As I’ve shared with you in previous blogs, one of my ongoing interests is finding ways to empower my students to become better writers of English. What is the formula?
- Vocabulary skills are important (Checked √)
- Grammar is important (Checked √)
- Controlled practice is important (Checked √)
…Wait a minute… Modeling is super important…
According to Cumming (1995), language teachers need to not only provide text models of a good writer’s final product (what an assignment is supposed to look like at the end), but also model the cognitive process of writing. In other words, we as teachers should model writing-as-a-process that mimics the actions performed by effective writers (hint: we need to write a lot to be one too).
There is no secret formula. Teaching to a diverse group of learners from diverse backgrounds and languages really calls for a multitude of approaches: experimenting, reflecting, and coming up with a model that suits the task. For example, when I mimic the free writing approach to answer a prompt, my goal is to show students how to write freely, but with a purpose in mind. This type of cognitive modeling, as Cumming (1995) calls it, “involves demonstrating and practicing the kinds of thinking processes that expert writers use” (383). This process calls for ‘writing as thinking.’
Writing as Thinking
My intention is to help students see how I proceed with idea generation. Hence, I let them see how I go about writing as I speak aloud my thoughts, complete a series of sentences, revert, make changes, continue, and then return to the beginning to match verb form, subject referents, and logic.
Loving what I Do
I love it when my students point out something I’ve missed whenever I change a sentence midway and in turn the pronoun or subject reference also needs to be revised somewhere at the beginning. We end up discarding ideas, rephrasing odd ones, and editing content to come up with a first draft. This process takes time; as a group we learn that some ideas – although good ones – do not fit the context. “These ideas could probably be used for another essay on the same topic, but with a different main idea,” I tell them. Students learn to notice off-topic sentences and even put them on hold for another time (writers do get attached to their ideas). Hence, all thoughts are valid in free writing, but the ones that fit the purpose (and audience) are the ones that are kept – sometimes unperturbed, other times revised and edited.
What do you do to model good writing practices?
Reference: Cumming, A. (1995). Fostering writing expertise in ESL composition instruction: Modeling and evaluation. In D. Belcher and G. Braine (Eds.), Academic Writing in a Second Language: Essays in Research and Pedagogy. (pp. 375-397). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.