We held a tutor focus group in the initial stages of the project to capture existing practice. Tutors’ comments ranged from the specific, such as work on ‘upgrading’ sentences from ‘I went to Leeds’ to ‘I went to Leeds last Saturday to…’, to broader approaches such as a topic-based local approach:
“learners ask for language when they can see the purpose…I couldn’t stop them when I asked them to complain about the No. 10 bus!”
There were varied views on the use of technology to improve writing and to motivate learners:
“…students need to improve their handwriting…IT skills become a separate issue for some of our students…it’s difficult to predict their level of IT.”
Tutors also acknowledged that the use of technology ‘mirrors a lot of real-life use’.
We then held three focus groups with ESOL learners: one with entry level 1, two with entry level 2 and one with level 1 learners. Entry level learners echoed tutors’ views on the need to improve handwriting and the value of having time to copy in class. The depth of learners’ analysis of the sub-skills of writing was evident with learners identifying specific phoneme/grapheme relationships they found difficult. The common themes were ‘more time’, ‘more practice’ and ‘more use of models to support their writing’.
“to write a text in a short time doesn’t help because it makes us stressed, so lots of mistakes! … we want two hours on writing” (Level 1 learner), echoed by a tutor, “I wished I had started on writing earlier”.
Learners at all levels identified emails and forms as text types they need, whilst existing literacy practices ranged from social media use, text message and emails to helping children with homework. Several entry level learners valued “computer writing … I want this more over paper writing”. We therefore decided to focus on email but to support this with paper-based work to include a focus on punctuation, use of clear models and opportunities to copy words and improve handwriting.
Classroom activities: September – January
• Three email exchanges between two entry level 1 groups
• Follow-up workshops on how to structure an email and how to read and respond to an email
• Review and tweaking of email support materials by instructors
• Evaluation of email activities by learners
• Trial Padlet with an entry level 1 group to encourage learners to post opinions of their house/flat and respond to others’ comments (Figure 11a-2)
• Use of a writing booklet task pre-computer lab to provide a structured approach to writing an absence email to a tutor. This was marked by instructors.
• A final email session in the computer lab with students emailing the tutor to say why they cannot attend class (Figure 11a-3).