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.)

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.

Tips for Writing an Essay and Taking Academic Notes

Thinh Le*

(The ideas are based on the practice of the writer) 

A. How to prepare and organize ideas for an essay?

As a language teacher for 8 years, I have found that my students struggle with their writing skills. When I ask them to write an essay for 250 words, it sometimes takes more than an hour to write because they do not know what to write or get stuck in the middle of their writing. Even the students with rather good grammar skills and sufficient vocabulary feel the same. To solve this problem, I undergo the following three-steps-process of writing to make it easy for them to write.

Step 1: Think of different social roles relating to the topic

Let’s see how we can think of different social roles related to the topic. For example, with the topic “Tertiary education should be free. To what extent do you agree?” When students get this topic, they often think of their arguments around students such as students could study freely without paying fees. And they cannot go further in their argument. I often suggest them to think of different people related to this topic such as lecturers, students’, parents, university administrators, government, or tax-payers. Now after thinking the different stakeholders associated with the topic, I ask them to follow the step: 2.

Step 2:  Ask all Wh-questions

In relation to the above topic for essay writing, I ask my students to raise the following questions associated with people related to the topic.

  • What do students get if tertiary education is free?
  • What do the parents benefit when tertiary education is free?
  • And where could the lecturers get the salary if tertiary education is free?
  • Where do universities get money to pay salaries for teachers and provide other facilities if tertiary education is free?
  • Is it good if the government pay for university education?
  • Is it fair for everyone if the government pay for university education?
  • Does the government have enough fund to pay for the university?

When the students brainstorm all the answers for the above questions, they will have a lot of ideas to write an essay. However, to write a good essay with logic arguments, they need to state their point of view and organize their ideas to support their arguments. Therefore, I ask them to follow the step: 3.

Step 3: State the point of view and organize ideas in a logical way

After answering all these questions, students should decide their point of view and organize their ideas according to the point of views. They should try to select the ideas that are more prominent and support their point of views. They do not need to include all the ideas in one essay. Each main point (topic sentence) needs three supporting ideas and try to give examples to support their point of view.

I believe following the above three steps offers students a lot of ideas and help them write an essay with the main point of view and ideas to support their arguments.

 

B. How to take academic notes effectively?

When I started my PhD journey, I read many articles. However, I did a blunder by not taking any notes. At the time of reading, I thought that I could remember what I had read. However, after reading more than 30 articles, I did not remember exactly what I had read! Luckily, I had chances to attend some workshops organized by my supervisors and PhD colleagues about completing the PhD journey. I was happy to share with you what I learnt and applied successfully after attending these workshops.

To come up with a paper, any other writing or a PhD thesis, I think the most important thing is to take notes methodologically. And organize the notes in a logical way so that you can retrieve it whenever you need it and use your notes for further analysis or comparison to discuss with other scholars in the world. Here are the main three steps that I find very useful.

Step 1: Take notes

When you are reading an article, take notes during reading or immediately after the reading. You may wonder what should note down. Sometimes, the article is very long and interesting but you do not know what is important to write down. In that case, you can include the following things:

  • The context of the study,
  • Theoretical framework,
  • Methodology,
  • Findings of the study and
  • Your critical view of the article.

Some of you may wonder why you need to take these notes. I will explain that in step 3.

Step 2: Organize your notes

Now, in this phase, we have to organize these summaries into themes/topics with the original articles because you may need to read these articles one more time when you find it related to your topic or area. On the other hand, you may need it to list in the reference section of your article or writing. Organizing this way, helps you compare many articles about the same topics.

Step 3: How to use your notes effectively

When you have all your notes, you will wonder how you can use these notes effectively. Please read your notes and compare or contrast the findings, methods or theoretical framework together to write the literature review. In the methodology section, you can also compare your methods with the method applied in the articles you read and summarized, so that you can figure out any differences and similarities between your method and the one used in the literature you read. Then you can state why you choose your own methods. I think it is very useful in the discussion section because you can compare your findings with the findings from previous studies. Then you show your readers that you find out something different from other people based on your context and your research method.

If you do not organize all these notes in a logical way, you may finish your writing. However, it might take you more time to go back and forth with the original articles to find the information that you need.

I hope that these practical tips could help you in to accelerate your writing.

Editor: Dear valued readers, perhaps you may have other ideas of composing the essay and note-taking effectively and efficiently. Please share your ideas in the comment box below.

*Thinh Le is a lecturer of English at Vietnam Banking Academy, Phu Yen Branch, Vietnam and he is also a PhD Candidate in College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Writing about Writing

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Doreen Richmond

During my recent visit and involvement with teacher training programs throughout some rural parts of Nepal, I did a lesson on writing, both in schools and during training sessions. Writing about Writing illustrates the process I go through when I teach writing. In this article, I have tried to outline the steps I take while teaching writing for both younger developing writers and older more experienced emergent writers.

When I teach writing, I teach it as a process because that is the way that I view it. Writing involves planning, writing a draft, editing and revising and publishing. It takes practice to develop your skills as a writer; it just doesn’t happen overnight.

To begin with, when I work with students, I do several things that vary only with the age and skills that my students have. First, I activate prior knowledge by having students brainstorm the different ways that they use writing. Younger students generally talk about the notes they write their moms or the handwriting practice they do while older students talk about lists, taking notes, writing letters or now-a-days, texts, and writing stories. Activating prior knowledge is important because students need to become aware that we use writing in many ways and for many different purposes.

After brainstorming about how we use writing, I model my own writing so that my students see me as a writer. For example, if I am asking students to write about themselves then I share with them the process that I go through when I am writing about me. It is important that students watch the process of writing so that they know that this is a process that all writers go through. Again, this process is planning, draft writing, editing and revising, and then publishing.

Let’s say that it is the beginning of the school year, and I am asking my students to write about themselves. If I am working with younger students or developing writers, I will first model a picture plan by drawing a picture of myself, my family, my house and a few other interesting details. Then I would orally go through my picture and describe it while at the same time labeling key pictures, (myself, my husband, my dog, cat, house, ect.)

By orally describing my picture and labeling, I am showing my students the picture/word association and also giving them some ideas about how they can do their own picture plan. I would also include some discussion with my students about their own families, who is in it, where they live, what they like to do, ect. Before letting students go off and do their plans, again, giving some guidance for their plans. Then I would set them free to draw their picture plans about themselves, their families, where they live, the things they like, and any other details that they might like to add. Picture plans work well for kindergarteners, first graders, and other developing writers.

Older students generally have more language and can use a different type of plan.  Generally, for older students I use a circle map, which is a type of thinking map; thinkingmaps.org. A circle map has a frame around it that guides the writer’s ideas. The frame is usually divided into four sections which can vary dependent on the topic you are writing about. A beginning piece about themselves might be framed with things like:  Facts: name, age, family members, where I live; Things I like; My Favorites; and My Goals or things I’d like to get better at this year. Using a plan like this allows students to jot down their ideas before they begin writing.  Students then list the answers for these questions or topics in the different areas of the circle. I try to remind them not to write out complete sentences in their circles because this is just a plan and that draft writing is when they put their ideas into complete sentences. Just as I did with younger students, I model my own plan and go over it with them and then show the students how I moved from my plan to my piece of writing. For this assignment, I give the direction that they are to write at least one paragraph about themselves using information from their plans.

As students finish their plans, my job as a teacher would be to go around and have them describe their picture plan to me so that I could help them label it. I would encourage students to label what they could beforehand and share their plan with their neighbor, but I would try to get around to all the students to help them label and add any extra details. Planning might take a whole class for some students but for others, it might be quick and they might be able to continue on to the next step- draft writing. My directions for younger students might vary dependent on the age and development of their skills as a writer but usually I would give a direction for students to write 1-3 sentences about their picture. My goals for younger students are to get them to write so I accept invented spelling and look to see that they are generating some sentences that give me information about their picture.

Conferencing with students, I might point out spacing issues, handwriting difficulties, but primarily I am focusing on their ideas. “Wow, I see you wrote that you like to play with your dog. What is your dog’s name? Can we add that to your sentence? Good job.” I like to think of a “Star and a Wish” when I am giving feedback. Writing takes practice and it is important to praise what a student is doing well rather than focusing on the things they need to correct. If I see many students having the same errors or difficulties, then I use that as a teaching point and do a mini lesson the following day about whatever the issue was, or I say, “Today I am going to be looking for good spacing between your words as you write” to draw their attention to something I noticed was an issue previously. If my students need more support to generate their ideas then I will use some patterned sentence starters to help them. For example, I might put on the board the following pattern: My name is ____. I live with _____. I like to_____. I might also have a mind map that I’ve done previously with students to list things they like to do; again, the idea being that they have a list of words already generated that they can use for their own labeling or to add additional information to their sentences.

When I model my paragraph, I point out that I didn’t use all my details to make my paragraph, but if I wanted to use all the information then I share with them how I could write a multi-paragraph piece of writing that included all the information from the plan. I show students both models of writing, (one paragraph and multi-paragraph) and then provide them with models of patterned sentences/paragraphs that they can use for either writing one paragraph or multi-paragraphs. These are written out on charts and hung on the wall, or they are written on sentence strips and put in a pocket chart for students to see.  I also talk about topic sentences, (main idea sentences) that begin a paragraph and let the reader know what my writing is about.  Then I talk about closing sentences that end my paragraph by summing things up or by adding an emotion to it.  I add this in the form of a sentence starter and label it with either topic sentence or closing sentence.  We also spend some time brainstorming aloud some other ideas for topic sentences and closing sentences and if needed, this is organized as a mind map for students to see and choose from.

Now, my students are ready to begin the process of writing at least one paragraph about themselves.  First, they plan and I go around and comment on their details and ask a few open-ended questions where necessary to encourage them to add to their ideas.  I also might make my own connections to their ideas to reinforce to them that I’m interested in them.  For example, one student writes that purple is her favorite color, and I say, “Oh, purple is my favorite color too; how cool is that!”  As the purpose of this writing activity is to help me get to know my students, it’s important to connect with them about common or shared interests when and where I can.

After students finish their plans, they can begin their draft writing and can use either the patterned sentences model for one paragraph or the multi-paragraph model to help them write, if needed.  Again, I rove and comment here and there on something they’ve written, but I don’t use this time to correct, unless a student is asking me something specific.  When their drafts are done, then I set up a writing conference with them, and that is the time to point out some things that might need fixing up or to emphasis some details that might be needed to strengthen their writing.  I still use the idea of a star and a wish to guide my conferencing, and I don’t overcorrect. By pointing out something that they are doing well with their writing before adding a constructive point for them to think about, I help my students recognize their strengths in their own writing while also encouraging them to look more critically at how they can strengthen their writing. I also try to get  students to read back over their writing first before coming to me or to share their writing with a neighbor or a friend first.  I want to be able to help them self edit and do revisions on their own.  I also look for common errors and use them as a teaching point for a mini lesson the following day.

If I have students who are more proficient with their writing skills, then I use my conferencing time to extend their writing.  Some things I might do are to to ask them to select at least two sentences to revise by adding more details using adjectives, adverbs, or other figurative language such as metaphors or similes.  I might also ask students to select a few sentences and add more details by adding the word, “because” to let their readers know why they like something or like to do something.  Combining ideas and varying their sentence structures so that they start their sentences in different ways to improve the fluency of their writing might also be something to conference about.  How I use my conferencing time with students is dependent on their skills and needs.  As with writing, everyone is different; however, taking the time to conference with students isn’t.  It is an important part of the process.  It takes time, but it is important for students to get that one on one time with you to look more critically at their own writing.

When conferencing is done, students go back and revise their writing to produce a final draft, which is their published piece.  Whenever possible, I encourage them to word process this or to hand write it neatly and if time, to add an illustration to it.  We share our published pieces with the rest of the class, so students know that their work is valued and then it is posted in our Writer’s Corner for others to see.  Celebrating their work helps students see that writing is important and something to be proud of.  A saying I like is, “Writing is Power.”  If you can write well, you can do anything.

Teaching writing is something I’ve done for many younger and older students.  While the topics and content may vary, the process for teaching writing is generally the same.  Planning, developing their ideas, drafting, and then revising and editing before publishing are steps that all writers take with their own writing.  By modeling and providing structure and guidance, students of all ages learn how to develop their own skills as writers.  They also learn to appreciate that writing is a process and an important one.

The Author: Doreen Richmond has taught at all grade levels in the USA. She was a Special Education teacher for many years and currently teaches Reading and Writing in the Transitional Learning Department at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington.  Recently, she has been involved in a teacher training program in Solukhumbu, coordinated by REED Nepal.

Call for Respecting Author Identity in Academic Writing and Research

Dr. Binod Luitel Associate Professor, CERID, TU

Dr. Binod Luitel
Associate Professor, CERID, TU

It has been well experienced that academic writers can rarely be “self-dependent” in discussing or explaining ideas in the course of developing some thesis in any field of inquiry. Instead, ideas or insights are generated and developed by making reference to the works (including research finding, theoretical proposition, or any sort of written description, etc.) of previous authors. In this connection, one can summarize the points stated by the previous author and carry out critical analysis, synthesize the propositions of some authors, identify the lacking/gaps therein, and then refine the proposition/s by adding new insights. Or, one can even come out with a different perspective to look into the existing phenomena so that new propositions are established.

While doing so, acknowledging the previously done works and the respective authors who had contributed therein is one of the common minimum academic cultures that everybody should maintain in doing research as well as writing academic papers. Accordingly, this tradition has been established in the world more or less everywhere – for academic as well as professional practices in universities and publication houses.

However, some differences are found in the style of reference citation in the written text and the way of writing the authors’ names in the reference list that is usually placed at the end of the text. In this post, I am particularly raising the issue of crisis in author identity that has been created as a consequence of a particular ‘style’ of work listing in the ‘reference’ section of academic papers, research articles, books and dissertations.

When someone writes and publishes any material with his/her name, we need to understand that the very name that appears in the paper is his/her identity. Needless to say, the author has the willingness to be identified publicly with the name as appeared in the print; and it is a matter of honesty on the part of the subsequent writer/s to regard the previous authors by their respective names and surnames without any sort of intention to misinform the readers and without causing injustice against the author to the extent of losing his/her identity.

In this connection, I would like to draw the attention of the respected audience towards a question which should be considered a genuine one in the academic world, which is: How can the authors’ identity be properly respected while recording their works in the subsequent academic writings (when the previously produced source is consulted for reference purpose)? We must answer this question before deciding the style of making a list of works cited in the text, because some of the formats that are in widespread use in the ‘academic market’ have not been able to do justice in favour of authors as regards their identity.

Usually, the key information about any work to be listed in the ‘Reference’ section of a research paper includes: author, year of publication, work title (book, article, journal, dissertation, or any other document), the place of publication and publisher. We can be in a very comfortable position to say that there should not be a problem in any of the styles followed in making the reference list if the list contains these key things in the entry. Despite this, it would be relevant to raise serious reservations regarding the ‘style’ which deliberately reduces (and thus disregards or even undermines) the identity of previous authors by ‘abbreviating’ their first (and middle) names – which is an unwanted action for the original authors, and even objectionable from the point of view of their identity.

In the past, when I prepared academic articles, my reference list had duly honoured the authors whose works were cited in the text by entering the words carrying their identity as appeared in the respective sources (i.e. full names and surnames if the author mentioned so, and ‘abbreviated’ names only if the source itself contained the author’s identity like that). After the articles were submitted for publication in different forums (journals in particular), many of them have been published without reducing the previous authors’ identity. But, in some of them, the editorial team has taken the ‘action’ of identity reduction by abbreviating the initial and middle names – in the name of following the APA format and maintaining uniformity in the style of all writers in the journal.

A reference entry of this kind, in addition to doing injustice against the identity of authors discussed above, has also caused confusion among the mass of readers in properly recognizing the author. For instance, when someone quotes a sentence or phrase from an article written by Ram Ashish Giri and writes ‘Giri, R. A.’ in the reference entry, there is no point to ensure that his/her readers will, without confusion, understand that ‘R. A.’ stands for ‘Ram Ashish’! Instead, ‘R. A.’ can be understood by readers as any name beginning with R and A in the case of the first and middle names respectively (e.g. Raj Ashish, Ram Anish, Raj Avatar, and so on). Such a style, in this way, has not only reduced the authors’ identity but also misguided the readers more or less intentionally.

Interestingly, although such a style (which is in widespread use) does not allow the authors’ full recognition in the reference list; it has clearly instructed the writers to mention the complete name of the publisher. In this connection, the attempt of giving full recognition to the publisher should be well appreciated, but there is no point in disallowing authors’ full recognition. And, there can be no reason why authors’ identity should always be hidden on one hand and the curious readers should be left in confusion on the other!

The essence underlying the discussion so far is that we must have author acknowledging and reader friendly attitude; otherwise we cannot create an encouraging environment for academic and professional prosperity, growth and development. In absence of the willingness to make correction in style (with the aim of preserving author identity), the culture of intellectual exploitation can sustain forever under the banner of academic works such as publication and research. The academia throughout the globe needs to be aware of such a practice – which is not simply a matter of style but essentially a sort of academic offence against intellectuals. Steps need to be taken towards stopping such wrong practices so that the environment of academic honour can prosper towards right direction.

Choutari Academic Writing Workshop: Photo Blog

For many, writing can be a very vulnerable and challenging process. However, with certain skills and motivation, an aspiring writer can come up with creative and interesting text which can engage readers from the first word to the last.

With a view to enhance the writing skills of English Language Teaching (ELT) practitioners and emerging writers, ELT Choutari organized a writing workshop titled “A Performative Endeavour in Academic Writing” on August 23 in Kathmandu.

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Hem Raj Kafle, assistant professor of Kathamandu University School of Engineering, and also one of the founders of ELT Choutari, facilitated the one-day workshop held at King’s College, Babarmahal, Kathmandu. Twenty emerging authors, especially teachers and students studying English from Kathmandu University and Tribhuvan University attended the program.10353003_281779022013369_3139098983756202402_n

Sharing his experience as an established writer and a prolific blogger, Kafle highlighted on significance of different components that make one’s writing interesting, authentic and reader-friendly. He divided the workshop into a series of sessions and shared some practical techniques on how to overcome writer’s block, how to start with effective beginning, argue with different elements, establish the writer’s presence, and so on.

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Toward the end of the workshop, facilitator Kafle illustrated few examples of different models of same writing and through comparison, the participant writers were engaged to scrutinize those pieces of writing and pick the effective form based on the analysis.

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“The workshop was very helpful for me as I want to write articles about drama and theatre; and get them published in newspapers,” said Deepesh Paudel, one of the participants from Sarwanam Theater.

 

Similarly, Usha Kiran Wagle, one of editors for Choutari and an M. Ed in ELT from Kathmandu University, reflected about the workshop saying that she has gained new confidence in writing.

This monthly writing workshop is a part of ELT Choutari to promote professional development of English language teachers through networking and building on local resources and knowledge in English language teaching.

For more photos: Please click here

Photoblog: Choutari Writing Workshop #2

ELT Choutari organized a workshop titled “Problematising, Organising, Introduction, Conclusion and Abstract while Writing Papers”at King’s College, Babar Mahal in Kathmandu on July 26, 2014.

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Mabindra Regmi, an adjunct lecturer of KU School of Education, facilitated the one-day workshop, attended by 18 writing enthusiasts – teachers and students from Kathmandu University and Tribhuvan University.

Regmi talked about why many researchers and novice writers get ‘stuck’ while writing the introduction, conclusion and abstract of papers and research article; and he walked through the workshop giving tips and guidelines on how to get over the obstacle.

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Regmi involved the participants in brainstorming and problematizing/contextualizing their interest area. Then the participants came up with a draft of the introduction for their topics and got involved in a feedback session.

Download the ELT-Choutari-Workshop2

For more: Click here
Pics by: Umes Shrestha

The Write Way

Mabindra Regmi

When I graduated from my high school, I thought I was a great writer. I had written for countless assignments and examinations. I had written poems and stories. I had scored relatively high marks in English during my high school final examination. How could I not be a writer? It was a bitter shock when reality crashed in and I had to redefine my so called ‘expertise’ in writing when I faced the challenge of writing a proposal for an educational endeavor. I spent many a night poring over the proposal and scribbling on a piece of paper in that pre-ubiquitous-computer era to keep my inflated writing ego alive.

When I look back in retrospect after what seems like eons, and teaching writing to students for over a decade, a few questions arise. Why did I feel that I was ‘good’ at writing when I apparently wasn’t? What were the factors that I had missed altogether to write well? What were the strategies that I had to adopt in order to enhance my writing skills? And what it takes to create your niche in the world of writing- specifically academic writing? Continue reading »

Reflection on ‘Behind Academic Publishing-Why, How & What’

Krishna Prasad Khatiwada

‘Get your name registered!’… I excitedly followed the post on the timeline of NeltaChoutari, after I came to learn that Mr. Bal Krishna Sharma was the facilitator of the workshop titled Behind Academic Publishing: Why, How and What. I find the workshop as a crucial step forward for an aspiring writer like me to know more about how to write academic journal articles and get them published. Upon signing up for the registration, I made a call to Umes, one of NeltaChoutari editors, prior to the scheduled workshop to confirm my participation. Finally, I participated in the three-hour workshop which I believe paved a way toward academic writing and publishing with the knowledge and styles that the facilitator shared with us during the session. Continue reading »

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