TESOL 2016 highlights (part 1- writing and assessment)

This year I had the opportunity not only to attend the TESOL 2016 convention in Baltimore, but also to present. In a future post I will make my presentation accessible, but in the meantime, I’d like to mention the highlights of the different workshops and presentations I went to as well as the people I met.

First of all, I have to say that the event was great! I was delighted to learn what teachers and researchers are doing around the world and believe their work is worth sharing and mentioning, so here I will summarize the most relevant tips, citations and pieces of information I encountered through the different days of the event.

Practice-oriented session: “Beyond graphic organizers: Teaching Secondary ELLS to think like writers.”
Well, this session was right up my ally, since I’m teaching 7th graders and am always looking for new ways to introduce writing tasks. Christina Ortmeier-Hooper, Liz Kirwan, Donna Brown and Jovana Milosavljevic shared how they are using the SFL (Systemic Functional Linguistics) approach towards teaching writing (which I will definitely read more into). In simple words, this is a genre-based method used for teaching language and writing which allows oral discourse and collaboration opportunities in the learning process. The speakers shared tips when teaching writing with this approach and selecting good model texts. They recommended selecting texts that were teen-friendly, provocative, connected to students’ reality, with engaging language use and authentic.

They also mentioned FLASH NON-FICTION, which I had not heard of before. This is perfect if you want to provide an authentic writing model that is not too long for students to bear! They suggested checking out this page  and the books on short non-fiction, which you can find here. Finally, I got the chance to talk with Liz for some minutes on the rubrics she used to assess and I also mentioned the rubrics I was using. She told me about check bricks, which was a new term for me. If you’re wondering what check bricks are, you can see these examples I found online clicking here and here.

Research-oriented session: “Writing Groups and Collaboration: Strategies for Writing for Publication”
I absolutely loved this session, since it mentioned a strategy that had not occurred to me, which was creating a writing group. Deborah Crusan, Christine Pearson Casanave, Suhanthie Motha and Stephanie Vandrik shared the different strategies they have used to commit to writing. They mentioned and recommended having writing partners, writing groups, assigning writing days and taking writing retreats. There was a strong emphasis on the power of having academic colleagues or friends who you can count on (whether face to face or online), and how a writing group can really get you into the writing mood and to complete publishing objectives. I agreed with them when they mentioned how sometimes one has to encourage oneself to get things (especially written projects) done and how it is easier when you have an academic BFF that you trust to give you support in this process. According to the presenters, a writing group works in the following way:  you meet up with academic BFFs (that’s what I like to call them) who have their own writing projects, you meet at a pleasant and comfortable place and you each set writing objectives. Vandrick recommended using a 45 minute writing and 15 minute break model. Then, you set moments in which you exchange ideas, give each other advice and, of course, provide support. Finally, you end the session by summing up your achievements based on the goals you set for that day as well as discussing issues that might have arisen. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Invited TESOL speaker session: “Rethinking Written Feedback: Theory and Practice”
In his presentation, Ahmar Mahboob talked about the importance of providing cohesive and coherent feedback in students’ writing tasks. Read his paper on Understanding and Providing Cohesive and Coherent Feedback on Writing for more detailed information.

He presented the following stages for effective feedback:

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He also provided a variety of examples and encouraged the use of a 3×3 informed assessment rubrics which can be accessed here.
A tip he gave was to create a databank of comments when providing feedback, since it is a time-consuming activity. He assured the usefulness of having one. In my opinion, databanks could be very useful, especially when we are referring to the mechanics of the language or aspects that tend to repeat in students’ writing and structuring of texts. However, each writing process and student is unique, so databanks would go so far, yet I will definitely keep this in mind, since I have not made my own.

Teaching tip: “How to Use Instructional Rubrics to Teach ESL Writing”
Olga Weston, from Bergen Community College recommended using instructional rubrics for a better progress of students writing. Weston explained that instructional rubrics are based on student learning expectations and can be constructed by students themselves for a writing assignment. They are not intended to provide a grade, but create awareness in students when they are writing a task. These are designed in the form of checklists.

This is the example of the Instructional Rubric provided in the session:
intructional rubric

Click here to download (sorry about the quality of the image)

The first section of the rubric contains the most common whole group errors in terms of grammar and content. The column with # errors shows how many students had those errors. Then the other half of the rubric contains the specific errors the student had in grammar as well as the errors in the form of the type of writing assigned. The objective here is for students to use the rubric to keep in mind the errors identified in the first draft of their writing task when they are developing their second draft. Weston assured it brought positive effects to the writing process and more awareness of students in what they need to improve.

I took a lot of ideas from these sessions, which I’m sure anyone will find useful. In my next post, I’ll write about the pronunciation sessions I attended.

4 thoughts on “TESOL 2016 highlights (part 1- writing and assessment)”

  1. Carolina R. Buitrago

    Awesome post Martha. Thanks a lot for sharing. All those ideas sound fantastic, but the writing group is my favorite. Writin retreats??? Wouldn’t that be absolutely awesome? I’ll definitely be up for being your academic BFF! 😆
    Once again, thanks for sharing!

  2. Carolina R. Buitrago

    Let’s do it! I’m working on an article right now, once the first draft is completed, I will let you know. Anyone else joining our writing group?
    Caro Segura, maybe?? Felipe??

  3. i have to say that the event was great! I was delighted to learn what teachers and researchers are doing around the world and believe their work is worth sharing and mentioning

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