Thursday, 7 May 2015

What Do You Mean You Don't Teach Writing?

The following post is from a guest blogger from Daniel Bailey. He's hoping to start a debate on the need for writing instruction and would welcome feedback. You can reach him at dbailey0566@gmail.com

What Do You Mean You Don't Teach Writing?
A few too many English teachers in South Korea rely too much on speaking activities to reach their academic objectives. I’d like to spend a few moments writing down complimentary teaching strategies to help those speaking-only instructors broaden their approach to language teaching.

First I’d like to begin with some mild criticism to those who feel we are here as English mascots. Some people who think we are here just to “entertain the troops” may also think extending our approach to learning beyond speaking activities is unnecessary. I hope that mindset has dissipated over the past few years as a result of the influx of more qualified teachers as well as the increased professional requirements by hiring institutions. In the past we should have fought such ideas even if they were true, if not just for the sake of having self-respect. I have taught extensively, more than I’d like to admit, at all levels of EFL. In no case was my relevance anything more than what I made it. This is true from the tertiary level to kindergarten, especially kindergarten since we have the opportunity to create, or break, stereotypes at such impressionable ages.

Let me get back to the point. We shouldn’t rely solely on speaking activities, but combine in-class speaking activities with at-home writing ones. It’s a simple concept and one so poorly grasped by EFL instructors. As teachers, we are so easily turned off by the idea of assigning homework. Why should we? Students don’t review it, many schools don’t ask us to do it, and/or we don’t get paid enough. There is one simple reason. It works. You’re wasting your time with EFL teaching if you don’t give writing assignments and follow up with corrective feedback. We’re English teachers for Christ sakes so why wouldn’t we assign writing homework? I’d like to pick apart a few arguments I can think of as to why we wouldn’t want to assign writing homework. Perhaps you can add a few when this thing gets posted. Please be gentle.

I teach speaking not writing. 
Wrong! You teach speaking, writing, listening, and reading. These are not linear concepts with one more important than the other. You absolutely are a writing instructor no matter what your hogwan owner, director, or supervisor tells you. Chances could possibly be that you know more about language education than they do. You are limiting your pedagogical teaching power by taking the easy way which requires less work. And that’s the elephant in the room, work.

Of course you will be giving yourself an increased workload if you assign writing homework, of course we are assuming you will be grading it (right?). It doesn’t do much good otherwise. And that brings me to the next argument.

Students never read my feedback. 
Students, like most of us, only care about a few things and instructor feedback on their writing is not one of them. Of course they will not give a flute about your feedback. You shouldn’t expect them to. You also shouldn’t expect them to take your feedback and run home to place it in their feedback drawer. It’s not up to the student to miraculously develop organizational skills capable of filing, comprehending, and applying your feedback about their writing. It takes time. Teacher comments are not usually good, and if they genuinely were we’d be out of a job. Why on earth keep us here if they could all write. I’ve met plenty of speakers who can speak but can’t write, never the other way around. Logic dictates that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of writing skills.

We live in a world that has technology like the Oculus. These are goggles you can put on and instantaneously be in virtual reality. You think in such a world we would be able to facilitate the organizational process, right? Perhaps we could use the Internet to store their writing, right? And just perhaps, we could give feedback about their writing using word processing technology, and store that feedback on the Internet. Then have them review their writing in class, and god forbid give them access to said stored writing. Just perhaps, it could be easier for us to organize and store both writing and feedback for all of our students than to expect even just a few of them to do if for themselves. After all, we are not organization teachers but EFL ones. That being said, please let me know why you don’t spend just as much time focusing on your students’ writing as you do their speaking. I can’t argue against the idea that by keeping our students’ proficiency low we’ll always have job security. You definitely win on that one.

Daniel Bailey

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1 comment :

  1. At theForeign Language Institute (FLI), at Yeungnam University, the teaching of writing plays a justifiably important role in our English curriculum.

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