Sunday, 7 June 2015

Extended scientific writing with EALs

This week I will be assigning the major piece of coursework for my Grade 12 students this semester – a 1500 word scientific essay, on a biology topic of their choice. This is a challenging activity for my learners, given that they are EALs. However, I feel it’s a great way to have them practice important transferrable skills that will be invaluable to them when they go to university next year. Some of my learners will go on to study in the UK or the US, while many others will take up places in international programmes in Thai universities where the medium of instruction is English. Academic writing, paraphrasing, and the correct use of citations and referencing, are skills that most, if not all of them, will likely be facing in the coming years.

Image: Graham Holliday via Flickr

I hope that by giving learners free reign in terms of choosing their topic, it goes some way to lightening the burden of this task. They can choose any topic they like relating to biology. For those who may be less interested in biological sciences as a subject, or will not be pursuing a degree in that field, I will accept essays with a biology angle. For example, in previous years I received essays based on biomechanical engineering and sleep deprivation studies, which obviously lean more towards engineering and psychology, respectively.

Before getting started on the essay itself, I set a couple of pre-essay activities. These give learners an opportunity to review and practice a number of key skills I am hoping to reinforce with this assignment. The first pre-essay activity involves the correct use of in-text citations and references. The second gives learners a series of short extracts from primary scientific literature that they must summarise and paraphrase. They are also expected to find an example of a recent research article of their own and write a two or three sentence summary of it.

Grade 12 students here in Thailand have an awful lot of pressures piling up on them during this, their final year of school. Many of them will be preparing for and sitting multiple exams, for example SATs and university entrance exams. Therefore I do not assign a lot of homework, with this essay being their one major task to be done outside of class time. As a result, the deadline for this work is two months from now, in early September. I also make it clear to my students that they are free to submit their essay at any time between now and the deadline. This is partly to help them avoid the typical bottleneck of deadlines that build up at the end of term. However, teenagers being teenagers, I can count on one hand the number of essays that have been turned in much before the deadline in the past!