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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Teacher Editing, Part 2

Teacher editing happens in our ESL Young Writers writing workshops just before students prepare the final draft of their personal experience pieces. It is the last of several interventions we make in the students’ writing process. The first intervention is during rehearsal and the second is when students take their finished first drafts to a content conferencing group.

In content conferencing, authors read their work aloud for peer response. Listeners ask questions to resolve any confusion they sense and help authors realize changes that would make their second drafts more effective and clearer. To put everyone on the same playing field of ideas and organization, no one is allowed to comment about anyone’s English at this stage. There’s a real stigma in Sierra Leone about making mistakes in English, and we don’t tolerate such ridicule in our clubs.

It is the group’s responsibility help authors tell their stories clearly. A facilitator should be present in every content conference to make sure the students are asking “why” and “how” or “I didn’t understand” questions for discussion, rather than flinging out gotchas (What is your father’s name? How many doctors were in the hospital? What time was it?) Once the student discussion has petered out, the facilitator can ask any important questions that the students may not have thought of. The whole interactive process is an extremely important part of the language learning that goes on in the club.

I am coming around to the point made in Part 1, that facilitators feel too much pressure during teacher editing just before the final draft. In trying to edit both storytelling and written devices, they actually pay more attention to mechanical errors such as punctuation and capitalization. Therefore, I think we will move in our Young Writers clubs toward editing grammatical storytelling devices in our content conferences. Facilitators can raise one or two of the following discourse-level language points they hear a need for, and specify the place in the story where they heard this problem(s). The whole group would benefit from the discussion. Here is a list of the points they could look for:

o   Avoid repeating a noun you have recently mentioned—use a pronoun instead.
o   First use indefinite articles (some, a, a lot of) to refer to an unknown object or person; then use a definite article (the) to refer to it.
o   Use sequence-signaling words like later, ago, and before, as well as time expressions like at night and the next morning to make chronology clear.
o   Tell your story in the past tense, but use the present tense when needed.
o   Distinguish the meaning of but and and.
o   If you want to use a person’s name in the story, introduce it the first time that person is mentioned and then continue to use the name from then on.
Note that the list contains only discourse-level grammar strategies. They are the glue—the cohesion and coherence—that makes content and organization hang together.  That’s why they belong in a content conference.


Following the content conference, students go on to revision, or writing a second draft that incorporates their changes. Every second draft should go back to the group for a second content conference, to check that the revision happened. Only those Young Writers who have made good strides with revision should move on to self-, peer-, and then an easier teacher editing.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Teacher Editing, Part I

I think teacher editing is the hardest part of ESL writing-workshop facilitating for traditionally-trained teachers to learn. 

Teacher editing in Young Writers clubs centers not on everything the teacher knows, but on the student’s voice. Ideally during teacher editing, students read aloud to the teacher, who helps them listen to themselves. The photo here from REC Primary in Bassa Town, shows what this looks like. I love watching children's growing awareness of their oral pauses and stops and shouts, and the satisfaction they get from punctuating these. Often, I’ll call an author back to a word that she has just corrected as she read aloud without noticing that the written form didn’t match what she said.

Yet what we see more often is students emerging from teacher editing sessions with whole sentences—even whole series of sentences—heavily crossed out and replaced by the teachers’ “improved” versions. This bothers me because I see a frustration in those teachers’ bold stripes drawn across the paper that I don’t feel when I’m doing teacher editing, but it bothers me more because of the effect it has on the students:

  • It dampens their spirits—the last thing at-risk students need.
  • It stifles their voices. Many of our club members come to us barely literate, but when they are asked to relate their true personal experiences, a voice comes to the fore. One of our most deep-seated instincts is to tell others about something that has happened to us. That instinct must have enhanced early communities’ chances of survival, but we tap into it in our clubs in order to help students connect that narrative voice to writing. It is our job to keep that exposed instinct safe.
  • It can lower the quality of the children’s writing. Teacher language generally stomps in with social proprieties and with categories that sweep details under the carpet, both of which distance us from the scenes the children are painting.
  • It has no instructional value. You don’t acquire language by copying someone else’s sentences into a final draft. Teacher language carries complex sentences and vocabulary that are not yet part of the students’ proficiency. True, they are sometimes acquired on the writing edge in the club, but they are more the domain of the language arts class.


The point of the writing club is for the students to learn to record their low-intermediate ESL oral voices on paper so well that anyone who reads their work aloud can reiterate their storytelling. That means they must learn to use storytelling devices such as sequence signaling and the appropriate verb tenses; along with written devices such as paragraphing, inverted commas, and exclamation marks. People want to read their experiences because they have so much to say. The literacy and literary skills we are teaching them will be with them for life. They will transfer to any other language in which they become literate. On top of all this, do the students have to talk like teachers, too?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Editing—The Thinking Game

Don't let anyone tell you that writing isn't a thinking game! I think these students from the Northern Province have no doubts: you come to a Young Writers club meeting to think.

The two Young Writers above have reached the peer editing stage. Plenty of meticulous attention and even more discussion will be thrown onto the table before they're through. It's all worth it, because they'll proceed to their teacher conferences not with dread, but with confidence.

One sticking point that comes up during editing is punctuation of direct speech. Mastering it is a challenge for everybody.

The class you see here is trying to punctuate a whole conversation in a mini-lesson at the beginning of our workshop. They must lay it out in paragraphs and not repeat in the dialogue what they've already said in the narrative. Then, they are to go on to see if the final drafts they're submitting meet these standards.

I thank every one of these students for their effort and know it will pay off in learning growth. It's a delight to be around them. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Snake Encounters

I appreciated the chance yesterday to see the Lillian Lincoln Foundation documentary, “Minutes to Die: Snakebite, the World’s Ignored Health Crisis,” which was followed by a Q & A session with Dr. Robert Harrison from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The film highlights that simply ignoring the snakebite problem is a social injustice, because throughout history it has inequitably plagued the poor. The hope now is that access to quality treatment, especially throughout the tropics, will result from WHO’s recent (and long fought for) recognition of snakebite envenoming as a neglected tropical disease.

Probably in part because in Sierra Leone when people are bitten they seek help from traditional healers rather than clinics or hospitals, the country lacks quantitative snakebite data. Anecdotal data on snake encounters, on the other hand, should be readily available. Here is some from SELI’s Young Writers clubs, which illustrates the ways children come in contact with snakes.

A Snake Hissed at Me
Hawa K., REC Primary, Kent
One evening, I finished cooking with my mother. She dished out the food and we ate it. Before long, I went to the toilet. As I pushed the door open, I saw a large snake with black colour, raising its head hissing at me. I ran quickly to tell my mother. But when my mother came with me to see the snake, it had disappeared.

Snake Bite
Hamza D.C., New Apostolic SS, Lumpa
Once my mother and I were going to the farm. On the way my mother said I should go to the bush and bring a large amount of wood.
On the way to the bush I was holding a stick in my hand. When I reached there I was removing the wood. Suddenly, a snake in the bush came and bit my foot and I shouted, “Help me! Help me!” two times before I saw an old man come down from the trees with a cutlass and I knew that old man was called Pa Turay. If someone was not there, I should have been dead. The old man looked around for some leaves that he would use to put on the bite of the snake. The date was August 23rd 2005.
The old man asked, “Who sent you into this bush?”
I said, “My mother told me to come and collect wood to go and prepare meat for my father.”
The old man took me to my house in Muska Village. I was not feeling bright. The old man said to my mother, “Take your child and let him have some rest.” When my mother went and laid me on the bed she said, “Let me give you some money because I haven’t prepared a meal yet.”
The old man said, “I don’t need your money. Just take some medicine and place it where the snake bit him. And it is necessary for him to eat after he rises.”
Suddenly my father came and saw my foot got swollen. My father asked my mother, “What happened to my only son’s foot?”
Then my mother said, “It is I who did this. I sent him to the bush to collect wood for you to prepare meat,” and she said, “I will not do it again.”
In the morning my foot became normal again.

A Snake Bit my Sister
Adama K., Wenner Kuhhnle Primary, Lumpa
It was Sunday afternoon. My younger sister and I were walking along the bush. A big snake came out of the bush and bit my younger sister and she began to shout. I did not know what happened to her.
Immediately I took her up and carried her to Howa Uncle. I was afraid because the place where the snake bit my sister began to spread over her body. I took her to Howa Uncle because Howa Uncle knows different types of medicine. If a person has an animal bite, he will heal the person. That’s why I took her there.
Before my uncle could go to enter the bush to prepare medicine, it was too late because at that time my sister began to feel weak and after one hour thirty minutes, my sister died.
I cried and cried as if she was going to return but there was no way to do so and when my mother came back from Bo, she found her daughter had died. She cried and cried and my father talked to my mother to stop crying, she would not return again. “So you have to wipe your tears and keep praying God will provide you with another one.” My uncle said that he could prepare something. As my uncle said that word, my mother started to cry again. My father asked her if she wanted to kill herself. “You have to keep praying for the ones who have left, let God bless her for us.” And my uncle said, “As for me, I have done my best.”


A Snake Accident
Foday A.K., Dankawalie SS
The 16th August 2010 my brother sent my friend and me to go and search in our farm for all the palm kernels. The name of my brother is Yanka Lansana and the name of the farm is Papa Yefie.
As soon as we arrived we saw the first one. Because I was happy to go to the farm, I was the first person to climb the palm tree.
When I started to cut the branch and I saw a big snake called a cobra. It usually hunts birds on the tree. It was angry when it saw me and it rushed towards me. I shouted, "Ah! Ah!" My friend told me to climb down the tree. The snake, too, was afraid of me but that was unknown to me.
So I decided to hold the snake but my hand missed it because I was afraid. Then I got to the other side of the tree. I saw the tail part of it. I drew it and I fell down on the ground. By that time my brother, Kalie, was there. He rushed and killed the snake.
I was seriously wounded on my leg. I had fallen on a big stick. For two hours I could not stand up. My brother shouted. At that time two little boys were passing on the road. They heard my brother crying. They came but they could not carry me from the farm to town. It was three miles. I was bleeding.
My brother gave me first aid treatment. He asked me, "Can you go to town?"
I said, "Yes, I will manage." I didn't want him to be afraid.
We left the farm at 11.00 am. Because I couldn't walk fast, my brother walked with me step by step until 4.30 pm. We reached the hospital compound. When the nurse saw me, she shouted, "Ah, what is wrong with you?" At that time I couldn't explain anything. They called Yanka Lansana, "Your brother has come with a problem." The nurse treated me but she wasn't able to cure my wound so my brother took me to Kabala for good treatment at the Kabala Government Hospital.
After two days I was better. I will never go there again and I will never forget that day.

Snake Bite
Sheku M.B., Kabala SS
Any day I see a snake I remember my snake bite on the 25th March 2007. I was going to the farm to do some brushing where I planted my cassava. On that day I was not happy. My elder brother and I had had a quarrel over a cutlass. He said I took his cutlass. I said, "No, Brother, I can't do this to you—take your cutlass and refuse to answer." I appealed to him and he accepted. 
Then I took it and told my mother goodbye. The distance from the farm to the town was seven miles. One man was going to the farm on a motorbike. I stopped him and asked him to take me. He said I should pay Le 4,000. I paid and he took me as far as the farm.
I saw rabbits and monkeys were destroying my cassava. As the animals saw me they ran away. What caused the monkey to destroy my cassava was because the place was very bushy so I started to brush. When I approached I cut a stick that fell on a snake. I didn't know that the stick fell on it. The snake became wild and bit me. I fell down and began to cry for help. I took my cutlass and cut where the snake bit me and it bled. I tore a piece of my clothes and tied my foot.

I went to the road. Soon a woman called Jarrie came and saw blood all over my foot and she asked me, "What is wrong with you?" I told her and she called her husband, Chernor, to come. He carried me on his back. Jarrie took me to the doctor. He put something like a stone inside my foot that helped me feel better. The woman sent a message to my family to come. As soon as they heard the message, they came for me. They thanked Jarrie and also her husband. My mother paid the doctor Le 12,000 and told him he was her son, and thanked him, too. Then we returned home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"My Life" books

Each year the SRWP prints up personal booklets containing all the experiences written by Young Writers who have completed final drafts on at least five topics. We call these books, My Life. The students prepare dedications and "About the Author" paragraphs for their books.

We congratulate these students who qualified to receive My Life books for the 2016-2017 school year:

Dankawalie Secondary School, Dankawalie: Amara Ferenka Marah, Foday P. Kamara, Karifa M. Kamara

UMC Heritage High School, Kabala: Ibrahim Marah, Fatu B. Bah

Abundant Grace Int'l. School, Sussex: Vallentina Johnson, Isha Kanu

New Apostolic JSS / Winner Kuhhnle Primary (combined club), Lumpa: Hamza D. Cole, Santigie S. Sesay

Heaven Homes, Joe Town: Kadijatu Karim, Zainab Faramah, Gadsonna Cole, Mariatu Sesay, Mohamed Kamara, Marion Cole and Alie A. Kamara.

We wish all sixteen of them many productive years as Sierra Leonean authors!

Young Voices Newsletter Issue 6.1

The newest issue of the Young Voices newsletter, issue 6.1, is out, and you can read it here!

This newsletter is one of the ways the Seli River Writing Project publishes student work. Copies are given to each member of its SELI Young Writers clubs. The students would love to hear your feedback on their writing. Check it out today!