On Wearing Two Hats: Teaching & Responding to Writing

On Wearing Two Hats-Teaching &

This morning I had the opportunity of engaging with quite an interesting and energetic group of bright individuals as part of our institute’s training of newly-hired teachers. The goal was to discuss the teaching of writing to our EFL learners, what it is that an effective pre-writing lesson should entail, as well as ways of responding to students’ writings. It was a hands-on session, with some initial discussion and brainstorming of lesson stages with a specific writing prompt in mind, which was then followed by their response to and correction of an authentic writing sample. The idea was to familiarize teachers with the kind of response to writing that we believe to be in keeping with the principle that writing is a recurrent process, non-linear in its creative nature, and the very expression of one’s voice.

Roll up your sleeves and let’s get down to business

Teachers worked in smaller groups and were asked to respond to and provide corrective feedback to a first draft sample of a five-paragraph essay written by an upper-intermediate level learner. Along with the sample, they received a copy of our correction and proofreading symbols, as well as a scoring rubric by means of which they’d grade that first draft. They immediately set out to accomplish the task, industriously reading the piece, red pens in hand, and… Stop. Wait a minute. Do you feel an urge to begin crossing out and underlining spelling mistakes and wrong verb tense use? You do, don’t you?

Step away from the red pen

Before you unleash your full corrective-feedback-giving potential, put on a different hat. Be a reader. Respond to your students’ content and ideas as a real person. Familiarize them with that sense of having an audience. We use language to communicate, be it in spoken or written form. Let them know that you are truly listening to them. Try to find at least a couple of aspects in their writing that are worth a compliment. Relate to their ideas, share a little about your own experience by commenting that maybe you once felt the same way as they did facing a certain situation in your own life, and that you know how wonderful or how difficult it must have been for them to go through it, as well. Empathize. Connect. Engage. 

Respect individual stylistic choices

It’s always a challenge to provide corrective feedback without stifling the writer’s voice. What I mean is, are you (over)correcting to the point of forcing the student to write as you would have if expressing a similar idea in written form? Of course there are instances of L1 interference that must be addressed, such as word order issues to name one, but we teachers walk a fine line between pointing our students in the right direction and simply imposing our own style on them. Keep an awareness of the fact that your students are experimenting with language (a foreign one, as a matter of fact), and that they are, knowingly or not, in their own quests to finding their voice. Cherish. Allow. Enable. 

Sounding curious as opposed to judgemental

Instead of saying something like “this paragraph is too short. Please develop your ideas here.” how about offering something more in the lines of “I wonder if you could tell me more about this experience/situation.” or even “how did you feel?” and “what did you do next?” The point is that by asking a simple question, you may elicit just the response you want from a student, instead of making a direct comment that might come across as judgemental, in that it is an affirmation made by you, the teacher, who is supposedly the knowledge authority on all subjects language-wise. Don’t point fingers. Ask more questions. Provoke. Entice. Foster.

This set of guidelines sprang up from this group’s engagement and reflections during our training session, so that gives you a pretty good idea of how lucky we are to have gathered such a great collection of curious and avid learner-teachers. Thank you all, Casa newbies, for inspiring me to write this piece.

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Welcome aboard, guys!

11 comments

  1. Dear Clarissa,
    Was thinking about my sts and writing, and what else to do to motivate them. Recently found a descriptive composition I wrote when taking a prep course for the CPE, and when I did not consider becoming an EFL teacher in the slightest. I was still at university working towards a degree as an art teacher. Thought of sharing this with them. The other idea I had was of doing the homework as well, and writing a composition, too. And then, sharing it with them. Not as a model to be followed, but so as to take part in the experience with them. Just as I am their audience, have them be my readers, too. And to share with them my pleasure in writing. And maybe have them see that these tasks can be a vehicle for self-expression. My only fear is that this might result in the invetse effect and inhibit them, somehow.

    Was still
    It hascomments from my teavher, just like the ones you suggested as well as indicatipns of areas to imptovd
    ad an idea

    1. Hello Inez! It’s usually a challenge to impart a vision with others. I think the effort is always worthwhile! Why don’t you try out some sort of peer-editing activity in which they read each other’s compositions, then you could kind of slip yours in the batch as a ‘trickster’ piece. Interesting experiment, I’d say. Let me know what happens next, OK?
      Cheers!

  2. Dear Clarissa,

    Your last post touched me deeply. With our busy routines, some of us might end up seeking efficiency instead of connection, interaction, appreciation… Your post reminded me of the impact our comments can have on our students, either as genuine praising, which will motivate them to keep up the great work, or encouragement to help them see their real potential.
    The last words you used in the end of each paragraph were so powerful that could be used as a mantra before going through another pile of compositions. Maybe this would change our pessimistic attitude towards correcting and make it something we could actually enjoy doing. Who knows?

    Thank you so much and please keep on inspiring us!!

    1. Dear Marcella, thank you for the lovely comment. I am so happy that it touched you the way it did… Our grinding routines do tend to sort of turn us into robotic selves, if you know what I mean. We must never lose sight of our ultimate goal, though. Educating. We happen to be doing that via English teaching, but we are doing sooo much more than just teaching them a foreign language. We are nurturing their dreams, helping them find their drive and aspirations, and having a much larger impact on their lives than many of us will ever imagine. Our students/kids/teenagers are our ultimate goal. After all, it will be in them that our legacy will live on.
      I am so happy to have you in my audience as an engaged interlocutor!

  3. Fantastic website you have here but I was curious about
    if you knew of any message boards that cover the
    same topics talked about in this article? I’d really like to be a part of group where
    I can get advice from other experienced individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Appreciate it!

    1. Hi, Darnell. Thank you for reading! You say you’re interested in teaching writing, is that it? I’m not sure how I could be of help. Maybe if you tell me more about your specific interests. Are you already in TEFL?

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