Going from being a teacher, to being a learner
Isn’t interesting how, sometimes you teach something, and then when you actually do what you are teaching, you see how hard it is? Well, that is what happened to me. I went from a teacher to a learner. I tried to go from what I teach, to actual practice, and this, my friend, was a tough cookie. But what am I talking about? OK, let’s take things from the beginning.
Academic Writing. I teach it. I teach how to do research, how to use the research, paraphrase, summarise, make your voice stand out.I talk about having arguments and supporting them, but today while I was working on my Delta module 3 assignment*, I realised that this is really hard! So, let’s see some typical learner problems, what I tell my learners and what I actually think.
Academic Writing: Learner (and my) problems
- Finding/ Choosing the right sources
I often tell my learners that they will/ should find a lot of sources to support what they want to say and that it is important to make their views stronger and valid by supporting them with research. I then go on to say, “When you do not have enough sources. Go to the library. Search more. Search, search, search. Be critical. Read what your sources say carefully. Make notes. If there is not enough research, synthesise information from various sources”.
What I really think:
- There is so much research out there and understanding what and how to use something is extremely hard. Searching online or in a library is time consuming. Not being able to access freely what you want is frustrating. This may lead your critical thinking down the drain and you may end up using what you found even though you now it is not always the best. It is like using a source just to use a source.
- There may not be enough research on what you want to argue because researchers focus on other things or because what you are writing about is fairly new or so on. In this case, you cannot support your views with a source, making your argument weaker than you want.
True story: Today, I wanted to write about some of the challenges NNS EAP students have when giving oral presentations and could not find sources mentioning anything about body language or intonation patterns. In fact, I could not support half of the things, I know as a teacher, are challenging for international students who have to give a presentation.
I often tell my learners that if there is not research out there that must mean something. But what does it mean in my case? Are these not implications or is it that someone has not written about them?
- Your first draft should not be your first draft
Or should I say, “always redraft before you give me your first draft.” Often when I teach EAP, I ask to see a student’s first draft. I always tell my students, “Please make sure that you have read, re-read everything before you give me your first draft. The better your first draft is, the better feedback I will give you”.
What I really think: Spot on! My first draft was rubbish. I redrafted so many times before handing in my so called first draft.
I always tell my students, ”it is important to plan, make notes of what you will include in each section. This helps the flow of your ideas. It makes your writing more coherent and concise”. Yes, it is time consuming and requires a lot of thought and coining of ideas BUT the end product is much better than just sitting on your chair and writing.
What I really think: Planning does require time and when you have been reading, reading, reading, the time constraints are really tight, it is much easier to start writing cause in your mind, you think you have your essay all mapped out. Unfortunately, the time you saved planning, is spent on redrafting, so I am adamant about the planning stage. It should be as meticulous as possible actually.
- Word count
I tell my learners, ”there is always a word count and you need to stick to it. It is important to be able to say what you want to say with fewer words and that is why you need to write and rewrite. Paraphrase and summarise.”
What I really think: Being able to summarise, paraphrase and be in the word limit requires a lot of training. It is not easy. Word count is something I always struggle with, I like to ramble and I am a chatter box (my blog is called myeltrambles for a reason). If I struggle, what do I think my students do? I need to see how I stick to the word count, and try to transfer the strategies I employ to my learners.
- Citing/Referencing correctly from the beginning
As the reference system I teach is the Harvard referencing system, one of the first things I show my learners is how to cite and compile a reference list. I do this during the first lessons. I do not just teach them how to paraphrase but I also focus on citations. I tell my learners, “if you leave the referencing and citations for the end, then it will be very time consuming (and boring). To make matters worse, you may even plagiarise and forget to cite a source (the word plagiarism always alerts them).Knowing when to use italics or ‘ should be something you do correctly from your first draft.”
What I really think: Get it over and done with. As a writer of an academic text, you need to find out what the referencing system is and use it from the first line. Also start making the reference list when you first use the source in your paper. it saves you the turmoil of compiling a reference list at the end ( I do not like that. It takes so much time!).
- Tutorials/ Ask questions about your writing
First drafts are often followed up by tutorials. Students get a chance to ask questions about their first draft based on the worries / questions they have or their tutor’s comments. I always tell my students to write these questions down, have a plan and ask, ask, ask. Some do. Others don’t.
What I really think: Asking questions is necessary. Yes, I think I do know what I am writing about but I still need help. There are things I am already on the fence about, which is why I already have 5 questions about some of the things I wrote in my Delta assignment. I have already asked them. I actually sent a first draft with some questions.
Quoting my friend Vedrana, ” being in your learners’ shoes is a great way to see if you are focusing on the right things as a teacher!”
Word count: unknown : )
*Today is world Teachers’ day and this is the day I wrote about what it feels like to do what you teach.Going from a teacher to a learner. If you ask me, a good teacher needs to know what it feels like to be a learner…….
Till next time…..