Writing an LSA background assignment

When people start Module Two they want to see examples of background assignments and lessons. It is hard to explain why lots of examples is not a good idea, but writing a background that can serve as a sample has helped me begin to understand why in ways I hadn’t envisaged. Only begin though. I need to read more about genres and communities and social processes. It has also made me see other areas I should focus on soon in terms of reading / research.

Writing the background
I liked …
I liked reading to write, haven’t had to do that in ages. Kept reading things that I wanted to pursue, but were slightly off the topic, the two most persistent of which were ..

  • Feedback – feedback is fundamental to Delta and though some of what I read was specifically about feedback on language and language development, some was on students in general or in higher education (note to self: start in Hyland 2003 for this) and would apply to teachers doing any Module. Whether they read it at all, whether they can react to it / understand it / know what to do next even if they do understand it. How we can make it so that there is a chance of all of / any of those things happening. Can I find research / ideas to help me work out how we should be doing it or how it is most effective ? Much of what we are doing now has evolved in the face of demand / practical contexts / experience and it works, but if I looked at it more systematically could it work better ?  add some science to our craft ?  It also overlaps with what I started talking about in the first place on this blog – standardising Module Three draft marking. As a focus perhaps it should get priority attention because it comes into all three Modules.
  • Knowledge telling versus knowledge transforming, which came up in Hinkel (2004) where he is quoting Bereiter and Scardamalia. Knowledge transforming involves ‘modifying one’s thinking’ .. ‘developing new knowledge by processing new information obtained for the purpose of writing’, which in an ideal world is what we are aiming for in a good background assignment. Pinning that down further (feels as though it overlaps with Bloom and I’ve long wanted to read more about his ideas) or more to the point how you help someone achieve it (rather than just knowledge telling) feels like something that is core to Delta when Delta works well.
  • I liked it better than writing Masters assignments as once you had a framework you could go back and forth between the analysis / issues / suggestions when you got stuck on one and add to one of the others for a while. So you hadn’t abandoned it, but could get a kind of break with the different perspective / style / need for examples.

I learnt …

  • Completing one of these is very much about keeping going – you get a sort of dip near the beginning when you have gathered lots of reading and your ideas are vague and you have written a chunk, but can see that chunk actually has to be dropped and can’t quite see how to get a shape  … but that was true doing Masters assignments too. So that makes me think that I shouldn’t worry so much about what I am achieving here in this blog, but just keep doing it for now and I’ll find a shape to make it work in the long run (helixes – should go back to loops and helixes).
  • I need to go back to areas of reading more often. I had a vague memory of Hedge on writing being very practical but very ‘general English classes / write for the sake of it’, but she has a sensible framework around those activities that still gets them to think about audience and purpose. I also remembered Badger and White on genre as being helpful. Now, having re read it looking for support for what I wanted to say and having re read several other things, Tribble and Hyland were more useful for this, but that will depend a bit on which focus you are trying to do. Using reading for something gave me a much better perspective on which reading I should send others to than just reading out of interest does. ‘Writing’ is an input session I haven’t done myself or rewritten, so I haven’t read with focus since it impinged on a Masters assignment. How can I make sure I’m cycling through the various areas I need to know about… doing this was good (maybe I should do one for reading, but hard to see how to double layer some other areas – speaking ?), writing input sessions makes me read in the same way. Shall have to look at the schedule and put myself down for anything I’m not so up to date on. Marking assignments occasionally sends me looking for reading that has been mentioned. Making up reading lists isn’t enough (too fleeting an acquaintance with the things you unearth), but making materials has potential.
  • The word limit is vicious, but I will continue to defend it.  Without the word limit and the time limit it is as long as a piece of string. You could go on forever, so the word limit is there to protect you in a sense (as are the deadlines on the course). This took me about 15 hours. Practicalities made me stop there, but even this morning when I looked back through it to write this, I winced and would happily have waded back in to change sections if I were not aware of a pile of work waiting. But I can change / tweak / rewrite later.
  • I realised as I wrote that I probably had too wide a focus. I could have made a better job of it if I had narrowed down to using research / voice / feedback (though all of those would probably have taken me further away from it being parallel with what a pure Delta writing skills assignment would look like). Brigid had a quick look and the one thing she was worried about was the lack of emphasis on narrowing focus given how important it is in the actual process of getting started. I did tweak a sentence or two as a result, but didn’t go far down that route. She’s right, but that would also take it further from the parallel feel.
  • Now I want to work out more specific online activities that help people with facets of writing. Once they are on a Module tutors could point them at things that would help with something they were not quite getting right. There are some links in the site, but they are a patchwork from other institutions. UEFAP is wonderful, but CPs don’t always know where to start and it is often those who are not quite such self starters who could do with the extra practice, so a more scaffolded range of options would be great and if we had our own they would be better targeted than the UEFAP stuff. Also people sign up for upcoming courses and say ‘what should I do to prepare’. I suggest tackling the reading lists, but some of this kind of writing activity could be useful too.

Worries

  • Have I tried to be too clever ? Should I just have written one on a text type that no one was likely to do in future ? Something like part of a business document as few of our teachers here in Istanbul seem to teach in a business environment. Will the fact that it is double layered (both giving advice and being an example) confuse things ? Does it matter if it does – if someone only takes it as an example then I am still ahead of where I was when we didn’t have a writing sample. And I did uncover several questions for myself about support as I was doing it, some of which would not have come up with a classical writing skills focus.
  • The suggestions section really is a bit wide and woolly. It didn’t lend itself to the parallel as well as the first two. Will see if I can persuade someone to mark it properly (as opposed to Brigid giving me a heads up about missing references). After all would only recommend CPs read each others if they can also see the feedback it generated.


Hedge, T. 2005 (2nd ed) Writing OUP
Hinkel, E. 2004 Teaching Academic ESL Writing  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc
Hyland, K. 2003 Second Language Writing CUP
Tribble, C. 1996 Writing 1996

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One thought on “Writing an LSA background assignment”

  1. Perhaps too early for me to read this as I am involved in Module 1 tasks, assignments and exam practice. However, I couldn’t help following the link to Hyland’s ESL writing…and I was like “Wow!”
    I don’t know why, as much as I would like to, but some (text)books remain underrated despite being well-written as well as having both breadth & depth of coverage. Perhaps if I hadn’t been led to this article, I wouldn’t have discovered it elsewhere. Even a cursory look at its table of contents made me think to myself, “Oh, I can work out so much just from this table of contents alone! Lots of food for thought/reflection/ later classroom implementation.”
    I sometimes feel disappointed when in ELT talk all that ELT people can come up with is J.C. Richards or Thornbury or Harmer. And most of the time the point of the talk is not so much the contents of the books/articles they have written (that could actually help toward a basis for a fruitful discussion) as it happens to only be some name-dropping in a little, always-left-unfinished ELT-related discussion.

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