How Should Writing Best Be Taught? Current Ideas and Debates National Formosa University Assistant professor, Wu, Wei-Shi, Hsin, Chia-Lin Abstract Teaching English composition in an EFL environment can be a challenging task for novice EFL teachers. The traditional concept of teaching EFL composition used to be viewed as teaching sentence structures and correcting grammar. Correcting grammatical and syntactical mistakes seem to be an obsession for both EFL teachers and students in Taiwan. However, not all the EFL composition teachers have received formal training in teaching composition, nor do they know the current ideas and theories related to how writing should be taught. The paper intends to explore the current ideas and debates about how writing should be taught as guidance for novice EFL composition teachers. Understanding current debates and ideas about teaching composition can help novice teachers to have effective EFL composition instruction. Introduction In a study of 58 EFL college-level English composition teachers’ views and methods of teaching English composition in Taiwan, 75.9% of the respondents believed that correcting grammar and words can help students write better (Chen, 1997), in the same study, 89.7% of the teachers (52 out of 58) wished to teach English courses other than EFL composition. Thus, novice EFL teachers can be likely to be assigned to teach EFL composition because experienced teachers would rather teach courses other than EFL composition. Teaching EFL composition can be a challenging task for novice EFL teachers. However, the novice teachers may not have received formal training in composition instruction, nor do they know the current ideas and debates about how EFL writing should be taught. The traditional concept of teaching EFL composition used to be viewed as teaching sentence structures and correcting grammatical mistakes. This paper intends to provide a framework related to current ideas and debates about how writing should be taught.. Understanding the framework can be beneficial for novice EFL composition teachers to have a more effective EFL composition instruction. Raimes (1993) identified three principle ways of teaching writing: 1. focus on form, 2. focus on the writer, and 3. focus on the reader. The current-traditional approach is text-based, focus on the form. The process approach concentrates on writers’ writing process, focus on the writer. The genre approach centers on the purpose of communication between the readers and the writers; therefore, it’s focused on the readers. The researcher attempted to examine each approach from the following perspectives: principles and methods; application and implications. 1. Controlled Writing 1.1 Principles and Methods The controlled writing approach is basically language-based. Silva (1990) and Reid (1993) both stated that the approach is derived from audio-lingual method (ALM). According to the characteristics of ALM, the “I say—you say” method, language is a habit formation. Forming a habit in language learning is the key to fluency. Doing drills and sentence structure practice will benefit students through the formation of their linguistic habits. Pincas (1962) also stated that writing can be learned by fixed patterns and these patterns can be imitated by learners. Learners are guided to the writing process in this approach. Writing practice based on this approach is to habituate students to language structures and learn to “write” on their own gradually. Under this learning process, writers are manipulating language structures; readers are the ESL (English as a second language) teachers who were concerned about linguistic structures only. And textbooks provide a collection of sentence structures and patterns for learners to adopt and imitate (Silva, 1990). Adapting ALM in this approach, with behavioral psychology as its foundation, Reid (1993) indicated errors should be eliminated or prevented since positive reactions are reinforced. Since the correct linguistic habit is formed, little errors or no errors will occur in their writing, learners are ready to write on their own. Controlled writing is suitable for teachers to adopt in lower-level class since this is a language-based approach. While helping students construct their writing by practicing language structures, lower-level students are actually building up their confidence with writing. It’s appropriate to use this approach in the beginning writing classes since it assists students in both the language and confidence awareness. Raimes (1983a) sees controlled writing as a tool to train students before they actually start free writing. 1.2 Application and Implications It’s not surprising to see teachers doing sentence or grammatical practice in writing classes because the controlled writing approach is focused on the language structures. Raimes (1983a) suggested five types of controlled writing tasks. Each task is discussed and given an activity as followed. Controlled Composition Pincas (1982) stated that in controlled composition activities, teachers or teaching materials present everything and create an error-free practice for students to copy. At this stage, students “get used to the new writing skill by repeating it in controlled exercises, and then gradually move toward guided exercises that allow more freedom (Pincas, 1982, p.18). Classroom exercises in controlled composition including copying paragraphs and fill-in-the blank exercises. Questions and Answers Using a question-and-answer activity gives students more freedom (than controlled writing) in constructing sentences. In this activity, students are given a set of questions after a text. If the text and questions are carefully designed, students may produce a coherent writing. It gives students a sense of the writing knowledge. Guided Composition The role of guided writing is extremely crucial because it “stands as a bridge between controlled and free writing (Pincas, 1982, p. 102).” In guided composition, according to Raimes (1983b), students are given a topic sentence, a last sentence, an outline or a set of questions to respond to as composition guidelines. Thus, students are guided with the same instruction and construct a composition that might look differently from each other. Sentence Combining The sentence combining skill helps students make complex or compound sentences. Students determine what they want to say in their new sentences and deal with the given contexts. It provides a good practice for sentence structures that are more common in writing and gives students a chance to use their grammatical knowledge to practice sentence structures, according to Raimes (1983a, p.108). Parallel Writing Parallel writing is the freest kind of controlled writing. Students are given a text, and they produce another text with their own on the same theme. The given texts could be reading passages, tapes, or dialogs, including both written and spoken texts. This approach has its problem, too. Brumfit (1984) pointed out the problem for controlled writing was “solely a semi-conscious operation with no construction of meaning…… only of form (p.25).” Cross (1999) suggested we can use controlled writing as homework since it’s time-consuming to do mechanic practice like this in limited class time. Since the approach gives writers patterns and models to imitate, it’s very important for writers to be constructive and creative in their own composition. Thus, approaches that focus on the contexts, the writer, and the reader rise to assist writers expand and develop their ideas in writing. 2. Current-Traditional Approach—focus on the form 2.1 Principles and Methods Since the mid-1960’, according to Silva (1990), current-traditional approach was developed to build a gap between controlled writing and free writing. It is developed with Kaplan’s theory of contrastive rhetoric as a foundation. In his theory, he discussed the interference of writers’ first language and culture in their second language writing. As the internationalization of English has moved forward , the current-traditional approach in ESL (English as a second language) writing has a tremendous influence. In ESL classes, teachers are interested in understanding how students’ first language and culture affect students’ writing. Effective teachers will need to know how writing is constructed and organized by their learners from different linguistic backgrounds in order to guide them in the process. Kaplan (1966) pioneered a study and discovered students’ writing organizations vary from culture to culture. He studied and analyzed the organizations of paragraphs in ESL essays. His finding showed that different writing styles embedded in different language systems. From Kaplan’s point of view, the writing development in English followed a linear route. On the other hand, essays developed in Semitic languages are based on parallel coordinate clauses, according to Connor (1996). Students from oriental language backgrounds used an indirect approach and come to the point at the end of essays. Connor (1996, p.15) described essay developments for Russian and Roman languages as “essays are permitted a degree of digressiveness and extraneous material that would seem excessive to a writer of English.” Kaplan’s research helps ESL teachers understand students’ first language influence in writing and will be able to guide them. Conner (1996) defines contrastive rhetoric using Kaplan’s applied linguistics, textlinguistics, genre, literacy and translation. This model delivers a message on the variables about how students’ first language affect their second language writing. The contrastive rhetoric approach is to build up a communicative channel between readers and writers. In a language class, the approach is to help teachers and students communicate. An effective, communicative writing is achieved when a writer expressed his or her thought thoroughly and a reader perceives the writer’s thought successfully. Charteris-Black (1997) claimed that it is clear that if students do not get enough guidance or knowledge from their second language teachers, they transfer their first language rhetoric into the second language text. Thus, the role of contrastive rhetoric is to guide second language writers from their first language writing to second language writing. It also helps readers (in ESL classes, the teachers) understand students’ individual differences in writing styles and will be able to guide them in writing classes. 2.2 Application and Implications Silva(1990) stated that the center of this approach is the form. From the primary element, the paragraph, to the development of an essay, according to Silva, “writing is basically a matter of arrangement, of fitting sentences and paragraphs into prescribed patterns (Silva, 1990, p. 14).” Learning to write is to generate ideas and put in these patterns. The reader might be confused if the writer’s production pattern doesn’t meet the conventional pattern of the reader. The contrastive rhetoric is not a method; it is an approach that we can apply in our teaching. Grabe and Kaplan (1989) stated that “Contrastive rhetoric is not a methodology for teaching though some of its findings can be (and indeed have been) applied to teaching.” Connor (1996) discussed contrastive rhetoric in teaching from three perspectives. Implications from contrastive text studies Contrastive text studies showed that different cultures have different expectations toward writing and these expectations are “internalized as patterns of discourse (Connor, 1996, p.167).” While students are writing, they are transferring their first language writing strategies into the second language situation. Teachers should help students be aware of these cross-cultural differences in their writing and acquire new strategies in their second language writing since students are likely to adopt their first language experiences in their second language writing. Therefore, it’s important to help students build up a sense of thesis, the main idea to control the whole writing during the process. Activities to improve students’ writing based on contrastive rhetoric finding include working on thesis statements, identifying topic sentences in texts, brainstorming a thesis, sorting supportive information and conferencing, suggested by Grabe and Kaplan (1989). Implications from contrastive process-based writing Connor (1996) indicated that the process of writing should be a collaborative and sociallinguistic interaction among the classroom. And students, peers, and teachers interact with each other while the writing process takes place—prewriting, composition, and revising. However, as cultures are diverse in an ESL class, there are different attitudes toward group work and peer feedback. Some students don’t like to make negative response in peers’ writing; some are critical; and some have limited language background to make responses. Therefore, she encourages non-threatening activities like brainstorming and discussions and negotiating to bring out cross-cultural differences during the process of writing. Implications from contrastive genre-specific research in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) settings Connor (1996) indicated that a non-native speaker’s writing may cause confusion if they are not aware of the cross-culture differences and do not meet the readers’ expectations in the international community. In EFL settings, students’ language environment is their first language; they only use English as a foreign language where they are required. Connor (1996) valued the non-native speaker teachers under this situation because they know how writing works in another language. If native speaking teachers are not trained in linguistics or contrastive rhetoric, they will look at students’ writing only on the surface level. While contrastive rhetoric approach focuses on the differences of learners, Charteris-Black (1997) reminded us “there is also a need to explore similarities in how writing is taught across cultures as this could lead to the identification of universals in writing pedagogy (p.74).” It is also important for teachers to find out what were the shared difficulties from the same first language learners and make adjustments in their teaching. 3. The Process Approach—focus on the writer 3.1 Principles and Methods Since the middle of 1980s, the process approach has its position in ESL writing since researchers are not satisfied with controlled composition and current-traditional approach, according to Silva (1990). Raimes (1983b, p.261) stated that “Composition means thinking.” The process approach is an approach that explores writers’ thinking process. According to Reid (1993), process teaching reflects the NES (Native English Speakers) writing school, focusing on personal ideas and creativity development, using the writers’ narrative voice. As Zambel (1982, p. 15) pointed out, “ESL writers who are ready to compose and express their ideas use strategies similar to those of native speakers of English.” From this point of view, non-native English speaking writers have gone through the same thinking process during composing. Hedge(1988) and Silva (1990) both stated that writing is a complex, recursive and creative process. Hedge (1988) also described that a writing process consisted of three parts: prewriting, writing and rewriting, and editing. Therefore, we can generalize that the writing process is a complex, recursive process that occurs during prewriting, writing and rewriting, and editing. Hyland (2003, p.11) provided a process model of writing instruction as follows: Selection of topic: by teacher and/or students Prewriting: brainstorming, collection data, note taking, outlining, etc. Composing: getting ideas down on paper Response to draft: teacher/peers respond to ideas, organization, and style Revising: organizing, style, adjusting to readers, refining ideas Response to revisions: teacher/peers respond to ideas, organization, and style Proofreading and editing: checking and correcting form, layout, evidence, etc. Evaluation: teacher evaluates progress over the process Publishing: by class circulation or presentation, noticeboards, Website, etc. Follow-up tasks: to address weaknesses. The writing process itself is also a cognitive process. In Zamel’s (1983) study, she studied six advanced ESL students in their writing classes. She interviewed and used “think aloud” protocol to exam learner’s composing thinking process. Zamel’s study showed some characteristics of writing process. First, the writing process is “recursive and generative” (Hedge, 2000, p.303); therefore, writers always come back to any stage of the process again and again while composing. Second, revising takes place through the whole process. They come back anytime they feel they need to revise. Third, different learners adopt different writing strategies. The study shows skilled writers would emphasize on the content more and often come back to revise while less skilled writers focus on surface structures primarily and seldom revise. To sum up, Zamel (1983, p.165) reveals that the writing process is a “non-linear, exploratory and generative process whereby writers discover and reformulate their ideas as they attempt to approximate meaning.” 3.2 Application and Implications Brookes and Grundy (1998) indicated two things to focus on while teachers are teaching process writing. First, they highly value the writers’ ideas. Teachers’ role here is to help students explore their ideas through various tasks or activities. If teachers provide a model product for students to imitate, they finally have to come out with their ideas and create their own writing. Second, teachers need to develop activities to help student go through the stages of writing process. These activities should be not only interesting, but also focus on the writers’ knowledge and abilities and result in the writing process. In ESL writing classes, Raimes (1983a) encouraged students to explore their ideas about the topic with prewriting activities, such as “discussion, reading, debate, brainstorm and list making (1983a, p.10).” Blanton (1987) indicated that students’ anxiety is lowered because they are encouraged to explore and generate their ideas. She used three kinds of writing to lower students’ anxiety and improved students’ writing proficiency. The following table states the three activities she used. Type of writing Purpose of writing Audience Teacher’s role 1. Journal To unwind and reflect The writer Fellow writer 2. To interact and share The teacher Responder Learning log 3. Essays To practice, get feedback, Mentor and and exercise thinking and fellow expression students Assistant editor Taken from Blanton (1987, p.113) She believed that through free journal writing, “an organic connection between language, thought, and feeling is possible (Blanton, p.114).” Her experiences with students’ learning logs were that students would like to share their thoughts with others and feel satisfied or achieved. Students feel comfortable while writing essays through collaborative learning and interaction with their fellow writers and the editor, the teacher. Her study was a cheerfulness for ESL writing classroom, as Silva (1990, p.15) claimed that “this approach calls for providing a positive, encouraging, and collaborative workshop environment within which students, with ample time and minimal interference, can work through their composing processes.” Friedlander (1990)’s study showed that students’ writing was enhanced if teachers planed topics with the students’ topic-area knowledge. In an ESL environment, in order to help students go through their writing process, brainstorming, drafting, composing and revising, in English, the second language, we should avoid choosing topics that are related to their first language background knowledge. For examples, choosing Qingming (a Chinese Festival) as a topic in English writing class will not be appropriate. Teachers’ role is extremely important in this approach. Teachers should be supportive in the writing process in the class. As Hedge (1988) suggested, teachers should be a very helpful role in all stages of writing process. First, teachers should help students develop an awareness of writing process. Help students gather their ideas together in the prewriting stage and help them follow their plan. They can also provide models for students to refer or to analyze. More importantly, teachers should encourage and give directions to students while drafting. It’s also important and helpful for teachers to create an atmosphere of communicative and collaborative workshop where the teacher advice students and students work with each other. The approach has its problem, too. Silva (1990, p.16) stated that the writer in this approach is “the center of attention”, and the focus should be shifted to the readers. Thus, a reader based approach -- genre approach arises and becomes influential in the field of teaching writing. 4. The Genre Approach—Focus on the Reader 4.1 Principles and Methods Genre analysis has been one of the most influential concepts for teaching English for Academic Purpose (EAP) and English for Specific Purpose (ESP) since 1980s (Flowerdew, 1993; Brookes and Grudy, 1991). The definition of ‘genre’ given by Richards et al. (1985) states ‘a particular class of speech event which has certain features common to that particular event’. Swales (1990, p.58) defined genre in the following way: A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This rational shapes the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constrains choice of content and style. 4.2 Application and Implications Flowerdew (1993) suggested six types of activities to help students understand genres. These six activities are: using the results of genre analysis metacommunicating learning how to do their own genre analysis concordancing ‘on-line’ genre analysis by learners as an aid to create their own texts translation based on samples of instances of a given genre Bhatia (1993) expanded the first three activities in his work. He discussed different contexts in various genres and then involves learners (writers) in the specific social context where the texts are being produced, the linguistic roles in the genre and lead learners into their own production, according to Tribble’s (1996) observation. The last three activities are based on a collection of authentic texts examples. Basically, they are computer-based information. Writers exam, analyze and discuss the examples in the particular texts they are interested in. Since CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) has led to a more significant role in language teaching and concordance is usually computer-based, it’s worthy examining concordance in writing pedagogy. Concordancing is a very powerful tool and can affect students’ writing in genre-based texts. Kettemann (1995) mentioned that concordancing gives students authentic language data in different genres; thus, it helps writers to learn the language study not only linguistic features but also genre performance. Hyland suggests two ways of using corpora concordancing in writing class to assist students develop a sense of genre. First, teachers design exercises or worksheet using a corpus based on the target genre. Students learn common vocabulary or patterns of a particular genre. Second, teachers teach students how to use a concordancer and use it as a reference when they face problems while writing. Sun (1999) actually taught students how to use concordance, as a reference tool, to improve students’ senses of genre by studying collocation. Bhatia (1993) mentioned that a well designed genre-based task will benefit ESL/EFL students. He specifies using newspapers in language classrooms. Using newspapers as a part of course materials will benefit students because there are a wide variety of genres in newspapers. And the varieties of genres can benefit learners with various interests. Brooks and Grundy (1991) reminded us that it’s dangerous to be dependent on genre analysis because writers could be limited to a predetermined pattern. When writers are stuck in the certain necessity of a genre, they can not express their ideas freely. Therefore, Tribble (1996) claimed that if we use genre approach to complement process approach in teaching writing, it would be very powerful. Conclusion Raimes (1983a) stated that, no teachers would limit their teaching to one approach in their classes. 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