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The first chapter of my paper puts forth three main issues: an investigation of writing in relation to the other language skills, a comparison between writing-for-writing versus writing-for-learning as well as an analysis of the teachers’ roles and the students’ involvement in the process of teaching writing. By exposing these aspects, I demonstrate that writing should not be taught as an isolated language skill but rather as a part of an integrated approach. Additionally, I show how writing-for-writing is as significant as writing-for-learning and how students play a crucial part in teaching writing and take responsibility for their own learning.
An Integrated Approach to Writing and the Other Language Skills
Contemporary methodological tendencies split the four language skills into two broad categories: receptive skills and productive ones. The latter includes speaking and writing with their much-debated differences. The process of writing presupposes the use of graphic symbols or letters chained together in higher sentence sequences that respect a particular order and form a coherent text.
Writing is primarily linked to two other language skills: speaking and reading. On the one hand, the association writing-speaking gives rise to tough debates about whether teachers should focus more on teaching writing or teaching speaking. It may be argued that writing is not merely an ordinary extension of speech; the former practice differs from the latter in multiple ways as Donn Byrne cogently shows in the following table:
Takes place in a context.
Creates its own context.
Speaker and listener(s) in contact.
Reader not present and no interaction possible
Person addressed is specific.
Reader not necessarily known to writer
Immediate feedback given and expected.
No immediate feedback possible.
Speech is transitory.
Writing is permanent.
Sentences often incomplete and sometimes ungrammatical. Hesitations and pauses common.
Sentences expected to be carefully constructed and linked and organised to form a text.
Range of devices (stress, intonation, pitch, speed) to help convey meaning. Facial expressions, body movements, and gestures also used.
Devices to help convey meaning are punctuation, capitals, and underlining (for emphasis).
Fig. 1. Differences between speech and writing (Byrne 3).
Source: Byrne, Donn. Teaching Writing Skills. London: Longman, 1993.
Thus, the written language asks for a greater standardization of grammar and vocabulary whereas speech is varied according to distinctions in regional dialects. Speaking usually occurs as a spontaneous act while writing is carefully planned. Then, speakers make use of their body language and voice to put across meaning but writers have to count on their words for the same purpose. Finally, speech has a more informal and repetitive character where the written discourse develops logically in a more formal and compact style.
On the other hand, writing is related to reading as these two skills represent the basis of literacy. Nowadays, theoreticians such as S.B. Kucer and E. Delgado-Larocco consider literacy as a multifaceted and active practice that encompasses sociocultural, cognitive, developmental, and cognitive factors (see Fig. 2 below). Consequently, for a person to become literate, he or she has to master all the abovementioned dimensions of literacy at the same time (Kucer 4). First, the cognitive influence dictates the writer’s wish to find, build, and share meaning. Afterwards, the sociocultural component contains markers of social identity (ethnicity or gender). Third of all, the linguistic element puts forth the language used by the writer as the conveyor of meaning. Last but not least, the developmental aspect includes the other three factors: since literacy is a dynamic process, the writer’s / reader’s development never ceases (Kucer 5-6).
Fig. 2. Dimensions of literacy (Kucer 59).
Source: Kucer, Stephen B. Dimensions of Literacy. A Conceptual Base for Teaching Reading and Writing in School Settings. New Jersey: LEA Publishers, 2005.
Moreover, the question of why and how writing should be taught arises. Since “writing is a skill which is (â€¦) difficult to acquire” (Byrne 6), it is obvious by now that instructors should set very clear teaching goals as concerns writing. In this sense, writing may be taught as a response to students’ needs and diverse learning styles: introvert learners do not feel at ease expressing themselves orally, so writing allows them to feel more self-confidence. But writing may equally be taught for reasons of memorization or retention and thus it offers students the confirmation for part of their learning progress. The most evident purpose for teaching writing seems to be the need for its presence in informal and formal examinations alike.
In general, teaching writing is not meant to be an isolated practice. Instead, an effective student exposure to the foreign language is acquired through more than one medium as Eli Henkel points out: “in meaningful communication, people employ incremental language skills not in isolation, but in tandem” (quoted in Harmer 265). In the classroom, the teaching-learning environment tries to mimic real-life situations and this is the reason why lessons often integrate multi-layered language skills. In this context, “writing invites us to gather and organize our thoughts in order to clearly communicate them” (Johnson 8).
Teaching Writing-for-writing versus Writing-for-learning
Language is the vehicle of thought. The essential hypothesis is that-being a language skill-writing “means writing a connected text and not just single sentences, that writers write for a purpose and a reader, and that the process of writing is a valuable learning tool for all our students” (Raimes 11).
Contemporary methodological trends dictate that writing should be taught interdependently with reading, speaking, and listening. There is no single approach to teaching writing but many. Writing may reinforce recently acquired language structures, it may improve the students’ mental and linguistic development, and it may also emphasize individual learning styles.
Additionally, the type of writing teachers promote depends greatly on the learners’ age, level, and personal interests. In The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer divides the teaching of writing in two broad categories: writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing. The former type is defined as “the kind of writing we do to help students learn language or to test them on that language” (Harmer 330). Thus, writing-for-learning can ask students to build sentences using the Past Tense Simple or the Going to Future for instance; here, the “aim is not to train students to write, but rather to help them remember” (Harmer 330) a certain grammar item. Learners build writing habits for language practice in this case-they come to grasp, retain, and acquire new language structures. Besides this, writing-for-learning promotes learners’ involvement in the lessons’ development and outcome by raising their awareness and by making them responsible for their own learning.
By contrast, writing-for-writing addresses specific writing genres such as narratives, ads, letters, postcards, job applications, reports, or articles whose construction we want our students to master. Therefore, “if we are to build the students’ writing skills,” it is advisable “to use such writing-for-writing tasks as often as is appropriate” (Harmer 330). This category focuses more on familiar, daily styles that the learners find useful and that they are likely to come across more frequently. Writing for fun or for pleasure is also included here since it allows students to acquire knowledge in their own rhythm; self-experience proves valuable and motivates learners intrinsically, making them accumulate new language items more rapidly and with more ease. There are countless types of writing of activities targeted for this type of writing, amongst which: questionnaires, scenarios, puzzles, instructions, quizzes, diaries, headlines, or programmes. Unlike the controlled practice in class where pupils are asked to comply to certain composition rules, writing for fun does not require obeying specific conventions but rather using the language that learners have at their disposal. As a result, writing for pleasure enhances students’ creativity and underpins their level of proficiency in the foreign language.
Furthermore, Art Young-in Teaching Writing across the Curriculum-dwells on the same distinction between writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing, although he labels these categories differently: writing to learn and writing to communicate.
Fig. 3. Writing to learn and writing to communicate (Young 9).
Source: Young, Art. Writing across the Curriculum. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Young exposes the fact that on the one hand, writing to learn encourages students to take the time to discover new language items step-by-step through creativity and problem-solving skills. Thus, writing to learn sets forth the writer’s linguistic knowledge and principles in his attempt “to explain the matter to oneself” (Britton quoted in Young 10). On the other hand, writing to communicate enables writers to share newly acquired structures with others, “to explain the matter to others” (Britton quoted in Young 10). This time, the reader or the receiver of the writer’s text is privileged and further supported to revise shared information or discover new perspectives.
All in all, writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing are only two of the many possible ways of teaching writing. These two categories are not reciprocally exclusive, so teachers should not focus solely on one of them at the expense of the other. Although writing-for-learning focuses more on content areas whereas writing-for-writing on compositional forms, they both represent invaluable tools for the teaching-learning process. Used jointly within pairwork or groupwork, these techniques bring about the advantages of unimpeded communication, creativity, self-confidence and peer-reliability.
Teachers’ Roles and the Students’ Involvement in Teaching Writing
Teachers whose goal is to instruct students how to become proficient writers must always take into consideration the learners’ background and emotional makeup but also their life experiences that they bring to class. An efficient teaching of writing presupposes acknowledging the students’ active role in this process. Thus, a culturally sympathetic input offered by teachers embraces and explores class diversity.
Besides the open-mindedness to culturally diverse learners, teachers also play other crucial roles in the classroom such as: resource, organiser, prompter, motivator, participant, and feedback provider. As resource, the teacher “should be ready to supply information and language where necessary (â€¦) offering advice and suggestions in a constructive and tactful way” (Harmer 330), especially for longer writing tasks. Skilled teachers operate with their expertise when it comes to teaching writing and make sure that they put across new structures in a significant and accessible way.
When the teacher becomes organiser, he or she is involved in physically setting up the classroom environment so that students get to better assimilate the writing tasks. The teacher may require that the students work in pairs or in groups and that the class setting be corresponding to the task (horseshoe, circle, groups of four desks or more, u-shape, or others). In this case, the teacher can also act as prompter, hinting at certain English structures to ensure a smooth flow of the activity; he or she could pass from group to group and offer learners tips and cues.
Assuming the role of motivator, the teacher tries to boost both the learners’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation since student motivation often proves to impede the acquiring of new English structures, whatever the taught skill may be. For teaching writing, motivation usually means giving students the advantage of choice without limiting their perspectives to a single activity. This is not to say that students may roam freely or disregard topics assigned by the teacher, but that they can rely on their life experiences, on their options in terms of English knowledge as well as on the prospect of a real audience (their colleagues, teachers, etc.) in order to successfully conclude an assignment. In this respect, “one of our principal roles (â€¦) will be to motivate the students, (â€¦) persuading them of the usefulness of the activity, and encouraging them to make as much effort as possible for maximum benefit” (Harmer 330).
Additionally, acting as participant, the teacher can share with the students his or her own experience as a writer. By doing this, the teacher exposes writing strategies and offers insight into techniques typically used by proficient, expert writers. Students have to opportunity to witness the teacher struggling with logic and coherence and thus, they become more confident in their own writing skills. Humbertson even recounts: “As I continued to write and share with my students, they connected and invested in their own literacy” (11).
Finally, the teacher as feedback provider is a position that I am dealing with in greater detail in my following chapter. However, mention should be made of the fact that “teachers should respond positively and encouragingly to the content of what the students have written” (Harmer 331). A negative feedback discourages students and makes them reticent to writing. It is generally accepted nowadays that the teacher’s feedback should highlight only one aspect that needs improvement every time: English register, vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, or word order.
Nonetheless, the acclaimed student-centred teaching style of today does not obviously revolve exclusively around teachers’ roles in the classroom. Instead, this approach views teachers and students as partners or collaborators in the teaching-learning process. Students are as active a part of the writing practice as their instructors. By showing that they care and understand the learners’ needs and interests, teachers allow their students to become responsible for their own learning. Another instance of students’ involvement in teaching writing is the case of groupwork tasks when more proficient learners can guide or help out less proficient ones. Regardless of the writing context in the classroom, the teacher can follow certain steps to guarantee successful learning outcomes: design authentic and meaningful writing tasks, teach writing together with other language skills as part of an integrated approach, alternate teaching methods or techniques, create a sympathetic class atmosphere, and adopt a supportive attitude towards the learners.
Overall, the first chapter of my paper has dwelled on aspects concerning first of all the relationship writing-speaking and writing-reading, then the similarities and differences between writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing, and ultimately the teachers’ responsibilities as well as the students’ participation in teaching writing. In this respect, I have revealed the fact that an integrated approach to teaching the language skills is the most appropriate technique to adopt in class, that writing-for-writing is as significant as and sometimes more constructive than writing-for-learning, and that good teachers know how to include students in the teaching-learning process by offering them a share of self-reliance, awareness, and motivation.
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