Tag Archives: Learning process

Reflections on essay writing

Every time I start thinking about the criteria for marking language learners’ essays a whole bunch of issues come to my mind, but perhaps the crucial one is whether we see essay writing mainly as a learning process or an assessment exercise.

It is not that uncommon to get some essays with no spelling mistakes at all and with just a few grammar errors submitted by students who in class and in the exams produce much poorer pieces of writing in both aspects. This may cause a certain conflict in our minds about how to deal with these differences in performance.

What we seem to forget is that the process of writing essays is fundamentally different from that of writing in class or in exam situations for a series of reasons: (a) students do drafts and peer correction, (b) they type their essays and the Word underlines not only the spelling mistakes, but also punctuation and grammar mistakes, so good students are usually able to spot them and correct them themselves before submitting, and (c) they may ask another colleague to proofread, which is just good academic practice and we are always preaching them to do so.

The whole issue also raises a number of questions:

  • If we ‘want’ students to produce a piece of writing that is similar to the ones in class and in the exam, why do we ask them to write essays that are produced in completely different circumstances? Isn’t it because we want them also to practice process writing and spot mistakes that, ideally, will not be repeated in the test?
  • Are we correcting essays just to find grammar and spelling mistakes or are we interested in seeing if they are able to use some of the bits of language that we taught them?
  • If an essay is OK in terms of grammar, shouldn’t we then be happy to turn our attention to the argument/ideas  problems and help our students to start dealing with more complex issues of academic stance and style?

As I see it, writing an academic essay in a language learning context is a process that ideally should cut down on gross language errors and just leave behind argument problems. If students have been through the processes of drafting, reviewing, having it peer corrected and proofread, they should end up with a reasonably decent text model which they can try to emulate in exam circumstances.

My own approach to essay writing is to treat it as a teaching activity and an opportunity students have to practise writing as a process.

Hornby Report: Autunm in England

Some weeks have gone since the beginning of my course and it seems that time really flies when it comes to the content and everything we have been studying. However, time is England is different. There is nothing frenetic here, things seem to run smoothly and time flows. If I’m feeling a bit pressured because of the reading and writing assignments the only thing I have to do is to go for a walk around the campus and fill my eyes and senses with the amazing green of this island and the pallet of yellows, oranges and browns in which the trees are painted now. Or look out of my bedroom window and observe the squirrels collecting food for the winter. There is always a number of them around…and one of these days I even met a little deer just at my doorstep!

As for the course, we have been discussing and working on Learning. As my tutor said, much has been said and written about Teaching but we still know little about the Learning process. How does learning take place? What factors affect learning? How do adults learn? What is a learning environment and how to build it up? All these questions are extremely relevant for us as future teacher trainers.

In the other module I’m doing at the moment we are discussing materials: the methodology principles that inform materials production, materials assessment and also the place of authentic materials in ELT.

What is particularly enjoyable is to be able to make connections between theory and practice. Not that we have classroom practice, but we have loads of discussions in the group about our teaching contexts and group discussion is really an important component here. On the whole, I can say that we learn as much from our tutors as from each other.


Originally published on the BC Brazil ELT Online Community