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Writing their way to the top: Process strategies for English language learners

Teacher writing on whiteboardWhat are some strategies for helping students with academic writing? Alice Savage, Effective Academic Writing co-author, will look at this topic in her upcoming webinar on December 10th. In this article, she presents a task to help build students’ confidence in their writing.

When hikers plan an adventure, they agree to take on a challenge. They understand that it might be hard sometimes, but they also know that if they stick together and have faith in the process, they will make it to their destination. The same is true for writers, particularly writers learning to operate in an academic English context. In my webinar, we will examine the writing process and look at specific strategies and activities that can support English learners along the way.

The following group task is one of several strategies in the webinar. Its aims of community-building and orienting students to process writing techniques can ensure that a class gets started on the right foot.

Objective: To help students build community, confidence and an understanding of the writing process.

Start by putting the students in groups of four and creating roles such as manager, note-taker, writer, dictionary-person, or editor. Tell them that they are going to do a writing task together that shows their combined experience and talent. Then set the following questions:

  • How many languages does your group speak in total?
  • How many years has your group been studying English in total?
  • How many countries has your group traveled to in total?
  • What kinds of writing has your group done in the past?
  • What is a name that fits your group?

Once they have shared information, instruct the writer to turn the answers and notes into a paragraph. Have them start by introducing their group’s name in a topic sentence. Then have them explain why they chose it. They can include answers to the questions or other ideas that come up while they were talking. The teacher can circulate and provide assistance as needed.

When the writing section of the task is finished, the group can work together to edit. The editor, with help from peers, can check for complete sentences, grammar and spelling. As they work, they have an opportunity to see how their knowledge and skills fit with their classmates and to see how they can benefit from or help others later.

To mirror the stages of writing, the task ends with publishing. The groups can post or circulate their finished texts and compare results. The class can identify which group speaks the most languages, has studied English the longest, or seen the most countries. This final stage, in addition to serving as an icebreaker, allows the class to experience one another’s writing as readers. This publishing stage can instill a habit of responding to content that will pay off later during peer feedback throughout the term.

Finally, the teacher can build confidence in the process by leading a reflection on the stages that the groups went through. They can look at generating ideas and developing content, planning, revising, editing, and publishing.

The teacher might then use the opportunity to highlight the activities and aims of each stage. For example, many teachers do not address grammar errors in the early revision stages because students are still shaping content and often cutting or changing sentences. Many students do not automatically anticipate these major revision tasks, so working through revision techniques in an explicit way in a practice activity can foster trust in the process.

The discussion can end with the question, “What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started this assignment?” as a way to finish with a focus on writing as knowledge making. If all goes well, students see the advantages of the writing process and its ability to provide a sequence that allows them to focus at distinct stages. They know their classmates and the writing process better, and perhaps they feel better equipped for the adventure of a new task.

To find out more about improving students’ writing skills, register for the webinar at either 12:00 or 15:00 GMT on December 10th.


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Making the most of e-books for academic skills

Woman with e-book readerSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, talks about his experience of introducing tablets into the classroom. Sean will be hosting a webinar on the topic of making the most of e-books for academic skills on 14th and 19th November.

Over the last five years, the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in the United Arab Emirates have systematically introduced laptops into the teaching and learning environment. Now, all students are expected to have a laptop in class. In addition, last year, the use of iPads was introduced in the university preparatory programme. With all students having some form of computing device, it made sense to change from using paper-based books to e-books. So after trialing e-books last semester, this semester saw a full implementation of e-books across the system. All 19,000 students are using only e-books. In total, almost 150,000 e-books have been bought this semester.

I believe that this has been the biggest rollout of e-books anywhere in the world. As an educational technology coordinator at HCT, I have been responsible for making this e-book initiative go as smoothly as possible. With the e-books being delivered over eight different vendor platforms, and with so many titles involved, this has been quite a struggle at times.

So why put up with the struggle? What are the real benefits of using e-books?

Moving to a paperless learning environment is certainly one. And seeing my eleven-year-old daughter heaving an overloaded bag to school every day, it would definitely make sense to have all textbooks in digital format stored on lightweight, portable computing devices. After all, most students now need to use some form of computing device for their schoolwork. But, somewhat surprisingly, we have had a large number of students complain about their e-books. Surely this tech-savvy generation of students would prefer e-books; but, no, they want it on paper! I think the reason for this lies behind the quality of current e-books. They are difficult to read and even harder to annotate, particularly on less mobile computing devices.

However, there are some e-book platforms that are very exciting and interactive. Without doubt, the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf is one of these and is at the cutting edge of e-book technology; feedback from both instructors and students has been very positive. This video shows some of the great features:

Having been using and evaluating e-books for almost a year now, Oxford University Press have asked me to run two webinars on making the most of e-books for academic skills. In the webinar, I will start with a general discussion on e-books, outlining the reasons for using them and how they can enhance students’ learning. As part of this lead-in discussion, Puentedura’s (2006) SAMR model [Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition] will be introduced to show how technology in general, and e-books in particular, can be introduced into the teaching and learning environment to enhance students’ learning. Then, based on the SAMR model, you will be shown specific examples of how to use academic skills coursebooks from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf with your students, including Q: Skills for Success, Effective Academic Writing and Inside Reading.

However, despite these e-books providing students and instructors with an exciting learning experience, there is still room to do more, especially at the modification and redefinition stages of the SAMR model. In the final part of the webinar, I will make suggestions of how to not only improve the actual learning activities in the e-books, but also look at ways in which the content can be used as a springboard into more constructivist, collaborative activities.

Please join me for the webinars on either 14th or 19th November.

References

Puentedura, R. (2006). Transformatiom, Technology, and Education. Presentation given August 18, 2006 as part of the Strengthening Your District Through Technology workshops, Maine, US.
Puentedura, R. (2011): Thinking About Change in Learning and Technology. Presentation given September 25, 2012 at the 1st Global Mobile Learning Conference, Al Ain, UAE.