Internet for Writing Instruction
Teaching writing skill is seen as equally important as teaching other skills in language learning due to its importance in students’ future. Many approaches have been developed to gain the successful result of teaching writing skill, and many mediums are designed to help the approaches work better. The dawning of information and communication technology (ICT) has made more insights in the effort of creating the mediums. Thus, the topic on the use of ICT in teaching writing will be discussed in this essay. Particularly, the issue will discuss mainly about the use of internet technology in teaching writing genre (description text and review text) and giving real audience and purpose for better writing.
The idea of using information and communication technology (ICT) is not new for many teachers, but they still have to adapt with the practice. In particular, teachers who are categorized by Marc Prensky (2001) as digital immigrant would have difficulties in integrating the ICT since they are not born in digital era. However, the effort to find the best approach to facilitate better writing instruction has involved the computer, internet, and the invention of variety of internet program that is used in language learning as an important element (white, 1993; Brian, 2004 as cited in Simsek 2009). Based on that, the use of ICT, in this case internet, can be helpful to make better writing instruction. Some teachers who are digital native or unaccustomed to use the internet may feel insecure, but the development of technology has proven effective used in teaching, and there has been good success with the idea of integrating internet with the teaching as stated by Krajka (2000).
It is clear that using internet is complicated, so the secret of the success of using internet in class is a part of careful planning, and concerning to plan an internet use in class, Mark Warschauer and Fawn Whittaker (1997) have explained five guidelines for it. The first one is that the clarification of clear goal; it emphasizes on what the teachers want to achieve by using the internet. If the writing skill is the goal, then all activity must give students experiences that make them better writer. The second one is careful integration; it emphasizes that teachers should really integrate the internet activity properly, not as an addition to the existing activity which may conflict each other. It will not bring any good result for the students. The third one is prevention of internet complexity; the internet is a complicated tool for the beginners, and there are many possible difficulties faced by students in operating the internet. Teachers should have carefully anticipated all possible problems in designing the activity. The fourth one is teachers’ support; by the complexity that faced by the student, they may overwhelmed with the difficulty, so teachers need to provide sufficient assistance for the students. The last one is the students’ involvement; teachers should invite students’ participation in designing the activity. In spite of practicing the student-centered approach, students’ involvement may help the teachers to list possible problems caused by internet complexity that cannot be found by the teachers alone.
By using the internet, teachers can design more interesting and appealing task for the students in teaching writing genre. Students nowadays have far developed and different to those in the past. They used to study very seriously and face a killer teacher, but today they prefer fun and interesting teaching. Therefore, interest and eagerness are important for the student. In addition, those are one of the seven recommendations that Graham (2008) proposed to make an effective writing instruction. In this case, writer will explain how to teach writing genre in a fun and interesting way, and writing genre that will be discussed is writing genre that is included in 2004 curriculum, and the genre that will be covered is description text and review text.
A description text is a text that describes a particular person, place, or thing (DepartemenPendidikanNasional, 2003). One interesting way to practice describing person as mentioned by Krajka (2000) is by using personal website. Please note that the website is created as students’ website where they can post their writing and serving as the class bulletin board. According to him, this activity is best used after the teachers explained the generic structure, vocabulary, and style of a description text. The students are asked to describe a person that everybody knows without mentioning who it is, and then, it is put in the class website by the teacher. The other students are asked to go to the website page after the school to read, comment, and guess who it is. The answer can be discussed in the next meeting and the description can be an example of a description text in the class website. If a website is still difficult to achieve due to teacher and students incapability to create one, writer proposes that teachers can use the current social media like Facebook. Instead of making class website, a group class can be created in Facebook which serve as bulletin board. The text can be posted as note and tag all students in the class, so it will invite the students to comment in the note.
To describe particular place, teachers can make use of the enormous information that is available in the internet. Students are assigned to describe a particular place, and they are guided to find their most interesting place by surfing the net. The activity is best done in the class, so teachers can monitor every student when they are searching the information. It will decrease the chance of accessing unnecessary site and help the students to pick the needed information for their text. The teachers can suggest preferable site to the students like www.lonelyplanet.com to help them, or just suggest them to search in the search engine. It is important that students read more than one site to prevent the act of plagiarism, and a full attention is needed so they cannot just copy and paste the information they found in the website.
To describe particular thing, teachers may pick the idea about culture in the world. Students are usually eager to talk about the culture such as Japanese culture or Korean culture. Moreover, this idea can teach multiculturalism to the students, and the internet is the best place to find the source. The activity may be the same as describing place. However, to make it more interesting, students’ text can be put in class website or Facebook class group to be discussed, and an award may be hold to find the best text by counting the number of people who like the text. It will give more challenge to the task.
Review text is a text that critiques a work of art, like books, movies, or play (DepartemenPendidikanNasional, 2003). Internet provides variety source for this text, for example www.amazon.co.uk for books, and www.imdb.com for movies. It can benefit for the students because they can pick whatever book or movie they like. If the teachers are the one who decide the theme it will not be interesting for them because they are likely to have less motivation if they are not interested. One benefit from using online resources is that these websites are authentic source. In other words, it gives good input for the students. The language in the site may be too difficult for the students, and it may discourage the students. To prevent this teachers should have checked the site beforehand, and suggest an easier site. The students’ review can also be published in class website or Facebook group class to be discussed with the entire class or even with other students in the school.
The second thing that we can benefit from internet is to add a real audience and purpose for the students. Most English teachers may focus too much on the mechanic, grammar, and vocabulary. It is not wrong to focus on those aspects, but they may forget the real purpose of writing itself. To define its purpose, it is better to understand what writing skill is; writing skill is an ability that enables someone to put one’s thoughts into written words to communicate a message (What are writing skills?, 1999). There are two things that must be underlined from the definition. The first one is that writing is an effort to change a thought into written words, and the second one is that the change is made to communicate a message. The first one bears the importance of mechanic, grammar, and vocabulary as a medium to convey the thought, but the second one is the real purpose of the writing itself that is communicating a meaning. In general, communication is an activity of giving, receiving, and exchanging thoughts through a media, written words in this case, and it enables the communicators to persuade, give, seek thoughts, or express their emotions (definition of communication, n.d.). In other words, people write to spread their ideas to other people with a specific intention. Teaching the grammar, vocabulary, and mechanic is merely teaching the medium of writing to the students, and if the learning is too emphasized on those three, it will make the students produce drag and boring output (Ikeguchi, 1997). The real challenge is teaching the students to write meaningfully.
In relation to this, Wiggins (2009) stated that “The point of Writing is to have something to say and to make a difference in saying it” (p.30). He pointed out that purpose and audience are two things that make students write more meaningfully. Based on research teens are motivated to write by a relevant topic, interested audience and opportunities to write creatively (Lenhart et al, 2008). Writing is merely a vehicle for writers to convey their ideas, and they have something they want to achieve after people reading it. They have to have empathy for their aimed readers, so it can reach their hearts and make a difference. These two things are rarely included in writing instruction, so the role of the teacher is to design a writing instruction that involves a real purpose and audience.
To integrate blog in writing instruction can be a useful way to include a real audience. A blog or weblog is defined as “a website where entries are made in a journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order. … a typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other related media related to its topic” (Wikipedia as cited in Simsek, 2009). A blog is very easy to use, with basic knowledge of HTML, one can type, insert picture and decorate a blog with an attractive way. Moreover, with the development of internet application, blogging become easier since bloggers do not have to insert various codes to decorate the blog. The tools are made simpler for beginner blogger. In relation to writing, blog has a good effect to the culture of writing. A study conducted by Lenhart (2008) showed that teens who have blog are prolific writers both online and offline. It can be inferred that they will write although there is no writing assignment from school, and this habit is essential to improve a writing skill.
Campbell (2003) explained three forms of blog that can be integrated to learning activity. The first is tutor blog. It is a blog run by the teachers, and it serves as a source for after school reading practice for the students. Teachers can modify the content of reading, so it will be interesting for the students. In addition it can contain links for self-study, and it can contain information about the syllabus of the class itself. It also can generate practice communication in target language by using the comment button. The second form is learner blog. It is a blog own by each student, and this kind of blog is suitable for reading and writing class. The third form is class blog. This kind of blog is a collaborative work done by the entire individual of the class. This blog can be used as class bulletin or to support class project which are done by groups.
In a study conducted by Simsek (2009), the use of blog is proven to have positive effect to the students. In his study, he divided a group of students into two groups, the first is experimental group, which have blog integrated into their writing activity, and the second is control group, which do not have blog integrated into their writing activity. The fields that are being tested to the students are content, organization, grammar, vocabulary and language use. The result is that both the first and the second group showed a significant improvement in all fields, but the experimental group improvement is higher in content and organization, so it can be said that a blog-integrated writing instruction is more effective.
One possible reason, as Simsek (2009) pointed out, is because of the input that the experimental group can get is more than the control group. With their blog, the experimental group can read more resources, and practice more after school, but the control group activity is limited in class and they cannot do self-study since no source of study is available to them. Furthermore, the blog definitely can arouse the sense of real audience in the students because their friends can check and read their writing anytime. In addition, some students may have other readers except their classmates in their blogs. It makes them more careful and pay more attention to the content and organization.
To provide a real purpose, teachers can relate the theme of the writing to a relevant hot topic occurring in the nation or world. The topic can also vary according to students’ interest. Teachers invite the students to respond to any issue interesting for them. They may respond to corruption issue in the nation, for example, and then, teachers suggest them to make a concern letter or an essay about corruption that will be sent to the website of corruption eradication commission, or Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW). Any websites can be useful as long as teachers think it is related with the writing instruction. With this, students are given a real purpose of their writing because they have something to express to other people. The scope can be lessened to a school environment. With the spirit of democracy, teachers in a school may work together to persuade students to write about school that is worrying and needs attention from the headmaster, teachers, and students. The school website can be used as the medium to hold students’ writing. Teachers and other students can comment to discuss the issue. In this situation, the sense of real purpose and audience is stronger.
To conclude, the use of ICT is very helpful in teaching writing. Internet has been proven effective improving writing instruction in the class. With a careful planning, internet can be essential medium that help teachers improve students’ writing skill and make the learning more interesting. To include a real audience and purpose is also important in writing instruction, and internet can facilitate them to be integrated in writing instruction. However, two things may come as problems. The first is the complexity that may arise from the internet, and teachers’ role is to prevent any complexity that may arise. The second is a chance of plagiarism because of the easiness that internet provide for the students. It is a serious problem if the teachers have not clarified this issue to the students. Therefore, careful planning is needed in using the internet.
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*****BY: TONI NUR ARDIANSYAH–Penulis adalah ketua umum Unit Kegiatan Mahasiswa (UKM)-BAHASA Foreign Language Association (FLAT) 2011-2012