Friday, December 31, 2010

Cool websites to teach writing

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

As a language teacher I really find it difficult to motivate my students to start writing in class. The Internet is a resource that complements the dynamics of my class. It is easy to access, up-to-date and immediate source of authentic materials. Since I started introducing technology and using a wiki with Middle school my classes have definitely changed. Please check below the cool sites we have been using this year.

  • Writing Fun A MUST for teachers.  This website motivated my students to enhance their writing skills.
  • The Writing Site Check this website with a great variety of tech integration ideas.
  • iWrite Provides several examples for students to learn how to write effectively.
  • Writing Exemplars I make my students search for writing samples created by other students worldwide.

In a self-paced study group, you are your own teachers, although (as a college writing teacher) teaching yourself writing still calls for 3rd party feedback. What is your strategy for getting feedback on your writing?

Posted via email from Academentia

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pros & cons of group vs private submission & review

Posted by Dr. Karen F. Kellison, Program Director Educational Technology, James Madison University, to an IT forum that I follow. See also Death to the Digital Dropbox: Rethinking Student Privacy and Public Performance
by Patrick R. Lowenthal and David Thomas. All this goes to the question of public vs private submission, peer review (sharing writing with group), group work, etc. 

Over the past year, I have incorporated peer review and public support/critique of student work in my classes.  Students are very nervous at the idea. It appears to be very foreign to most of them, having previously exchanged their ideas and work only with the teacher.  However, my experience as been extremely positive.  Students come to appreciate the opportunity to learn from each other and, in fact, their final products reflect that they consider and apply many of the recommendations of their peers - and to critique is to also internalize the idea of what is 'good' and how to get there.  

Students learn from each other - as they would in a real world task, one would hope, and I have the opportunity to see if anyone is veering way off track prior to receiving a final product for grading.  Student feedback (graduate level) has been overwhelmingly positive and, rather than a 'con' listed as "Discouragement by sense of inferiority to others." I find they support one another and are encouraged to improve their final product.  

Likewise, this approach does not displace my input and guidance (if that is the meaning of the con "Displaces expert feedback") and another Pro is that it forces students to keep up with assignments and makes it painfully public when they are not prepared - at least I find that is a Pro in my book.  Students don't mind making a few excuses to the teacher, but they seem to be uneasy when they are unprepared in front of peers.

Pros and Cons referred to in the paragraphs above:

  • Replaces regular weekly discussions with project-centric discussion
  • Feedback of many eyes, peer review
  • Synergy of community support through each stage
  • Mimics feedback opportunities in professional work environments
  • Anxiety of exposure
  • Discouragement by sense of inferiority to others
  • Displaces expert feedback
If you want to ask a question, add or modify this list, provide alternative ideas or respond to topic in general, please post as comment.  

Note: cross-posted to both Blogging English, a closed (so far) ESL study group, and the public blog, Computers, Language, Writing
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Study Group Poll

Hello all. Here's the poll about opening the blog. There are three answers: Yes; No; Undecided. Voting is anonymous: no one will know how you voted. Obviously, participation level (number of votes cast) will show what turn out is like. Votes not cast (low turn out) will count as #3 or undecided.  If the the majority is undecided, then I will decide what to do with the blog, what changes to make.

Tentatively, the poll will run 2-3 weeks. I'll send all blog members, including past members I still have addresses for, at least one email reminder. When I make the next blog post, I'll put a copy of the poll at the top of the sidebar so that it will stay visible and easy to find.

Use comments to discuss pros and cons ~ advantages and disadvantages ~ of changing Blogging English to a public blog. Feel to make suggestions and share your ideas about what direction Blogging English should take in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

resolutions & other end of year thoughts

Have you thought about your New Years resolutions? That is always a good writing exercise. Writing them is easy. Keeping them is the hard part. Do yourself a favor: be realistic. Set possible goals and not too many. 
I run the Question Board and wrote the post. You are always welcome to post questions about English grammar and usage there. Don't ask me to look up words or correct writing for you though. I also post resources, links and short lessons. Here's a recent mini-lesson on metaphors & writing from the Board 

I'm still thinking about how to frame the survey question about going public. The more I think about it, the better I like the idea. Who knows, maybe drop in visitors will stir things up, get discussion going. We'll make this a really open class. Plus, I'll save time ~ no answering more mail, assigning writing samples and assessments, processing applications. Just show up. Or not. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Season's Greetings: a tree, gifts & music

Our Christmas tree is an example of visual poetry, a sonnet in the shape of a Christmas tree in a planter.

Next "under the tree" (in a manner of speaking) is Larry Ferlazzo's up-to-date list of the Best Places To Learn About Christmas, Hanukkah, & Kwanzaa

What are holidays without music? Jingle Jams: A Holiday Mix From NPR Music is an online playlist is from National Public Radio. NPR Music asked partner stations to submit their favorite holiday songs. The continuous stream is packed with gems from Bach to The Ramones to Louis Armstrong. It's a perfect playlist for the season. 

Note: These songs play in a continuous loop — you will be joining in midstream

Sunday, December 19, 2010

5 Online (EFL/ESL) Pronunciation Resources

5 Online (EFL/ESL) Pronunciation Resources via I hope it works! by Ronaldo Lima, Jr. on 12/16/10. Ronaldo writes, 

On my Phonetics and Phonology wiki there are hundreds of resources, including dozens of links
similar to ones posted here, so feel free to drop by and take whatever you want (as long as it is for educational use and with the appropriate references, of course).

Here are my 5 of my favorite online resources for EFL/ESL pronunciation:
  • Phonetics: The Sounds of American English - This website was created by the University of Iowa and it has a great visual display. The sounds are divided into manner of articulation, place of articulation and voicing (for the consonants); and monophthongs and diphthongs (for the vowels). Once you click a symbol, you can see the movement of the speech organs on an animation, you can break this animation into step-by-step movements/description, you can see a video of a person pronouncing the sound, and you can hear words that contain the sound. It's great for professionals wanting to learn/review the symbols and for students looking for specific pronunciation practice/reinforcement.
  • Cambridge Pronunciation - Very simple yet useful information in great animations (simulating a movie theater). You choose to work with sounds (which are actually diphthongs), stress (word and sentence), intonation and the phonemic chart. 
  • Another resource by Cambridge, with lots of pronunciation games, is Cambridge English Online.
  • BBC Pronunciation Tips is a website with videos, charts, videos, quizzes, podcasts, and the three programs that BBC Learning English produced on pronunciation as part of the Talk about English series in 2005. The best of all is that most things are downloadable. 
  • Rachel's English is a website that I have discovered recently. Its greatest highlight is the videos produced by Rachel. The videos are useful for both teachers and students, for Rachel doesn't drone on and on about terminology and theory, but rather shows the subtleties of the movements of the speech organs in high quality videos. You can also connect to her youtube channel and her twitter account.
Coming next: Phonetics and Phonology online resources for graduate students and professors.

Friday, December 17, 2010

on rewriting

This short article illustrates the deep difference between making corrections, proofreading or copy editing, and rewriting,

William James on rewriting from Sentence first

William James said he wrote every page of the Principles of Psychology four or five times over. Vladimir Nabokov made a similar admission: that he had rewritten, often several times, every word he had ever published.

The craft of writing is in large part rewriting. The main thing at first is to get our ideas down — to record rough outlines, key images and impressions. After that comes the slower work of rewriting: changing and rearranging, pruning and smoothing. We strengthen connections, tighten syntax, pare away the clutter, and find words that tally better with our intentions.

Rewriting overlaps with editing. Both aim to enhance the sense, structure, style and coherence of prose. Writers often describe the act of verbal composition in three-dimensional spatial terms, almost as though they were sculpting. The comparison is familiar. Sculptors prod and pester and play with a lump until at last, inspected from various angles, it has become a luminous or at least bearable object.

In a letter to his friend Sarah Whitman, to whom he had sent some proofs of the Principles, William James wrote:

If there is aught of good in the style, it is the result of ceaseless toil in rewriting. Everything comes out wrong with me at first; but when once objectified in a crude shape, I can torture and poke and scrape and pat it till it offends me no more.

Toiltorturescrapeoffends: his words convey concretely the difficulty of rewriting. This is why some people dislike it. It takes practice and perseverance to master the selection and arrangement of words. Ernest Hemingway told the Paris Review that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with it. Asked what the problem was, he replied, "Getting the words right." James would have sympathized.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Catching up and considering directions

Catching up: 

Our Blogging English group has a new member, Eric (English nickname), who has been lurking, checking out the page and getting to know us ~ as best he can in the company of lurkers.

@Eric ~ please post your introduction as a comment to this post. Other not-so new members who have yet to introduce yourselves, please do the same. Until I either work out better ways to get you to write or give up on it altogether, I'll stick with the old, familiar standbys: nagging and posting reminders as well as asking you to write reviews, share opinions and respond to posts.

I haven't post a reply to Sadamu yet because, in addition to getting caught up in other writing and internet obligations, I've been thinking about what to write. That also means thinking about what he wrote, my overreaction, obvious misunderstandings, implications for the self-paced learning project, learning and teaching styles and strategies, and especially about writing.

There's enough for more than a post there. Too much to cover here or in a single comment. Here's the short version: I apologize to Sadamu for having overreacted. I was less disappointed in his reply (which I still think missed the point) than in the failure of the group to write and post. Needing to re-write is NOT an excuse for not writing to on the class writing blog. If I don't see your writing, I'm going to assume that you are not writing. So if you are, show me.

Revision or re-writing is another matter altogether and a complex task with many steps that even most native speaker college students don't get.  Of course you should proof-read before posting to correct basic mistakes that you notice.  You should also reread what you have written, perhaps read it out loud to yourself to make sure it makes sense.  That's your initial draft, which may be just fine for informal writing. Then share it by posting so we can give you feedback, comment, offer suggestions and so on.

This process is called peer review. In a way it goes back to and depends on introductions (the ones most of you have not posted). Why? Because we need to know your writing goals and purpose to make helpful suggestions. For example, I know that Eric plans to take the TOEFL. He will be given a limited time to write a short formal essay. Therefore, we know that Eric can't afford to settle for informal writing. What can other goals tell us?

Indirectly, this brings me to the second part of the title, considering directions...

If no one is willing to write, then what is the purpose? Should I make this blog public and just post lessons, study materials and "learning to learn" information? I made the blog private rather than public for you to have privacy and be more comfortable sharing your writing.  It's up to you.

You may be able to make some improvement in your writing just by writing alone and for yourself. On the other hand, you could end up just reinforcing mistakes and not improving but fossilizing mistakes. For sure, you are unlikely to become a proficient writer without feedback. Good writers, even great and famous ones, need feedback, to be told where they had problems and what they needed to fix. It's up to you.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How to Help Students Write Better

Although this is a self study group (which means I don't make a habit of marking student writing), writing is a primary focus. That makes this article relevant. If you want to write better, feedback and revision are necessary. How do you propose handling that within our DIY (do it yourself) structure?
So is writing, not that anyone else has been doing much of that lately.

The following are not my words and do not apply to blogging on the study group blog, which is informal writing to practice writing and very different from college writing.
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