Happy New Year! As we hang up new calendars and prepare for another academic term, it’s also a good time to think ahead for ourselves and our students. New Year’s resolutions are a January tradition for many people. We make resolutions to improve our fitness, diets, and other habits. Why not also make a few resolutions related to writing and teaching writing?
Resolutions for Learners
Language learners may not think of themselves specifically as writers, but rather as students more generally. Nevertheless, they can benefit from setting some specific goals related to writing.
Identify a support network. Second language writers, especially those university students studying in an English-medium institution, should think about where they can find support for their writing. Students may not realize that successful writers rarely accomplish everything on their own, but rather have developed a support network to help them at all stages of the writing process. They can start by getting to know their college writing center, where trained consultants are ready to help writers think about and improve texts for any academic discipline.
In addition, second language writers should identify a few proofreaders who can help them edit the language in their writing for their content classes, as writing center consultants generally do not offer this service. Proofreaders do not need to be native speakers, but they do need to have a solid sense of academic English and an ability to identify where a text does not align with expectations for the field. Students may want to check with friends who are strong writers; in exchange, they can offer academic support in a field they know well—or provide cookies. Finally, student writers should seek out emotional support as they work on their writing. This can be in the form of a study group that meets regularly or a social group for blowing off steam.
Share your writing. As I noted in my earlier blog post, many language learners write solely for their teachers, thinking of writing only as an academic exercise with no connection to their lives outside the classroom. I firmly believe that even intermediate level learners can share their writing with a real-world audience that reads their work for information or entertainment, not assessment.
An easy place to start is by posting regularly to social media. Lower proficiency learners may want to find a group of fellow learners if they are intimidated by posting to a public page; writing for other learners can be a motivating way to take risks with writing and interact around texts written at an accessible level. More advanced writers might start a blog, which they can similarly share publicly or with a select group of supportive friends. On a blog, writers can use language they already know to write about subjects they find interesting. Some might want to write extensively about their own lives, while others may want to focus on a favorite hobby or on fanfiction about a popular show or book.
Resolutions for Grad Students
Graduate students are quite likely inundated with academic writing requirements and may feel overwhelmed or like they just don’t have enough time to do all the writing they need to for their programs. (Another previous blog post describes the challenges of graduate school writing.) Whatever stage they are in in their programs, graduate student writers may want to set New Year’s resolutions related to managing their writing.
Establish a writing habit. Over and over, advice for academic writers comes back to this very simple recommendation: Writing should be regularly scheduled and made a priority. Graduate students should block off an hour or two per day across the week, during which time they will do nothing but work on their writing projects. They may want to plan to write with others (see my next recommendation) or sign on to an online motivation program. They should also think about their habits and identify ways of limiting distractions, such as email or social media, while writing.
Form a writing support group. Graduate students’ writing projects are often individual, but students may find motivation from setting regularly scheduled times to work with peers. These support groups may take the form of feedback groups (where writers share works in progress with each other) or accountability groups (where writers check in on each other’s progress or sit together to write). Such groups can also help reduce the loneliness of grad school, especially after students have completed their required coursework and are focused on their thesis or dissertation projects.
Stretch your writing genres. Graduate students may also want to set a goal of writing about their academic subjects in a nonacademic genre. Many professional organizations have blogs (such as this one for TESOL!) where authors discuss topics they know well for a more general audience than readers of academic journals. There are also many social media sites that focus on the topics graduate students study, where they can describe their work or its impacts on society. Depending on their field, they may also want to try writing about their work for a specific audience, such as teachers or elementary school students.
Resolutions for Writing Teachers
Writing teachers, too, may want to set some goals for the coming year. Whether you teach children or adults, beginners or graduate students, there is always room for adding to your professional repertoire.
Be a writer. I am inspired by the work of the National Writing Project, which argues that in order to teach writing, we need to be writers ourselves. If you are able to attend a workshop or institute coordinated by your local National Writing Project affiliate, try it out! Think about ways that you can share your own stories of teaching. One venue for creative writing is a literary journal called The Font, which welcomes stories and poems written by language teachers. If you have a lesson idea, you might write for your local TESOL affiliate’s publication, for a newsletter by one of TESOL’s Communities of Practice, or for TESOL’s own member e-newsletter, TESOL Connections.
Write with your students. Another suggestion from the National Writing Project is that teachers should be writing role models for their students. If you schedule writers workshop time in your class, consider bringing your own notebook and writing alongside your students. This could be a way to model invention or revision processes, as well as a way to generate some text toward sharing your own writing with others.
Develop strategies for response to writing. As a writing teacher, I continue to seek out more efficient and effective ways to respond to my students’ writing. Different students and different classes have different needs, so it behooves us to determine what is necessary and appropriate for our particular situations. We also need to figure out how we can give students useful feedback that helps them improve—without dedicating all our free time to doing so. Research has shown that quality of feedback is more important than quantity, so one resolution we might set would be to prioritize feedback approaches for our students’ assignments.
Pursue writing-related professional development. Finally, you may want to resolve to seek out webinars, conferences, and books that support your work in teaching writing. There are many options available through TESOL and its interest sections as well as other professional organizations and publishers. Though it may take a few hours to attend a webinar, what you learn could give you ideas that revolutionize (or at least improve slightly) your teaching of writing.
I hope this post has given you a few ideas for your own New Year’s resolutions or for helping your students set some goals for the coming year. What writing-related accomplishments do you hope to achieve? Share your thoughts in the comments section!