Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Talking with a colleague recently, I’ve been asked my opinion about having students write texts during the classes. I’ve never had students for whom writing was more important than speaking. If that was the case, I might have to work differently. One thing that differentiates students learning with a teacher from students learning without a teacher is feedback. With a teacher, hopefully the students can get feedback on their production, and with that feedback they can correct themselves and start learning what can be said and what can’t be said in the language. They can improve their confidence in using the “good” structures and try to get rid of the “bad” structures before they get automatised. As such, I feel that feedback is one of the key advantage of having a teacher (obviously, there are other ways to get feedback, and languages can be learnt without teachers as well).
But what’s the connection with feedback here? If I need to decide whether my students should speak more during the class, and write more outside the class, or the other way around, I look at it with the “feedback angle”. It’s much easier to provide feedback on oral production during the class (I can think of ways of doing it outside the classroom, but none of them is convenient). Whereas I can always provide feedback on written production at a differed moment (for instance, the student writes something at home, that I will in turn read at home, and reply to at home as well). I never “correct” a student’s text, but I provide indications and clues that will help them localise their errors so they can try to fix them.
Finally I’d add that writing is a slower activity, that “consumes” the precious time we have in the classroom (yes, I kind of see my classes as a race toward excellent mastery of the language). Between the classes, there are typically four things my students can do as “homework”:
writing stuff, with the full use of dictionaries, google, or whatever tool that might get them rid of some doubts or give them additional vocabulary;
reading, watching, listening content in the target language;
training their pronunciation (I don’t use Listen & repeat approach, but rather tools that allow them to know what they should work on while taking their shower);
practising with language partners if they feel like.