Proctoring your online writing classes

So where do I start? Now that I’ve got your attention with a flashy title let’s just start off defining the word “proctoring”. According to the Cambridge online dictionary,  the word “to proctor” means “to watch people taking an exam in order to check that they do not cheat”. I suppose if I leave this in the context of emergency remote online teaching this is easier said than done. Moreover, I’m not sure if this is where I want to take my thinking at all. The first thing that pop’s up in my head is a meme I saw on social media with a child in front of a screen and a mum holding a dictionary under the table helping her son pass the writing test. Personally, I believe that we as teachers are not responsible for just supervising a writing test. This is something that examination bodies should think about now that current trends are moving towards online solutions for examinations.

We as teachers should be thinking in another direction with our writing classes. We should be moving towards the ultimate goal of creating autonomous learners and trying to instil the love of writing in our students so they can feel that writing is a form of expression, a way to express feelings and to portray imagination and creativity. Easier said than done, right? Well, there could be a way to do just that.

Let’s begin. The first thing I want to talk about is writing classes. Due to the coronavirus crisis, we were all forced to teach online. Surely, most of you found ways to go around the hurdle of getting students to write online. Most of you used methods like getting them to write a piece of writing on paper and then sending it as a photo to some sort of communication medium, whether it be an email or a platform like Google Classroom or Edmodo. Some of you got your students to type their writing piece and send it to you for corrections. These methods are perfectly fine, but what was the result? My guess was that most students wrote exactly the same as the would have done in class. Some students excelled, some did ok and others were not to a high standard. What I had in mind for my students though was different.

If we look into the real world, you would all agree with me that most writing takes place in front of a computer screen. Nothing like what is expected of students when in exam classes. So how can we take writing for English lessons out of just writing for the teacher/examiner and make it more meaningful for our students? For one thing, we keep our methodology of teaching writing intact, i.e pre-teach vocabulary, rubric analysis, model essay analysis and the like and but change the way we approach it. Think of ways of putting the burden on the to preparing guided self-paced lessons which could be used in class both off and online. Something that I feel is inevitable too and is my quick and easy take on this matter is to get them to write their composition on paper; in class? at home? Whichever way suits your style of teaching and then just tweaking the correction stages to coaching them to becoming autonomous writers.

So how do we push the scale of creating versions and correction of own mistakes towards our students? Easy, offer them the chance to use a few quick and easy tools to correct their own mistakes and improve their writing. Take advantage of free online writing tools that even professional writers use. Let’s have a look at this idea in more detail:

For one thing, make use of digital material to flip your teaching. Even if you are returning to face-to-face classes, take advantage of the fact that most learners now have access to their own devices getting them to bring it to class. The idea of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to class is already among us and is used in some schools around the world already. I suggest creating a digital activity sheet around ready-made and widely available free resources such as youtube videos and self answering quiz, having your students show you when they achieve each task. It could be a grammar point you want them to know before writing or even a vocabulary-building skill. Have a look at the below google doc from a fellow moderator from the Flipped Learning in Langauge teaching EVO 2020 TESOL sessions, Diana K. Salazar is an English teacher in Colombia at the Rochester bilingual school, teaching Writing for 4th grade. She used the in-class approach and wrapped the activity in the form of a google doc (see image below) in an online class as a game board but it could have easily been used for a face to face class too. In-class flip 

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Diana K. Salazar’s in-class flip writing board game.

Just as she mentions in her title, “This study guide aims to prepare you in an interactive, fun and catchy way for the final exam of English Writing”. Let me repeat that, fun and catchy way to prepare for an exam. See, make it meaningful and “wham” they’re engaged. Another reason I really loved this piece and decided to show it as-is is the way this doc was created in a very short time, taking advantage of all those unlimited videos, quiz, and articles without the need of recreating endless pages of own work. My biggest problem before this was if I gave a quiz, exercises or reading pages how could I check that they had completed them. I would have gotten them to create accounts for web apps, like Kahoot, edpuzzle, wordwall, quizalise, quizziz and the list would be endless, and then log in to the each and every dashboard to see if they did them.  Using the in-class flip way, the proof of completion is not in the exercise but in understanding what you have completed. Read these articles and create a graphic organiser to show your understanding. By all means, this isn’t new, it’s just another way to look at what a coursebook would have in the form of columns of information and exercises. Sure beats a coursebook, but also takes advantage of a coursebook too. If you look at the first, bottom left box in Diana’s board game she actually quotes page 68 of her coursebook and gives it to them in digital format to save time.

So break your lesson down into interesting chunks, put the burden on students to prove that they have understood and completed their blocks and get that final composition handed in. Then what? Correct it and give it back to them? I was thinking more of reading over with them, why not getting them to read it to you to check on fluency and pronunciation and then for homework get them to type it up in google docs and use a spellchecker like Grammarly (chrome extension) to self-correct their work. This way, they can spot their own errors and if those errors are fossilized, it might even help them to see those errors in the future. For a final stage get them to share their google doc with you so you can go over their draft and suggest changes or improvements more like an editor rather than a teacher.

One thing I get them to do once they have their final draft ready is to get them to publish it on the internet as an article. We have a school blog which we get our students to use so they can feel that their article is available for all to read. Have a look at our school blog here.

Overall, now that we are returning to our face-to-face classes don’t stop taking advantage of the digital tools we have readily available. Even if you don’t have access to them in class you could still get your students using them out of class. Something very important to me is, always plan your activity to be as meaningful and relevant to your student as possible and try to make it fun too!

Thanking ELTnews and flforum.gr for the invite.

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