HELPFUL HINTS ON WRITING

Dr. Janet Ayoub Al Maalouf Teacher Training Center-Zahle

Introduction:
Writing is useful as a gatekeeping mechanism. It is mainly considered at the centre of contested territory that leads to knowledge, authority and references (Leki, 2010). Cumming (1998:61) comments that "Writing is text, is composing, and is social construction". The modern teaching of writing and research has shifted the focus from texts to composing and social contribution (Leki, 2010). The act of writing is slower and to some extent less impulsive than speech. So, by jotting down grammar and sentences onto paper the students have a chance to think about what they have been learning. It is a fundamental skill in its own right; it is needed by the students to communicate in a commercial and intellectual world where English is often the international language (Harmer, 1997).
Both swimming and writing are culturally specific and learnt behavior. We learn to write if we belong to a literate society, and usually if someone instructs us on writing. Writing is in particular a learned skill.

However, Cumming (2000, 2002) claims that writing is seldom easy for any person. Few write easily and well-they are the exception. Writing is hard work for everyone. More typically, writers cannot count on inspiration since it does not make scheduled appearances. Often it does not arrive at all; or it may not arrive "on time".

According to Gass and Selinker (2001), writing is a very demanding task that appeals to the interaction of different types of competencies, including cognitive, linguistic, rhetorical, strategic, and pragmatic knowledge. A reasonable level in these types of knowledge is required for effective writing. ESL/EFL students (the main differences between EFL and ESL are the students and the location where English is being taught to speakers of other languages), however, generally master such prerequisites (cognitive, linguistic, rhetorical, strategic, and pragmatic knowledge) to some extent at their early levels of language learning and thus face additional difficulties. They, therefore, need specific pedagogical measures that should derive from a research-based analysis of difficulties.
Crandall (2000) points out that teaching writing in English as a foreign language, compared to the teaching of other skills, is a difficult task for many teachers; they spend considerable time correcting their students’ writings only to find their corrections and comments ignored. Despite teachers’ hard work, many students’ written English remains non-idiomatic, poorly organized, inadequately developed, grammatically awkward, devoid of sentence structure variety, and weak in vocabulary usage.
El Mufti (1997), Bacha (2002), Geha (2008) and Nazzal (2008) find out that Lebanese EFL learners make no exception concerning the above mentioned writing problems. They face difficulties of different types. Accordingly, this article suggests some solutions. However, there are certain issues in the history of second language writing.

Issues in the History of Second Language Writing
Three issues in the history of second language writing can be highlighted for consideration as the instructor prepares to teach writing.

1. Process vs. product: In the past, teachers were mostly concerned with the final product of writing and what that product should look like. The Process approach was developed to writing instruction during the 1970s and 1980s. The Process approach (Cumming, 2000; Gass & Selinker, 2001; Nazzal, 2008; Leki, 2010) does the following:

  • Emphasize the process of writing that leads to the final product
  • Help students to better comprehend what they are composing
  • Offer students time to write and rewrite.
  • Focus on the process of revision
  • Allow students to discover what they want to say as they write.
  • Provide students with feedback throughout the composing process.
  • Encourage feedback from the teacher and peers.
  • Consider individual conferences between teacher and students during the process of writing.

The Process approach is an endeavor to take advantage of the nature of the written language, which, unlike conversation, gives students a chance to think as they write. So writing indeed becomes a thinking process. The product after all is the ultimate aim after we go through the five steps. Process is not the end; it is the means to the end.

2. Contrastive rhetoric: Kaplan’s thesis (Kaplan, 1966) was that different languages and cultures have different patterns of written discourse. So, learners of English bring with them certain predispositions which come from their native languages. Thus it is important to consider students’ native language rhetorical traditions to guide them in the use English rhetorical conventions.
Kaplan explains that FL/SL learners expose their ideas in rhetorical patterns that deviate significantly from the standard type of rhetoric to which English native speakers conventionally conform. He has attempted to show that the deviations are systematic and identifiable (Kaplan, 1988).

3. Authenticity: How authentic are the classroom writing exercises that we ask students to perform?
How much of our classroom writing is real writing?
Authenticity issue in classroom writing is to distinguish between real writing and display writing (Gass & Selinker, 2001; Nazzal, 2008; Leki, 2010; Cumming, 2000).
Real writing is writing when the reader doesn’t know the answer and genuinely wants data. Display writing is when the teacher is the only reader and writing is primarily for display of a student’s knowledge.
Writing to display is a fact inside the classroom, but by writing exercises, students learn skills that help them to succeed in further academic pursuits. Writing at the end will be real, meaningful, and communicative if we find out why students need to write.

Eleven Elements of Effective Writing Instruction
Eleven elements of current writing instruction can be identified to be effective for helping adolescent students learn to write well and to use writing as a tool for learning. It is important to note that all of the elements are supported by rigorous research, but that even when used together, they do not constitute a full writing curriculum (Cumming, 2000; Gass & Selinker, 2001; Nazzal, 2008; Leki, 2010).

  1. Writing Strategies, which involve teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions.
  2. Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts.
  3. Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which learners work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions.
  4. Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete
  5. Word Processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments.
  6. Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences.
  7. Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition.
  8. Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task.
  9. Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing.
  10. Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing.
  11. Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material.

No single approach to writing instruction will meet the needs of all students. Furthermore, some existing techniques may be effective but have not yet been studied rigorously. There is a great need for more research on and distribution of writing interventions that work, so that administrators and teachers can select the strategies that are most appropriate, whether for whole classrooms, small groups, or individual students.
Though each instructional element is dealt with as a distinct entity, the different elements are often related, and the addition of one element can encourage the inclusion of another. In an ideal world, instructors would be able to incorporate all of the eleven key elements in their everyday writing curricula, but the list may also be used to build a unique blend of elements suited to specific student needs.
The elements should not be considered as isolated but rather as interlinked. For example, it is difficult to implement the "process writing approach" (element 9) without having pairs work together (element 3) or use "prewriting supports" (element 7). It remains to be seen what that optimal mix is, and it may be different for different types of students.
Educators need to test mixes of intervention elements to find the ones that work best for students with different needs.


References:

  • Bacha, N. (2002). Testing writing in the English classroom. English Teaching Forum, 70, 14-19.
  • Crandall, J. (2000). Language teacher education. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 20, 34-55.
  • Cumming, A. (1998). Theoretical perspectives on writing. In W. Grabe (Ed.), Annual review of applied linguistics 18: Foundations of second language teaching (pp.61- 78). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cumming, A. (2000). Billiteracy, empowerment, and transformative pedagogy. In J. Tinajero & R. Devillar (Eds.), The power of two languages 2000 (pp. 9-19). New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Cumming, A. (2002). If I had known twelve things. In L. Blanton & B. Kroll (Eds), ESL composition tales: Reflections on teaching (pp.123-34). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • El Mufti, N. (1997). Error analysis of intensive English students’ written compositions at the Lebanese American University: a case study. Thesis (M.A.). Beirut: American University of Beirut, Department of English.
  • Gass, S., & Selinker, L. (2001). Second language acquisition: An introductory course. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.
  • Geha, N. (2008). The perceptions of tutors and tutees regarding the effectiveness of tutoring in writing centre’s on second/foreign language learners’ writing proficiency. Thesis (M.A.). Beirut: American University of Beirut, Department of English.
  • Harmer, J. (1997). Teaching writing. English Teaching Professional, 2, 23-24.
  • Kaplan, R. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language Learning, 16(1), 1-20.
  • Kaplan, R. (1988). Contrastive rhetoric and second language learning: Notes toward a theory of contrastive rhetoric. In A. Purves, (Ed.), Writing across languages: Issues in contrastive rhetoric (pp.65-90). Newbury Park: SAGE Publications.
  • Leki, I. (2010). Second language writing. In R. Kaplan (Ed.), The oxford handbook of applied linguistics (pp.60-69). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Nazzal, N. (2008). The relationship of second language writing apprehension, writing self-efficacy beliefs, and the writing performance of EFL AUB students. Thesis (M.A.). Beirut: American University of Beirut, Department of English.