Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Fresh Take on Teaching Point of View

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

I had the good fortune to be able to attend the TESOL 2018 Conference in Chicago back in March. Even though I have been teaching for 25ish years, I always learn something new whenever I attend conferences like TESOL or IATEFL. This past spring was no exception; I left with several great ideas and renewed enthusiasm for teaching.

As I perused the conference program, I was excited to see a session called Shifting Student Paradigms: Beyond Main Ideas and Five Paragraph Essays. So often, ESL instructors teach students to write through the five paragraph essay format, and yet, when you really think about it, when was the last time you actually wrote a five paragraph essay in real life? Sure, it could be argued that the five paragraph essay is a microcosm of longer academic writing. My Master’s dissertation and Doctoral thesis do contain the skeletons of five paragraph essays. And, it could also be argued that students need to learn academic writing and the five paragraph essay is merely a common, familiar vehicle for the practice of it. However, I am also always intrigued when teachers want to look beyond the five paragraph essay to other genres. (For more on this, see my blog post describing Nigel Caplan’s outstanding workshop on Genre Writing.) Anyway, I was intrigued.

And was I ever glad I put a star beside this particular session! Among other ELT ideas, the presenters, Chui and Fujiwara, described a great activity for teaching students to consider point of view when writing. This is an important skill for our learners because, “an active exploration of this writer/reader interaction can lead students to realize and internalize the idea that what they write becomes another person’s reading and must therefore anticipate a reader’s needs and meet a reader’s expectations” (Spack, 1985, 706). However, L2 readers and writers may need extra support when considering issues of point of view. In addition to this being something important for writers to keep in mind, it can be a useful skill for critical readers as well. Being able to recognize an author’s implied point of view is an essential step toward identifying bias in a text. And, we could all bring a little more of that to what we read, right?

Anyway, Chui and Fujiwara teach students about point of view with the following activity.

First, they have students read the following text, Furnished Luxury Home for Sale, an advertisement of a house for sale. As the students read the text, they underlined the descriptive language that they like. We did it in the workshop, and I would encourage you to do it now, too, in your mind.

Then, and this was the interesting part, they had the students read the passage again, but from the perspective of burglars. They had to circle the descriptions that appealed to them as thieves. So, we did it, too, in the workshop. And, you should now go back and read the passage again, but imagine you are a thief scouting the “for sale” ads for vacant houses to break in to. Mentally circle the descriptions that appeal to you.

Wasn’t that fun?

Chui and Fujiwara then had their students get into partner groups and interact. So, we turned to the person next to us in the conference room and compared our papers. We talked about how some of the information was the same, but some was different. We also commented on how the author (the realtor) could re-write the text to discourage burglars. It was interesting to note that even though some of the underlined bits and circled bits were the same, the reason behind the focus was different. For instance, as the person reading a piece of descriptive texts, I underlined the phrase “the street is quiet” because I live in a big, noisy city and the idea of a street without shouting and sirens is appealing. However, as the burglar, I also circled the same phrase because it meant that I could break into the house without being seen.

Finally, Chui and Fujiwara had their students collaboratively rewrite the text for an audience of burglars. We didn’t have to do that, of course, and the speakers moved on to talk about a different teaching idea. So, you can see why I love attending conferences, right? I left that session with a creative way of teaching something that students can find daunting. What more could you ask for?

Chui, P. & Fujiwara, I. (2018). Shifting Student Paradigms: Beyond Main Ideas and Five Paragraph Essays. Paper presented at TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo, Chicago, IL.
Spack, R. (1985). Literature, reading, writing and ESL: Bridging the gaps. TESOL Quarterly, 19(4), 703-725.

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