This posting is directed specifically to teachers in these categories:
- You have experience teaching ESL Writing, but you have been assigned to teach a new level.
- You have just been hired to teach in an ESL program and are assigned a Writing class.
- You have been teaching an ESL Writing class for a few terms, but this term you have some students who have “unusual” writing characteristics.
Imagine that it’s the third week of the term. You just picked up your students’ first writing sample (e.g. a paragraph or essay) and are starting to mark/evaluate them. (See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills)
You start with Adey’s essay and soon some questions come to your mind:
- Most of his sentences are simple starting with Subject + Verb, but his basic grammar is clean. Is that acceptable at this level? Should you expect him to use more subordination? (See Is the Hokey Pokey Really What It’s All About? No, Subordination Is. (Part 1) about subordination) What will teachers at the next level expect?
Next, you read Naomi’s essay and wonder about this:
- She uses complex sentences, but sometimes her grammar breaks down, especially word forms. Would these kinds of mistakes disqualify her from passing to the next level? How “perfect” must a students’ grammar be to pass?
Another student, Dante had this characteristic:
- His ideas seemed quite simplistic; he doesn’t develop them with enough details. What is the expectation for students passing to the next level concerning idea development?
Help is on the way!
The process for finding out if you are evaluating your Writing students accurately.
1) Early in the term (perhaps after the second week), you assign your students to write an essay. (It’s best if this can be an in-class essay in which you are sure that nobody has helped them or has written it for them.)
2) You choose essays from 3 or 4 of the students, preferably ones that, in your opinion, seems to look weak, one or two that appear average and one that looks quite good.
3) Before writing any marks/comments on those 3-4 essays, you make copies of them. Then on one of the copies, you evaluate the essays, marking the grammar and commenting on/making suggestion for the content and give the essays grades (for grammar and content). (See Writing class: Easy, focused, POSITVE feedback on essays. )
4) You arrange to give the clean, unmarked copies of those 3-4 essays to a teacher who is teaching the next Writing level or to a teacher who has had experience successfully teaching that level. You say to that teacher something like this:
“I want to make sure that I’m not grading these students too high and giving them an unrealistic expectation about passing to your level. Could you help me by reading these 3-4 essays and tell me what you notice in their writing that looks good to you and that looks weak from your perspective at the next level?” Perhaps you can give the teacher a day to read them. (See posting Give your colleagues some brain pleasure. Ask them for help. )
5) You meet with that teacher and discuss the writings of those students. This step could be considered a NORMING process. In other words, you are coming to an understanding about what the norms should be for the writing characteristics of students at your level and at the next level. Your colleague can describe what s/he notices in those essays, and you can point out how you had evaluated them. With this understanding, you will be able to adjust your expectation and provide feedback to your students concerning how well they are progressing toward developing the writing skills that they will need to pass to the next level.
In sum, any professional teaching a Writing class should ask themselves, “Considering the level of this class, …
- am I focusing on the most important aspects in these papers?”
- will I mislead some of these students about their skill level if I give them a certain grade?”
The norming process is a great way to provide teachers answers to these questions and give them confidence going forward.
For more about consulting with Writing teachers at the next level, see …