Experimenting with before and after writing models
At TESOL Spain Online 2021 I explored ways of teaching B1 students to become better writers. The session was based on some work I did with a class of pre-PET students (although most of them ended up taking the exam), which involved creating a writing portfolio. Every few weeks I would revisit the written work we had done with some guided reflection questions. At the end of the course we revisited one final time, but with a twist. We looked at the work they had written in the very first writing workshop, and armed with the knowledge and skills we had explored over the course, the students rewrote their texts. The aim was to create their perfect exam answer.
Jaime (not his real name!) went from this
A few days after giving my session, one of the attendees contact me to ask if I had writing models available. As a rule I’ve tended to avoid using models. Although there are definitely elements of a product approach to writing in the recipes method, I have always aimed to teach my students to communicate first. I think I have always feared that students might rely too heavily on the model, or that the example text alienates them. What happens when they get to exam day and can’t reproduce the example (or worse that email in real life)? Or what about that weaker student who has always been scared of writing because it exposes their vulnerabilities; wouldn’t the perfect model disengage them even more?
What if the model comes from a student? And what if that model allows us to see how the student has developed as a writer (and linguist)?
This experiment seeks to answer those questions. I’ve produced four examples – B1 Story, B1 Article, B2 Essay, and B2 Article. I chose students at random where I had copies of their initial and final versions of the text, as I want to make sure the model illustrates how a given student has grown as a writer, rather than comparing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writers. As a side note, I should add that I always ask students’ permission to reuse their work, anonymously, at the start of a course. The two texts are presented with a commentary on what the student has (or hasn’t) done in relation to what the target reader might expect for a given text type, and the texts themselves have only been edited very slightly for clarity. The next step will be to add guided discovery questions to help students compare between the two texts, with the aim of identifying what aspects of the second text make it successful.
But this is an experiment in the truest sense of the word, and I welcome any feedback or suggestions in the comments (or emails). Is this something you would find helpful? What extra comments would you add? Are there any features of the text you would like to comment on? Should there be exercises for students?