Report on Teleconference
July 12, 1999
Van Naerssen, University of Pennsylvania
with Mary Boxley-White, Mark Ouellette,
and Carole Rozycki
About the Specialists
I have taught English as a second language (ESL) in the Philadelphia
School District for over 20 years at the elementary, middle, high
school and community college levels. In 1990, I represented the
state of Pennsylvania in Omiya, Japan, teaching English and American
culture. While studying Spanish in Spain, I traveled extensively
in Morocco (including Tangiers, Casablanca, and Marrakech). Presently
I teach ESL in a Spanish-English bilingual school for students
from various South American countries. The school also serves
students from other language backgrounds including Albanian, Amharic,
Chinese, Urdu, Vietnamese and various English dialects from Jamaica,
Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I am a member of various professional
groups: the Coalition of Bilingual Educators, the Teacher Advisory
Committee for the School District, and the Philadelphia Writing
Project (at the University of Pennsylvania). Special interests
include swimming, tennis, power-walking and traveling.
I have made my home in Philadelphia for the past 11 years. When
moved to the city, I initially established a background in acting
in local theater productions. However, since receiving (from Temple
University) a B.A. in English literature and an M.Ed. in English
language education, I’ve given up life in the theater for the
drama and creativity of the classroom—a choice I have never since
regretted. I currently teach at both Drexel University’s English
Language Center and the University of Pennsylvania’s English Language
Programs. My professional interests include teaching advanced
writing classes and the development of writing as an academic
competence. I will begin doctoral studies this fall at the University
of Pennsylvania in order to explore these areas further.
I received my B.A. In Spanish at Earlham College in Indiana.
I expanded my studies in Spanish in Madrid and Santander, Spain.
With secondary school teaching certification, I taught Spanish
in the late 1960s. My husband is also a teacher. In 1970 and l972,
I had kids. Then I went to Temple University for my M. Ed. In
TESOL I have taught beginner, intermediate, and preliterate students.
This has included, of course, teaching writing at all levels.
I have also been very active in PennTESOL-East, the regional affiliate
of International TESOL, similar to the Moroccan Association of
Teachers of English.
MARGARET VAN NAERSSEN
(TPC organizer): I teach at the University of Pennsylvania and
Immaculata College. I’ve had over 30 years of experience in EFL/ESL,
bilingual education, teaching, doing teacher training, and materials
editing and development, program development, administration and
evaluation, research and testing. I’ve lived and worked in EFL
settings in Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, Europe and
South America. A recent interest area is forensic linguistics,
working in lawsuits involving nonnative English speakers. I was
fortunate to have done another teleconference 4 years ago and
even more fortunate to have spent two summers at the SIE in 1997
and 1998. My husband works in information systems management and
methodology development. Our children are (20 and 25 years old.
We also have two cats, a dog, and a vegetable garden.
A USIA-sponsored, teacher-to-teacher
telepress conference (TPC) between participants in the 15th
Summer Institute of English (SIE) in Morocco and American teachers
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, was held on July 12, 1999.
Since the theme of the Institute was writing in English for Moroccan
secondary school students, the focus of the TPC was also writing.
Moroccan teachers raised issues of concern to them. The American
teachers shared their ideas and experiences. To introduce Moroccan
teachers to an ESL context in a major U.S. city, a video from
the Philadelphia School District was shown before the TPC began.
A USIA-sponsored teacher-to-teacher
telepress conference (TPC) between participants in the 15th
Summer Institute of English (SIE) in Morocco and American teachers
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, was held on July 12, 1999. Since
the theme of the Institute was writing in English for Moroccan secondary
school students, the focus of the TPC was also writing. The actual
telephone exchange was preceded by a viewing in Morocco of a video
from the Philadelphia School District made to introduce school services
to parents of nonnative English-speaking students new to the school
district. Not only did this allow Moroccan teachers to learn about
the support services, but also the student population, school culture
and the physical settings inside and outside of schools.
Two of the participants on the US
side of the TPC were ESL teachers in the Philadelphia School District:
Mary Boxley-White and Carole Rozycki, both with extensive experience
in teaching writing to ESL students. The other two participants
were Mark Ouellette (ESL teacher in intensive English language
programs in two universities in Philadelphia) and Margaret van
Naerssen ( ESL teacher in an intensive English language program
and a teacher trainer in two MA TESOL programs).
On the Moroccan side there were over
80 Moroccan teachers from all over Morocco. They were seated in
an open courtyard; loudspeakers projected the TPC exchanges.
Representatives from the five groups
in the institute presented questions to the US teachers. The names
of the representatives are not available. Unfortunately time did
not permit the US teachers to ask questions of the Moroccan teachers.
Issues raised by the Moroccan EFL teachers were similar to those
that concern ESL writing teachers, the only differences being
variations in contexts. The responses are organized according
to topic rather as responses to specific questions.
A. Techniques for beginning writers
C. Evaluation of student
D. Choice of culturally-based
E. Relationship between
writing and thinking
F. Notion that good readers
become good writer
G. Influence of the Internet
Below are some of the ideas mentioned
each of the above areas. As the responses were unplanned during
the TPC, the ideas have edited and elaborated on for this report
by the TPC organizer. Due to time constraints, the other participants
did not have time to check this report. Therefore, names of the
participants are not attached to specific ideas. Furthermore, participants
frequently agreed with each other and built on each other’s ideas.
II. Specific Content of the
A. Techniques for beginning writers
- When a new student comes to a
school in the United States, one strategy is to have the student
begin writing from the very beginning, writing simple and relevant
information: signs in the school, class schedules, names of
teachers, own name, names of family members, emergency telephone
information, etc. This not only builds the writing habit, but
also reinforces beginning reading skills.
- Have students copy a lot initially
so problems with mechanics can be identified early on.
- When working on a reading
selection, follow it with paired writing in which one student
writes the questions and the other writes the pair’s response.
- Follow up work on dialogs
and reading selections with paragraph writing assignments.
- Have students work from pictures,
describing pictures or creating stories about the pictures.
- Work with guided paragraph
writing. Using a model paragraph, have the students write about
another topic using the same paragraph structure.
- In free writing assignments,
such as journals and personal letters, correction generally
is not appropriate.
- Use a Language Experience
approach. In this approach, students tell their own story, frequently
based on a field trip or some other common experience, or with
reference to a picture. As the students tell the story, the
teacher writes the story on the board or on a chart, silently
correcting the language as he/she writes the students’ ideas
down. The teacher may help the students reorganize ideas if
necessary. The teacher then reads the completed story back to
the students. Then students practice reading aloud this class
story. The teacher then uses sentences and phrases from the
story to build up the student’s vocabulary, teach grammar points,
punctuation, etc. The story might be cut up into sentence strips
for students to reorganize. Students might illustrate class
story. Variations on this approach might later include more
individual story telling and writing. Most important is that
the story comes from the students, from the heart.
B. Process-writing: time-constraints,
challenge of maintaining student involvement in the writing process,
workload for the teacher in reviewing several drafts, value of
revising process over one-time product writing; product and process
writing as a continuum
- In the product vs. process-writing
debate, there is the need to convince those in charge of the
EFL writing curriculum to require fewer essays, recognizing
the value of several drafts in the revision process over one-time
essays that have involved less thought.
- After students prepare a first
draft of a short writing assignment (statement of a main idea,
short answers to reading comprehension questions, summaries,
etc.), 3-4 students put their assignment on the board. The teacher
then works with the class to determine whether the writing contains
all the information needed, whether the ideas are expressed
clearly, and whether there are alternative ways of saying the
same thing. This strategy reduces by one, the number of drafts
that need to be reviewed by the teacher. Students who put their
work on the board get individual input from the teacher and
class. Also other students can learn from seeing what suggestions
are made on the drafts of others.
- Have students work in pairs exchanging
first drafts of their writing assignment. One reads aloud his/her
partner’s writing. The writer is able to see where the reader
is having difficulty. Then together they can work on how to
improve the writing. Silent reading of another student’s writing
is not always done in depth or taken seriously. Listening to
someone else read your writing aloud, creates a more active
peer review on the part of both the reader and the writer. This
also makes the writing process less tedious.
- Instead of requiring that all
essays be individually written, allow essays to be done in small
groups and possibly presented as a poster, combining art and
writing. This has the advantages of reducing the number of essays
to be reviewed by the teacher, having students learn from each
other, and having a purpose for a final revision—for a display
for class or school. This also makes the writing process less
- Consider the idea that writing
is always a "work in progress." For example, reduce
the number of writing assignments that are initially required
for revision, but have students keep their writing in a folder;
develop a portfolio. Then later on a piece of writing might
seem appropriate for revision for "publishing" in
a school newsletter or collection, or perhaps a topic might
come up again later on and a writing assignment can be taken
out for use (and revision) in another context. Another approach
using a portfolio is to develop a student "biography."
As a larger project, students can select which essays they wish
to revise, which will best reflect their ideas. They may even
add articles, pictures, and other graphics for a final presentation.
They take responsibility for choosing what to revise.
- American participants were
not clear about a question regarding the possibility of product
and process writing as part of a continuum. These approaches
represent such different approaches. However, one could think
of a continuum for process writing. On one end of the continuum
writing is always seen as unfinished or a "work in process."
The other end reflects the need to complete a piece of writing.
C. Evaluation of student writing
- The teacher should keep in mind
the purpose of a particular writing assignment before grading
it. Simply grading for all errors is very time-consuming, and
the learner probably will not process all the feedback. The
teacher should be purposeful and selective.
A specific technique comes
from some teachers in Singapore. One teacher created a rubber
stamp saying "This piece of writing has been corrected
for _________________. " This helped the teacher feel more
comfortable about selective correction so fellow teachers and
parents wouldn’t think the teacher was lazy or weak. At the
same time some public relations work was also needed to explain
this approach to others in the school and to parents. Teachers
then drafted a model letter that was sent to parents (in their
first language) to explain the value of selective correction.
- Involve the students in determining
how writing assignments will be evaluated. Have them help develop
the rubric (a set of standards or criteria) for evaluating an
assignment. This gets them involved in thinking about what effective
writing is and in focussing on specific purposes for a specific
writing assignment. They will also then feel the evaluation
or grading process is fairer than when they have to play a guessing
game about what the teacher expects. The rubrics don’t have
to be complicated, only something simple and selective.
- For academic writing, it might
be useful to use the rubrics established for standardized essay
exams such as the TOEFL Test of Written English, modifying the
rubrics for a specific course/group of students. Becoming aware
of such rubrics or scales helps students become aware of
what is expected in academic writing. It also gives the teacher
an external standard to use if their students are expecting
to do academic studies in English or write more formally in
- It is important to consider
the following in evaluating writing: content, form (grammar,
vocabulary, mechanics, etc.), and the process.
D. Choice of culturally-based
rhetorical styles: when to require Western rhetorical styles,
when to allow from the first language and culture of the students;
also use of contrastive linguistics
- The choice of which rhetorical
style to emphasize depends on the needs of the students, on
who their audience will be.
- If students are not being prepared
to study/work in a Western setting, it is probably acceptable
to allow them to write in English, especially at early stages
following their own rhetorical styles.
- For informal writing such as journal
writing or personal letter writing, use of one’s own cultural
norms would be acceptable. In fact, it might encourage students
to begin feeling comfortable with writing.
- The American participants seemed
to feel uncomfortable with the question of what style to "impose."
They felt that they needed to help students consider who their
audience is in various types of writing. From there, teachers
help students decide what style is most important and learn
the common characteristics. This might apply to choosing a variety
of styles within a Western cultural context as well as to choosing
to use a style from the student’s own culture. Teachers are
not imposing but offering alternatives and helping students
learn to choose, for survival in different contexts.
- With newcomer students at
the high school level in the US, students (13, 14, 15, 16 year-olds)
are frequently not well formed writers. When students come from
many different countries and different language backgrounds
it is not easy to contrast languages; however, teachers can
become aware of common differences that may affect writing.
Teachers can tell student about certain common characteristics
of American writing for a school situation: a) flowery language
and slang are not common; b) the organization is linear and
not back and forth; and c) in conclusions the writer can go
back briefly to what has been said earlier. This is, of course,
quite different from a more monolingual context like Morocco
where contrastive information can be systematically developed
into the national curriculum. (It is recognized that there are
several other languages besides Arabic spoken in Morocco; thus,
teachers working with students from those
language groups probably also need to become aware of common
differences in grammar, vocabulary and rhetorical style.)
- In a classroom with students
from different cultures, use the diversity to work towards a
specific standard. Students can interview each other on, for
example, what the writing standards are in their own countries
for a specific type of writing or about how they feel about
writing in their first language. Then they can be moved to thinking
about who they are writing for, and to understanding the purpose
of a specific standard that the teacher wishes to use in class.
- Ask students if they think
others in the school community can understand their if they
write in their own style or in, for example, a variety of English
from another part of the world. Lead students to understand
the notion of "audience in writing."
- The following ideas were not
mentioned during the TPC but are added, as a caveat, by the
US TPC organizer. Not all differences are automatically cultural
differences. Writing teachers need to be aware that sometimes
what may appear to be a difference in rhetorical style may actually
be simply a developmental stage in writing, a stage those writing
in their own first language may even go through. Developmental
stages in writing may also share some characteristics across
languages. Also teachers who are also nonnative speakers of
the target language and who have not lived a culture in which
the target language is spoken, may think that certain features
reflect cultural differences in writing when, in fact, native
speakers may also write "like that" in certain circumstances.
E. Notion that good readers become
- In the United States the notion
that good readers become good writers is not out of date. In
fact, it is probably even more widely accepted than ever.
- The ability to read critically
can lead to generally stronger writing skills and to the notion
of writing for an audience. If students can talk about other
people’s ideas in a reading selection, they can then be more
confident about being able talk about their own ideas when they
write. They also become aware of the idea that someone else
might respond to their writing, thus, becoming aware of thinking
about who one’s audience might be.
- Educators believe that reading
to young children and teaching the to read before they enter
school play significant roles in later success in school. As
reading helps writing, and effective writing is critical to
success, there is a definite link between reading and writing.
F. Relationship between writing
- The process of actually writing
down your ideas, frequently helps to clarify and organize ideas;
thus, there is a direct link between writing and thinking.
- Use brainstorming and schema diagrams
to help students generate and organize ideas before writing.
G. Influence of the Internet on
writing: the value of Internet access for writing classes; possible
influence of casual communication exchanges on writing, causing
it to become more like speaking; the possibility that the assumption
that "good readers become good writers" will be weakened
as students do less reading as they use the Internet more.
- The Internet becomes a valuable
source of information and ideas to help a student develop elaborated
writing. The Internet is like a library. Students do need to
be taught to use it effectively.
- Learning to search effectively
(and not just randomly) on the Internet can probably help develop
logical thinking skills which can improve a student’s organization
of ideas in writing.
- In order for students to become
technologically more competent, they have to learn to read.
Writing then follows in the act of using the computer. Even
though students might not read as much as we’d like for them,
use of technology can get them into reading and writing.
- In informal chat sessions
and on e-mail students can be exposed to more spontaneous, informal
language use which is not always coherent. This may provide
less than well planned, standard input. But is it necessarily
bad if writing becomes more like speaking? There is value if
the writer can feel more natural about expressing one’s ideas.
Such informal exchanges may help students break through a general
writing block or more specifically get past the fear of writing
in another language. However, if the student needs to be able
to write English for more formal contexts (in business, in studies,
etc.) this informal input should not be the only exposure to
- Communicating through the
Internet gives students real audiences. Students can be alerted
to how features in their writing can affect others, positively
III. "Last words"
on getting students to write
- Make writing interesting. Have students
write about what interests them, not about what we think they
might be interested in.
- Promote the idea that the more you
write the better you will write.
- Keep students writing in class
and out of class. Get them into the habit of writing. With any
assignment (even if it is not in a writing class), have them write
some aspect of it. Get them used to writing "in full."
Then when they have to write an essay it isn’t so intimidating.
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