Communities of Practice: For Teachers and Students as well? – Miranda Legg
At the Centre for Applied English Studies (CAES) where I work, we have many formal and informal Communities of Practice. We have formal research interest groups and assessment moderation groups, to name a few. We also have the corridor and the lunch table. Some of my best teaching ideas have come from casually asking other teachers ‘how did your class go today?’.
It was only this week however, thinking about this topic, that I realized I have been trying to get my students to form a Community of Practice.
Every year, I teach thesis writing skills to PhD and MPhil students. We had our final lesson this week and at the end of every course I try to encourage my students to continue to develop their writing skills. I give them a lot of advice about the independent learning services which CAES provides. As well as this, I also tell them about the concept of forming a writing group. In a writing group, students who are in the same general area of research form a group and get together once a month. They read each other’s work and give feedback on it.
What usually happens when I explain this concept to them is that they look at me with blank stares! I can see what is going on in their mind. They are thinking, what can I ‘teach’ others about writing when I feel so insecure about my own writing skills? Convincing them that they have something to offer each other is a hard sell to these students who have often relied heavily on the teacher as the sole source of wisdom.
Yet in fact, they are ‘insiders’ in each other’s disciplines and are therefore able to spot when writing is clear and when writing is not. They do, in fact, have a lot to give each other. What I try to convince them of is that the act of writing to communicate is like a muscle which needs to be exercised regularly and that that muscle will grow with frequent stimulation. Students have as much to gain from Communities of Practice as we do.