Here is how you can make your Writing class students’ and fellow Writing-Course colleagues feel satisfied at the end of a term. And here is how you can save yourself a large amount of time, energy and reduce stress.
The final class of the term has just finished. You look at your Level 4 Writing class roster and choose which students whom you are not sure if they have the writing skills necessary to be successful at the next level. Let’s say that out of your 16 students, six are in this “borderline” category. (You are confident in your decision to pass the other eight students and fail two.) You organize a file with writing samples for each of these six students.1 You give this file to the teacher at the next level, Level 5. That teacher reads your six students’ writings, and the next day meets with you. She tells you that she is confident that three of the students look ready for Level 5. You spend about 15-20 minutes talking about the other three students, reading parts of their essays together (sometime aloud) and analyzing their work.2 For students whom you both are still unsure about, you can look at more samples of their writing. In the end, the two of you decide one of them could pass and two should repeat Level 4. You feel assured that your students will be in the right level the next term and that you can explain to any student who might wonder why they failed what they need to work on in order to pass the next term. 3
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.
I could see from my roster for the upcoming term that the infamous Eddie would soon be attending my Advanced ESL Writing class. Eddie was slowly making his way through our academic ESL program and was well-known for his sense of humor and for continually arriving late to class. Having heard from his previous teachers about the unsuccessful strategies they had tried to use to get him to come on time, I decided to try a different approach.
Coincidentally, around this time, I was preparing to make a proposal to our program director and instructors and was trying to decide how best to present it. To get our Writing Course students to read more, I decide to recommend that we assign them to read for an hour a week and write a brief reading journal. And in order to not add more work for the teachers, I was hoping we could hire a person or two be a “Reading Journal Reader” who would read and write comments on the journals. (For more details about using a “Reading Journal Reader,” see One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers. )
Fortunately, I had recently listened to Psychologist Adam Grant’s podcast “Worklife” in which he tells about a skill we can use when we’re trying to initiate a request. It’s counter-intuitive, but I’ve found, it’s quite effective.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
A student, Tim, once came to my class all excited and asked me, “Hey David, wha ya gonna do di wee-en? I wanna gedouda taw.”
I was pretty sure that he was trying to say something in English, but I had no idea what it was. After repeating the sentences several times, he became embarrassed and decided to write them down. “What are you going to do this weekend? I want to get out of town.”
He told me that the teacher in his previous class was doing lessons on reduced forms of speaking and had encouraged them to use them when speaking. So this student whose pronunciation was often hard to understand because he tended to drop final consonants of words (e.g. wee = week / taw = town) was being encouraged to do something that would make him even harder to understand. Crazy!
How to work with reduced forms. (Handout exercise included)