The Pragmatist’s Guide to Essay Writing, AKA The Underground English Manual


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This is a picture of my hand holding a picture of my hand. How’s that for meta?

When I went to university, I was a slow learner. I had to write essays. I was a poor BA student.

And I mean metaphorically and literally.

No multichoice for me. Things may have changed, but I doubt it. C’est la vie…

I didn’t even take film studies. Close though. English literature major.

Nothing wrong with BA students, mind you.

Bob Jones always liked BAs because they could write. That meant that they could think. And that meant he could train them to run his businesses.

That was back in the days when he used to fly in commercial airlines, but after he punched the journalist in the face who disturbed him trout fishing in Turangi.

And long before he was called out for racist comments in a national newspaper.

Anyway.

It took me three years to learn how to write. I was totally unprepared. This is mainly due to the fact that I thought I was above average at English at High School and I thought I had above average teachers.

I got a scholarship in English in 7th form, you see. It was worth an extra $150 towards my studies at the time I think. IKR…?

So I declined. I grew my hair long and joined a rock and roll band. Actual about 5 different bands. It’s a blur now.

And after three years of selling guitar strings in Taupo, I realised that my best years were probably behind me now.

That international tour to Norfolk Island with the Wairakei Country Music Club.

Those cassette tape recordings of the original music my friend in the goth band wrote and we performed.

Coming second in a talent contest with another mate who sounded exactly like Dave Dobbyn but was never gonna win because the winner and the judges were all family members.

Those drunken 21sts.

The biker club in the industrial area with the spiked corrugated iron fence (whose idea was the whipped cream…?).

Good times, but my best years were behind me and I needed to move on, find another life, settle down.

Get a haircut, eventually. Regrow those brain cells.

So I had to learn to write essays about 21st-century literature.

And I could read but I couldn’t write.

It turns out that my scholarship in English was suspect as well. Possibly fraudulent.

I blame the NZQA. And my high school. It was their fault.

My test results for English had been scaled as part of rather dodgy norm-referenced testing.

In other words, my score was almost above average. But not exceptional.

It was just that everyone else in my cohort was crap and I was the least crap. Plus they had already allocated a scholarship to the school from the year before that had to be used.

Ka pai me…!

But back to the writing. I got Bs. I got the occasional B+. It was hard to rise above this level of mediocracy.

In the end, I got help. Professional help. From someone who KNEW.

Her name with Judith. She was very old. And she had her own office. I think the university had forgotten about her, because it was in a really obscure location.

I’m not sure what she was supposed to do. And I can’t remember how I met her. Or if she was paid.

But she would interpret the scratching on the bottom of my essays and tell me what they meant. It was like reading tea leaves. She was my medium.

And it worked like magic. Judith was my saviour.

One of my lecturers would write something like “This is Ok, but lacks cohesion”… I was always “Whuh…?

But even when you go and talk to these pillocks in their office hours they just say more of the same thing. Meaningless drivel.

That’s when I began to develop a deep-seated suspicion of academics. I mean, as a species they are kind of cute. But we should be sceptical of them. Just sayin’.

Thanks to Judith, though, I started to learn how to write. She showed me the basics.

Like how to understand the topic or question. How to plan. And then how to write.

And then… Dulce decorum est…! I started getting As and then A+s. It was a freaking miracle.

To be honest, it was a little mindless after a while.

To start with I was so jazzed, I’d print out every A+ on a sheet of golden A4 paper on my new Cannon Bubble Jet printer that I’d paid ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS for.

And I’d put them up on my wall.

Soon the whole wall was covered. And by soon I mean relatively speaking.

But it got embarrassing so I took them down and wrote a book about how to write essays instead.

And this book, I got designed and commercially printed. And I even sold a bunch at the unofficial student bookshop where they always had all the second-hand books that no one really wanted.

That’s the cover in the picture up above. I kinda feel that I started to find my voice when I wrote this book.

Unfortunately, that was the voice of a snarky arrogant git. Funny though.

Here is one pearl:

Always give a monkey a banana

…your tutor, teacher, lecture – whoever set the assignment – is a monkey. What you have to do is give them a banana – that’s your essay. What’s important is that you give them the right kind of banana. Probably, this person is an academic. An academic is just a monkey with a degree and it’s the job of these monkeys to make difficult things more complicated. He or she won’t just come out and tell you what kind of banana they want. However, as you work through our method, you can increase your chance of dishing out the right kind of banana.

It’s a bit cringy now.

But I wanted to share it because it illustrates a point. And this is… that this is what is wrong with our education system.

The current situation with NCEA comes to mind. This kind of strategy still works. You can try it out.

The skills you need to get through are not the same as learning the content that you’re learning to navigate.

But don’t let that stop you from getting those A+s… Download link below for the full unexpurgated version.

Strategy: Thinking more deeply about your literacy strategy


Strategies (8)

In order for your literacy strategy to be effective, you need to consider your answers to the following questions. These are all on the worksheets and are the same as what you’ll find in your assessment template.

Here’s a list of the questions below. Then we’ll work through each one. If you know what to do here, just skip ahead to the assessment template”

  • Can you provide a breakdown of the specific literacy skill areas?
  • What kinds of specific literacy competencies or practices do you expect to see?

Can you provide a breakdown of the specific literacy skill areas?

In your strategy, you should have picked one or two literacy progressions to focus on. These are the literacy skill areas that you want to develop. These should be based on what you identified when you did the mapping exercise as part of Assessment 3.

For example, you might say something like this:

  • One area I want to focus on is learning technical vocabulary and jargon relating to health and safety in the workshop. This includes things like the correct names for the equipment and relevant parts.
  • Another area I intend to include is how to use reading comprehension strategies. This covers how to read technical instructions, operating procedures, and plans. Many of my learners struggle with reading, including how to identify key information on a page.

What kinds of specific literacy competencies or practices do you expect to see?

As your learners gain stronger literacy skills you should see some of their behaviours change in positive ways. Sometimes we refer to these behaviours as “competencies” or “practices”.

  • A competency is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

An example would be if a learner can use a reading comprehension strategy like scanning to successfully locate key pieces of information on a page from a workbook so that they can find the answers to questions in a workbook.

  • Practices are the actual application of a literacy or numeracy skill.

If you see learners doing things it doesn’t always mean that learners can do things successfully or effectively. But we should be looking for positive changes in their behaviour.

If we take the same example above, just because you see a learner using a scanning technique doesn’t mean that the will get the correct answers to the comprehension questions that you set them. However, practising scanning is going to help them develop the skill.

Here’s something important to think about:

  • Sometimes it takes a long time to see gains in competencies. But, you can see changes in practices almost immediately if you’re looking.

Here’s an example of what you might write:

  • What I hope to see is some gains in the students reading comprehension over time. We measure this using the TEC assessment tool at the beginning and end of the programme. However, sometimes the timeframe is too short. What I’m hoping will happen is that I’ll see students using one or two good reading comprehension strategies.
  • Also, I’d like to see more deliberate vocabulary learning. There’s a lot of specialised language in my programme and much of it will be new to most of these students. I’m probably going to try encouraging them to use some different strategies for learning new words like keeping a vocabulary journal and making giant word-bank posters to put up on the walls.

Strategies: How to write your own strategy for embedding reading


Strategies (6)

Time to do some work

It’s your turn. Design your own literacy strategy by choosing from the options below. Download our worksheet to record your ideas if you want to.

Alternatively, you can skip ahead to the Assessment template and get started on this part right away.

Have a play with the ideas here, but keep in mind that for your assessment, you only need to focus on one literacy strategy.

We suggest that you use the tools below to create a broad literacy strategy for your teaching programme for strengthening either reading or writing.

How to write your own strategy for reading

  1. Choose one or two items from the box and then add your own context below.
  2. Write out a final draft summarising your strategy.
  3. If you need to, make any changes to ensure your strategy addresses the reading skills you want to concentrate on.

I will: Teach my learners to read with understanding with a focus on…

how to use decoding strategies

everyday vocabulary

academic vocabulary

technical vocabulary

how to recognise language and text features

how to use comprehension strategies

how to read critically

and
in the context of… (add your own programme here)

Download our worksheet to record your ideas and get started now.

 

Approaches: What is prior knowledge?


Approaches in adult LN (5)

Using prior knowledge

What is it?

In a nutshell, it’s the knowledge, experiences, beliefs, and attitudes you bring to any new learning or teaching.

Can we dig a little deeper?

Prior knowledge, also sometimes called prior learning, is the knowledge that someone has before they meet new information.

Every one of your adult learners comes into your teaching environment knowing certain things. Sometimes this is through experience. Sometimes this is through other learning or training.

Using prior knowledge means that you do something to find out what people already know (or do). Often the best way to do this is to ask questions or encourage discussion about the new content or skill.

How does this approach contribute to a learner-centred teaching environment?

This contributes to a learner-centred teaching environment because it allows you as the tutor to step back from focusing on what you know, to focusing on what your learners might know.

One learner-centred strategy could be that you guide your learners through a discussion about the new content in a way that is more meaningful to them, rather than lecturing them over the top of a set of powerpoint slides. Learners will often listen to other learners with useful experiences more actively than the would to your explanations.

This gives you some useful diagnostic information, but more importantly it allows your learners to connect what is being learned to what they already know in some way.

Another way that it contributes to a learner-centred teaching approach is that it’s part of the process of  training them to be independent, lifelong learners.

You can improve your learners’ understanding of new content by activating their prior knowledge before dealing with the new information.

In fact, it would seem that for adults, learning progresses mainly from prior knowledge. And only secondarily from the materials that we present to students. Think about that for a minute…

  1. Do you take the time to slow down and ask your learners what they already know about the content?
  2. What are some specific questions you could ask your group to get some discussion happening before you teach next?

How to map the numeracy demands of your course, context or a particular calculation


This is a guest post by our numeracy expert, Janet Hogan. Thanks Janet…!

Making Sense of Number to Solve Problems strand

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  1. There are six progressions in this strand. The first three are about how to do things (strategies) and the second three about what you need to know to do those things (knowledge).
  2. You only need to think about the first three when you map demands. What you need to know (the second three) will sit one step behind the highest step of the first three
  3. Have a look at the example above. The context mapped here is stocktaking in a warehouse. It requires addition, subtraction of whole numbers (Step 4), multiplication of whole numbers (Step 5) and finding fractions of a whole number such as ¼ of 60 (Step 4). The knowledge progressions will all be at Step 4.
  4. Please note, demands will never be mapped at Step 1 and Step 2 of the additive and multiplicative strategies progressions or Step 1, 2, and 3 of the proportional reasoning progression. These are developmental stages in becoming numerate. For example Step 2 is about adding and subtracting by counting, maybe on your fingers. Learners may be at Step 2 but no demand wants people to be doing that!
  5. Remember: If you know that your learners are at step 2, then you’ve got diagnostic information about your learners – not the mapped demands of the course, context, or calculation.

Measure and Interpret Shape and Space strand

  1. There are three progressions here.  Most demands require the use of some measurement – even if it is just an understanding of time – so you will probably be mapping on the measurement progression. Again Step 1, 2, and 3 are developmental so you will be mapping at Step 4 or above.
  2. If your course/context or calculation does not require an understanding of distance, directions, grids and bearings, in other words how to find your way (location progression) or recognising and working with mathematical shapes (shapes and transformation progression) then do not map on these progressions – indicate that these progressions are not applicable to your context/course or calculation.

Reason Statistically strand

  1. Statistics is the branch of mathematics that deals with the collection, organisation, analysis, and interpretation of numerical data, usually with a view to making predictions. If this is not part of your courses/context or calculation, do not map your demands on the statistics strand – indicate that this stand is not applicable to your context/course or calculation.
  2. Please note statistics is not about reading tables such as bus timetables, wage tables etc. Some would argue that reading tables is a literacy skill for which you might also, depending on the table, need some numeracy knowledge.

How To Join Pathways Awarua As A New Tertiary Educator


Need to join Pathways Awarua so you can access the NCALNE professional development and training? This process is now streamlined.

These  instructions are current as of May 2016.Think of this as part one of a two-part process for enrolling. Please read these next bullet points:

  • Part 1 below will register you on the Pathways Awarua website.
  • Part 2 of this process is here. In part 2 you’ll need to move into our ALEC virtual classroom and complete the ENROL module.

1. Click the Tertiary Educator Registration button on the main Pathways Awarua landing page

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2. Fill in the form with your details

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3. Fill in your organisation details

  • Start typing the full name of the organisation and it should appear.
  • If you are an independent contractor and don’t belong to any particular organisation, please use the code: 9998 or contact us (assess@alec.ac.nz).
  • If your organisation is not listed you can email Pathways Awarua for support

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4. Type in a name for your class and accept the terms and conditions

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5. Click the Register button

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6. Find the NCALNE Course

  • At this point, you should see a screen like this below

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7. You should be able to click on the NCALNE (Voc) link. This will open up the course and you’ll see the main NCALNE page below.

  • Well done! You’ve now completed part 1.
  • From here you need to complete part 2. That’s where you will move into our ALEC virtual classroom and then fill out the enrolment form and share it with us.

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50 Things You Can Do To Embed Vocabulary Into Training


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There are lots of ways to teach and learn new and unfamiliar words. Here’s a list of 50. None of these are new or any kind of rocket science.

All 50 are ways of explicitly teaching vocabulary.

It’s also possible to learn vocabulary through exposure to new vocabulary incidentally. But that’s another thing altogether.

For every item below, you can probably think of several variations. Feel free to post them here as well for others to see.

Also, for every item on the list you could apply it in the following ways:

  • It’s something you do as the teacher, trainer, or facilitator so it becomes part of a sequence of activities that you deliver in a training environment.
  • It’s something you make your learners do with you (or even independently of you) in a training context.
  • Something you do as you design content for yourself or others to use when they deliver training.

Here’s the list:

  1. Brainstorm a bank of technical or relevant high-frequency words for a given category.
  2. Adapt or select from an existing word bank or list of high-frequency words.
  3. Categorise and prioritise words using the Learning Progressions.
  4. Categorise and prioritise words using high-frequency word lists.
  5. Categorise words using semantic groups or categories.
  6. Create contextualised mini-assessments for pre and post testing.
  7. Brainstorm, mind map, and discuss to activate prior knowledge.
  8. Make flash cards.
  9. Make word + plain-English explanation matching activities.
  10. Make word +plain English explanation + example matching activities.
  11. Focus on spelling words people don’t know by using “look, cover, write.”
  12. Focus on decoding words people can’t read aloud by identifying syllables and intonation or word stress.
  13. Complete the word using only first few letters as a prompt.
  14. Complete the sentence using a cloze (gap fill), or partial cloze activity.
  15. Complete the sentence giving two possible correct but different answers.
  16. Write own example sentences using unfamiliar words.
  17. Write own definitions for new or unfamiliar words.
  18. Collaborate with others to write a paragraph using new words.
  19. Complete the definitions.
  20. Pull apart words and look at the meanings of the parts (etymology).
  21. Match synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
  22. Match antonyms (words that have the opposite meaning).
  23. Choose all the possible answers from a list or multiple choice.
  24. Match a word with a context or scenario.
  25. Give an incorrect sentence and ask others to correct the mistake.
  26. Label a picture or diagram.
  27. Cross out a word that doesn’t belong with others in a group.
  28. Create a diagram or a framework for a group of words, concepts or process.
  29. Sort words on a scale or cline.
  30. Identify pairs of words that are similar but different and explain.
  31. Identify which words are slang or not from a group of words.
  32. Discuss connotations for similar words.
  33. Learn strategies for using a dictionary.
  34. Guess an unfamiliar word meaning from context.
  35. Find the words in a text that match a set of given definitions.
  36. Look at different meanings for familiar words.
  37. Identify cause and effect in a text.
  38. Identify opposites or contrasts in a text.
  39. Identify word type (noun, verb, adjective).
  40. Identify synonyms or paraphrases.
  41. Identify examples.
  42. Ask people to “Look for words that mean X”.
  43. Act out the word and make others guess the meaning.
  44. Describe the word without using the word (or a given set of words) and make others guess the meaning.
  45. Draw a picture that represents the word and make others guess.
  46. Make a crossword.
  47. Make a word find.
  48. Adapt a well-known card game.
  49. Adapt a well-known board game.
  50. Dictate a passage to others and make them reconstruct it collaboratively.

Also, for anything on this list you’re going to want to encourage lots of discussion and talking about the process.