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Teaching methods and writing

Moderator: Tempo Gain

Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ermintrude » 28 Apr 2015, 21:16

These books don't teach English. They assume that you already have the level of English required to pass the test at the level you want and simply need some intro and practice with the question types. The Asian market stuff has a lot more language development because the Asian approach is to see the test as the goal, not the measurement. Yer peoples picked the wrong materials. You knew that already, though...
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Abacus » 28 Apr 2015, 22:59

I still think if you want to teach someone to write essays then they should read a book of essays. We have been reading these specific books for 2 years now. The first year the classes did more of a free writing essay where I simply wanted them to write interesting content in sentences. The most advanced class (Grade 9) started writing essays in the following format this year: topic sentence, three 2-3 sentence body paragraphs and a closing sentence. That was the same basic format as the essay book (with comprehension questions) except that the real essays had introduction and conclusion paragraphs instead of topic and closing sentences. At first they freaked out but then they understood that this 'essay' was only 8-11 sentences and they whip them out pretty quick. And many of them are really, really good. I always assign them a brainstorm of their essay first though and I glance at it to make sure they are on the right track. Obviously you can't use this same exact method in a class of 40 university students but it can be tweaked to work with any crappy materials that you are given.
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ducked » 29 Apr 2015, 11:41

Abacus wrote:I still think if you want to teach someone to write essays then they should read a book of essays. We have been reading these specific books for 2 years now. The first year the classes did more of a free writing essay where I simply wanted them to write interesting content in sentences. The most advanced class (Grade 9) started writing essays in the following format this year: topic sentence, three 2-3 sentence body paragraphs and a closing sentence. That was the same basic format as the essay book (with comprehension questions) except that the real essays had introduction and conclusion paragraphs instead of topic and closing sentences. At first they freaked out but then they understood that this 'essay' was only 8-11 sentences and they whip them out pretty quick. And many of them are really, really good. I always assign them a brainstorm of their essay first though and I glance at it to make sure they are on the right track. Obviously you can't use this same exact method in a class of 40 university students but it can be tweaked to work with any crappy materials that you are given.


Sounds quite like a (fuller, more rounded) version of what I do with paragraphs, as part of the "standard" First Year Reading/2nd Year "All Skills" Language Development classes, though without the essay support in the latter case.

I suppose if I adopted one of the EFL magazines as sophomore "external reading" material (an allowed option) rather than a novel, they could loosely be described as a collection of essays. They are rather crap though. Might be able to forage up some material off the internyet.

Still on the Reading bit with this IELTS lot though. I've got another 4 weeks, 2 hrs a week, plus 2 X 2 hour make-up classes to schedule, which'll be poorly attended.

So I guess I'll have to finish off Reading next week, which'd give me 10-ish hours (Sorry, 8-ish hours with a test, and there must always be a test.) to go from "I like play computer" to 250 word academic essays.

Call me a whiner (again), but that seems a bit ridiculous.

If one takes the "standard" 5-para essay approach though (sorry, my formulas are showing again), the expansion of a "standard" argument para to a 5-para argument essay is relatively straightforward, and that's the approach I took with my first writing class, er, 8 years ago, though they were more able students, and I had 8 times longer with them.

So I guess I'll be shooting for formulaic arg paras again, which the weakest students won't manage, and which'll under-stretch the strongest. Same old same old, IOW.
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby ironlady » 01 May 2015, 09:13

Why don't you write a few good model essays instead? You can tailor them to your students' level and vocabulary.
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ducked » 12 May 2015, 21:35

ironlady wrote:Why don't you write a few good model essays instead? You can tailor them to your students' level and vocabulary.


Could do, I suppose, but, for the IELTS class, the full-blown essay question simply isn't a realistic objective in the time scale, so I'm not sure it would serve much purpose. There are sample IELTS essays available that (perhaps) are a more accurate facsimile of what is required than I'd probably produce anyway.

The IELTS class actually seems to be going OK, though many of them have no chance of getting a Grade 6.

Last week I was able to get them out of the language lab, (so I don't need a PLAAF MIG-17 type approval to turn the computer on), and into bigger, more manageable groups mostly on-task with the match-the-text-to-the-question follow-up on the British Council sample reading test.

They could mostly (at least in groups) find the text but they couldn't generally interpret it to answer the questions correctly, and when they got the right answer couldn't explain it, suggesting it might be random.

Having said that I got one of them wrong (though I was multi-tasking at the time).

Question (Answer TRUE, FALSE or NOT GIVEN)

Most animals are active during the daytime.

Relevant Text : “Numerous creatures, humans included, are largely diurnal – that is, they like to come out during the hours of sunlight.”(Para 2)

I'd said TRUE, but the correct answer is NOT GIVEN, presumably because of the difference in meaning between "Most" and "Numerous".

In my defence, given the quality of the materials I'm used to, that'd be just as likely to be sloppy writing as a "deliberate mistake".

I dunno whether sloppy writing has been totally eliminated from IELTS tests, but I know which way I'd bet.
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ermintrude » 13 May 2015, 06:32

True / False / Not Given questions are a shitshow. The thing is, they tend to be piloted pretty well in the live tests. In test prep materials, they tend to just get looked over by the writer and a couple of editors so they aren't that precise, often.

IELTS is supposed to be a ruler. But like any high-stakes test (And it is. It's entry for rich kids who can't get in good unis at home in east Asia, but it's used for immigration and professional licenses in the UK)it creates some horrible washback because learners focus on those essays instead of doing EAP skills. Learning the samples in the Cambridge books won'tt help them with what they do in the future, although general modle is better than academic. Thank Christ (although I havet seen it yet ...) they've come up with an alternative for immigration. Imagine having a class full of Bangladeshi restaurant workers, Iranian doctors, Saudi oil kids and Chinese 'I must to master degree' studes in the same group, all doing those Y/N/NG questions?

In short, test prep classes are stupid. :)
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ducked » 13 May 2015, 07:23

Ermintrude wrote:
In short, test prep classes are stupid. :)


Hate to say this, but this one seems to have generated a significant improvement in student focus and motivation, compared to what I'm used to, even among the no-hopers.

A couple of the latter, given a number-the-paragraphs 1-10 and-match-these-titles-to-them task, numbered the paragraphs using Chinese characters.

Never seen that before.
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ermintrude » 13 May 2015, 09:13

Ducked wrote:
Ermintrude wrote:
In short, test prep classes are stupid. :)


Hate to say this, but this one seems to have generated a significant improvement in student focus and motivation, compared to what I'm used to, even among the no-hopers.

A couple of the latter, given a number-the-paragraphs 1-10 and-match-these-titles-to-them task, numbered the paragraphs using Chinese characters.

Never seen that before.


My point is, IELTS forces kids to develop a bunch of skills that actively work against them in thei future aims. IELTS writing task 2: 'Write an unreferenced, impressionistic, opinion-based piece of junk as fast as you can, with a pencil.' is the 'academic writing' task. Even if they get 6-6.5, which is the low score that universities accept, they are then completely unprepared for writing in English both from a linguistic and from an academic skills standpoint.

On the other hand, it already costs a lot. It would be hard to mark and administer anything much cheaper that did fit more carefully. It's my job at the moment to deal with assessment for first year EAP and figuring out the effects of how we examine and making it work for 2000 kids in a fairly comparable way so they all get roughly the same educational opp is tough. Course goals feeding into teaching and assessment and giving every kid a fair crack is not easy. Keeping an eye on teachers without micro-managing, clarifying those learning goals and allying them with their future non-EAP class needs, and making sure assesmnt doesnt create negative washback in their learning and creating a misalliance with learning goals is a huge balancing act.

This is why IELTS doesn't really work - it's a very broad and blunt tool. However, it's the cheapest and best available to universities and other agencies, as a gatekeeper, especially since ETS crapped out in the UK.

It bugs me that Taiwanese elementary and pre-int kids are being forced to measure yheir English,instead of more useful stuff. But I may just be speaking over 'em. If they find it motivating, then that ain't nuthin, as long as they are doing sometyhing else with their learning too.
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Gain » 13 May 2015, 09:19

Speaking of IELTS. Je got an overall 8.5 last October. :oops: #highlightofmylife
I only got a 7.5 on my writing though. :raspberry:
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Re: Teaching methods and writing

Postby Ermintrude » 13 May 2015, 09:31

Sounds about right. Most people have half a band to a band's difference.

It ain't nuthin, a 7.5.
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