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:
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!
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.
(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.
Here is the link to the YouTube video:ESL Writing Workshop on YouTube
Here is a link to where you can read more about the steps in the workshop approach and find a specific model lesson plan with free downloadable exercises/activities.