This Process Contains Huge Benefits For Writing Teachers, Students and Programs.

Writing three drafts

The reason why this process is so powerful is that it resolves all these troublesome situations:

Situation 1) Teachers are disappointed by the writing skills of students being promoted to their classes.
A Level 4 teacher has discovered early in a term that some of the students in the Writing class who were promoted by a teacher at a lower level (Level 3) do not have the necessary writing skills to perform well at that level. Often it results in a tense conversation like this:

Level 4 Teacher: “I have one of your students from last term, Fidi, in my Level 4 class.  His writing is very weak. I wonder how he was able to pass your class.”
Level 3 Teacher: “Yes, I know he’s not really good. When he came to my class from Level 2, his skills weren’t very good. But he did all the assignments and tried very hard. So I didn’t feel like I could justify failing him.”

Situation 2) Students feel they weren’t treated fairly because the teacher didn’t like them.
A student who failed his Writing course complains to the director that the reason why he failed was because the teacher didn’t like him, not because he had poor writing skills.

Situation 3) Teachers burn out from teaching Writing classes due to excessive record keeping.
Writing teachers readily accept the fact that these courses involve reading/marking a lot of papers. However, what often overwhelms them the most is having to count up points for every assignment and keep records of these.

Situation 4) Students quibble with the teacher over points on a writing assignment.
A student receives 83 out of 100 points on an essay and argues with the teacher that he should have gotten 86 points. 

Situation 5) Students who fail the Writing class beg the teachers to change their grade because of the personal hardships failing would cause them.
Student: “Could you please, please let me pass this class? My parents don’t have a lot of money, and I might have to leave this school if I fail. I’ll work hard at the next level. I know I can do well in it.”

Here is the process that is the remedy for all those situations.

Here is how this process started. Several years ago, Diane, a Writing Level 3 teacher who was just below my Level 4 Writing class was actually experiencing all five of those situations mentioned above. During the last week of the term, we agreed that it could be helpful if she could show me (the teacher at the next level who would be getting her students the next term) writing samples of some of her students whom she was concerned about. The process didn’t take long and the results were amazing. The next term, she offered to look at the Level 2 students’ writings and continue to show me hers, and I showed mine to the Level 5 teacher. We called this the “Panel Process.”

The panel process

For this, a teacher show the essays of the students whom s/he would like a second opinion about to a teacher at the next level. (In other words, they don’t show the essays of the students whom they are confident should pass or repeat, just the “borderline” students.)  After reading those essays, that next-level teacher can point out the aspects of each student’s writing that indicates whether or not the student has the skills necessary to be successful at that next level.

Here is how this panel process almost completely eliminates those five troublesome situations.

Situation 1) Teachers are disappointed by the writing skills of students being promoted to their classes.
Panel process resolves this. Because teachers have been involved in deciding which students are being promoted to their level, they can feel confident in their new students’ skills. Another big advantage is that the lower-level teacher can feel reassured in the decision to pass or fail a student because of the input by the next-level teacher. We no longer hear a next-level teacher ask, “I wonder why this student was promoted to my level.”

Situation 2) Students feel they weren’t treated fairly because the teacher didn’t like them.
Panel process resolves this. At the beginning of the term, and on the course syllabus, teachers explain that at the end of the term, a panel of teachers will look at their writing and decide whether the student has the skills necessary for the next level. In other words, the teacher doesn’t make this decision alone. This tends to be a great relief for the students.  We no longer hear students complain about failing due to a personality conflict with the teacher.

Situation 3) Teachers burn out from teaching Writing classes due to excessive record keeping.
Panel process resolves this.  At the end of the term, the teacher does not need to total up points on assignments for each student to determine whether or not they passed. This is because the panel makes that determination.  Thus, there is no reason to assign points to assignments. Instead, the teacher simply keeps a record of any assignments students miss. If a student hasn’t completed some assignments by the end of the term, his/her papers will not be read by the panel.

The beautiful part of this is that students are no longer doing assignments to get points or impress the teacher. Their motivation is to qualify to have their papers read by the panel and to impress the panel.

Most teachers in the panel system don’t give specific points for homework assignment. However, we do fill out rubrics (which include points) for students’ essays. We tell the students that the points in the essay are to give them an idea of how the teacher views their writing skills, but the points don’t determine their final grade. The panel decides that.  As a result, the students are much more apt to use the teachers rubric scores and comments on the essays to help them revise the essay to make it as good as possible for the panel. In other words, they do not become complacent just because they got a certain score from their teacher.

Situation 4) Students quibble with the teacher over points on a writing assignment.
Panel process resolves this. The students know that the panel will decide their final grade. As I mentioned above in Situation 3, the rubric points on an essay just indicate the teacher’s impression. In fact, I tell my students that if grades make them nervous, they can tell me that they don’t want any points marked on the rubric, in which case, I’ll still write comments and suggestions for how to improve their essay but not include points. (In the 25 years of using the panel approach, I’ve only had three students who took me up on the option.) At the same time, I’ve never had to quibble over the points.  A couple of students once said that they thought the points on the content section of the rubric should have been higher, I responded by saying, “Fine. How many points do you want? 100? We can change to any number you want.” This reminds them that the points “don’t matter,” because the panel decides their future, not how many points I give them.  They always say with a smile, “That’s OK. You don’t have to change the points on the rubric.”

Situation 5) Students who fail the Writing class beg the teachers to change their grade because of the personal hardships failing would cause them.
Panel process resolves this.  Because students in these situations are caught up in their emotions, they are usually unable to hear a teacher’s explanation for why they cannot pass the class. They are not interested in the teacher going through their performance on their assignments. Many times, they just want to be reassured that their work was seriously looked at. That is exactly what the panel process can provide them. The teacher can emphasis that other teachers carefully evaluated the student’s skills and all agreed that for the student to be successful in the future is to repeat the course. I can even tell the students specifically what the panel had said about their writing.

 What makes the panel process so effective is that the focus of our Writing courses is completely on the students’ writing skills and not on points and personalities.

In my next two postings, I’ll explain more about a panel process including how to make it time/energy efficient for teachers, how it can improve the overall quality of Writing courses (See User-Friendly Writing Panel Process: Time and Energy Efficient And Effective (bonus November posting)  and how teachers who are new to a course (or to the field of teaching ESL) can greatly benefit from it.

David Kehe

2 thoughts on “This Process Contains Huge Benefits For Writing Teachers, Students and Programs.

  1. Anonymous

    I love this solution! I’ve used panels to help promote borderline students, but it is genius to also get rid of grading with points. I hope more programs adopt this, so that students come to expect it.

    Like

    Reply
    1. commonsenseesl Post author

      Thank you for the observation. It’s interesting how so many teachers assume that giving points on assignments is “what teachers do,” and that if we don’t, students won’t be motivated to do the work. The key is to make sure that students understand the purpose for every assignment, i.e. how it will teach them the writing/grammar skills they will be able to use on their next papers/essays and how it will help them impress the panel. That means teachers need to know why they are giving the assignments that they are and to be able to explain that to students. If we can’t do that because we are assigning busy work, students will stop taking the assignments seriously.
      David

      Like

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s