Going live: What we did and how we did it

As intensive English programs like ours are shifting from face-to-face to remote and online classes around the world, I thought it would be useful (if only for posterity!) to document what we have done at the University of Delaware English Language Institute.

My view is largely of the academic side. There is a whole complex layer of administration and student support going on as well, where my colleagues have moved mountains to recreate advising, tutoring, registrar services, and extracurricular activities for the coronavirus universe. But in terms of teaching and learning, these have been our steps so far, forming a rough timeline of a very rough time. Continue reading “Going live: What we did and how we did it”

Remote ESL/IEP Teaching

They said keep a journal  … yeah, that’s not going to happen, but I am happy to share two documents I created as part of training the English Language Institute faculty to move to remote instruction as our campus rapidly shut down in the last few days due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. I presented these as part of hours of in-person and (later) online workshops and demonstrations spread over 3 slightly hectic days.

We decided to limit our technology to platforms licensed and supported by the University which we felt gave the biggest return on the investment of time without making excessive demands on faculty who are less comfortable with technology. So we’re primarily using Zoom for “live” teaching, and Canvas (our LMS) and GoogleApps for those feeling a bit more adventurous.

These Google Docs are licensed with Creative Commons so you can copy, adapt, and share them. Hope they’re useful to other programs living through these challenging times!

New Language Immersion Experience

I was inspired by Rachael Cayley’s excellent plenary at the Consortium on Graduate Communication’s Summer Institute last year to post more about successful lessons on my blog. So here goes … My annual summer gig for the last 8 years has been to teach a Second Language Acquisition course for Delaware K-12 teachers. Our state has seen a dramatic increase in the number of English learners, who now account for almost 9% of total public school enrollment. However, we have a critical shortage of certified ESL teachers, which we have tried to address in part through the University of Delaware’s Additional Certification in ESL program, which I created and coordinate. Our strategy is to train as many existing teachers as possible in the theory and methods of ESL teaching so that they can not only support ELs directly but also disseminate their expertise in their schools.

Which brings me to last Monday and the first day of the 2019 course in Dover.* Continue reading “New Language Immersion Experience”

Sorry, there are no rules for good writing

There’s something about the phrase good writing that bothers me. Don’t get me wrong, I love good writing, I try to produce good writing, and I really want my students to get better at writing.

But when I see generic lists of tips or, worse, rules for good writing, I always want to ask “writing what?” As I said in Changing Practices in the L2 Writing Classroom: Moving Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay: “We don’t just write. We write something to someone for some purpose.” What makes good writing in one situation would be out of place in another. That’s why a lot of Onion and McSweeney’s parodies work so well (this list of “top millennial injuries reported in urgent-care facilities” detours into a rant against the stereotyping of millennials, while using the word existential correctly, unlike some newspapers of record).

So I was rather concerned by a piece that circulated back in January with Steven Pinker’s “13 rules for writing better.” Oh good. Only 13.* Now, to be clear, I am a fan of Pinker: he signed my copy of The Language Instinct when he came to speak at the Cambridge Union in about 1998. He was also the first person I ever saw using a PowerPoint presentation, which looked pretty funny against the ornate wood paneling. I think he’s a great writer about linguistics**, and judging by the number of books he sells, so do many others. Continue reading “Sorry, there are no rules for good writing”

Moving Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay

It’s here! After two years of hard work, our ultimate collection of arguments against the five-paragraph essay hit the physical and digital shelves this week. Changing Practices for the L2 Writing Classroom: Beyond the Five Paragraph Essay (University of Michigan Press) is an edited volume that makes the case for moving away from the five-paragraph essay by suggesting classroom practices that lead to purposeful, meaningful writing instruction from elementary to graduate school.

The book started out as a popular panel at TESOL 2017, but it was a much more complex process than just writing up the papers we presented. We expanded the scope, both in terms of authors and topics, and really focused on the changes we recommend in practice. We wanted to write this book not only for the anti-5PE choir (in which we all sing loudly) but also for teachers and administrators who are hesitant about or resistant to these practices or who sense that the five-paragraph essay is inadequate but aren’t sure what to do instead.

As Ann Johns and I wrote in the conclusion, we don’t expect this one book to be the death knell of the five-paragraph essay. We need new textbooks and teacher handbooks (we’re working on both – watch this space!). But Changing Practices is an important step forwards, and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done here and thankful for the amazing authors who contributed to the volume.

You can read more about the book, including the table of contents on my website, and purchase the book directly from the publisher or as a Kindle ebook.

What do you think? Write a comment or contact me to follow up!

Genre Makeover: The Compare/Contrast Essay

So, I sat down at my computer just now and thought to myself, “I really should write an essay comparing me and my brother” … no, wait, “comparing watching a DVD with going to the movies”, … or, even better, “comparing large cars to small cars” … said no-one, ever.

Throughout this genre makeover series, I’ve attempted to show how boring and meaningless writing assignments become when rhetorical modes are confused for genres. One way to understand a mode is as a pattern of development. For example, there are writing tasks that call for you to compare stuff, but you rarely do it just for the sake of the comparison: there has to be a purpose to the comparison. That’s where genre comes in. Continue reading “Genre Makeover: The Compare/Contrast Essay”

Genre Makeover: The Descriptive “Essay”

One of the staples of ESL textbooks and writing courses is the descriptive essay. I’m not honestly sure what one of this is: description is definitely an important mode of writing, but when would we describe anything in the form of an essay? Even worse, this assignment is often used as an excuse to drill features that are inappropriate for this type of writing (a description can’t have a thesis because it’s not making an argument!). Continue reading “Genre Makeover: The Descriptive “Essay””

An ode to the teacher-led writing classroom

I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I fell for Inside Higher Ed’s clickbait and read an article headed “Professor with no formal training shares some effective tools for others who must teach writing classes” on Twitter and titled “An Ode to Teacherless Writing Classrooms” on the site. I have thoughts. Continue reading “An ode to the teacher-led writing classroom”

Language learning as a tornado (or: yes, we do need to teach this again)

Don’t raise your hand because you might be in public, but are there any other ESL teachers out there who, in moments of frustration, have thought or said, But we covered that last class/week/semester/level/year? Yeah, thought so. Continue reading “Language learning as a tornado (or: yes, we do need to teach this again)”