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Processing Process Paragraphs for Publication: A Teacher's Tale

Julia Karet from California

Julia Karet is Professor of ESL at the English as a Second Language Program at Chaffey Community College.

Julia Karet and  her ESL students

When you read the How To Section in Topics, do you think about the production process? The finished product - the pictures, the text, the students - all look so perfect up there on the WWW, but, behind the scenes, the process was far from perfect.

What started as a simple desire to make the process of writing more meaningful for the student, by giving them the chance to write for a real audience, quickly turned into this teacher's personal nightmare.

Julia and her ESL students

At our school using electronic technology in ESL (English-as-a- Second Language) is in its infancy. This was the first attempt to expose students to email and Web-based instruction in a fledging writing/CALL lab which is still being set-up.

As with most new endeavors, NOTHING went the way I envisioned. Files didn't transfer; machines refused to read disks. There were hardware, software, online, and no line (total meltdown) glitches.

Frustrating? Yes! (After a particularly bad day when only 3 WWW pages would load in one hour of instruction, I shared with my students my decision to set it all aside for the semester. Only at the urging of the TOPICS editor, did we give it one more try).

Then the director of our Technology Learning Center offered to use a digital camera to take photos to illustrate the process paragraphs. Not only was the idea of seeing this new technology in action exciting, but being able to cut out the steps of printing, developing, and then scanning or "snail-mailing" the pictures to Japan was irresistible. The day he brought the digital camera to class and helped the students set-up, take, process and view the photos, new life was pumped into the project.

eating soba

getting fat

eating instant noodles

wewing clothes

preparing salsa

annoying teachers

eating noodles

Only the high was short-lived. It lasted until I got an email the next day saying that ALL those carefully transferred images arrived at TOPICS as blank screens. Depressing? Yes! Time-consuming? Yes! Is it worth it? I think so.

Using the WWW for instructional purposes changes the way I teach. For one thing, I'm always learning when I venture out of the classroom into the virtual world with my students. It doesn't change the material to be covered, but the process becomes less linear, more interactive, and, in my opinion, more stimulating for all.

As a result, I like to think that the written work the students produce in that environment shows a better grasp of the key concepts of purpose, audience, and voice. After all, if it's published on the Web there's an audience (You, the READER), if your picture is beside your text, there's a voice (the WRITER's); and if there's a topic there's a reason to write (explaining HOW TO do ____ ").

One more thing. Working with technology in the classroom is always a collaborative effort. We depend on others to maintain connectivity in ways which are simply not needed in a traditional classroom. As a result, when something is produced it is not just through one person's efforts, but everyone's. So, my special thanks to:

  • Sandy and Masako in Japan
  • David, Juan and Veronica for their hands-on classroom help
  • Chaffey's techno-wizards
  • And most of all, to all my PATIENT, energetic, creative and intellectually curious STUDENTS in ESL 450!

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