We are committed as Prep-for-HighSchool teachers to ensure our students can deal with the complex challenges of the Academic Essay Process. It begins with general paragraph writing in semester one, and ends with our students developing the skills to produce the rudiments of a reasonably well-organized five paragraph essay. Although we know there are many opponents to the model of a five-paragraph opinion essay, we believe that it helps them to understand how to approach subjects they are not so comfortable with, and sets them up with the proper approach to any formal academic writing assignment by focusing on researching, planning and organization.
The reason for this post is to share with you an activity I came up with yesterday that had great responses from our students today. It actually came to my mind after having had much rejection to the idea of all that I refer to above. The students simply do not want to think past the obvious in and out of class, which does not bode well for research, development of any and all writing ideas and the success of a research writing assignment. So, I realized that it was an opportunity to see what the sticking point was. The next few paragraphs explain how the classroom activity went.
We put both classes into pairs, and asked them to tear a couple of A4s from their notebooks. They were told that these would be posted on the board in ten minutes, once they had discussed the steps for organizing an OPINION ESSAY on one sheet, and THE WRITING PROCESS itself on the other.
The students started talking, and it was clear from the get go that they were baffled by the task. Even though they asked for help, it was imperative that I didn't buckle and help them. I wanted it to be a SOLO task for them to reflect and question their own knowledge and understanding of the Academic Writing Process. Their frustrations were noticeable, and many of them gave up.
I closed the first session after ten minutes and asked the student pairs to blue tac their efforts to the white board. The students, now even more curious, start giggling and pointing to other groups ideas of the process. I instructed them to look and take note of their peers papers. The penny dropped as the collaborative action took place. After a few minutes, I told them to return to their seats and amend their first drafts. Now, the mood was frantic with the writer in each group furiously writing their newly found ideas. It was really exciting, if I am honest.
To end up, we worked as a class and formulated both processes on a Google Doc. Every student participated and the teaching-learning environment was abuzz with hands raised, and everyone desperate to have their say. Below are the results for both organizational models.
1 THINK ABOUT THE TOPIC, & DO RESEARCH IF NECESSARY
2 BRAINSTORM &/OR HI-CLOUD IT
3 DECIDE ON THE PURPOSE OF YOUR ESSAY
4 DECIDE UPON THE THE MESSAGE
5 DECIDE UPON THE AUDIENCE
6 WHICH INFORMATION DO YOU WISH TO TRANSFER/SHARE WITH THE READER
7 BUILD A THESIS FROM GENERAL TO SPECIFIC
8 WRITE YOUR INTRODUCTION (GENERAL TO SPECIFIC)
9 TOPIC SENTENCE
10 SUPPORTING IDEAS
11 RELEVANT EXAMPLES (X HOW MANY PARAGRAPHS YOU ARE WRITING)
THE WRITING PROCESS ITSELF
1 GET THE TOPIC FROM THE TEACHER
2 (BEGIN THE ESSAY PROCESS): THINK ABOUT THE TOPIC, & DO RESEARCH IF NECESSARY
3 BRAINSTORM &/OR HI-CLOUD IT
4 DECIDE ON THE PURPOSE OF YOUR ESSAY
5 DECIDE UPON THE THE MESSAGE
6 DECIDE UPON THE AUDIENCE
7 WHICH INFORMATION DO YOU WISH TO TRANSFER/SHARE WITH THE READER
8 BUILD A THESIS FROM GENERAL TO SPECIFIC
9 WRITE YOUR INTRODUCTION (GENERAL TO SPECIFIC)
10 TOPIC SENTENCE
11 SUPPORTING IDEAS
12 RELEVANT EXAMPLES (X HOW MANY PARAGRAPHS YOU ARE WRITING)
14 SUBMIT IT TO YOUR TEACHER FOR FEEDBACK
15 RECEIVE THE FEEDBACK AND REWRITE BASED ON YOUR TEACHER’S SUGGESTIONS & YOUR OWN THOUGHTS FOR IMPROVEMENT
16 RESUBMIT IT TO PENZUCLASSROOM
17 WAIT FOR TEACHER (VIDEO) FEEDBACK
18 OPEN PENZUCLASSROOM AND REWRITE FOR THE FINAL TIME MAKING SURE FOR LOGIC, ORGANIZATION AND LANGUAGE.
19 THEN SUBMIT FOR YOUR GRADE
After this was completed, I thought of the possible ICT-ELT moment I could have. I got out my iphone and opened my recording app. I then interviewed each student, and the audios are below.
This activity really hit home to me the need for constant/continuous student reflection on any and every complex learning requirement in the classroom. By their own admission, this simple reflective activity with peer-collaboration made them realize they didn't know how to approach essay writing, even though we have been doing paragraph writing for months, and showing them what they had to do to move to the next level. It was great to see them all admit what they have to do, and I hope as they enter this academic writing environment, they can feel more confident that they need to focus more in their studies before the end of the month.