Many teachers mistakenly believe that spending their precious time and energy writing long comments at the end of students’ papers is what Writing teachers should do. As one instructor wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “I am an English professor, and responding to student writing is what we English professors do…For 25 years, I have diligently, thoughtfully, and fastidiously written comments on my students’ essays. In my neatest hand, I’ve inscribed a running commentary down the margin of page after page, and at an essay’s conclusion I’ve summarized my thoughts in a paragraph or more.”
This instructor decided to stop writing comments on her students’ paper after she came to this realization: “Most students seemed to spend little time taking in my comments on their papers. They quickly skimmed, looking for the grade, and then shoved the papers into their bags.” Her solution: Instead of writing comments, she decided to meet in her office to discuss her students’ papers one-on-one.
For most ESL Writing instructors, meeting with students in their offices is not a realistic option. At the same time, writing long comments at the end of papers is often a waste of time and energy, just as that professor discovered.
Fortunately, there is another option for Writing teachers.
A much more practical and yet effective way to provide specific feedback
Most ESL students don’t do goofy things just to irritate the teacher. Usually, they are unaware of how they are coming across or not aware that they are acting differently from the other students or even what is expected of them. These are some of the habits students tend to bring to our classes:
Chronically arriving to class late
Text messaging during class
Not paying attention
Chatting with classmate
Not participating in a group
Calling out answer before others get a chance
Sitting in the back of the room day-dreaming
No eye contact to teacher or classmates in a group
Speaking own language in a group
To circumvent these habits and help students develop an awareness of expectations, in the two most recent ESL programs that I’ve taught in, we included some skits during our orientation of new students or during a workshop for students after the term had started. Not only did the students seem to enjoy them, but also we noticed far fewer students come to our classes with these behaviors.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
In this YouTube video, I describe the Writing Workshop Approach to teaching ESL writing skills. This approach has been successfully used by a large number of teachers. Some of the many benefits include motivating students by giving them autonomy and allowing teachers to conference one-on-one with students during the class time rather than outside class.
In this video, I discuss how teachers can provide valuable feedback to students about how they are carrying out pair/small-group activities. I explain how the teacher can be observing students and keeping brief (realistic) notes for each student, even in large classes. I also share some user-friendly feedback forms which teachers can fill out and give to each student. See link below. This process can provide students with specific information about how they can improve their conversation skills when working in pairs/small groups.