The Theoretical Process Models Of Writing Education Essay

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In English language teaching, the direct and audio-lingual methods viewed writing as a tool to reinforce, and as an extension of, speaking skills. However, the emergence of communicative language teaching (CLT) in the 1970s and the stress on development of communicative skills saw importance given to writing skills and to the composing process itself. Zamel (1982:196) stresses out that "before we know how to teach writing, we must first understand how we write". In other words, we need to understand what mental processes are involved in the act of composing and how they interact with each other. Although it has been questioned whether think-aloud protocols can provide a detailed and true representation of writers' composing process (see Cooper and Holzman, 1983) protocol analysis has enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of the composing strategies which writes employ. Since a protocol is "a description of the activities, ordered in time, which a subject engages in while performing a task" (Flower and Hayes, 1980a: 4) it can provide a great insight into the psychological processes involved in writing. To illustrate the mental processes writers engage in while composing, a number of representation models have been proposed. The focus of this paper is to stress on how these models of process writing translate to experience in the classroom and highlight some key pros and cons of the practical applications of a process approach to writing.

This paper is divided into three main parts. I begin by introducing some key process models of writing with the intention to establish some common grounds of these models. I also give a brief account on some of the characteristics of a process approach to the teaching and learning of writing. In part two and three I attempt to identify some key strengths and weaknesses of such an approach and propose some remedies to deal with these limitations.

Part 1. Process models of writing

Flower and Hayes' (1981) process model of writing (see Figure 1, p2) comprises of three main units: (i) the task environment, (ii) the writing process; and (iii) the writer's long-term memory. A brief description of these units is given below:


Figure 1. Process model of writing (Flower and Hayes, 1981:370)

The elements of the task environment are the rhetorical problem and the text produced so far.  The rhetorical problem is concerned with the rhetorical situation (exigency or assignment and audience), which is given, and the writer's own goals, which are personally created (Flower and Hayes, 1980b:24). The text produced in the process of composing is influenced by the rhetorical problem and the written text, on the other hand, can influence the composing process.

The long-term memory is identified as a " storehouse of knowledge about the topic and audience, as well as knowledge of writing plans and problem representations" (Hayes and Flower, 1981:371). In addition, the long-term memory has "unlimited capacity" and consists of a vast amount of information which is "potentially retrievable" (Gross, 2001). As a result, finding useful information in the long-term memory and adapting it according to the rhetorical problem can be a problem for the writer.

The writing processes involve the acts of planning, translating and reviewing. Planning is concerned with writers representation of knowledge intended to be used in the writing process and involves a number of sub-processes and in particular: generating relevant ideas from the long-term memory; meaningful and coherent organization of these ideas and; personal goal-setting. Translating refers to putting ideas into a written language and reviewing is concerned with evaluating and revising the text. The monitor is introduced " as a writing strategist which determines when the writer moves from one process to the next […] (and) this choice is determined both by the writer's goals and by individual writing habits or styles" (Flower and Hayes, 1981:374).

Hayes revised the model in 1996 (see Figure 2, p3) and a number of key changes can be observed. For example, working memory is given a central importance and its role is to give access to all other writing processes, store information (semantic, phonological and visuospatial) and carry out cognitive processes. In addition, the importance of motivation and collaborative work in the process of writing was highlighted. Recognition was also given to task schemas, which Hayes (1996:24) describes as "packages of information stored in long-term memory that specify how to carry out a particular task". The writing medium, i.e. whether the writer uses a pen and paper to write or word processes the text, was also given a special attention. Haas (1989), for example, carried out a study with experienced and student writers examining the effects of word processing on planning. She observed that the participants used significantly less planning when using word processing alone, concluding that writing technologies can be highly influential on the writing process. In addition, Hayes (1996:7) points out that variations in the writing medium not only influence cognitive processes but also provide us with broader observations of the writing process which enable us to better understand it.

Figure 2. Process model of writing (Hayes, 1996:4)

A rather different model was proposed by Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) who focused on the writing processes in which novice and expert writers are involved. According to them novice writers engage in knowledge- telling processes which are simpler as opposed to expert writers which engage in knowledge-transforming processes which involve more complex cognitive strategies.

It is evident that there are a number of proposed process models of writing which have been thoroughly discussed and remodelled by researchers. One would ask whether a single model can be proposed which would fully represent and account for the cognitive processes involved in composing. Perhaps a single model would be unrealistic as, it has been established, different models address different aspects of the writing process. The Flower and Hayes model for example represents how writing happens as opposed to Bereiter and Scardamalia's model which focuses on how people learn to write (Edwarders, 2011). Undoubtedly, what the process models have in common is that they do not focus on the writing product but are concerned with the cognitive processes involved in composing as a problem-solving activity. The writing process in itself is "non-linear, exploratory, and generative process whereby writers discover and reformulate their ideas as they attempt to approximate meaning" (Zamel, 1983:165).

Today we can distinguish a number of different approaches to writing. The product approach focuses on the text and the genre approach on the reader. The process approach to writing is concerned with the writers and what they do when they write. The characteristics which differentiate the process from the product approach, for example, are that writing does not "converge towards a pre-defined goal, with a model text being presented to form the focus of comprehension and text manipulation activities" but is rather defined by "disorder, imprecision, recursiveness, complexity, (and) individual variation" (White and Arndt, 1991:5-6).

To understand better how process models relate to experience in the classroom we must have a closer look at the process approach to writing and in particular what activities writers might be involved in, prior to and during composing. In a process approach learners are encouraged to get involved in planning, organising, drafting, revising and editing their work through task-based collaborative communication. White & Arndt, for example, suggest a number of stages (see Figure 3, p5) which are seen not as linear but recursive and "the whole process not as a fixed sequence but as a dynamic and unpredictable process" (Tribble, 1996:39). A concise overview White and Arndt's stage model and comments on the activities involved is given below:

Figure 3. A process model of writing (White & Arndt, 1991)

In Generating ideas the goal is to generate students' interest and extract as many ideas for writing as possible through brainstorming, use of questions or visuals, note-taking or role play or simulation activities. In Focusing writers discover main ideas as well as manage them in a coherent way. In this stage writers consider the reasons and identify the purpose of their writing which are a driving force in deciding on the content of writing and how it should be directed. An important part of this stage is that writers consider the audience and the form of their writing. Structuring is "grouping ideas together and deciding upon how to structure them" (White & Arndt, 1991:78). In addition, White & Arndt point out that, because of the nature of process writing, there is often a constant flow of ideas and this process would require regular readjustments and restructuring and should not be seen as fixed and complete. If the stages so far are considered as pre-writing activities, the writing of the first draft takes place in Drafting. The writers think about their final product and how to organise their text in order for it to best appeal to the audience. It is important to mention that revision and rewriting of the text are essential and effective components of this stage. Evaluating involves criticism and assessment of one's writing with emphasis on product evaluation and is likely to be carried out through self- or peer-evaluation rather than by the teacher. In Re-viewing writers see their work close to its final product. Writers "re-view the text, as if with a new pair of eyes […](with) a sense of judgement […](where) the actual amending process requires adequate linguistic tools to work with" (White & Arndt, 1991:136-7). Nevertheless, in the context of English language teaching and learning, the process approach to writing has its practical strengths and weaknesses, some of which are discussed in the next section.

Part 2. Practical strengths

The role of the learner in the writing process

The emergence of CLT not only contributed to a vast movement from traditional approaches in teaching but it greatly emphasised the role and significance of the learner through a development of learner-centred curriculum and orientation in learner-centred language teaching (see Nunan, 1998). Moreover, fostering learner autonomy was seen as both, a great contributor to successful learning and the ultimate goal in education (Benson, 2001). Unarguably, in the process approach to writing the learner is the centre of attention. In the process of composing the learner-writer is encouraged to contribute with ideas reflecting on personal experiences and existing background knowledge. Furthermore, the learner is expected to show responsibility in planning, drafting and reviewing the text and to use effective cognitive and self-management learning strategies to assist the composing process. The above are, undoubtedly, what characterises the good writer and the autonomous language learner. The writing process is a problem-solving activity which is goal-directed, with the goals created and initiated by the writer. In Flower and Hayes' (1981:373) words "the act of defining one's own rhetorical problem and setting goals is an important part of 'being creative' and can account for some important differences between good and poor writers."

Another aspect of writer's control over the composing process can be exemplified through a self-monitoring technique as part of self-reflection in the writing process (see Charles, 1990;Cresswell, 2000;). In brief, the technique involves learners identifying areas for development in their writing and annotating those concerns by commenting on their potential weaknesses in composing and needs for improvement. The teachers respond to these comments in writing by giving suggestions for improvement after which learners re-draft their texts and make necessary amendments. Cresswell (2000:235) argues that "the student self-monitoring technique increases autonomy in the learning of writing by giving learners control over the initiation of feedback". To this Charles adds that the technique is advantageous because the learners have the opportunity to view their own writing critically and analytically as well as to have control over the process of composing. These as a result can increase learners' motivation in responding to feedback and prepare them to be more receptive to this feedback.

Collaborative work

Collaborative work is an important element of the writing process and it has its practical strengths for a couple of reasons. One aspect of the beneficial nature of collaborative work is peer reviewing (or peer feedback) which involves commenting on and giving suggestions on peers' drafts. Mangelsdorf (1992) conducted a study with 40 advanced ESL writers and investigated what students think about peer reviewing and whether they find it beneficial for their own writing. The results concluded that most of the learners found peer reviewing advantageous and that peers' comments and suggestions helped them improve the content and organisation of their text. It also made them reconsider current and establish new ideas as well as make their text clear not just to them as writers but also to the audience. In addition, peer reviewing provided different points of view, which Mangelsdorf (1992:281) claims are beneficial as "the more views (writers) receive, the richer the options they have to choose from when they revise". In addition, Keh (1990:296) points out that peer feedback is at the level of development of the writers as well as the fact that writers learn more about the writing by critically reviewing other's work.

Many of the learners, however, pointed out that they do not see themselves as confident critics and questioned their peers' ability to review other writers' work. To this perhaps the cultural influences brought into the ESL (often heterogeneous) classroom should be mentioned. In many countries writing is seen as a structured and less communicative experience. In some Arab and Asian countries, for example, classroom learning can be very teacher-centered and "teaching in which ideas and answers are elicited and discussed maybe rejected as unsound […] and tasks requiring original thought or the expression of personal opinions maybe considered unfair" (Swan & Smith, 2001:209).

Peer reviewing should not be discarded and although writers' attitudes towards it must be taken into consideration we have to think of appropriate ways to promote the benefits of collaborative work. Mangelsdorf and Keh suggest that teachers can train their learners how to review by modelling the reviewing process. For instance, teachers can dedicate time to whole class discussions about a sample draft in which they have to comment on its potential strengths and weaknesses as an unfinished piece of writing. Keh adds that when reading, reviewers, as inexperienced critics, tend to look for mechanical errors such as grammar or lexical mistakes. To these, Keh (1990:296) refers to as "lower order concerns" and suggests that to be effective critics reviewers should look for "higher order concerns" such as development and structure of ideas and organisation of the text. To deal with cultural influences culture awareness sessions should be carried out throughout the curriculum to ensure that learners know why and how certain activities, although unfamiliar, can be beneficial for the learning process.

Collaborative work is not only concerned with students' comments and suggestions on their peers' work. Group activities are valuable for other stages of the writing process. By brainstorming ideas in groups, for example, "students learn that writers can profit from drawing on other people's ideas as well as their own (White and Arndt, 1991:20). Moreover, working in groups can develop the production of ideas writers would not normally suggest individually because of nervousness or other reasons (Boughey, 1997). This, in respond, will increase their confidence as writers as well as improve their learning strategies.

Part 3. Practical weaknesses

Teaching materials and lack of knowledge or exposure to genre

It would be fair to say that nowadays a considerable amount of the course books available on the market provide text models in the sections devoted to writing. For example a model letter of invitation or an e-mail can be presented and to which learners can mechanically refer or copy, merely substituting information. One could argue that this approach to the teaching of writing is anything but associated with how writers go on about composing. My experience with novice writers can draw on a general observation that the presence of a product model gives students a sense of security as they see the product as a stable property which they can use as a scaffolding for their own writing. Another point is that often it is up to the teachers to decide how to exploit the teaching materials according to their students' needs and whether to focus on process writing, which is creative and unpredictable, or use the models provided in course books as the core element in their lessons.

A number of ways could be taken in order to deal with teaching materials and writers' lack of knowledge of genre. For example learners could be presented with different forms (genre) and encouraged to choose the one(s), which would best suit their writing purpose (Brooks & Grundy, 1998:16). The introduction of models, as suggested by White and Arndt (1991:5-6), should be done not before composing "but only after the students have written something of their own, so that the text is now a resource for further ideas rather than a model for mimicry". In addition, Tribble (1996:60) suggests that "activities could be designed to enhance learners' understanding of the genre in question". To deal with the deficiency in knowledge of genre it appears that the integration of genre and process approaches in writing is somehow desirable (Watson, 1982). This would mean encouraging learners to "discover for themselves the thinking processes that lead to successful realisation of the moves and patterns of organisation in a genre" (Chandrasegaran, 2009:340). An example for this could be prior or in-process analysis of the form as well as identification of specific genre features through open classroom discussions. A point that should not be ignored is that teachers themselves should be aware of the nature of the writing process.

Time issue

It would be ambitious to claim that the process of writing can be experienced by learners in a single writing session. Composing is a creative process which needs time efficiently spent on particular writing activities. This would depend on factors such as writers' language proficiency, class size or individual learning strategies. Moreover, a writing session will often involve discussions, planning, editing, then perhaps discussions again, which will hardly fit in a limited period of time. What we face here is, what Harmer (2004:12-13) refers to as the "process trap", the issue with time.

Our main concern is not to rush aimlessly through the stages of the writing process but to make students aware of the benefits of those stages, so they can "gain a greater control over the cognitive strategies involved in composing" (Hedge, 2000:308). This suggests that teachers can assist learners in generating ideas, planning, revising or editing. The process of writing is a discovery event and to deal with the time issue process writing activities should be spread over the learning curriculum and independent work outside the classroom could be encouraged.

3.3 Some additional considerations

Other limitations of the process approach should be mentioned, although not discussed in detail in this paper. Class size could be an issue and with large groups of learners teachers might find giving constructive feedback as extremely challenging. Boughey suggests that learners can be divided into small groups, done according to their academic performance to avoid dominance of more competent writers. Creating writing groups would mean that it would be more manageable for the teacher to give feedback to groups' writing rather than individual learners. Moreover, as feedback is directed to the whole group rather than individuals, the issue of criticism is not as sensitive to learners.

Another point to consider is that process approach to writing is not always applicable. For example, in situations where learners have to prepare for written examinations, a process approach perhaps will not be suitable. Hedge (2000:319) stresses out that "a distinction needs to be made between classroom writing aimed at developing efficiency and exam preparation which aims at demonstrating that efficiency, and for which other strategies are needed."


This paper addressed some of the effects psycholinguistic research has on the teaching and learning of English language composition and dealt with some of the practical pros and cons of a process approach to writing. The role of the writer, as an autonomous learner, and collaborative work, as an effective tool in the composing process, were identified as potential strengths. Some limitations were also mentioned, and in particular, the issue with time and knowledge of genre, class size and process approach applicability. Process writing, unarguably valuable for many reasons, has its critics and has to be taken by teachers and learners with great consideration. As a non-linear and recursive process it requires a deeper understanding of the cognitive strategies involved and effective realisation could be gained by raising learner awareness and providing appropriate training. A further point of investigation, which probably deserves an analysis on its own, is the core emphasis on developing linguistic skills rather than linguistic knowledge in process approach to writing and whether this can attribute as a practical strength or a limitation.