An English Comp instructor told me that after reading a student’s essay, she wants to think, “Wow! These are amazing ideas.” I’ve also met ESL writing instructors who also looked at her students’ writing in a similar way. She wanted them to write about “something significant.” She wanted to be entertained. She wanted to learn something new.
Actually, those are not what we are trying to accomplish in our ESL writing courses. And even if they were the goals, how could they ever be honestly evaluated? I’ve witnessed a conversation between two instructors in which one of them was in total amazement about one of her student’s essays. In it, the student, who was African, described how happy the people in her village were and how people there did not experience depression even though they were some of the poorest people on earth. The other instructor yawned and said, “I already knew all that.”
After I read an essay, I might say, “Wow!” but it’s not because of the student’s profound ideas. It’s because s/he used a technique in a way that really help explain his/her idea.
What were a looking for in essays is how well they are using writing techniques. These are tools that we can teach students, that they can apply to other writing tasks, and that we can evaluate.
Needless to say, we don’t just list the techniques and expect students to apply them. The art of teaching ESL is leading students to learning the techniques so they can have them available in their “tool box.”