I work in an intensive English program, whose purpose is to prepare international students for undergraduate and graduate degrees in the US. (So this would be a good time to note that all opinions on this blog are mine alone!)
I’m increasingly bothered by the idea of education as preparation. To some extent, it’s true: we need our schools to prepare young (and not so young) people to contribute usefully to society and fulfill their own potential. Such has always been one of the functions of schooling: education is a public as well as a private good. It’s also true that we in ESL have a duty to help our students develop the language proficiency that will help them accomplish their future academic, professional, and personal goals. To that extent, my teaching is very much concerned with preparation.
But I have a problem when the goal of preparation so dominates our mindset as teachers, curriculum designers, materials writers, and administrators that the lesson, course, or program ceases to have any meaning as an educational experience in itself.
Continue reading “Preparation for what?”
My colleague Monica Farling and I published a short piece in the April 2018 TESOL Connections based on our 2017 conference workshop on collaborative writing. Check it out and let me know what you think!
A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to travel to Japan to speak at JALT and visit some schools and universities with the wonderful representatives from OUP. During a book fair at a university near Tokyo, a tall Australian ex-pat teacher asked me if we had any books on critical thinking. I dutifully pointed him to a series I’d written for which has “critical thinking tips” and explained how we tried to embed them in the content and assignments. “No,” he frowned, “I want a book that just teaches critical thinking, not a language textbook.”
Honestly, I have no idea what that kind of book would look like, and I certainly couldn’t write it. I’m not even sure what critical thinking means, and I’ve been teaching academic ESL for over 15 years. So I’ve stopped talking about critical thinking, and I don’t claim to teach it. I’ll leave thinking to the psychologists and philosophers.
Continue reading “A criticism of critical thinking”
A new collection which I helped edit has just been published by the University of Michigan Press. Supporting Graduate Writers: Research, Curriculum, Program Design (Simpson, Caplan, Cox, & Phillis, 2016) is the first edited volume to discuss options in designing writing support for graduate students writing in English both as their first or additional language. You can find it on the Press’s website, amazon.com, and all fine booksellers. The blurb is below the break. Thanks and congratulations to editors Steve Simpson, Michelle Cox, and Talinn Phillips as well as the amazing cast of contributors. It was a fascinating project to work on.
Continue reading “New book! Supporting Graduate Student Writers”
“Our concern is not to banish the evils of incoherence, nor to promote writing as the free expression of the author’s voice. We have seen over and over that the explicit and thorough teaching of genres is the best way to level the playing field and give marginalized learners of all ages access to the high-stakes ways of knowing, reading, and writing that will open doors in their academic, professional, and social lives.”
– Read the rest of my post with Luciana de Oliveira on the TESOL blog and for an example of genre-based pedagogy in action (or at least in a series of ESL textbooks), take a look at Inside Writing!
I’ve spent much of the winter break typing up students’ papers for my dissertation research. The task was descriptive writing — first describing the student’s house, apartment, homestay, or dorm room, and then (after the intervention) writing a featured home article about a house for sale as if for a local newspaper. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was still struck by the number of students who tried to shoe-horn one or both tasks into a pseudo five-paragraph essay, and this despite the fact that neither prompt mentions essays or even paragraphs! In fact, the featured house article is taught as a genre with a regular structure that has little to do the so-called English theme. Some of the results are awkwardly amusing: Everyone has a house, even animals. I’m going to describe my house. Or: this house has two floors. First of all, the first floor. You can imagine the rest.
For anyone still harboring a sentimental attachment to the “ahrehtorical” (to quote Christine Ortmeier-Hooper) and ageneric (as I keep misquoting Christine Ortmeier-Hooper!) teaching of a universal form of bland, banal writing, here are some recent articles fighting the good fight for teacher genre-aware, context-specific writing skills:
Plus a few of my previous thoughts on the subject:
Update: Well, this is getting interesting. Over on the TESOL blog, Rob Sheppard has written a spirited defense of the 5-paragraph essay in which he usefully critiques Brian Sztabnik’s rather over-enthusiastic piece. But we couldn’t let that stand, so Luciana de Oliveira and I have written a rebuttal, “Why We Still Won’t Teach the Five-Paragraph Essay.” Let the games commence!
Tamara Jones has written a lovely two-part description of my recent workshop on genre-based pedagogy and Inside Writing at Howard Community College. Her writing is so vivid, I almost feel I was there. OK, I actually was there, but if you weren’t, you might enjoy reading about how she was converted to genre-based writing and the teaching/learning cycle. Thanks for the kind shout-out, Tamara!
My webinar on Genre-Based Writing Instruction on Friday, October 24, is now available as an archived recording. The quality is a bit choppy, but you should get the general idea. I am also often available to give live professional development workshops and presentations!
The webinar was hosted by Oxford University Press to introduce the pedagogy behind OUP’s new textbook series, Inside Writing. I explained the stages of the Teaching/Learning Cycle and demonstrated how we use it to teach academic, realistic genres such as product reviews, arguments, summaries, and data commentaries. We even did a successful Joint Construction: collaborative writing with a worldwide audience of over 100 people I couldn’t see interacting via a chat box!
For the past few years, a growing group of teachers and administrators have gathered at TESOL around sessions presented by Chris Feak and/or me, and we’ve bemoaned the lack of time and space to discuss teaching written and oral communication skills to (post-)graduate students.* This year, we have decided to take the next step and create a new professional community, the Consortium on Graduate Communication. Our group will provide online and face-to-face opportunities to share resources, investigate program models, and collaborate on research into this vital area of higher education.
Membership is free for now. Anyone who works with graduate students is welcome to join by completing this survey. The middle part of the survey doubles as a research project to create a database of graduate support programs around the world, which we will publish and present in the future.
Stay tuned for a website, listserv, Facebook page (maybe!), and details about meetings and a colloquium next March!
* Graduate students in North America are post-graduate students in the UK/Europe and some other countries. We mean here support services for students in master’s and doctoral program(me)s. By bi-varietalism comes in handy sometimes.
My short essay/conference review From Generic Writing to Writing Genres has been published in TESOL’s Second Language Writing Interest Section Newsletter (October 2013). In it, I argue (again!) in favor of a genre-based writing pedagogy as an antidote to the five-paragraph essay. I also summarize my 2012 and 2013 conference blitz, and you can find all the PPTs and handouts here: CCCC 2012, TESOL 2012, Genre 2012, SSLW 2012, EATAW 2013, and TESOL 2013.
Talking about the five-paragraph essay (as I so often seem to be), there was a great article in Slate recently denouncing the (five-paragraph) essay component of the SAT (one of the standardized tests taken by American high-school students as part of their university application). The title says it all: “We are teaching high school students to write terribly.” The article quotes Professor Anne Ruggles-Gere of the University of Michigan writing center:
“For those trained in the five-paragraph, non-fact-based writing style that is rewarded on the SAT, shifting gears can be extremely challenging. “The SAT does [students] no favors,” Gere says, “because it gives them a diminished view of what writing is by treating it as something that can be done once, quickly, and that it doesn’t require any basis in fact.”
As Professor Gere says elsewhere in the article, the result is that college writing teachers like me have to un-teach what students have “learned” about writing — and it’s not just American students. International students trained to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or other English language proficiency tests also arrive with what Linda Flower has called a “limited literacy.”
Lest you think we exaggerate, here is a horrifyingly amusing blog post by Jed Applerouth, a teacher and doctoral student who takes the SAT regularly to help him tutor high school students to ace/beat the test. Since SAT essay raters are explicitly trained to ignore the veracity of the writing, here’s how to get a top score:
I stuck John Fitzgerald Kennedy in a Saxon war council during the middle ages, grappling with whether to invade the neighboring kingdom of Lilliput. Barrack Husein Obama shared a Basque prison cell with Winston Churchill, and the two inmates plotted to overthrow General Franco. Cincinnati’s own, Martin Luther King Jr. sought out a political apprenticeship with his mentor, Abraham James Lincoln, famed Ontario prosecutor.
Finally, an example of writing with absolutely no communicative value whatsoever. The SAT essay as anti-genre?!
(Hat tip to my Facebook friends and friends-of-friends for these links.)