Thursday, April 10, 2008

TESOL 2008 handout

Teaching writing in online and paper worlds
Writing IS Demonstration, Liberty Suite 2, Sheraton Hotel
4:00-4:45 TH April 3, 2008, TESOL Convention, NYC
Thomas Leverett, CESL, So. Illinois Univ.-Carbondale
Carbondale IL USA

Homepage for this presentation:
(also includes the following)
Communicative competence in the digital age (tw1.html)
Fitting weblogs into a coherent writing pedagogy (tw2.html)
Publishing is non-count, assignments are count (tw3.html)
Digital fluency as goal and objective (tw4.html)
Always in MyFace: Social networking becomes a necessity (tw5.html)
brb: Using chat in writing classes (tw6.html)
Space after period: Line editing as a way of life (tw7.html)

Best of times, worst of times

1. This is a story of two revolutions.
2. The first, the communicative revolution, taught that it’s impossible to separate a language from the context and the culture that it’s in. This, at the time, was applied to oral fluency, the spoken word, considered at that time to be the heart of the language.
3. The second, the digital communication revolution, has made it clear that communication will happen in whatever mode is easiest, most convenient and most beneficial for most people most of the time. Therefore, writing, and specifically chat, will be much more important for my students than it was for us.
4. A teacher can maintain that writing can be separated from digital environments; can continue to teach essays and research papers without ever putting them online or touching the online media outside of Google, Word and Wikipedia. But a teacher can’t do that and still call himself/herself communicative.

Putting writing on weblogs

5. Teachers’ greatest fears are: first, they are teaching something (technology, technical factors) that they don’t clearly understand. Second, the average writing assignment is too boring to publish and let everyone see. Third, weblogs, the web, and online communication are risqué, slightly dangerous, and scary, and truly embracing another mode of communication may be irreversible, a move toward an abyss or into a raging current.
6. Students who truly get used to publishing both on paper and online get more used to understanding things like margins, spaces, indentation, and italics, in different environments,. Their view of standards is more temporal- as it should be.
7. One objection to putting things online is the possibility of it being copied. This is a problem anyway. Online, at least, we are where we can do something about it.
8. The greatest advantage weblogs offer over paper is the link- they can link to what they are talking about; link to their sources; link their abstract to their research paper; link to their friends, etc. They can learn not to write “click here.”
9. The other huge difference between the weblog and the paper worlds is that what goes on the weblogs generally stays there as part of a permanent archive; whereas the digital appears temporary, it is really quite the opposite. The paper version, clean, stapled in the corner, rots in some dresser or closet until moving day.
10. Writing classes, sometimes many students at a time, suffer from a general paralysis: lack of confidence necessary to produce an essay or three per term, under pressure and a heavily graded situation. My response was to increase the writing by more than double, and publish it all.
11. Since weblog posts, including essays and research papers, can be found by Google trollers and others, at any time, it is useful and necessary to prepare for that eventuality, and prepare all writers for it.
12. I have become used to line-editing large quantities of writing in preparation for publishing. This goes against grammar theory that I have picked up over the years, specifically philosophies saying that it is pointless, impossible or ineffective to line-edit quantities of work; or, that students should be encouraged to be more autonomous in their editing so that eventually they just write and do it themselves, presumably effectively. I have rejected the above philosophies simply because the benefits of active and effective communication outweigh the benefits I could get with other methods.

Chat, social networking, etc.

13. Chat exists at all levels, in all forms- it can be rude, short, slangy; it can be formal, rational, reasonable; it can be used in business, education, diplomacy, etc. Social networks are basically the same; they aren’t all like Facebook. Nor will Facebook stay the same for very long. As your arteries harden, and your stereotypes develop around things like chat, Facebook, Second Life, Twitter, etc., just remember: they are what you make them…somebody out there is making them useful.
14. A recent study done with my students showed: all chat; very few chat 100% in one mode (i.e. all native lang.); very few in somewhat formal English. Over 2/3 had and used online shopping, cell phone camera, computer videocam, Facebook profile (individually).
15. Students learn technology, and learn about it, basically because their success, if not survival, depend upon it. Though the same may not be true for us, we would be foolish to willfully ignore the realities of their lives.
16. The biggest difference between the communicative revolution and this one is that, at least at that time, we were fluent in the oral language, if not in the words and methods needed to teach it. In this one, we’re playing catch-up. The best way to learn how is to get started.

Bush, J. (2001-2002). A free conversation with Peter Elbow, interview, Critique Magazine, On Writing II. Accessed 3-08.

Leverett, T. (1995). Get the word out: Making a program newsletter. ILTESOL-BE, Chicago IL, Spring.

Nelson, M. W. (1991). At the Point of Need: Teaching basic and ESL writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Seimens, G. (2004, Dec.). Connectivism : A learning theory for the digital age. Accessed 3-08.

Stevens, V. (2006, Feb.). Revisiting Multiliteracies in Collaborative Learning Environments: Impact on Teacher Professional Development. TESL-EJ 10, 2. Accessed 3-08.


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