Teaching Academic Writing – Part 1 (The Overview)


I just realized that I last blogged about 2 months back, reason being – it’s been an absolutely crazy 3 months, teaching 3 EAP classes (2 of which being Academic Writing) to about 35-40 undergraduate students per class. I’m going to break this blog post into several parts, because, yes, I still have loads of marking to do (and keep telling myself  “this too shall pass” . In this part of the post, I’ll touch on my job scope, student background and attitude towards the Academic Writing class.

JOB SCOPE

My job scope includes the following:

a) Face to face contact hours (which includes teaching, class feedback, writing workshops)

b) Vetting of assignment topics (individual assignments – I need to give online feedback -via the varsity’s portal – to each student, await updates on changes, and provide feedback again)

c) Assessing written assignments (both online via the varsity’s intranet website AND feedback on written assignments). Written assignments include group writing tasks, formative tests, and 2 assignments per semester (all individual work)

d) Final reports

e) Dealing with student problems such as : “Ms, I can’t upload my assignment on elearn” OR “The system is too slow” OR “I don’t know what happened, my computer just crashed” – (Ironically you get all these the minute after the deadline)

f) Assessing task sheets – Task sheets are in class assignments given as homework to students. This needs to be marked (and that means I’d have to mark around 35 – 40 tasksheets for each individual student).

It’s been a tough and busy few months. I feel like I’m working throughout the week and on weekends as well. And the endless marking really does take it’s toll. But above all, teaching academic writing to such a large group of undergraduates can really be energy consuming. How do I give individual feedback? How do I select areas in writing that need to be prioritized and addressed in the class? Can I even help them improve their writing skills via weekly 2 hour classes within a 2 month time span (perhaps, around 8 face to face classes)?

Well, honestly, I don’t know. I just thought of using this blog to reflect on my teaching practice, note down observations of my class, students and the strategies I attempted with the hope that it did, make, some form of change.

STUDENT BACKGROUND

The students who enrolled for this module were either psychology, medical or dentistry majors. This means they are proficient in the language. When I asked them as to why they enrolled for the course, their answers include the following:

“I need to improve my writing”

“I don’t have a choice. This is a core module”. 

“I don’t know why I need to do writing, Miss. My major is psychology, and I have assignments that are much more important that writing”.

“My writing is very weak, especially with academic writing. I don’t know what academic writing is, and I want to know”. 

So, I guess we can say that the group was of a mixed motivation. Also, most of them were Malaysians, with a handful of foreigners from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the Maldives, and Canada. Most of the students have either completed their A-Levels, Diploma, or Matriculation. However, I don’t think they were prepared, or even had the slightest inclination about what they were getting into. Also, Malaysians are generally, very very poor readers. A lot of us (me included, at their age) read mostly fiction. We hardly read non-fiction. Academic journal articles were definitely a far cry. Also, a lot of these learners came from schools where English was a foreign language (Chinese schools). For these learners, the situation could be worse – they’d be very hesitant to participate, inquire and express their thoughts in class.

COURSE AND MODULE OUTLINE AND ASSESSMENT

It was a pretty interesting outline, I’d say. The course included blended learning and the flipped classroom method. It spanned for over 3 months, with 7 (2 hour) face to face session. Prior to each face to face session, students were required to read up materials that were uploaded onto the varsity’s online portal, so that class hours was used for the actual writing practice and feedback sessions. The class mainly focused on synthesis writing (which was pretty much a class on writing literature reviews), with the notes containing the following must-read materials:

a) Overview of the module

b) Explanation on thesis statement and introductory paragraph

c) Introduction to referencing

d) Introduction to classification essay and writing introductory paragraphs

e) Writing workshops

f) In-class group writing

Students were assessed in several ways, and this included two written assignments, one formative test (which was to be assessed online), group writing workshops (which were also assessed online), and 5 (out of 12) tasksheets that need to be submitted to the teacher. These tasksheets contained various parts of the writing process, and needs to be marked by the teacher as well.  The final assessment was via the final exam. We were encouraged to used the materials given by the university. Any other supplementary material needs to be ‘declared’ and provided to the other teachers as well to ensure standardized dissemination of information.

 

 

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