Monday, March 31, 2014

Essay Writing and Student Autonomy

One definition of autonomy (from the source of all things good: Wikipedia) is: the ability to take charge of one's own learning.

I believe that the current model of teaching paragraph/essay writing in most unis in Korea (and perhaps around the world where English is taught as a second or foreign language....I don't really know) does nothing to foster student autonomy.  This model is basically that the student writes something and gives it to the teacher, probably with very little in the way of editing.  The teacher spends ridiculous amounts of time editing something that in some cases is barely understandable, gives it back to the student and they make the changes.  Repeat the cycle endlessly.  This cycle can also be done with peer-editing, of which I am not a big fan of either.  In this model, the learner essentially takes very little responsibility for turning out a quality product on their own because they know that the teacher or friend will just make the changes they need. 

However, this is 100% unlike real-life.  When students are taking an English proficiency test that involves writing, there is no teacher or friend sitting next to them, helping them along.  Nor would they have this at any job.  They would just be expected to turn out a decent email or whatever they would need to write. 

So my system?  I'm attempting to teach students to self-edit by giving them check-lists with things like, "Check all the verbs: correct tense?"  and "What is your thesis statement?  Is it stated or implied?"  And, I'm not totally unkind.  I'll read essays and give general feedback like, "Your hook is quite weak....what about changing it to something like....."  Yes, it's challenging.  No, I'm just not lazy.  I truly think it will be better for the students in the end, even if they are not so happy about it.  Students generally hate what is not easy for them, but spoon-feeding has really never been my style. 

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