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3. Principles for teaching writing


The following are a few principles that every teacher should consider
while planning a course, whether it is a writing course, or a course in which
writing will play a part. These principles can (and should) be adapted to the
many different learning situations.

1. Understand your students reasons for writing.


The greatest dissatisfaction with writing instruction comes when the
teachers goals do not match the students, or when the teachers goals do not
match those of the school or institution in which the student works. It is
important to understand both and to convey goals to students in ways that
make sense to them. Are the students required to take other courses? If so,
which ones? Will those courses require writing? If so, what kind of writing?
This is not to say that your course should only be in service to other courses. However, if your curriculum includes a lot of personal writing, and the students other courses do not, what is your justification for including this kind of
writing? What benefit do you think it has? How do the skills learned in personal writing apply to other types of writing? Answering these questions will
help you to find a focus for the writing that is to be done in your class.

Action

1. What are the ways in which you use writing? Make a list (think of everything
from shopping lists to research essays) of all the ways in which you use writing.
2. Review your list and think of which could be converted into writing activities.
Create one activity related to an item on your list.

2. Provide many opportunities for students to write.


Writing almost always improves with practice. Evaluate your lesson plans:
how much time is spent reading or talking about writing, and how much is
spent actually writing? My students groan when they see how much writing is
required, but I draw an analogy for them: Since writing is in part a physical
activity, it is like other physical activitiesit requires practice, and lots of it. If
someone wanted to become an excellent basketball player, would she read
and discuss basketball, or would she go out and shoot some baskets? Just as
basketball players play basketball, writers write. However, you can lower the

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stakes. Not every piece of writing needs to be corrected or graded. You dont
keep score when youre practicing free throws, so teachers shouldnt grade
practice writing. When practice writing sessions are integrated regularly into
your syllabus, students will become more comfortable with the act of writing.
Practice writing should provide students with different types of writing as
well. Short responses to a reading, journal entries, letter writing, summaries,
poetry, or any type of writing you find useful in your class should be practiced in class.

3. Make feedback helpful and meaningful.


Students crave feedback on their writing, yet it doesnt always have the
intended effect. If you write comments on students papers, make sure they
understand the vocabulary or symbols you use. Take time to discuss them in
class. Be cautious about the tone of your comments. The margins of a paper
are small and can force you into short comments. When writing short comments, we tend to leave out the words that soften our message. While you
may think, Im not sure I understand your point here, the limited space
may cause you to write simply, UNCLEAR or just ?. Students can see
comments such as these as unkind and unhelpful. Feedback need not always
be written in the margins. You can experiment with different forms: individual conferences, taped responses, typed summary responses, and so forth.
Finally, feedback should not entail correcting a students writing. In
order to foster independent writers, you can provide summary comments
that instruct students to look for problems and correct them on their own. So,
instead of adding an s to the end of every first person present tense verb, a
comment at the end might say, There are several verbs that are missing an -s at
the end. Try to locate and correct these verbs in the next version of this paper.

Action

With one of the sample student papers on pages 103-105, experiment with written feedback.

1. Find one good idea the student has, and make an encouraging comment
about it.
2. Find a place where the student wasnt clear, and write a comment that
will help her/him clarify it.
3. Identify a grammar problem, and make a comment that will help the student see the problem in other places in the paper.
4. Which of these was easiest to do? Which was most difficult?
5. What other issues might you comment on in the paper you chose?

Writing

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4. Clarify for yourself, and for your students, how their


writing will be evaluated.
Students often feel that the evaluation of their writing is completely subjective. Teachers often hear, I just dont understand what you want. One
way to combat that feeling is to first develop a statement for yourself about
what is valued in student writing, either in your classroom or in your institution as a whole. Some questions you might ask are:
1. On a scale of 110, how important is creativity, or originality of ideas?
2. On a scale of 110, how important is following a particular written format (such as a research report, book report, letter, etc.)?
3. On a scale of 110, how important is grammatical accuracy?
4. On a scale of 110, how important is it that the assignment include
recently taught material?
5. On a scale of 110, how important is accuracy in spelling and punctuation?
Answering these (and other questions that are relevant to your situation)
will help you to develop a rubric, a kind of scoring grid that elaborates the
elements of writing that are to be evaluated. This rubric should outline the
weight of grammar and mechanics in relationship to content and ideas, as
well as other features of writing that you find important.
There are three general types of rubrics that you can develop for your
assignments:
Non-weighted rubric This type of rubric provides descriptions of
writing quality by level across other writing criteria. A brief example of this
type of rubric would look like the following:
Excellent

Adequate

Inadequate

Contents

Description of what
would be excellent
content

Description of
adequate development
of content

Description of
inadequate content

Organization

Description of superior
organization

Description of
adequate organization

Description of
inadequate
organization

Grammar

Statement of level of
grammatical accuracy
expected

Statement of an
adequately
grammatical paper

Statement of types of
grammatical
problems that lead
to the papers
inadequacy

Comments: The instructors general comments on the students assignment


Figure 2 Non-weighted rubric
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With this type of rubric, the teacher would circle or check the level the
student had achieved in each of the three categories, and then provide some
written comments on the bottom of the page, or on the students assignment.
Weighted rubric A weighted rubric is similar to the unweighted one,
but it breaks the writing skills into categories and sub-categories. A specific
point value is assigned to each. Converting the organization element of the
non-weighted rubric on page 94 into an element in a weighted rubric might
look like this:
Organization: 10 points

has a clear introduction


has separate paragraphs
has a conclusion
uses transitions to join paragraphs
uses transitions when needed within paragraphs
For each element listed, for example, the instructor might assign up to
two points, for the total of ten.
Holistic rubric A holistic rubric describes in general terms the qualities
of excellent, good, fair, and unsatisfactory assignments. These descriptions can
be tied to grades or stand on their own. The instructor then chooses the
description that fits the assignment. An example of one part of a holistic rubric
might look like this:

Grade

Description

The B paper shows:


an ability to interpret and develop ideas in
the writers own words
a clear organizational pattern
vocabulary that is adequate in expressing
ideas
generally correct use of punctuation or
spelling, although with occasional errors
grammar that is usually accurate, and
does not interfere with the readers
understanding
Figure 3 Holistic rubric

Writing

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Students can help to form a rubric as well. Take class time to ask them
what they value in writing. Ask them what features make writing enjoyable
to read and what features distract from that enjoyment. This kind of discussion has two benefits: it not only gives students a voice in the evaluation of
their own work, it also provides a common vocabulary with which the entire
class can discuss their writing and the writing of others. To assist in this discussion, give students a piece of good writing and a piece of poor writing
(from a different class than the one they attend, of course). Ask them to state
which is the good and which is the poor piece, with an explanation. Then get
them to say why one piece is good and the other piece is poor. In this way,
they generate the criteria for good writing.

Reflection
1. Who are the learners that you are teaching (or imagine yourself to be
teaching)? Consider their ages, first languages, academic training and
experience, proficiency level in English, and learning goals, both personal and as defined by the curriculum.
2. Given these learners, how will you select writing activities for the class?

4. Classroom techniques and tasks


This section presents a few techniques and tasks you can use to teach writing. All of these techniques are part of what has been called the process
approach or process writing, although as Kroll correctly points out:
[T]he process approach serves today as an umbrella term for many types
of writing courses What the term captures is the fact that student writers
engage in their writing tasks through a cyclical approach rather than through
a single-shot approach (2001, p. 220).

In other words, these activities serve to encourage brainstorming, drafting, writing, feedback, revising, and editing in a cyclical fashion. These types
of activities encourage the idea that learning to write is more than creating a
final product; it is the learning of a series of skills leading to that product.

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