we screamed.”  Her face lit up as she remembered and the words came gushing out. “And when you go on the merry ground all this smoke comes out and then scary monsters chased us around. It was so much fun!”

Now it was my turn to gush! I almost grabbed and hugged her until she burst. “Oh my GOSH, Jessica!  THAT is the best story EVER! And you already told me all these really neat details about what you did, and the scary clowns, and the monsters….and how you felt, and you can write for pages and pages! You are AMAZING!” I practically jumped up and down in my seat, grabbed a pencil and stuck it in her hand. “Start drawing! You have ten minutes!”

Jessica looked at me like I had lost my mind, but she grinned from ear to ear – clearly proud to have come up with such a brilliant narrative – and quickly filled four pages with sketches. With moments to spare before dismissal, I sent her to share her work to the approving “Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” of her classroom teacher. Another successful writer is born!

Yesterday I checked in with Jessica. She eagerly read me her narrative – all about the monsters, the scary clowns and the rides that disappeared into clouds of smoke (or as we decided – fog.)

“You’re becoming such a good writer,” I told her, reinforcing the message of Lesson 8: Revising with Intent, “because good writers include a lot of specific details and feelings like yours that let the readers know why you wanted to write about it, let them know your intent.”


She nodded
 and looked up at me, “Do you remember how happy you got when I told you my story that day?” She smiled shyly. “That made me really happy, too.”

And just like that, Jessica taught me the REAL message of that lesson, of all of the lessons, actually: the importance of connecting with your audience. Because as a teacher, my students ARE my audience. Maybe I don’t always connect with Jessica with written words and pictures, and maybe the daily mini-lessons carefully scaffolded for language and content are less than memorable to her 7-year old’s list of daily priorities. However, by badgering, cajoling, joking, and sticking with her until her creative light bulb lit up, I did manage to show her the one essential thing that all good writers do: I created a small, precise moment of emotion between us that made us both smile inside and say, “Aha! This is why we do this.”

boyswritingI hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our ELLs – and all of our students.  But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!

 

 

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

logoevensmallerIf 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: 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.