USIA English Language Programs

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs


Report on Teleconference with Morocco
July 12, 1999

By Margaret Van Naerssen, University of Pennsylvania
with Mary Boxley-White, Mark Ouellette, and Carole Rozycki


About the Specialists

MARY BOXLEY-WHITE: 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.

MARK OUELLETTE: I have made my home in Philadelphia for the past 11 years. When I first 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.

CAROLE ROZYCKI: 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.

Report on Teleconference


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.

I. Overview

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
B. Process-writing
C. Evaluation of student writing
D. Choice of culturally-based rhetorical styles
E. Relationship between writing and thinking
F. Notion that good readers become good writer
G. Influence of the Internet on writing.


II. Specific Content of the TPC Exchange

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.

A. Techniques for beginning writers

  1. 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.
  2. Have students copy a lot initially so problems with mechanics can be identified early on.
  3. 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.
  4. Follow up work on dialogs and reading selections with paragraph writing assignments.
  5. Have students work from pictures, describing pictures or creating stories about the pictures.
  6. Work with guided paragraph writing. Using a model paragraph, have the students write about another topic using the same paragraph structure.
  7. In free writing assignments, such as journals and personal letters, correction generally is not appropriate.
  8. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 tedious.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 work settings.
  4. 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

  1. The choice of which rhetorical style to emphasize depends on the needs of the students, on who their audience will be.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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."
  8. 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 good writers

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 and thinking

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 English.
  5. Communicating through the Internet gives students real audiences. Students can be alerted to how features in their writing can affect others, positively and negatively.

    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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