Saturday, July 17, 2010

Week 4: Writing skill-Building

Within the communicative framework of language teaching, the skill of writing enjoys special status. It is via writing that a person can communicate a variety of messages to a close or distant, known or unknown reader. According to Olshtain (2001: 207), such communication is “extremely important in the modern world, whether the interaction takes the form of traditional paper-and-pencil writing or the most technologically advanced electronic mail.” That is why writing, as a communicative activity, needs to be encouraged and nurtured during the language learners’ course of study, especially in early stages of their school years.

In the school setting, writing plays two distinct but complementary roles. First, it is a skill that draws on subskills and processes such as handwriting and spelling, rich knowledge of vocabulary, mastery of conventions (e.g., punctuation, capitalization, word choice, and grammar), and the use of strategies (such as planning, evaluating, and revising text). All are necessary for the production of coherently organized essays containing well-developed and pertinent ideas, supporting examples, and appropriate detail. This role can be characterized as “learning to write.” Second, writing is a means to extend and deepen students’ knowledge; it acts as a tool for learning subject matter. This role is called “writing to learn” (Graham & Perin, 2007).

In spite of the significant importance of writing for students, research in the field of foreign language teaching reveals that writing is the most poorly understood and the skill that is given the most cursory attention in English language courses (Warschauer, 2000). As a result, students’ level in writing performance is getting worse and worse. One reason behind this poor performance form my viewpoint found is the way that writing was and continues to be taught. That is, the practices and approaches adopted by teachers in teaching writing.

Teachers in the product approach to teaching writing, for instance, focused solely on accuracy, appropriate rhetorical discourse and linguistic patterns to the exclusion of writing processes. They focused primarily on “text-based” writing, forcing student writing into academic conventions that stifled creativity. In contrast, teachers in the process approach encouraged students to use their internal resources and individuality; they taught “writer-based” writing (i.e., writing read only by the writer himself or herself) to the exclusion of external audiences. They neglected accuracy in favor of fluency. The processes of generating ideas, and expressing feelings were more important to individual development than the product (Reid, 2001). In the genre approach, on the other hand, the knowledge of language is intimately attached to a social purpose and more focus is on the viewpoint of the “reader” than on that of the writer. However, this approach undervalues the skills needed to produce a text and sees learners as largely passive (Kim, 2006).

From what is discussed above, we can say that we need a framework that can incorporate all these approaches: the final product, writing processes, the purpose of writing, and the context where the writing occurs.

Actually Deborah suggested a very beneficial article that can be a solution for students’ writing difficulties. The article is about “Using the Internet in ESL Writing Instruction” by Krajka (2000): One of the most important points that Krajka mentioned is considering the internet as a teaching aid or as a teaching medium. It is a tool by which students are taught how to write different writing genres. Through reading this article, I’ve recognized why one should incorporate online lessons into the syllabus. Krajka (2000) mentioned many benefits. One of these benefits is that the internet gives students variety and choice, since they have the enormous number of sites to choose from. Every student should be encouraged to do something different, and later the class could compare their findings orally, in this way adding speaking and listening development to the lesson.

Another benefit of the Internet lessons is that the Web materials are completely authentic, unabridged and not prepared with a learner in mind, which can be sometimes difficult in terms of language, but extremely rewarding when students realize that what they read or write is real and belongs to the outside world, not the world of the classroom and textbook.

Another positive aspect of on-line instruction is the fact that students, especially teenagers, are additionally motivated through using computers and the Web, especially when they do not have the chance to use it outside the classroom. Finally, on-line lessons, while done from time to time, might add some new flavor to the classroom, and the Internet instruction could spice classes up with some new elements.

Variety, authenticity, motivation and adding a new flavor are the key words that should put in mind when using the internet in our language classrooms. Using websites to teach writing meets such needs. One of these websites that can develop students’ writing skills is “ESL Interdependent Study Lab":
. It deals with all areas of English language. When I visited the “Writing Section”. I found many links to wonderful resources for writing. One of these treasures is “TV411 Writing": This website provides students with a kind of self study. Students will find some features about the genre they are going to write about, detailed steps for writing and an editing checklist to check their final product before publishing. Then, it incorporates all approaches I mentioned above.

May be many of you think that we should scaffold our students during their self study. Of course I do agree, but it is more desirable to leave them to explore this world alone. We should prepare independent students that can think, analyze, evaluate and then create their own products. I’m sure if we grow this exploration inside them now, they will not stop. It is just a step towards the beginning.

Resources Used:

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Kim, M. (2006). Genre-based approach to teaching writing. TESL Working Paper Series, 4(2), 33-39.

Krajka, J. (Nov., 2000). Using the Internet in ESL Writing Instruction. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 11. Available online at:
. Retrieved on Jul. 13, 2010.

Olshtain, E. (2001). Functional tasks for mastering the mechanics of writing and going just beyond. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language. 3rd ed. (pp. 205-232). New York: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Reid, J. (2001). Writing. In R. Carter & D. Nunan (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Warschauer, M. (2000). The changing global economy and the future of English teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 34 (3), 511–568.

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