Why we should model and teach the writing process to our EAL learners!

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The diagram above is the writing process, a metacognitive / learning strategy that I think should be modeled and explicitly taught to EAL learners.

From my own experiences it improves an EAL learners ability to write and makes them more independent.  In my current role, we have a number of EAL learners with limited English and with limited prior schooling.  They have never been taught such strategies before and therefore it is vital that they are taught how to approach writing for success in their mainstream classrooms.

I have taught the writing process as particular focused lessons and I have also used the process over a longer period or series of lessons.  It can be taught in intervention lessons or it can be taught in the mainstream classroom but it is vital that EAL learners are taught this step by step approach to writing effectively.

An earlier blog post I wrote about the importance of teaching langauge features is an example of where the writing process fits in.  You can read that post by clicking on this link.

How can the writing process be taught?

It starts with the prewriting phase.  We explicitly outline the particular genre or type of writing that we are expecting our EAL learners to write in and the purpose of writing.  It is vital that links are made to other areas of the curriculum in which learners might also be expected to write in.  I always like to include some discussion or activities based around the meaning of the genre that my learners are going to write in to make it clear what to expect from writing in a particular genre.  This can include a multiple choice question that includes the genre and other choices that are distinctly different or even quite similar.  An example of this can be seen below from a unit of work I was doing on teaching the language of evaluation.  The question was ‘what does it mean to evaluate?’

  1. To talk about something with other people to get ideas, form opinions or find out new information.ā€‹
  2. To look at how something or somebody is similar or different.ā€‹
  3. To have an opinion about the quality, value or amount of something.

Learners had to discuss in groups which choice was correct and why.  We also developed this discussion further by talking about why the other two choices were not correct and what genre you would apply those choices to.

In addition, we discuss the importance of having ideas to write about before actually beginning to write.  This highlights the importance of planning which I find many EAL learners struggle with especially in the early stages of learning English.  It is important to include in the planning stage graphic organisers that will vary according to the text type.  Graphic organisers are a great idea for EAL learners because they show the text orgranisation thus providing a structure.  There are a number of strategies that are effective for planning and some of these include:

The next stage is the drafting stage and I have always found that it is important that my learners pay particular attention to their plan and also the particular language features fo the genre.  I intentionally model this stage for them both in whole class, group and individual contexts.  I find that it is important to remind my EAL learners that this is not the final product and that they will return to checking the draft at later stages in the process.  At this stage we might also provide our EAL learners with models of the genre so that they can see a successful model of it and know how the particular language features are used effectively.

In the next two stages, that of revising and rewriting.  I ask my learners to focus on the overall organisation of their texts and pay close attention to the language features needed to successfully write in the genre.  And yes, as much as it might cause them pain! There might be parts of their text that they have to rewrite.  EAL learners need to be reminded at this stage to refer back to the question or the orginal point of the writing and ask themselves ‘have a truly answered the question?’  This is also a good opportunity for peer assessment and feedback.  This is particularly effective for EAL learners because when commenting and marking a peer’s work they may well see models of writing that may help to improve their own writing because the language being used might help to improve their own writing.  After all, seeing successful models of writing are very effective for all learners, not just EAL learners.

When we are investigating the proofreading phase, I find that is important to make it clear that all writers make mistakes and that through following these stages we can highlight our mistakes and therefore rewrite more effectively.  One strategy that I have found particularly helpful for this is getting my EAL learners to actually read their writing out loud.  Yes, this can lead to a noisy classroom but in my opinion in helps them to find their mistakes more effectively than just endlessly reading their work to themselves in their heads.  You may decide to look at common errors found across the classroom as such errors may be especially common to learners who come from similar language backgrounds.  This kind of strategy can help learners notice errors in their writing.

Finally, in the publishing phase, learners can once again revisit a peer’s writing to look at successful models of writing and comment on the improvements that have been made, especially if they have supported their peer at the revising and reviewing phase.  Learners get to see the effectiveness of changes that come as a result of adhering to the writing process.  To give learners pride in their work and show that their efforts have been rewarded they could be displayed in the classroom for other classes or groups of learners to see.  It is also important that we make explicit the links to other areas of the curriculum that may share similar writing genres.  Such genres as writing to argue, explain, analyse, evaluate, describe and explain often have common language features that can be used in different curriculum areas.

In conclusion, the writing process is definitely something that I feel is worth investing time in when considering how to support EAL learners in improving their own writing.  Following the steps in the process with a range of strategies, teacher led modeling and the use of peer support can significantly enhance the writing of those that may be struggling to write across the curriculum

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