Welcome to the Third Quarterly Issue of ELT Choutari: Special Coverage on Writing Education #Vol. 10, Issue 88

A teacher providing feedback on her students’ writing (www.alamy.com)

Editorial

We are delighted to present the third quarterly issue (July- September) of ELT Choutari of 2018, the 88th issue. The issue focuses on writing education in Nepali schools and universities.

We, the teachers of English in schools and universities teach about writing not writing itself. For instance, students are made to memorise what a paragraph means rather than making them write a paragraph on different topics. In the university, many students strive to create original pieces of writing. To meet the dates for submitting assignments, students ‘copy and paste’ in rush. They do not receive enough opportunity to practice writing in the classrooms. On the other hand, in schools, teachers generally write paragraphs, letters and essays on the board and students just copy them. They even memorise those notes including essays for the examination. Furthermore, there are ‘ready-made’ paragraphs, letters, job applications and essays in the markets; the “Bazaar Notes”. In a way, these notes make the teachers’ lives go easy. Of course, there are few teachers and students who invest their sufficient effort to practice writing processes in schools and universities. Interestingly, it has also been observed that the teachers and university faculties who have never produced a single piece of original writing in their career grade the students’ papers for their creativity and originality in writing. I mean, do we have experience of the process of writing? We need to rethink and revise the practice of teaching writing in our academic institutions.

In this connection, this 88th issue of ELT Choutari offers a wide range of writing practices, experiences and analysis of scholars. I believe that teachers, students and researchers will be benefited from reading these writings.

Here are nine blog posts for this issue:

  1. Thesis Writing: A Big Learning Opportunity: Nabina Roka
  2. Good Writing is All About Practice and Knowing its Requirements: Dr Hayes (by Jeevan Karki)
  3. Thesis Writing: A Next Step in Learning: Tara Rai
  4. Writing a Writing Education in Nepal: Dr Shyam Sharma
  5. Developing Students’ Writing Skill: Teachers’ Views from Far West: Januka Bhatta
  6. Academic Writing and the Reality in Universities: A Review of Academics’ Voices: Dr Karna Rana
  7. My Experience of Teaching Writing in School: Shanti Upreti
  8. Being Familiar with Academic Writing: Nani Babu Ghimire
  9. Teaching Writing at University Level: Practices from Far West Nepal

I would like to thank Choutari editors Dr. Karna Rana, Jeevan Karki, Praveen Kumar Yadav and a learning editor Narendra Airi for their reviews to release this issue. Finally, if you enjoy reading the blog posts, please feel free to share in your circle and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below. Likewise, please write your teaching-learning experiences and send us. We will give a space at Choutari. Our email is 2elt.choutari@gmail.com.

Ashok Raj Khati

The editor of the issue

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.

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.