In a language classroom, there’s no substitute for interaction. It provides opportunities for the ever-important “negotiation of meaning” that leads to meaningful language acquisition, and it helps students to feel like their work is more worthwhile if they have an authentic audience. It can also be frightening or overwhelming for students, though, especially if they’re just beginning to learn a new language, or if they haven’t been required to use language for real-life interaction very often.
Writing projects can provide great opportunities for structured interaction, since students have had time to develop their ideas, revise their work, and become more confident in their own words and voices. I like to have “publishing parties” at the end of a significant writing project, where I invite the students to share their work out loud with staff, parents, other students, or another audience.
I taught an intensive English course during the first four weeks that I was here in Carmen Pampa, and at the end of the course we had a publishing party with two nuns who are part of the campus community. Students shared short stories they had written, and the sisters asked questions and gave positive, constructive feedback to the class. The students were nervous, but they felt such a sense of accomplishment at the end of the morning. For some, it was the first time they had presented in English to an audience outside of their classmates or teachers! Presenting their own work made them feel proud, capable, and more confident in speaking.
This project reminded me of my first ESL class in Minneapolis, where students did a similar project. Students in my beginning-level class for newcomers read stories they had written about their families to parents and staff members, and they experienced the same sense of pride and accomplishment that my UAC students experienced here. It’s one of my favorite memories from my first year of teaching, and I love these pictures because they capture the way I wish my classroom always felt: full of students who are engaged, taking risks, and becoming more and more confident in their own voices and stories.