It is strange how things can come together all at once sometimes. A few weeks back I saw a link to an article on using wiki’s for process writings. Although I was very interested (due to my limited experience with process writings and interest in using technology in meaningful ways,) I couldn’t read the article…so I decided to write a poorer version of the article myself.
As soon as I mentioned this I found out that Rachel Roberts had just published her thoughts on process writings . And other bloggers mentioned that they were thinking of similar articles.
Hopefully, this will be useful and give you some ideas about introducing process writings possibly using wikis or other methods.
What is process writing?
There are two traditional types of writing approaches. Process and Product writing.
The idea of a product writing is that students should produce a certain type of writing at the end that uses features of that writing style. For example, a formal email, an informal letter to a friend, a text etc. Students might look at the content in the different paragraphs and also some useful phrases that are common in that form of writing.
As such the student will end up with a “product” that is similar to the sample in the book but more generalised.
In general product writing is more common in textbooks as it is easy to create a text and then draw attention to features of that style.
In contrast to the goal of Product writing, where the final product is similar to the initial text that is analysed, process writing focuses on the subject and the process of creating a text. As such there is no suggested format but a topic is possible (this could be student generated), brainstorming and collaboration is much more important and there is no desired outcome product (other than there being something outputted)
Of course, these ideas aren’t mutually exclusive and often neither “strict” approach is followed (in a product writing brainstorming is frequently used and in process writings a sample text could be presented to students, after the format has been selected by the group, which can then be analysed and worked off.) However, due to various factors I have seen a lot more product writing lessons (coursebooks being a key
culprit factor here)
Why is Process writing a good idea?
1. More realistic?
Certainly in life we often brainstorm are ideas and then search for a text afterwards to analyse rather than have someone give us a letter and say “I want you to write a letter like this.” However, we usually know what type of format we are going to produce before we start brainstorming ideas
2. Creative process is valued
If you’ve ever done a product writing lesson you get a lot of texts that are VERY similar. Okay there might be a date different here or there but we don’t want the students to produce anything too off the straight and narrow. In a process writing our students can produce what they want. They may want to write a letter, an email, or an essay and anything is okay. They might want to be persuasive or just talk about their appreciation of someone. They can do whatever they want.
3. Teaching at the point of need?
In a Business English context Process writing allows for different groups to work out what they need to write about and write THAT not something that is in their syllabus (the response that comes back is that a good syllabus should of course be prepared for their needs in advance, however, sudden needs sometimes arise and so no syllabus is perfect)
One of the biggest differences between the two formats is the focus on Collaboration. In Business context this skills is vital as people rarely work in complete isolation. Collaborating also opens up opportunities for learning moments during the collaboration itself and not just the intended target product.
5. Preparation for tests?
In a test the student might not have prepared for the topic or format that is requested. Giving students the chance to practice a process writing on any topic may help prepare them for the unexpected in a test.
Of course there are downsides to Process writing approaches, and advantages to product writings but that’s not the point. My general point is that Process writing is lacking from many syllabi that I have used and yet it is useful.
For more on the differences between process and product writing, check out this British Council blog post.
Can Wikis help?
When you think of wikis do you usually think of Wikipedia or something else? I know I usually think of Wikipedias but Wikis are certainly not just the online encyclopedia.
Wikispaces are online collaborative sites where groups can assemble a databank of information on any subject they want. They have basic text editing and can link different pages together via hyperlinks (click here for more info) There are wikipedias for pretty much every computer game out there detailing all the items, how to complete the various missions etc. There are wikipedias for guitars with a history of different models and their features (as well as famous players).
Oh and some teachers have wiki spaces as well which they use with their students.
Sometimes this is just a bank of information and activities collected by the teacher for the students to use for self study (there are some great examples of exam preparation classes using wikis) or they could be all the materials that students have used and created in classes. There are quite a few examples out there of using Wikis for these purposes with either strict teacher control (and the students simple consume) or joint collaboration but what about completely Student controlled?
Students directed project
Imagine setting up a writing task for a group of students to produce a wiki. Perhaps it is a guide for their office (for new members of staff possibly) or perhaps a group of teenagers write about their favourite band/computer game/topic. The Wikipedia is a blank space so the students can fill it with whatever they want.
They can brainstorm about what topic to write about, what they know about it, assign tasks, write first drafts, edit them, suggest amendments, have debates about the validity of evidence (have you ever looked at the chats behind the scenes of a Wikipedia page!) and so on and so on.
The project doesn’t end until the students say it does via their own decision over what the project it.
The teacher can help facilitate the discussions and reformulate language during the tasks (or even provide some model examples that students can emulate). Truly project learning.
Of course, rose-tinted lenses are wonderful things and I have to admit I haven’t tried out using a wiki for a process writing…yet and I can predict a few challenges.
- Initial enthusiasm quickly fades
- No peer correcting, only teacher correcting
- Project is “completed” very quickly.
- Wikis follow internet style and so don’t cover all writing features.
- Students have to be taught how to use the Wiki
- Fear/over enthusiasm of correcting others. (Classic internet issue where some people become trolls by another name, and others are the silent majority online.)
Still a lot of these issues exist with other formats as well and can be overcome by good preparation (teaching to use the tools), finding a topic that students are genuinely passionate about and providing internal anonymity (no one outside of the group can see the wiki)
Pen and paper
Of course, a traditional pen and paper version is a perfectly valid what to write a process writing and maybe be better for technologically illiterate students.
Something I’ve written a lot about before. For one to one students (and groups) having your own blog is a great method of process writing as well. Here a student can write whatever they want on whatever they want (especially for individually owned blogs) using certain services like posterous can even allow the teacher to check the writing for mistakes before it is published and many have privacy filters (passwords etc) to prevent the whole world from prying. The disadvantages with blogs is that the content disappears after time and is replaced by more recently written materials/posts. With a wiki the order of content doesn’t change. It is a static site, you can keep your core information at the front of your site and the rest hidden within.
So it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. This year I’m going to start some collaborative wiki’s for my groups and give the students full ownership. I’m still not sure on the exact details (especially for non technologically proficient students and for individuals who aren’t in groups) but I’m going to give it a go and report on what I find.