The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Talking teaching writing in St Petersburg

Last weekend, I was in St Petersburg, Russia to deliver a day of workshops to a fabulous group of local teachers. It was the first time I'd visited the city since 1986 and unsurprisingly, it has changed quite a bit! It was lovely to have a couple of days to explore a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with its spectacular museums and dramatic architecture, and I was pleasantly surprised to come across some gastronomic treats too with some great meals in interesting contemporary restaurants.

I was leading a day of workshops on the topic of Teaching Advanced Writing Skills with a group of 20 very knowledgeable and engaged teachers. It's always good to get away from my desk, especially after a long stretch with my head down writing, and I find delivering CPD workshops particularly rewarding professionally. 

Connecting with teachers: 
I sometimes feel a bit guilty that as a materials writer, I don't get much time in the classroom myself nowadays. I think that spending time with teachers from different contexts though can actually be just as helpful. Although I write materials primarily for students, teachers are also a crucial part of my audience. If something on the page doesn't work for the teacher, they're going to struggle to get it across to the class. And when you're writing for a global market, understanding the attitudes and approaches of different groups of teachers and the reality of their teaching contexts is really key. Of course, you can't be familiar with every possible context and you can't please all the people all the time, but I find it helps to have a few different real teachers in mind. I'll often imagine each of them working through an activity and think about whether there are any tweaks I can make to help it work better for them.

Developing ideas: 
I also love that after more than 25 years working in ELT, my ideas and knowledge about teaching are still developing. Each time I give a workshop on a particular topic, it's an opportunity to review and reflect on my ideas. I've been delivering this particular series of workshops over the past 5 years or so and although the basic structure has remained the same, each time I come back to them, I make a few changes. This time I added a look at some practical activities to focus on specific writing skills using short, focused writing tasks and also a couple of tasks to work on editing skills. I think they helped to flesh out my point that teaching writing can involve a variety of different task types and angles, and doesn't always have to follow the traditional writing lesson which builds up to a final complete text to be written for homework at the end.

However, in my excitement about including the new tasks, I realize I didn't really think enough about how they were going to be integrated into the workshop. We ended up with a rather repetitive set of three similar groupwork tasks which, with hindsight, I should have varied somehow. But hey, that's the joy of development, you're always learning and I'll be able to tweak and improve the format next time!

Thanks to the lovely teachers of St Petersburg for inviting me, for being such a receptive audience and for giving me the excuse to revisit your lovely city!

Photos: Thanks to Tatyana and Tatiana of Deutsch Klub who helped organize the event and passed on the photos of the day.

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