Thesis Writing: A Next Step in Learning

Tara Rai

Writing is a rigorous process. A good writing needs enough practice on the part of the writer. Moreover, academic writing is well organized and needs good effort. As a part of the academic course, I carried out a research on “Feedback in English Language Learning: Teachers’ Practices and Students’ Perceptions”. I went through several hard times during this research. The problem began from the very starting day of the writing process. The foremost problem I faced was to find out the way out for finding out the topic that I was interested in. It was not that easy for me to find out the area of my interest on which I was about to carry out the research. Hardly, I decided to do my research on a given topic. The topic suddenly came in my mind when I reviewed many available literatures related to language teaching and learning. Going through several literatures, I came to know that the role of feedback cannot be neglected, especially, in the process of second language learning. As being a student of semester, I was thinking of the feedback practice at the university. I wanted to find out whether the students are receiving effective feedback in the classroom or not, whether they are satisfied with it or not. What different ways are there to provide feedback to the students? These all led me to choose this topic.

Literature review is the most important aspect in any research. You can guide your research very well if you have good review of literature. Review helps to find out the gap in any area. Moreover, you can come up with the contrasting idea after the review of the literature. Finding out the appropriate area of interest in any research is challenging to any researcher. In the same way, I also went through several sleepless and stressed nights thinking over the area of my interest in carrying out the research. Several nights, I wandered in dream of finding out the suitable topic for my research. I used to dream of the same thing-research topic but forgot after I woke up. I myself didn’t know in which area I was interested in. It took me a couple of weeks to think about the topic. At some point, I thought that I could not do. But then, I gathered the courage to do it. And finally, I decided the topic. The journey of carrying out research did not stop there. It was just the beginning and a lot more was to come.

When the topic suddenly came into my mind, I became so happy. But the happiness did not last for long as I thought of the whole process of writing it.  I was like…(कुहिरोको काग). Sometimes, I thought that I took it more seriously than it needed to be. But the other times, I thought that it was ok! At some point, I thought that it was not of my reach.

I thought like I was lost in the ocean. Sometimes, I thought of changing the area of research. But when the whole struggle of coming up to that level came into my mind, I forgot the idea of doing so.

I had my own kind of mental map when I planned for doing my research. I wanted to do it on my own way. But the turmoil came when I asked my supervisor about the topic and he led me to other way. This made me sad again-so sad that I stopped working on it for several days. But ultimately, it was my work and I had to do it at any cost. I started working with the proposal again. I worked to first, second and third draft giving it to the final shape.

During the process of writing these all the drafts, I took support and guidance from my supervisor, teachers and my dear friends. When my proposal got the final shape, I felt like achieving a great victory over the enemies. It was the day I took a step forward. It was half done but there was a long way forward to go. And the paths were not that easy. The paths were not pitched-graveled, sloppy and spiky. I stepped back many times and it took me several weeks to move forward.

Collecting the required data is the next challenge in any research. I wanted to do my research through the questionnaire and classroom observation of the teachers. Collecting the data taught me the next lesson-the lesson of sketching all the possible future before the task begins. A single prediction may not work as a whole. So, what a researcher needs to think is that there are many alternatives way forward and these all should be kept in mind before conducting any research. I wanted to do my research based on the classroom practice of the teachers and simply through the perceptions of the students. But, I failed many times in getting the right idea of doing so as I lacked the prerequisites necessary to it. So, I learnt the lesson of looking out for the multiple possibilities of any result. A single lens does not suffice a good research work. I also thought of changing the whole research work as I was quite unable to collect the required data from the sample. The problem added when I could not collect the data from the respondents. Hardly, the respondents returned back the filled up questionnaire. So, good rapport with the respondents is also a part of survey research. I myself was not satisfied with my work. But then, hardly, I collected the required data from the respondents and the observation of the classes. The data were not of good quality though.

After the collection of the data, I met my supervisor time and again for guidance. I was lost for almost more than a month for the analysis and the interpretation of the data. Looking out the ideas from the teachers and friends, finally, I came up with the first draft. It was very rough and incomplete. With the help of regular guidance and support of the supervisor, I did it. Working with the first, second and third draft, I came to the final version. Even after the final version, I thought that I was missing somewhere.

Doing good research itself is challenging and the tag of good student added more challenge to me. So, what I feel sometimes is being good is always challenging. Everyone has their eyes on you. It adds to your stress-stress not only in your research but in every step of your academic journey, eventually personal! Sorry! Being somebody is always dangerous!

Ms. Tara Rai is a recent graduate from the Department of English Education, TU. Her master’s thesis explores the practices of providing feedback in ELT.

My Experience of Teaching Writing in School

Shanti Upreti

Introduction

I have been teaching English for a decade and a half. I started teaching English from a private English medium school in Kailali. As a novice teacher, I had an energy and ideas to teach.

Later I got a mentor; a head teacher of a reputed school in the region. She was quite inspiring for teachers. It was a turning point in my career. I found myself motivated to make changes in the classroom as I learned many things from her.

Chalk-and-talk method was the main teaching way in this part of the country in those days. It does not promote student-centred activities nor does it enhance their creativity. Many English teachers wish to improve students’ writing skills. However, it is not an easy job. Writing skill receives less attention in my context although it is well specified in our school curriculum. It has been evident that writing plays a significant role in improving overall English language proficiency.

Writing practices

I teach the English language to the upper primary and secondary level students. Writing is an expressive skill and it is felt one of the most challenging language skills to be taught and learnt in my context. I believe writing is not merely a transfer of ideas from one’s brain to paper; it involves organising and structuring ideas. Writing skill begins with copying the given text and ends with free writing provided that students have mastered the skill of combining letters into words and basic vocabulary. Learners have to learn vocabulary and a pattern of writing. Likewise, they need to generate ideas to be organised and a point to be developed; the theme to be explained in the piece. Many students are fluent and coherent in speech but they do not produce coherent pieces in writing of the same speech.

Students do the writing tasks both as homework and classwork. These kinds of writing tasks they do are completing exercises given in textbooks or practice books, answering comprehension questions, filling in the blanks and so on. They are also required to write short paragraphs and essays on different familiar topics.

Here is an example of a paragraph on the topic ‘library’ written by a student of upper primary level:

One of the other examples are writing is book reviews. The following is the book review on ‘The Alchemist’, an international bestseller written by one of my students:

In general, one of the objectives of teaching writing at the upper primary level is to develop skills in students’ to express their personal thoughts, insights, feelings and ideas. Teachers assign various activities depending upon the level of students and objectives of the lessons in this level. Some writing exercises aim to develop the ability of students to think independently giving them room for innovation. Students generate ideas on paper, construct paragraph and develop abilities to use grammar, vocabulary and punctuation marks properly.

My Experiences

Students usually answer questions, write paragraphs and essays. Most of the exercises are based on textbooks. I follow learner-centred activities to develop writing skills rather than writing on the board and making students copy it. Learners go through different stages of writing and they learn to write by doing. Furthermore, I provide maximum opportunity for them to think on the related topics, generate ideas and make notes of them. Then they are encouraged to organise those ideas.

In my experience, my students show a positive attitude towards writing. They pay attention to writing, describe the surrounding nearby them and try to get the meaning from what they write. They practise reading out what they write. They are careful of their spellings. Some of them also summarise the written texts in some instances.

However, it is not always easy for my learners to write as they lack confidence in it but I feel happy with them when they try improving the use of new vocabulary and sentence structures and make a flow of writing. My students commonly make errors in writing but for me, the errors are of great interest and usefulness. I collect the errors, study them, classify them in various ways and implement different ways to tackle them. The learners primarily commit errors in grammar, punctuation marks, contextual vocabulary and parts of speech. I have experienced that the more exposure they receive in the English language, the less error they commit. Therefore, I recommend teachers to provide maximum exposure in English and provide specific feedback to their errors rather than saying good, excellent or try again, improve your writing etc.

Conclusion

Students frequently write answers of short and long questions, write paragraphs and essays. Most of the exercises are text book focused. I employ learner centered activities to develop writing skills excluding write on the board and make student copy it. I attempt to provide maximum opportunity to think related ideas and make notes of them. Then they are encouraged to organize those ideas.

Ms. Shanti Upreti teaches English at upper primary and secondary level in Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari-Kailali.

Being Familiar with Academic Writing

Nani Babu Ghimire

Twenty-four years ago, on a fine morning, my maternal grandfather was having a conversation with one of his friends. He said, “My grandson wrote a letter in English and sent to his uncle in Okhaldhunga“. His friend replied, “It’s amazing. He has done a great job!” My grandfather felt proud of what his grandson (me) had achieved by writing a letter. This was my first piece of creative writing. The others I wrote were what I memorised. I also felt that I had achieved a great feat. I had gone through a book of local writer and followed the pattern of writing a personal letter. I have taught the English language in a community campus affiliated with Tribhuvan University for a decade. I am currently doing MPhil in English language education at Tribhuvan University. In this blog piece, I focus on how I got acquainted with academic writing during the first five months of the MPhil program.

I used to consider that the creative and academic writings are the same. Now I learned that academic writing is different from the creative ones. Academic writing is an activity of academics which requires a standard language. I got an opportunity to read what Greene and Lidinsky (2012) said: “Academic writing is what scholars do to communicate with other scholars in their fields of study, their disciplines (p.1)”. They further added that academic writers or scholars use specialised language to capture the complexity of an issue or to introduce specific ideas from their discipline. I learned that academic writing includes serious thoughts, complex sentences, specialised vocabulary, and variety in construction. Academic writing is thus authentic, objective, unambiguous, systematic and purposeful.

I have experiences of teaching, supervising masters theses and carrying out small-scale researches. I have also published a few journal articles in local journals. However, as a student of  MPhil, I felt I have not been much familiar with academic writing. One day our teachers in ‘Advanced Qualitative Research’ asked us a question: “Have you ever written a daily journal in your academic career?” We did not have the answer as many of us do not have the practice of writing even a page every day. They suggested us that novice academics should write a reflective summary of an article or any readings we have gone through on that day. Listening to them what I felt that I had not done what I am supposed to do to be an academic.

After two months, our teachers gave us some assignments to do. The teachers instructed us to write an introductory part of a research-based article on any topic. I was assigned to write a report on a selected topic choosing a research paradigm, an academic article and an experience on the influential professional issue. I found myself comfortable with the first two than writing an experience.

Regarding selecting the research issue and the problem, I had to strive a lot in the beginning. I was instructed to find an important issue, mostly in language education in Nepal in which I am interested in. I was able to choose an issue after going through several books, articles and interaction with teachers. I selected the issue and wrote a concept note on it and submitted to my professors. Then they advised us to link it with a theory, theoretical grounding of the issue. This was the most difficult part for me. I took support from my teachers and I went through many research articles and books. I wrote the theoretical framework of my issues as the second step for my assignment.

In the next step, they told us to collect data selecting appropriate research methodology. I have to mention the details of the methodology part. They made us practice developing themes from the transcription of our data. Finally, as the third assignment, they asked us to prepare a complete research-based article on the issue that we have selected as the first assignment. Doing a lot of practice, visiting different websites, studying research-based journal articles and taking help from teachers I completed my final assignment.

Reflection

The narrative that I mentioned above asserts to me that I am really satisfied with five months of my MPhil class. First of all, I took initiation to write a reflection on different issues that I am interested in and summary of the text that I studied. I learnt to choose the research issues and problems from the practical life for carrying out research. I learned to develop a theoretical framework on an issue of the research. Similarly, I got ideas to collect data using audiovisual devices, transcribe the recorded data in the paper following the rules and criteria of transcription, develop themes from the transcription, analyse and interpret the themes with the voices of my research participants and related literature. In a nutshell, I received a lot of ideas to write a research-based article in the first semester. I believe, it is an example of learning to create an academic writing.

At this point,

I started the journey of my creative writing by composing a personal letter when I was studying in Grade Ten. I have been a teacher in schools and colleges for several years. However, the MPhil program taught me to create an academic article. With this five-month experience, I felt that creating an academic article is different from writing in other forms as it has distinct features to be considered.

Reference

Green, S. & Lidinsky, A. (2012). From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text Book and Reader. New york: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.

Mr. Ghimire teaches at Siddhajyoti Education Campus in Sindhuli. He is currently pursuing MPhil in English language education from Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University.

Writing Practices at University Level in Far West Nepal: An Interactive Blogpost

Presented by: Ashok Raj Khati

In this interactive blog post, we present a scenario regarding writing practices at university level, particularly at bachelors and masters levels. The interaction focuses on the current practices, challenges and future prospects of developing writing skills on the part of students. The participants of this interaction are three young emerging scholars in English language education:

  1. Jagadish Paudel: Former lecturer at Department of English education, Dadeldhura Shiksha Campus, Dadeldhura (Currently a lecturer in University Campus, Kirtipur, TU)
  2. Mohan Singh Saud: Lecturer at Department of English education, Kailali Multiple Campus, Dhangadhi (currently a student of MPhil leading to PhD program at Graduate School of Education, TU)
  3. Jnanu Raj Paudel: Assistant professor at Tikapur Multiple Campus, Kailali (currently pursuing PhD from Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University).

Ashok: Based on your experience in the far west, when did/do your students write? I mean could you tell me some examples of what they write?

Jagadish Paudel: Leaving a few exceptions, students only write in the examination, I mean they only write for the exam. They only learn to write for examination. They usually pass the exam without enough practice of academic writing. They just read bazaar notes and pass the exam by writing what they memorise from those notes.

 

 

Mohan Singh Saud: Wow! This is really a thought-provoking question to be considered. What I can say about it is that I see students rarely involve in writing activities except at the time of examination. It’s really a pitiable condition in the region. The trend of writing is very low, almost at zero level. Though there are many things to be written for improving writing such as diary writing, writing about experiences and so on, students do not seem to be involved in developing writing skills. Majority of students are not found highly interested in writing activities.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: Students only write when they cannot avoid the situation of writing. As I have experienced in my work place and other institutions, they write only in their final examination paper. Teachers often provide them notes on the contents and students copy them in their note books. When teachers ask them to be prepared for classroom writing, they remain absent in the class.  When they are asked to write, they copy from bazaar notes, they do not make attempt of their own. They fear of being commented upon their writing. Teachers also do not encourage students to write. Teachers are mostly found writing in social media about the contemporary issues but academic writing is most neglected area in this region.

Ashok: You have a long experience of working in this region and visited several campuses particularly in affiliated with Tribhuvan University. Could you please tell us what are the current practices regarding developing writing skill of the students at the university level?

Jagadish Paudel: I do not see any practices for developing writing in most colleges I visited. Some courses have been designed for developing students’ writing skills; however, both the teachers and students, not all, do not practise the given exercises. It’s shame both the teachers and students enjoy if they are not required to write. But, students compulsorily require writing a paper or doing an assignment for a few courses. Even for such courses, the students copy from the students of previous years, or they copy from their friends who seem to be high achievers in the class.

Mohan Singh Saud: Of course, I have some experiences regarding the practices in writing. TU has designed really a very good curriculum for the development of writing skills in bachelor and master level. We can see different writing activities and tasks to be carried out by the students. But the reality is that our students are quite indifferent about writing. Teachers teach theories of writing but they do not involve students in writing activities. Students are also not interested in writing. For instance, in one of the classes, three students out of around sixty students did when I asked to write an essay. Therefore, the practical aspect of teaching and learning is missing though the curriculum has provided high priority. Teachers need to ‘complete’ (in fact the oral delivery) their courses and they think if students are involved in writing tasks in the classroom, they will be unable to complete those courses in time. So the trend of writing has been ignored.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: The syllabus for the university level has abundant strategies for developing writing skill of the students. However, it has not brought any fundamental changes in developing writing skill of the students. Academic writing course in BEd, Effective academic writing for BBS, critical writing course for BA are very resourceful for developing writing skill, but the way courses need to be handled by the teachers does not seem to be satisfactory.

Both teachers and students are exam oriented. They present the lesson in the way, it will be asked in the examination. They are asked to practice how to write topic sentence, thesis statement, supporting detail and so on while teaching paragraph. They are theoretically oriented. Moreover, the students also avoid practicing writing activities. The teacher who tries to encourage classroom practice is criticized for not being exam oriented. Therefore, the teachers also do not take much risk on adopting innovative ideas to develop writing skill. The method of writing teaching is entirely localized in wrong way and determined by the exam models. The students do not enjoy going out of exam model. Furthermore, the teachers are not interested in student centered pedagogy (practice based) and they are habituated using ready-made notes which they have prepared in advance. The syllabus is fine and I see there is a lot to do in instruction and the students’ culture of avoiding writing, but the trend has been very difficult to break.

Ashok: What are the major challenges in fostering writing culture, an essential part of the university curriculum, in this region in terms of management, teachers’ writing culture, plagiarism, bazaar notes and so on?

Jagadish Paudel: The curriculum is good for enhancing students writing culture; there are courses which foster writing. I see the problem of developing writing culture; here I do not see writing culture in students, with an exception. Similarly, most students are unaware of plagiarism. The bazaar notes are the problems for developing writing culture. Most students rely on bazaar notes for passing the exam.

Mohan Singh Saud: You raised a good question. Most examinations are especially based on reading and writing. Students read for examination and write in the examination. But in the classroom, we are not able to foster writing culture. Teaching and learning activities have become examination-oriented. I could see the harmful washback effect of testing on students’ learning. If there is any writing task in the course, students generally ask teachers “Sir, is it asked in the examination?”. If the teachers say, ”Yes”, students notice it and mark with ‘important’. I do not see any support from the campus management side to enhance writing culture. Teachers are just worried about finishing their courses, but they do not try to write anything creative. Regarding plagiarism, students just copy without any citations and referencing. They are not aware of plagiarism in several cases. Likewise, students mostly depend on bazaar notes and solution of old questions available in the market. The trend of buying books is very low. Only a few students buy prescribed textbooks. Most of the students have no books in the class. When the final examination is nearer, they search where the exam guides are found and buy the same for the exam. Nowadays students have become mechanical rather than creative. They prefer a kind of readymade answer to be studied only for the exam. So our teaching-learning trend has become spoon feeding kind of learning. The academic market is occupied with cheap low-quality bazaar notes.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: The most striking challenge in fostering writing is developing writing and sharing culture. A few teachers from this region have been writing for the newspapers and academic journals. Teachers’ writings and publications also encourage students to write. When the student is asked to write a project report, they generally expect a sample of writing the report from their teachers. They are told to visit local bookshop, a photocopy center nearby. Here, we have a loophole. These profit-making centers have soft copies of previous reports. They reproduce them again with minor modifications. For instance, some reports as the requirements for practicum (Practice teaching) are copied and pasted from previous reports with minor changes. They are not aware of the issue of plagiarism. Reproduction without acknowledgement is very common among students and teachers. As a result the students have developed an ideology that reproduction is socially accepted. The bazaar notes are models for their writings. The students are not exposed to authentic writing resources. Consequently, they have very poor writing proficiency.

Ashok: Do you see any future prospects to foster writing culture in the region?

Jagadish Paudel: I see prospects of developing writing culture in the region. For this, teachers themselves need to develop their writing habit. And this will motivate students to write something regularly. That is, teachers should not only impose the theory, but they should demonstrate their own writing. After that, students can be asked to write. Teachers must provide feedback to the students in their writing. Similarly, management of the colleges must encourage and support to the students and teachers to develop a writing culture in their campuses.

Mohan Singh Saud: Yeah, I am quite hopeful that writing skill of our students at university level can be fostered in this region. Students need to be encouraged to write anything they like such as a daily journal, narratives, paragraph, poems and essays. And teachers need to provide them with specific feedback on them.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: The universities in developed countries have shifted their focus on writing at present. Teachers in this region need to be aware of this shift. The writing can only be enhanced when writing and sharing culture is developed. Sharing the piece of writing among experts and peers helps to improve further. Reading culture is another aspect to be developed among the teachers and students. Both teachers and students are to be encouraged to involve in academic writing. The university should adopt mechanism to check plagiarism.

ELT Choutari thanks our valued participants for their ideas and it opens the forum for you to share your thoughts in the comment boxes below.

Developing Students’ Writing Skill: Teachers’ Views from Far West

Background

Januka Bhatta

I have been teaching English for more than a decade in English medium schools in the far western region. During my teaching, I found some students actively participating in classroom activities, whereas others have a slow pace in their learning. Students are found to be enjoying the reading sections and listening to their teachers, while they fear to make mistakes in other skills, like listening and speaking (Bohara, 2016). They do writing exercises every day like copying and answering questions given in the textbook but they are not yet able to produce an original and coherent piece of writing. The present curriculum of school level (secondary) has set a goal of achieving the students’ ability to produce a variety of written texts through controlled (guided) to free writing, allocating 35% of weight on it.

Challenges

English teachers, however, face several challenges to enhance the writing skills of students. I have collected the views of five English language teachers from the far western part of Nepal, especially the challenges they face while teaching writing to their students. I met two of them and telephoned the rest. Regarding challenges in developing writing, one of the teachers said:

I find difficulty in teaching writing skills than teaching other skills as my classroom is a multilingual one. I don’t understand their mother tongues except for Nepali but they take help of mother tongues to think first and express ideas on the papers. Students commonly commit errors in grammatical patterns and fail to use the punctuation marks.

The view of this teacher reveals the process the students undergo to come up with a writing piece in the English language. Likewise, it also shows how students commit errors in their writing due to the influence of their mother tongues. Another participant of my study shared his challenge this way:

My students understand the given questions but they are unable to write down the answers as they don’t have a sound vocabulary. They find difficulty in organizing sentences. They don’t use appropriate vocabulary. But I find that students can do better in guided writing and it’s easier to work because they make fewer mistakes on them.

Using appropriate vocabulary in writing answers of the questions and maintaining coherence in different pieces of writing is another challenge mentioned above. However, the teacher finds comfortable to work with students in guided writing practice than to move on a free writing (Tamang, 2018). One of the teachers from rural parts of the region said:

Mixed level of students’ English language proficiency is a challenge in my class. In the case of free writing, the students make more mistakes in terms of accuracy and organizing the ideas.

It shows that heterogeneous class is another challenge for teachers to enhance the writing skills. Likewise, a teacher teaching at English medium school explains her experiences this way:

The students can produce good paragraphs when they are provided with some clues-ideas to include in the paragraph, the sentence structures and vocabulary. Otherwise, their sentences are grammatically incorrect. They don’t even use the correct punctuation marks.

It indicates that the teachers need to provide a framework for writing a paragraph along with sentence structure and key vocabulary to use. Similar is the challenge of the following teacher, who uses the translation method to make things easier.

Students commit mistakes in spellings, sentence structure and organizing sentences. I find it easy to assign guided writing to the students. There is less exposure of the English language to students in my school. Therefore, I have to translate the written text into the Nepali language. Then it helps them to understand ideas and they can think of additional ideas to write.

Major Challenges Observed

Based on the views of the teachers, the following are the major challenges of the teachers

  1. Lack of vocabulary: students lack sufficient vocabulary to compose their writing. In fact, the vocabulary is the prerequisite for any types of writing.
  2. Incorrect grammatical pattern: use of the incorrect grammatical structure is another common challenge. One of the reasons behind this, as shared by the teachers, is the influence of their mother tongue.
  3. Less exposure in English: In many of our teaching-learning contexts, students do not get enough exposure in the English language- in terms of listening, reading, writing or speaking.
  4. Large multilevel classes:  Having different levels of students in English language proficiency in a large English classroom is an another challenge for teachers’ resourcefulness.

Some Strategies to Overcome the Challenges

These teachers use different strategies to overcome the challenges in teaching writing. One of the teachers presents some samples of writing before students generate their own writing. While another teacher reported of discussing the topic and providing some clues to further elaborate them. It could help students to think about the pattern and organize ideas in the given piece of writing (Dewan, 2018). Likewise, another teacher brings some authentic pieces of writing to the classroom. He asserted, “I bring teaching materials like the brochure, invitation card, notices and so on to show them in the classroom. It helps them to be familiar with the authentic pieces of writing.” Similarly, the next teacher explains the pattern to be followed while writing essays and paragraphs and reward students for their good effort. Likewise, another teacher provides the framework of writing on the topic, guide them in organizing the sentences and use the correct grammatical pattern. He further said: “I tell them to use simpler and shorter sentences in writing. I even make my students go to the library so that they can read short stories and other forms of writing.” This practice maximizes their exposure in the English language. The teachers’ experiences and practice show that the guided-writing practices are helpful in the initial stages to develop writing in my context.

Conclusion

I believe that EFL learners need to pay attention in planning and organizing the ideas in before producing a piece of writing. Similarly, the writing should not be taught separately but should be integrated with other language skills. Developing writing skills in students is not an easy job in rural parts of the region. Therefore, more exposure in English, use of supplementary materials, presenting model writing, sufficient practices in vocabulary and sentence structures could help in the initial stages of writing practices.

References:

Bohara, L.B. (2016). ELT at tertiary level: Perspectives from far west Nepal. ELT Choutari, December Issue, 2016.

Dewan, S. (2017). High expectations, low product: Why is writing scary ghost among our students? NELTA ELT Forum, 2017.

Tamang, BL. (2018). Paragraph writing: A process-based model. Journal of NELTA, vol-22.

 (Ms. Januka Bhatta teaches English at secondary level in Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari-Kailali.)

Welcome to the April- June Issue of ELT Choutari: Special Coverage on Advancing Writing Education #Vol. 10, Issue 87

Editorial

We are delighted to present the second quarterly issue (April- June) of ELT Choutari of 2018. Standing at this point and looking back, we have been able to publish 87 issues in the past 10 years, and we believe that it has been a good source of learning and a place for expressing feelings, ideas and professional experiences. This has really encouraged us to keep the ball rolling.

Why skill for doing a job? Whatever we attempt to do, it requires particular skills to accomplish the task successfully. For example, the way of dressing up for a party, driving a car, decorating a room, painting a picture, performing a dance, designing a building, speaking in a conference, writing an essay or doing so and so activities are skills. In a generic sense, skill is an ability to perform an activity systematically. Whether preparing a cup of coffee or writing a thesis for a degree, skills specific to the jobs label the quality and taste of both of them. I believe that a customer enjoys the taste of coffee in a cup but not the cup in a cafeteria. Therefore, the owner of the cafeteria employs professional barista to attract maximum customers and increase the sales. However, customers always talk about the taste of coffee but not the barista who prepares a nice cup of coffee for the customers. Does it make a difference to the barista’s job and skill? Sometimes it does but mostly not.

An academic writer perhaps needs to understand this fact. Although it is not easy to develop academic writing skills, the skills play a vital role to offer a nice piece of writing to readers. It does not matter whoever you are like a barista in a cafeteria kitchen but the taste matters- the taste of your writing matters! I have heard several gossips among teachers and academics that they would like to be an academic writer but I have never heard how they would become a writer. How many postgraduate students internalise the role of a barista? I believe that a barista must have spent a long life preparing the coffee to become a professional barista. S/he might have learned the skills from several mistakes and losses.

This issue offers reading various experiences of several academics who share their struggles, challenges they faced, skills they learned and some degree of academic knowledge. These articles focus on skills of writing an academic paper and suggest that academics learn academic skills from their writing activities similar to a barista who learns skills of preparing coffee from the workplace. I believe that teachers, students and emergent researchers will be benefited reading these writings about “writings”.

In the first post, Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack, Muna Rai shares her anxiety, process and pain, and pleasure of writing her Master’s thesis.

In the similar second post, Sharing My Experiences of Master’s Thesis Writing, Mamata Bhattarai shares her reflective journey of thesis writing.

Likewise, in our third post, A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School of Nepal, Bimal Khanal shares his experiences and feeling of teaching writing in the community school and perceptions of students.

Similarly, introducing our one of the popular genres “the interactive blog post”, Ashok Raj Khati weaves the policies, practices, processes and challenges in teaching writing in English Language Education (ELE) Program in Nepali Universities with the collaboration of the faculties of different universities in Nepal.

In the same way, in an exclusive interview with the expert from our thematic area of this issue, Dr Shyam Sharma focuses on the beliefs and assumptions about writing, need of writing today, issues and challenges in our writing education, and some ways forward.

In another post, Thinh Le shares tips for composing an essay and taking academic notes effectively based on his experience.

Finally, in the last post, our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki presents you the seven special photos from different areas that can be used in teaching language skills especially writing.

Here are the seven posts for you in this issue:

  1. Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack (A Student’s Experience) by Muna Rai
  2. Sharing My Experiences of Masters Thesis Writing by Mamata Bhattarai
  3. A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School in Nepal by Bimal Khanal
  4. Writing Practices in ELE Programs in Nepali Universities: An Interactive Blog Post by Ashok Khati
  5. Training Teachers to Integrate Writing Across the Disciplines: Dr Shyam Sharma
  6. Tips for Writing an Essay and Taking Academic Notes by Thinh Le
  7. Free Photos for Teaching Writing: Jeevan Karki

I would like to thank my dear friends: Jeevan Karki, Ashok Raj Khati and Praveen Kumar Yadav, the editors of http://eltchoutari.com/ for their support to bring this issue. To be honest, they have done much more than me on this issue and have ever put their greater effort to make this professional online magazine sustainable. The founders of this online magazine always deserve the core place of bigger thank you.

Finally, if you enjoy reading any post, please feel free to share in your circle and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below that will encourage us to keep moving. Similarly, you can send your reflective experiences, journals, best practices, book reviews, case studies, local and global perspectives on ELT, etc. You can email us your post at 2elt.choutari@gmail.com

Dr Karna Rana

Editor of the issue

Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack (A Student’s Experience)

Muna Rai

Background

No doubt writing a thesis is a hard work. But it becomes harder for students like me who have a limited idea about a subject that I am going to study. My study was always focused on ‘how to pass’ the exam. I rarely voyaged beyond the prescribed books and rarely generalised the things in life that I have studied. I always had a due respect to my teachers and their powerpoint slides and I became successful to note and rote them. I was like a ‘broiler kukhura’ (poultry chicken, not free range), who merely depends on others. Since I started writing my Master’s thesis, I realised the real sense of reading and writing. Before that, I might have just read and written the alphabets and words. Having little knowledge of Critical Discourse Analysis I became crazy. This was the time I suffered the most. Those were the days when I lost my hunger, sleep and even I forgot to smile. I used to see my seniors being scared of the word ‘thesis’ like a ghost. They used to say “oh god, how to write a thesis, the most terrible thing while pursuing a master degree”. I could see a thesis phobia in their eyes. And when the time came for me, I was not an exception to it.

Choosing the area of research

Before the notice came out for thesis writing, I started thinking about it. I became so much worried regarding my research topic that I could not sleep properly many nights. I planned to take some steps for selecting a topic, hoping it will help me to lessen my tension. I kept in mind the classes of Mr Ashok Sapkota, my research methodology teacher, and Prof. Dr Anjana Bhattarai, my academic writing teacher. I looked into the previous thesis titles provided by Mrs Madhu Neupane. I went to my friends’ circle and talked to them about the thesis title. They told me to “Take it easy”. Some of them said, “Thesis can be done within a month. You just go to Curriculum Resource Centre (CRC) and choose one best topic, collect two-three theses and copy and paste some portion of each”. How can I do that? I didn’t understand whether my friends were consoling me or consoling themselves.

One evening, I laid down on my bed and started to think about the research topic starring at the ceiling continuously. I recalled all those subjects which I had studied throughout four semesters. Among them, Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) struck to my attention. I quickly remembered CDA taught by my teachers in the past. And then I became determined that CDA would be my research area. The following day, I went to the department and met my teacher Mr Guru Prasad Poudel to know some possible topics on CDA. To be honest, I was seeking a topic with his help to carry out my research. I said, “Sir, I am planning to do my thesis on CDA, please suggest me one best topic on it?” My question was straightforward. He smiled with anger and said, “How can I provide you a topic, Muna?” and added “In CDA, there are two facets: one is spoken language and the other is written. You can do your thesis on anyone that interests you”. And I choose the second one.

Becoming ‘specific’ – narrowing down the area

I pulled put those bulky photocopy collections on CDA from my bookshelf and read them restlessly focusing on written texts. I became inquisitive and searched CDA in Google and Wikipedia but none of them worked out. Alas! I couldn’t find the topic. After some days the department published the lists of the students’ names and their supervisors. I was under the supervision of Dr Prem Phyak.  On the same day, he informed me that he was appointed as my thesis supervisor and he invited me and other friends in the department for the first meeting with him the following day. The following day was concluded with the general idea about the thesis. In the meeting, I expressed my interest in studying in the field of CDA.

I have the habit of reading newspapers and magazines. I used to see so many advertisements. So, at the time I thought of doing my thesis on advertisements. I became so much happy that I was able to find the thesis topic. I felt like I was flying in the sky. Another day, I rushed to the department and met my supervisor. I said, “Sir, my research topic is Critical Discourse Analysis of advertisements, how is it, sir?” Quickly he replied, “Yes you can but what kind of advertisements, Muna?” I said, “Sorry sir”. He replied, “There are different types of advertisements, which are you going to work on? Please be specific, Muna”. Honestly, I didn’t understand what my supervisor was saying. I returned back with the empty heart.

Every second the words ‘be specific, Muna’ sounded in my mind. I became so restless and I could not sleep well. I didn’t like to eat at all. Later on, a day when reading The Himalayan Times, an English newspaper, an advert about Pond’s beauty cream attracted my attention. More than that a beautiful lady’s face scratched my heart. Suddenly, I remembered the time when I was attracted by the beauty product advertisement ‘Fair & Lovely’. When I was in my early twenties, ‘Fair & Lovely’ beauty product was very popular. At that time, I could see the advertisement of ‘Fair & Lovely’ on T.V screen and in different newspapers. I was highly influenced by the language ‘Get moonlight fairness in your face just in seven days’. I even tried that product wishing to be like them but I could not get the result as said. Now I realized I was being manipulated by the language used. So, I decided to do a research on the title ‘Critical Discourse Analysis of beauty product advertisements’.

I went to the department and met my teacher Mrs Madhu Neupane. I asked her whether this topic would be appropriate for my research. The same day I also met Mr Guru Poudel and got some information about Fairclough’s CDA model. And then I met my supervisor and expressed my intended thesis topic. He said, “Great! Muna. It’s a wonderful idea”. But I had no idea about how to make that great, a really great in action. Everyone praised my topic. As I was confirmed to my research topic, stress topped over my head. It was the first time I understood research is done in a very specific area. After that, I talked to my guru Prof. Dr Jai Raj Awasthi and shared my interest and intention of doing research on that particular topic with him. Soon he sent me plenty of books, theses and articles on CDA and advertisements. I downloaded those sources and read them.  I just read the title and looked at page numbers. Rests of them were books and international theses above hundred pages. I didn’t dare to open them but kept them safely.

Writing proposal

After some days I along with other friends was called by my supervisor for the discussion for the second time. The night before I opened one short article ‘Beauty product advertisements: A Critical Discourse Analysis’ by Kaur et al. I read it twice because it was short in length as well as it was written in understandable language. The following day we had a discussion on everyone’s topics and objectives in short. The supervisor made us aware by saying “now it’s the time for work” and suggested us to start working on it. I don’t know what my friends did but I started to read. I started reading not because I loved it, but because I had no choice. While reading, I took note that struck my attention. I highlighted those lines which I didn’t understand. I went to CRC and overview the previous thesis. I searched theses related to my area but I didn’t find even one relevant to my interest.  Instead, I found almost all theses written from the definition of language and I did the same. I wrote my proposal from the definition ‘Language is a means of communication…’ thinking it might be the best way of writing a thesis.

One day my supervisor asked me “do you have Fairclough’s CDA book?’. I replied “Yes, sir. I do have”. “Which edition?”, he asked. I said, “1998, sir”. He said, “That one is very old; I will give you the latest edition, 2010”. The next day he handed me the book ‘Critical Discourse Analysis: The critical study of language’. My happiness was out of control. I thought I would grab the whole book and make the best out of it. I came back to my room and started to read it. I turned the first page and searched the definition of CDA. I turned the second page, third page, fourth page respectively. Alas! I couldn’t find the thing what I was looking for restlessly. Eventually, I found the book worthless for me. The things I didn’t understand is the book on CDA which consists of above 500 pages did not have the definition of CDA.

I finished writing the introductory part of my proposal in about a month. I sent it to my supervisor for his comments. After some days he called me at the department. The first question he asked me was “why did you start writing your proposal from the definition of language, Muna? Does it make any sense?” I remained silent, as I didn’t have the answer to his question. Then he handed over the corrected section of my writing and asked me to go through it. He also asked me to take out the definition of language. To my astonishment, about 80% of my writing was red marked. I again lost my confidence and thought that I could not cope with CDA. I nearly decided giving up my research on CDA and find another simple topic to carry on. It was only then I realised how weak I was in the English language itself although I was soon going to be an M. Ed graduate. I evaluated myself and felt disheartened.

Facing the viva – proposal

I remained silent for a month as I was looking for another simple topic. During the period, I received a mail from my supervisor who wanted to know about the status of my proposal. I informed him that I could not go further as I found CDA quite tough. I also told him the difficulties on doing a research from the level of knowledge I had on the area I was trying to pursue. He tried to encourage me to do better in my work. He also suggested me to believe in self. His words energised me again. I stood up again. And then I vowed not to let down myself. I started to read the related sources again. I tried to play with the words and thought differently. I went through the corrected part of my introductory portion. I again opened the publications by Fairclough, Foucault, Van Dijk, Wodak and many more and read them line by line. The most painful situation for me was when I went through the bulky books and understood nothing. I felt hard to understand Fairclough’s idea. When I went through his book, I completely understood the first paragraph, but hardly understood the second. When I reached the last part of the book, I even forgot the little idea I had framed. But I had no choice except to read it repeatedly. I kept on reading it even though I didn’t understand.  Ultimately, I continued writing my proposal and prepared the first draft in about four months. Then I mailed it to my supervisor and got his suggestions. This process continued thrice.  Finally, I survived the viva and got confirmation of my thesis proposal.

And facing the thesis viva

Then I set out for my fieldwork. I visited different publications and stationery shops to know about the local magazines and newspapers. As the objectives of my study were to find out those magazines that contained beauty product advertisements meant for women. I collected magazines and newspaper such as WOW, WAVE, Family, Nari, Nawanari, Himalayan Times and The Kathmandu Post published from 2016 to 2017. From these newspapers and magazines, I collected one hundred beauty product advertisements.

Though I was asked to submit the first draft of my thesis before Dashain (two-months after facing my proposal viva), I couldn’t do it. The whole country was enjoying Dashain and Tihar but I was busy in the collection of data for my study. Finally, I was able to collect data but I did not have any idea of interpreting the data.  Again I read Kaur’s article repeatedly and got the basic idea. I followed that article and moved ahead. I made observation guidelines and analysed the language used in beauty product advertisements in terms of their lexical and syntactic features. I also investigated the discursive techniques that represent the identity of women.  I completed the fourth chapter of the thesis by the end of Tihar vacation. I sent it to my supervisor and started to work on concluding the chapter.

I went to the department to meet my supervisor to get his feedback on chapter four. I became happy as he said “Good Muna, this time you worked hard”. He also suggested me to put some pictures in the language analysis part and give sub-topics in the discursive techniques part. I made the corrections suggested by him. I also completed the fifth chapter and sent both chapters to my supervisor for the feedback. After some days, I received his feedback and worked on it. After the fourth round of feedback from supervisor, my thesis was finalised. I successfully defended my thesis on 20th March 2018.

My reflection on this one-year journey

Through my research journey, I learnt to be patient. It made me creative. Now I knew that research is a systematic and stepwise procedure. As a researcher, I learnt to think critically, paraphrase idea and construct it by playing with words. I experienced writing a thesis is the most important part of my journey to achieve the Master’s degree. It led me from tension to creation. It ultimately helped me enter the academic world.

We do not have a habit of discussing academic matters with our friends nor do we have time to exchange our idea with them. I understand that a piece of research is a collaborative work. With my experience, I now feel that although thesis writing is a hard nut to crack, as the time passes by with our own efforts we can not only crack it but also chew and digest it with utmost satisfaction. Therefore, I suggest my juniors to make critical comments on their friends’ ideas. For this, the creation of a friendly environment is required in the academic circle to promote collaboration that may yield constructive outcomes. Exchanging of ideas plays a pivotal role in research writing, so we need to go beyond books.

Finally, in this academic journey, I am highly indebted to my supervisor, Dr Phyak, for his constructive suggestions and guidance. I now sincerely believe that the thesis supervisor’s role is to hold our hands so firmly that he/she would never let us tumble down until we are done with our work. Most importantly, I have due respect for all the authors and researchers who indirectly enlightened me to successfully complete my journey. Moreover, I cannot forget to acknowledge the advertisement companies that remained the heart of my entire work.

Muna Rai is the Master’s student at the central department of education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. She is also a life member of NELTA since 2015.

A relevant post from our past issue by Dr Bal Krishna Sharma: Writing thesis or academic papers? Read this…

Sharing My Experiences of Masters Thesis Writing

Mamata Bhattarai

Talking to my personal experience in thesis writing, I experienced a way of learning when selecting a research topic, planning for data collection and writing process and I learned to struggle and enjoy pleasant moments.

Selection of the topic

Firstly, I had a level of motivation when selecting the topic: “Linguistic Features in English Usage on Commercial Billboards in Kathmandu Valley” and a curiosity to study in an area ‘Linguistic Landscape’ in the context of Nepal. The term relates to language study of signs, texts, symbols and logos, multimodality (the mixture of texts and signs, symbols, scripts, codes, styles, translation and transliteration).

Most importantly, I would like to thank Dr Prem Phyak, my thesis supervisor who supervised my thesis despite his many other academic and professional commitments. I acknowledge his invaluable suggestions and constructive feedback from the very beginning to the end.

Secondly, the selection of the topic came up in my mind as I was attending my ‘ELT Seminar and Report Writing’ class, and there I got to know about ‘Linguistic Landscape’, its introduction to language use on public areas. After that, I started gathering some information about linguistic landscape from various websites. Gradually, the topic was finalised. I intended to study about the way of the language used at public places, the advertisers’ policy of language adaptation and management with multimodality usage on their billboards, the way the shop owners’ display by designing texts, codes, scripts, logos and symbols with the fusion between them.

Planning to Write

I selected the topic of my interest. After that, I followed a framework mentioned by Shohamy and Gorter (2009) to support my study in the specified area of the linguistic landscape. The linguistic landscape framework was applied to structure my study design. Moreover, the plan as a framework was maintained to study on social and cultural aspects, language policy, power and ideology, linguistic features and multilingual meanings of the contents and contexts of languages used on billboards.

The Process of writing the thesis

Firstly, I introduced the topic as termed to linguistic features and linguistic landscape. Then the reason as mentioned for the selection of the topic was introduced. I stated the main objectives of the study. To meet the objectives, I included some research questions. I reviewed the term linguistic landscape, globalisation of English language, areas and features of the linguistic landscape, functions and taxonomy of linguistic landscape, and linguistic features such as code-mixing/ switching, transliteration, stylistics, scripts, and translation. The study also presented empirical review, its implication for the study and conceptual framework of the study.

For the research data, I collected billboards’ photographs about 100 photographs as the sample.

Struggling as well as pleasuring moments in thesis writing

I faced several challenges when collecting research data (100 photographs of various adverts). I visited various shops around Kathmandu valley, selected various adverts and took pictures of them. I had to select different display board which contained various linguistic features. Some of the advertisers let me take their billboards’ photos with curiosity and interest of my study but some others did not allow me to take photos of their display boards. In some places, shop owners permitted me to capture their adverts after my explanation of the purpose of taking photos.

After the data collection, I gradually stepped onto the process of writing the thesis. To be honest, I did not have any idea from where to start my thesis writing. I needed to study more and prepare myself. After that, I had put a lot of efforts on it, I got the way and order of writing. I consulted my supervisor frequently and he directed me to a certain way of structuring and managing the data. In the beginning, I was worried about how to find the way and managing the writing but I read foreign books and journals related to linguistic landscape and started writing. The ideas I learned from publications helped me shape my thesis at the end. After getting motivated each time by the supervisor for my effort to writing, I got the energy to learn more about how to follow the way of writing the thesis.

Personal experience and reflection

When I selected the new topic of my interest in writing the thesis, I got a load of priceless joys at first. Eventually, I thought as a dreamer to be good at my own writing but it did not happen in the process of research what I had thought. I had to tackle lots of challenges during thesis writing. However, thesis writing brought both pleasure and pain throughout the study. The pleasure led me to become more curious towards the interests of study and generated energy to face the pain during the research process. I now feel that I learned a basic process research writing.

As the linguistic landscape is an essential resource to be implemented in the classroom for teaching and learning, due care should be given to make it as a good teaching and learning instrument. The aim of teaching and learning should not be merely limited to the classroom teaching. It should rather equip students with learning beyond the classroom, learning through the language codes, vocabulary, and structures of multilingual language scripts. Similarly, my personal experience targets to teaching through textual signage in the classroom as it comforts the students to learn better, learning through pictures and symbols along with multiple language codes. An English teacher can take the formal features of signage texts like metaphor and transitivity as what ideological value they carry in consideration while teaching. A teacher, as well as students, can make an appropriate choice of textual signage material while teaching and learning. Finally, the study can be equipped with the selection of appropriate features and functions to learn specific aspects and skills of English use as well as greater understanding of how they are reflected in the language use of others.

Mamata Bhattarai is the M. Ed student at the Central Department of Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School in Nepal

Bimal Khanal

Writing is one of the important language skills. A piece of writing communicates our feelings, emotions and ideas. In order to develop the writing skills of our students, we can ask them to take notes, summarize and answer questions given in the textbooks. Likewise, dairy maintaining, writing travelogues, reflection, and journals improve their writing skills and helps them build confidence to express their feelings and ideas. Particularly students can perform their language ability, record their critical moments. As a teacher, we can motivate our students to do these writing activities.

My experiences and feelings

In my experience, teachers and students in Nepal, particularly from government schools, hesitate to write an academic piece in the English language. It is perhaps because of not having enough grammar skills and having the limited vocabulary. I believe that the grammar skills and vocabulary in any language are fundamental to compose a piece of writing in that language.

I am aware of the school and community environment where the Nepali language is the major language leaving many other indigenous languages in different ethnic communities. I rarely encounter someone speaking English on my way around the school and community. However, the current generation of children in Nepal would like to learn English and develop skills of the English. But there are so many issues behind it. I have tried to collect some information from students about current challenge of teaching writing skills in community schools. One of my students said, “I can’t write what I feel. I feel writing in English is hard, how to start to answer questions. I don’t get an idea how to start.” The English language is not a common language of conversation Nepal. Around 123 languages are spoken Nepali being the national language in this multilingual country. The English language is learned in the classroom and is limited in the classroom. Hence, it is obviously challenging for children to attain the advanced skills in the English language including the writing skills. However, teachers can try out some ways of teaching writing skills in their classrooms. The teachers can start with asking students to copy something with good handwriting, then gradually assign them some guided writing practice. Once they are confident with guided writing and able to compose appropriate and accurate sentences structures, now we can slowly introduce creative writing to them. Perhaps creative writing helps strengthen their writing skills. Teachers can provide their students with various writing opportunities in different fields like essays, letters, story development, paragraph writing, dairy writing, travel journal writing.

One of my students expressed the difficulty of writing in English, “I can’t write properly because I don’t understand many types of word meaning. How to find out the difficult word meaning?” As a teacher, we always have pressure to complete the curriculum in each academic session. I repeat the same book in the classes each year. There is no provision of additional books to enlarge the vocabulary of students. Extracurricular activities are also conducted for the formality only. English subject related activities such as essay writing, story writing, English debate competition, word meaning, spelling context, etc. get less priority. I think the school administration should manage extra classes for writing after the consultation with parents. Sometimes, guest resource persons of writing should be haired for inspiring the students for experience sharing and writing. On the other hand, the teachers also can do some activities to encourage students like diary or journal writing competition. Then, the good writings can be displayed on the school notice board or wall magazine. Likewise, the teachers must be update-to-date with the new trends of teaching writing effectively to the students.

After the students write, the teachers must read and offer feedback for rewriting if necessary. Generally, the writing process of our students never goes around another cycle. They just write once. Teachers mark the writing and what. Nothing. The process stops there. Actually, teachers must orient their students about the writing process and cycle. The first writing is the first draft and it should be rewritten if necessary. The role of teachers is very vital in reading the composition, offering the feedback and encouraging them to rewrite.

Most of the students are eager to learn the English language. They know the importance and scope of the English language but their foundation is very weak. One of the reasons behind this is the teachers’ own proficiency in English language. Some teachers (of course not all) have problem in composing a good paragraph and conversing in English with their students and colleagues. One of my colleagues expressed that, “There is no English environment in community school. All the students should speak English in their school premises.” It made me think further about learning and teaching the English language. I would imagine that my colleague has an overwhelming concept of educating children, but his expression reflects that he needs to differentiate between the English language and education. If he is teaching the English to his students in the classroom, he has to focus on the language. The increasing shift to English medium instruction from Nepali in the classroom has rather influenced the students’ Nepali language learning and learning of other subjects such as Science, Mathematics, Social Studies and History. The strategy of imposing the English as a medium of instruction in the classroom raised a question: are we teaching the English language? On the other hand, despite using English as a medium instruction, the writing of students is not satisfactory. And it is obvious that the demand of writing composition is going to be increased with the introduction of English medium instruction. Therefore, we need to review and rethink our method of teaching writing to the children.

Bimal Khanal is an English teacher in a community school in Kathmandu. He is also a freelance researcher. 

Writing Practices in ELE Programs in Nepali Universities: An Interactive Blog Post

Presented by: Ashok Raj Khati

In this blog post, we have attempted to present a broader picture of writing practice in English Language Education (ELE) programs in Nepali universities. The interaction is focused on how the ELE/ELT (English Language Teaching) programs in Nepali universities are guided by the policy provision and the initiations that have been taken to boost up writing skills of the students. The interaction incorporates the current practices as well as the challenges to develop academic writing of the students. Furthermore, the participants opine in relation to the publication practices of the faculty members and the issue of plagiarism in relation to their ELE/ELT programs of the university.

Let me introduce the participants of this interaction.:

  1. Laxman Gnawali, PhD– Associate Professor and the coordinator of ELE/ELT program, school of education, Kathmandu University Nepal.
  2. Laxmi Prasad Ojha– Lecturer at the department of English education, faculty of education, Tribhuvan University Nepal.
  3. Bishnu Kumar Khadka- the chairperson of English subject committee, faculty of education, Mid-Western University Nepal.
  4. Janak Singh Negi- Lecturer at Manilek Multiple Campus, a proposed constituent campus, Far Western University Nepal.
  5. Uttam Gaulee, PhD– Assistant Professor at Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland Area, the USA.

Dr. Gaulee provides his opinions concerning Nepali Universities based on his long experience of working in Nepal, general observation and his academic collaborations with these universities in different ways.

Can you please share any good initiations to develop writing skills of students in ELE/ELT program in the University you are involved?

Dr Laxman Gnawali: We have a strong focus on academic writing development in the graduate programs. For both MEd and MPhil programs, we have formal credit courses. These courses give theoretical understanding as well as practical exposure to develop students’ writing skills. We start with the basics such as paragraph writing, move on to a five-paragraph essay, and later to thematic paper as well as research paper writing. The culmination is the thesis writing in which they fully actualize their academic writing skills.

Mr Laxmi Prasad Ojha: I have seen a positive sign by including research and writing as the integral part of the curricula in my university. This is encouraging step towards developing students with reading, writing and critical thinking abilities. Most courses in  Bachelor’s and Master’s degree includes writing as an essential part of curricula and evaluation system. Students are supposed to write essays, narratives, reflections, research reports, research papers, book reviews, analytical writing at graduate and undergraduate levels and the thesis writing in the graduate level despite the fact that we have not been able to deliver the courses very well.

Mr Bishnu Kumar Khadka: We formed an ELT club of the students studying in English language education with the support of some international scholars. The journey of writing begins with writing meeting minutes which generally includes the name of the attendees, agenda, discussion and decisions in English. Furthermore, members of the club write and share their experiences and new insights they found during the study. In our semester-based system in Mid-Western University, students write assignments, project-based reports, review reports and research reports. The system generates the writing as a process during the whole semester as well as a part of the evaluation. When we felt a few challenges to gear up writing on the part of students, we established the Writing Center in the University with support of some international scholars. The center started webinar, training of teachers facilitated by scholars from the USA. It is really an inspiring move for us to develop writing in the English language.

Mr Janak Singh Negi: Apparently, there are some good initiations. It is because writing courses have been taught at the university level. I know these courses touch some practical aspects of academic writing, but most of the students do not seem practicing writing except writing Master’s thesis at the end of the program in this region.

 

Dr Uttam Gaulee: In the USA, there is a saying, “put your money where your mouth is.” In Nepali universities, teachers are given money to grade student papers but not for providing feedback. Providing incentives for students to write and for teachers to provide feedback more frequently would help. I see that Mid-Western University has now established a writing center. I think this is a good beginning.

 

What are the best practices for developing writing skills of students?

Dr Gnawali: Formal lessons in which students get engaged in writing and peer feedback followed by tutor feedback are common practices. Our process is from simple to complex. We encourage students not only to write papers as assignments but also to restructure, if needed, the same and submit to the national and international journals. Many papers get published in peer reviewed journals. We also encourage students to present the same papers in the conferences. The conference presentation itself may not help writing but as the students work harder when they plan for the conferences, their papers get better. In order to inject the latest development in academic writing, we organize academic writing workshops led by international facilitators having expertise in academic writing.

Mr Ojha: After the introduction of the semester system, we have been able to engage our students in various writing projects such as book reviews, reflective essays, narrative reports which helped the students develop writing skills. The effort gradually enabled students to develop writing academic and research papers. Some students pursuing their Master’s in ELT program at Tribhuvan University can produce some coherent pieces of academic papers. We have regular conferences with students, we organize seminars and workshops in academic writing, we provide focus on giving feedback to students’ write-ups and encourage them to attend conferences and present there. We also encourage and help them to write for different ELT related magazine and journals. These days, they are able to write theses with better academic writing and research skills due to the constant feedback they receive from their tutors while writing the assignments for various courses.

Mr Khadka: To encourage the writing of students, I created a Facebook group for them to raise questions, generate discussion, and write on different academic issues. Students actively participate in the discussion and they write reflective notes on their experiences which I found very effective both for classroom purposes and developing writing skill.

Mr Negi: Regarding the best practices, I think, it depends on whether you are talking about theoretical or practical aspects. If we look at the theoretical aspects, over the last few years there is drastic change in the university course; some course on academic/creative writing e.g. Academic Writing, Creative Writing in ELT, Advance Academic Writing to name only a few have been introduced in Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, where students get the opportunities to enhance their academic and creative writing skills. But, if we look at the practice side of these skills, rather different scenario comes in the mind i.e. some students know about academic/creative writing. However, most of them cannot write academically and creatively.

Dr Gaulee: Apart from sporadic one or two-day workshops, etc., I am not aware of a good writing development program functioning in a Nepali university so far. I wish I am wrong. I think writing is probably not yet understood as a process that can be developed with the continuous effort with proper feedback. I think there is an opportunity in the universities to make students aware of writing steps and allow them to practice pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Teachers need to provide appropriate feedback to students depending on where they are struggling. Students typically are not given a proper reason to write other than to sit for the nightmarish high-stake year-end exams.

What are the challenges to enhance writing practices of the students?

Dr Gnawali: The major challenge is that the most students join the program with no experience of writing anything except in the examination. They have issues with the grammar, vocabulary and generating ideas. So, starting from the scratch is very challenging. As they have not had any experiences in sustained writing, it’s challenging to get them to write longer texts in the beginning.

Mr Ojha: I think the most important challenges are a large number of students (large class size) in my department. It is really challenging to support, mentor and provide feedback at the personal level to help them develop writing skill. The knowledge and skill of the faculty members involved in higher education is another real challenge as most of them are involved in teaching without any prior academic and professional background or training on academic writing. Therefore, if we want to introduce research and academic writing in our higher education, we have to groom our teachers to be able to mentor their students.

Mr Khadka: In my experience, writing, either in mother tongues or any other languages, is considered as a tough and the most reluctant task in our context for the beginners or advanced level language learners. Students do not feel comfortable in writing. I have experienced that many students‘copy and paste’ from the internet-based resources to complete the assignments and meet the deadlines in the university. Therefore, it is highly challenging to foster the culture of original, cohesive and purely academic writing in our cases.

Mr Negi: This is really an interesting question. The big challenge is to put theory into practice i.e. making students write academically or creatively instead of knowing or writing about academic or creative writing. Most of the students spend their time preparing for the examination and in the examination, they are asked questions like these: “What are the 5R techniques for summarizing the paragraph?” instead of “Read the following paragraph and summarize it”. “What do you mean by invention techniques for generating ideas?” instead of “Generate the ideas for writing an essay on the following topic/s…”. “What are the characteristics of poetry?” instead of “Write a poem (for example, a sonnet, a free verse, Gajal, haiku…). I mean the evaluation system, in general, itself is a challenge for better learning output. If students are taught, for example, to summarize or to write a poem they should be able to do so and the same should be tested in the examination. If not, they know/memorize few lines about academic or creative writing but will not be able to write academically or creatively.

Dr Gaulee: I think one of the major challenges is large classes. The teachers should be able to coach a student to develop writing skills. The second major challenge is the lack of teacher training on how to successfully serve as a coach for their students toward developing writing.

What about the publications practices of faculty members involved in the program?

Dr Gnawali: Publication is a regular feature of the faculty here at Kathmandu University. Every faculty publishes at least one paper each year in national or international journals. We also have our own journal, Journal of Education and Research which is edited by the faculties. They develop their own expertise in course of editing and publishing process. Some senior faculties are editors and reviewers for the peer reviewed journals.

Mr Ojha: In general, we have been doing fairly well in research and publication in the recent times. Some of the faculty members (for example the Head of Department, Dr Prem Phyak) have really been inspirational both in terms of number and quality of publications in high standard journals. The faculty members are collaborating with each other to research, write and deliver presentations in the seminars and conferences. This is certainly a good indication of collaborative academic and professional growth. We are also planning to publish a journal on ELT and Applied Linguistics from our department so that the faculty members from various institutions can get support and space for the publication of their research works. Some senior colleagues are also mentoring the young faculty through collaboration, review and resources.

Mr Khadka: Regarding the publication of the academic journal, I coordinated the publication of ‘Journal of Education Science’ (JOES) in the capacity of Editor-in-chief, the first volume in the university in 2012. In the volume, there are contributions of faculty members and students. We are planning to publish another volume very soon. Likewise, we encourage the students to publish the journal with their own initiation. Faculty members and students are also collaborating with the Journal of NELTA Surkhet in term of participating in the workshop in writing and contributing to the volume.

Mr Negi: Currently the interest in publishing academic work in academic or research journals is growing very fast. Most of the colleges and departments have started publishing some academic journals and Souvenir in the region where both students and teachers have opportunities to publish their academic and creative works. Some ELT professionals have started writing for national and international academic journals and are really engaged in academic publications. However, it is yet to meet the standards as the most articles by the faculty members seem a mere elaboration of the classroom notes. They lack a broad study on academic and ELT related issues.

Dr Gaulee: While writing has always been encouraged – probably ideally, it is only recently that universities are giving more emphasis in publications, which is certainly a good sign. Research, writing, and publications have been more of an exception than the norm so far, which needs to be changed with the recent growth of publication avenues, access to resources and networks of professionals via scholarly societies and conferences.

What are your thoughts on plagiarism- an issue in the Nepali higher education?

Dr Gnawali: There have been publicly discussed issues on plagiarism in higher education. University Grants Commission has had some cases of plagiarism with the University faculties. Colleges that run foreign University programs have faced the issues with their students for plagiarizing papers/assignments. I believe that there are some major reasons for scholars to plagiarize. There are some cases that authors have intentionally plagiarized with an intention to get a quick promotion. The key reason is that there is no proper training and awareness raising on how not to plagiarize. Authors refer but either they do not know how to properly give credit to the original author. Likewise, the regulations are not fully enforced, and when someone is found guilty, they are not penalized.

Mr Ojha: Plagiarism is a serious issue in Nepali academia. The motivation of the students to pursue higher education is an important factor to influence how they write their papers and theses. Many of them are not even aware of the issues related to plagiarism. Moreover, we do not have any system (e.g. digital repository of the theses submitted and the software) to track malpractices like plagiarism. It is not possible for a professor to track the plagiarized papers, assignments and theses of the student/s. Hence, it is important to develop awareness on maintaining ethics in research and writing through training and other possible ways.

Mr Khadka: It is a serious issue in the higher education in Nepal – very difficult to speak out for me. So, there is a blaming culture in our context regarding plagiarism. The writers in this university are not the exception. Students often submit highly plagiarized papers and research reports, not intentionally, but because they do not know how to avoid plagiarism. However, in Nepali universities, few so-called academicians, writers and researchers do it deliberately for different purposes. Therefore, it is a high time to be well informed by ourselves (faculty members) and guide our students in the university accordingly to avoid plagiarism.

Mr Negi: Oh! This is the most interesting query above all! Ashok Ji, if you read the course books on academic writing itself written by some Nepali authors, the definition of plagiarism itself is plagiarized. Very honestly, this is not my criticism to particular authors but it is the ground reality. The plagiarized case of Master’s thesis has already been disclosed in various print media. So, I do not need to elaborate it further. It means we know plagiarism. However, some of us still plagiarize and our plagiarized work is accepted; nobody (even some academicians in authority) raises questions on it seriously, so we (some academic practitioners) neither realize nor make somebody realize the impacts of plagiarism. Therefore, to control and check plagiarism to some extent, we need to have at least a plagiarism checking software in our colleges or departments. My point is plagiarism should be avoided at any cost.

Dr Gaulee: In the lack of proper writing development in place, plagiarism in Nepali higher education is still a “white crime.” It sometimes serves as a fodder for blame game or even political ammunition. Either way, it has not been addressed in a way that it should.

Would you like to add anything about the writing practices at the end?

Dr Gnawali: To be honest, academic writing has not been established as a culture in Nepalese education scenario. Therefore, we need to revamp academic writing practices from the school level to the university.

Mr Ojha: We still lack adequate research and writing culture in Nepali academia which negatively affects the students and faculties in a long run. To be frank, we have not been able to give enough space to write in our university courses especially the academic writing skills. I think it is high time to introduce academic writing as a compulsory course in all disciplines including ELT program and deliver them following mentoring model. The university department and colleges can also establish writing centers where students can receive support from the mentors.

Mr Khadka: In my view, we must discourage ‘copy and paste’ culture. Hence, there is much to do in academic writing in the university.

Mr Negi: In fact, we are floating on the surface with motionless motion, we are not anchored academically; we are more formal and still practicing much with formality. Let’s try to be more practical and realistic.

Dr Gaulee: Status quo needs to change. In universities, writing centers need to be established, an intensive educational plan should be implemented, which may need a great deal of willpower on the part of leadership to facilitate awareness, planning, and implementation, which will involve expertise, training, money and patience.

We thank our valued participants for generating this ELT Choutari interaction. We will come up with the further discussion and writings on the “Writing” based on these valuable ideas and opinions in our upcoming issues. For now, ELT Choutari opens the discussion forum for you to share your thoughts after reading the ideas of our contributors. Please share your thoughts in the comment boxes below.

Ashok Raj Khati is one of the editors of ELT Choutari. He writes for academic journals, ELT blogs and Nepali national dailies.

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