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The Importance of Skill Building in Writing

  • The Importance of Skill Building in Writing

The following blog post was written by Andrea Kiss-Parciu, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.

Teaching any particular type of writing involves several steps. When I teach writing in my Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7 class, I usually follow the same pattern, no matter what the task is (paragraph, essay, e-mail/letter, summary or graph summary). I believe these steps work at any benchmark level.

Skill building

The first thing I do is show a model of the writing projected on the screen and we discuss as a whole class the organization and language used. I prefer to use samples of student writing from a previous class as these are much closer to my students’ level. My learners seem to learn better from something similar to what they can produce. Of course, I ask for the permission of any student whose work I want to use later and usually re-type it. I would strongly advise against using writing samples from students currently in the class as they usually don’t feel comfortable when their writing is shown to everybody and analyzed in detail.

At this point, I teach or review any specific grammar that they should know to be able to complete the task successfully.

Next, I hand out another model to the learners (one per pair or group of three). I ask them to do look at the model and discuss their observations. The reason I don’t give each learner a copy is that this way they need to look at it together and discuss it. Stronger learners help the weaker ones see important points and this way they also practice their speaking skills. All the learners have the same model, so at the end we also discuss it as a whole class (again, projected on the screen).

The next step is to have the students write in pairs (or groups of three) a similar piece of writing. They get the real world task description, and together, they write it. I try to pair up weaker writers with stronger ones, and I assign the actual task of writing to the weaker learner. When they are done, they exchange their writing with another pair. They do peer editing, filling out a rubric similar to the one I will use to mark their assessment. Finally, they discuss both pieces of writing in a group of four.

Skill using

The learners get one or more homework assignments (or individual classroom assignments) of a similar task. They are allowed to use the models discussed in the skill building phase, but the actual task is different. I take in at least one of these “first drafts” and give them feedback. Next, they edit their work and produce a “second draft”. Depending on time, they may share these in pairs or groups, thus allowing more time for discussion and learning from each other.  

My experience supports the need for the above described steps in skill building to ensure better results in skill using and assessment.

At this point they also do some grammar exercises (in class or as homework) to reinforce the grammar point(s) taught/reviewed in class.

These steps are done over several days (or weeks), allowing the learners enough time and practice to understand the task and be ready for assessment. I know that we are usually pressed for time in our classes, but I strongly believe that any assessment given without proper preparation will not show the true ability of our learners. My experience supports the need for the above described steps in skill building to ensure better results in skill using and assessment.

If there isn’t enough time to do a formal assessment, an in-class skill-using task can be an artifact to be used in their PBLA portfolio.