Writing teachers have to develop their own methods | Inquirer News

Writing teachers have to develop their own methods

12:01 AM July 01, 2014

How can YOU teach writing effectively?

Whenever this question is asked, writing teachers look for fresh tool kits, share best practices and find new techniques.

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Despite the various methods, many teachers still complain about the appalling quality of their students’ writing.

Should they look for new alternatives?

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In his article, “Toward a Postmethod Pedagogy,” B. Kumaravadivelu suggests shifting from the alternative method to the alternative-to-method model of teaching.

Hinged on the belief that every classroom is distinct, this model of pedagogy states that no one is more qualified to grasp the complexity and uniqueness of a classroom than an insider—the teacher.

Teachers can form their own personal theories to make sense of the chaos in their writing classrooms. Instead of borrowing methods from outside, they will devise their own, right inside their classrooms.

But in many schools, teachers are like assembly-line factory workers. Their roles are fixed and predefined, their lessons pegged to rigid curricula and their work timed.

Need to be bold

Thus, the alternative-to-method pedagogy is only for teachers who can make bold decisions in their classrooms.

When teachers are able to make such decisions, they can go into  a much broader field of theoretical inquiry and reflection.

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How can you teach writing effectively in a second-language writing context?

The key word is context.

When writing is taught as a mere set of mechanical skills, teachers are wasting their time. Writing is always a political and sociocultural practice. Learning and teaching how to write are never neutral.

Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital, some scholars argue that writing well in English as a second language requires the acquisition of such valuable capital. Writing in Standard English comes with prestige.

In the Philippines,  students born into middle-class families are one step ahead of those from working-class families. Easier access to more highly valued linguistic resources at home and school means a more powerful linguistic currency, which affords middle-class students almost exclusive membership in elite communities of practice.

When the production of texts in writing classrooms is shaped by an elitist view and practice, the search for an effective method of teaching writing becomes irrelevant to struggling student writers.

In what direction will writing teachers go? They may explore other possibilities for less privileged student writers.

Accepting ‘local’ English

They may acknowledge, for instance, the legitimacy of localized and marginalized English used by Standard English-deprived student writers.

If writing is viewed as a medium of creating and conveying a reality, then a specific variety of English should be recognized as legitimate in its own right.

After such recognition of legitimacy is made, teachers may see writing as a practice embedded in more complex and fluid social relations outside the classroom.

As their vision widens, they may come to realize that every piece of text is created not just in physical but also in dynamic,            contested discursive spaces.

In these microspaces, teachers can acquire some form of power. Slowly, the objectives of their lesson plans may take new directions. Their fixation on finding the best methods is reduced. Their consciousness of contextual factors that impinge on the process of writing is heightened.

Teachers can raise more crucial questions: In what ways can I localize my pedagogical practices in the writing classroom?  Why should my students take writing in English seriously?

If the teaching of writing is to be a fruitful task, teachers should seriously consider these questions. Why students want/refuse to write and how much/less they invest in the activity of writing will certainly influence teachers’ everyday decisions in their writing classrooms.

If students find writing in English a deeply rewarding task, they will invest more in it.

If they feel their texts are valued inside and outside the classroom, they will write more authentically.

When writing teachers stop undermining “nonstandard” English, they will see uniquely woven texts.

When writing teachers regard text production as socially mediated and relevant, they will witness their teaching practices take on fresh meaning.

When writing teachers legitimize nonelitist and less valorized ways of writing, they will discover multiple realities and hear more distinct voices.

Writing teachers’ seemingly endless pursuit of the most effective methods is not entirely fruitless. But effective teachers of writing in second language contexts go beyond asking how.

They begin with critical inquiry. They remain optimistic. They never grow tired of finding potential spaces of agency.

(Schooled in resources-starved public schools in Lipa City, the author is a “nomadic” English teacher, a long-distance walker and backpacker.)

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TAGS: Learning, methods, Writing
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