A Different Look at Writing

I have been preparing for a conference presentation which I called ‘A different Look at Writing’. 

The session description says: Do you like writing? Do your students like writing? We will experience several writing activities and discuss how to get excited about the writing process. We will see if we can teach writing in a different way, and how this skill can be used in other aspects of teachers’ lives.

First, let me share a couple of assumptions I am making about the attitude to writing (or its image) teachers may hold. [Note: I have talked to my colleagues in Ukraine about this, and I have run this session at our EduHub event in Dnipro earlier this year, so they seem to be true at least for my colleagues here]

Assumptions

  1. Teachers like speaking more than writing (in L1, in L2)
  2. Teachers don’t (often/always) write much in their everyday life outside teaching.
  3. Teachers (may) project their attitude to writing to students
  4. Writing is harder than (the least comfortable among) the other language skills (both for teachers and students), and both in L1 and L2. 
  5. Students (may) need the skill of writing in English to reach the life goals they are setting

The session idea: if you [the teacher] write (in English) in the real life outside teaching (for business, for pleasure, etc.) you (may) see this skill/process differently in the classroom, and this may change your attitude to teaching writing, choosing methods and activities, etc.

Now, the last sentence of the description suggests that there are different ways in which the skill of writing can be used in our lives, and I decided to make a list of how it helps me personally. So yes…

writing plays an important part in my life

  • as a professional development tool (well, you are reading this post on my blog…)
  • as an ‘idea catcher’ (I always have a note book with me when I travel, and when there is not paper around you can see me texting notes on my phone)
  • as a ‘creative warmer’ for a new project (with a timer on, I like to brainstorm possible options or alternatives for tasks, and having 3-5 of them is often enough to start working out the details)
  • problem-solving tool (can be also seen as a decision-making tool) for weighing pros and cons of something, or analyzing options and alternatives, or offering them to my project partner, etc. 
  • reflective practice tool (almost the same as professional development but in this can more systematic/structured
  • ‘calming down’ tool or a kind of meditation (for example, the Morning Pages idea from Julia Cameron, which I have never managed to work on systematically or at length) 
  • thinking tool (the difference between this one and all the mentioned above is that the ideas come from the process of writing, and my mind gets clear, and new connections are visible, and… lots of other magic things may occur)
  • planning, or capturing tool: as David Allen puts it, ‘your mind is for generating ideas but not for holding them’
  • something that brings me to the state of flow

What about you? What is your relationship with writing? What role does writing play in your (ELT) life? In what way your writing experience outside the classroom impact the way(s) you are teaching this skill? 

Thank you for reading!

P.S. this post is about an activity I used in that session (A Class Journal)

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
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11 Responses to A Different Look at Writing

  1. This post really hits home! I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything much longer than a Tweet. And I used to love writing so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kamila says:

    What a great post! I think I write more in English than in Czech, actually, because of the blog. And I agree that you need to write if you want to teach writing. I always feel like an impostor when I teach business writing because I don’t work in business, but then applying general writing skills help with it. And I wonder whether translation counts as writing? Not that I translate these days, just thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ven_vve says:

      There’s no doubt in my mind that translation counts as writing. All the constraints that you have to keep in mind – retain the original idea but render it in the target language as smoothly as possible – take a pretty skilled writer, imo.
      I’ve always loved writing and overal still prefer it to oral communication. I’ve even grown comfortable writing in my L1, which took a while because most of my formal education took place in my L2 and I felt my L1 writing skills were inadequate.
      Re my writing experience outside the classroom and the impact it’s had on how I approach teaching writing, I think it’s been more the reverse with me these past few years. Since I started teaching a writing skills course I tend to look at what I’ve written outside the classroom – even this comment, for instance – more analytically than would’ve done before. That may not always be a good thing! 🙂
      My feeling is that the assumptions (beliefs about writing) you made about Ukranian teachers hold true for Croatia too, except for maybe no. 2.
      I look forward to reading more about how the session went – best of luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zhenya says:

        Thank you for your comment Vedrana!
        How did you manage to get comfortable writing in L1? I never realized that your education was in L2, actually.
        This is a very interesting idea: ‘Since I started teaching a writing skills course I tend to look at what I’ve written outside the classroom more analytically’ and I would like to learn more about it! In what way does this analysis/reflection impact the process of writing? You said that it ‘may not always be a good thing’.
        Reading your comment about #2, I think I should have been explicit about these assumptions and perhaps offered them as discussion points for teachers. I did mention them and had a lot of nodding from the audience, but never went deeper than that.
        The presentation/session went well, and I hope to write one more post about one specific idea from that session. Will hopefully find some time for this soon!
        Thank you for reading and writing about writing! Love the blog space for these conversations!
        Zhenya

        Liked by 1 person

        • ven_vve says:

          I went to school in Croatia from grades 1 to 3, then we moved abroad and the rest of my education took place in international schools or in the form of an international program like the IB. Because of this, I didn’t get to practice writing in my L1 much and was very self-conscious about it. Over time, mostly once my formal education was over, I was exposed to enough practice to feel that I now do a fairly good job. I’ve been back for long enough that (I think) people can’t tell I lack this formal educational component.

          The thing about looking more analytically at what I’ve written is basically that I think about my readers (all hypothetical readers) more than I used to and consider whether particular word/punctuation choices might be more suitable than those that first came to mind. This may not always be a good thing because the time it takes may not be justified in view of the actual number of readers. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Zhenya says:

            Wow, thank you for sharing this personal story Vedrana! I never realized you had lived away from your home country for a long time. You said ‘(I think) people can’t tell I lack this formal educational component.’ – and I think they can’t, since a good quality writing is not always a result of quality formal education in that language. Perhaps, what I am saying is based on the observations of (teaching) writing in my L1(s).
            Now, the idea to think about the readers is simple but powerful. Sometimes I realize I am writing a blog post for… myself. A lot to think about, as always!
            Zhenya

            Liked by 2 people

    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you Kamila, your words mean a lot to me! Also, agree with Vedrana that translation does count as writing. Indeed, helping the reader in one language see the beauty of the idea(s) of the author from another language and culture is a skill! Preserving style/manner/features is another level of this. In fact, I have never been able to do this from English. Or never even tried… You made me think! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: A Class Journal | Wednesday Seminars

  4. Sandy Millin says:

    I write so much in English between the blog, my daily diary and the requirements of my job and freelance work I do, but almost never in foreign languages. I’ve managed to get to B1/B2 in Polish without ever really writing at all, and need to remedy that if I want to take the B1 Polish exam next year in an attempt to retain some form of EU citizenship.
    A Polish friend passed on something she’d had pointed out to her: you spend hours and hours and hours speaking, reading and listening in English, but almost no time ever writing, so it’s no wonder that you feel more comfortable in those skills. I think that’s why it feels so much harder – we’re always a level of two behind in our writing compared to our other skills, sometimes more. Since she said that to me, I’ve tried to include a few more bits of writing in my lessons, including journal writing when I can, but I’m not hugely consistent with it.
    Looking forward to reading more about this workshop Zhenya.
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Sandy

      Thank you for the comment, and for sharing your language learning experience and reflection. B1 Polish exam! Wow, good luck with this, sounds like a fantastic goal and self-motivation tool to balance all the 4 skills!
      Re writing being ‘behind’ the others skills, I like how you put it: ‘we’re always a level of two behind in our writing compared to our other skills, sometimes more’. While I can see how an exam can be a motivation, it is generally hard to make oneself write without specific purpose (and audience/readers?)
      It is interesting how writing in English dominates in our lives, no matter whether it is an L1, or L2 🙂 I would like to explore the idea of getting more comfortable with writing, or becoming a more confident writer further. I find it helpful for the bits of writing I am doing!
      Thank you for the conversation!
      Zhenya

      Like

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