Fostering Student Autonomy in Writing Classes
Autonomy, with regards to teaching is when students take charge of their own learning–when they are responsible for it and the teacher is more of a guide than the all-knowing one who imparts wisdom and knowledge.
Teacher as Editor Model: Bad News!
I believe that the current model of teaching writing in most universities in Korea (and perhaps around the world where English is taught as a second or foreign language) does nothing to foster student autonomy. When I attend conferences, I hear people giving presentations about teaching writing without even a mention of self-editing, instead focusing on teacher, or peer-editing exclusively, which I find quite bizarre.
This model of teacher-editing is basically where the student writes something and gives it to the teacher, probably with very little in the way of self-editing, if any at all. In fact, it’s not so uncommon that the student, especially at lower-levels will give something to the teacher that came straight from Google Translate. Then the teacher spends ridiculous amounts of time editing something that in some cases is barely understandable and gives it back to the student. They make the changes, often mindlessly and don’t really look at the mistakes in detail.
Repeat this cycle endlessly.
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Peer as Editor: Bad New Also!
This cycle can also be done with peer-editing, of which I am not a big fan of either. In both of these models, the learner essentially takes very little responsibility for turning out a quality product on their own because they know that the teacher or friend will just make the changes they need.
However, peer or teacher-editing is 100% unlike real-life. When students are taking an English proficiency test that involves writing, there is no teacher or friend sitting next to them, helping them along. Nor would they have this at any job. They would just be expected to turn out a decent email or essay or whatever else they would need to write. No hand-holding to fall back on!
How about Teaching Self-Editing?
In an attempt to foster student autonomy by teaching writing strategies, I’m teaching students to self-edit by giving them check-lists with things like:
Check all the verbs: correct tense?
What is your thesis statement? Is it stated or implied?
Does each sentence have a capital letter and period/question mark/exclamation point.
Jackie: You’re So Mean!
However,I’m not totally unkind. If a student comes to my office during office hours, I’ll read essays and give general feedback like, “Your hook is quite weak…what about changing it to something like…”
Yes, it’s challenging for the students. No, I’m not just lazy.
Self-Editing = a skill for life. Teacher-editing = not so much
I truly think that teaching self-editing will be better for the students in the end, even if they are not so happy about it in the meantime. I hope to give them skills they can take beyond my class to the real world and self-editing is definitely one of those things. Students generally hate what is not easy for them, but spoon-feeding has really never been my style. Sorry, my lazy students. I’m not the teacher for you!
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