by Donna Hutchinson
London based TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara
I love writing; I always have. Academically, it has always been my strongest skill but it is also a creative outlet for me. When I was at uni, it would take me days to get through reading all the material but only a couple of hours to bosh out the actual essay. Even going back as far as primary school, writing was my favourite part of English, I would write epic tales about me and my friends discovering unknown worlds or I would write poems for my mum (I know, I’m adorable).
In the classroom
Let’s fast forward to now… Sure, my love of writing hasn’t faded (hence this blog) but I have got to say, teaching it is a whole different kettle of fish and I do not like it. I find it the hardest skill to teach but not in the sense that I feel as though I don’t know what I’m talking about. No, my reasons are three-fold; first, it can be tough to motivate students to write, most of them don’t like doing it; second, I find tricky to monitor, especially in a bigger class; third, I find it hard to mark.
Of course, I understand that writing in a different language is quite tough especially extended writing but it is undoubtedly one of the most important skills. We’re writing all the time, online, in texts, but many of the students I teach want to pursue academic endeavours over here wherein writing is a fundamental skill. Accuracy in writing is crucial but moreover, the language we use is different and it can be difficult for students to transition from one to the other; something that they have communicated to me perfectly well by speaking then downgrades a few notches when they write about it.
One thing I do not do is set writing as homework, I much prefer to do it in class so that I can be monitor and I can be on-hand to give students advice. I also often ask students to read each other’s work because I think peer reviewing is an excellent way of helping students improve. The main problem here though is the fact that because students may be a little more self-conscious about their writing, they don’t want me standing over their shoulder and they don’t want to share their work with a partner; which brings me to my next hurdle – marking.
This isn’t a case of just looking over it and deciding if their language is accurate; perhaps a student’s writing is accurate but it could also be fairly simple and unambitious. Another student’s could be very ambitious with great vocab but lacking in accuracy. Another’s could use the target language but may not necessarily answer the question. It’s a minefield.
There are so many different facets of writing from academic to business to descriptive to narrative to simply updating your facebook status and to me, there’s no reason why any of those should falter in fluency or accuracy so although it’s a tough egg to crack, like I said, I love writing and this keeps me motivated and at least one of us should be. I refuse to write it off.
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