Writing in English is a skill that is often neglected in Vietnamese secondary school writing classes, partly because the current textbooks do not have any writing activities and also because teachers find writing quite a daunting prospect in their classes. However, learning to write in English has officially been brought into the curriculum as one of the required skills for Vietnamese students, who are in lower-secondary schools (grades 8 and 9) since the school year 2004-2005 and in upper-secondary schools since the school year 2006-2007.
In the upper-secondary school context, where exposure to English is typically limited to three periods each week, students receive little practice in writing in English, only one period (45 minutes) per unit. When they do write, they find themselves confused with word choice, grammatical use, organization and generation of ideas. They tend to translate ideas from mother tongue into English, express ideas in long sentences, and are not aware of different kinds of writing, thus making them unable to write in real life. Because of limited background knowledge, they often feel bored when doing written work, especially when lacking support and motivation from teachers.
Moreover, students show little knowledge about how to write a contextually appropriate paper and how to develop their process of writing. Unfortunately, the pressures of the formative tests and summative examinations force English teachers to focus their attention on grammatical rules, linguistic accuracy and students' final "piece of work" instead of functional language skills. Due to students' low level proficiency, time constraints and low motivation, writing still remains neglected. Teaching English writing in Vietnamese upper-secondary schools is a challenging job for many Vietnamese English teachers because it requires not only high language competence among the teachers themselves, but also the application of appropriate writing instruction. The reality of teaching English writing at Ly Tu Trong specialized upper-secondary school has revealed that most students have problems in writing. Their problems as well as reasons are as follows:
Emphasis on language accuracy
Writing instruction in Vietnam is carried out under the authority of a nationally unified syllabus and the national examination system. Although the Vietnamese upper-secondary English Syllabus involves developing four functional language skills, the test and examination formats highly value correct linguistic forms instead of students' development of creative thought. The desire for high graduation pass rates among upper-secondary schools places English teachers in a dilemma. Under immense pressure, English teachers must focus on teaching correct language forms and test-oriented skills rather than helping students develop their creative thinking and language skills for communicative purposes.
Moreover, most writing activities in the Vietnamese upper-secondary syllabus, especially Tieng Anh 10, are designed on the basis of the product-oriented approach, in which students are encouraged to mimic a model text, which is usually presented and analyzed at an early stage. This discourages students' creativity because they cannot use their own experiences to express themselves. All they have to do is to answer comprehension questions, to fill in the blanks with the provided information, or to build complete sentences using the given cues in order to make a meaningful letter, and so on. This controlled writing format hinders teachers in trying new approaches to writing instruction. Teacher feedback focuses more on grammatical and lexical errors instead of meaning-oriented exploration. In brief, under such a syllabus, students are mainly evaluated by their test scores.
The overview of the development of writing ability
Although writing plays an indispensable role in the four basic language skills, it has long been ignored in Vietnamese secondary schools. According to the national examination format (see Appendix 1), reading ability is still regarded as the most important skill. As for formative and summative tests, writing is not included, thus making it difficult to motivate students to write in class. Compared with the other three skills, writing is considered too complicated to teach. Some teachers do not feel confident about their own English and shy away from designing writing tasks or getting students to write more than just grammatical exercises. Sometimes teachers do not have enough ideas to help students.
In reality, most teachers follow what the tasks in the textbook require, and do nothing more about it. They may even let students copy the models from the so-called "How to" book. It could be obvious that writing is not important enough to teach in the class and that it occupies a lower position in Vietnamese upper-secondary English classrooms. It is not surprising, as a result, that this reading-dominated principle and the test-oriented approach bring about negative effects to upper-secondary graduates, who will later receive many complaints about their lack of competence of listening, speaking and writing skills.
Over-emphasis on the final product
According to Assoc.Prof.Dr. Hoang Van Van (2007), the general editor of Tieng Anh 10, the approach to teaching writing in upper-secondary schools is a combination of a number of approaches (controlled composition, the free-writing approach, the paragraph-pattern approach, the communicative approach, and the process approach), in which the communicative and the process approaches play a dominant role. However, most language teachers in upper-secondary schools still adopt the product-oriented approaches in the writing class because the writing tasks in the textbook are presented on the base of controlled composition and the paragraph-pattern approach. These product-oriented approaches, therefore, have been the dominant mode of instruction in upper-secondary school writing classes, emphasizing students' final pieces of work rather than the way how they are produced.
As a result, students' quality of EFL writing is evaluated on the basis of the final product and grammatical and linguistic accuracy. Furthermore, due to this product focus, students pay little attention to the whole process of writing and they know very little about writing strategies. And to make the matter worse, the interaction between a teacher and students or between students themselves does not exist.
Lack of variety of assessment
In Vietnamese upper-secondary school context, it has long been the tradition that teachers are responsible for correcting their students' writing. Thus, students write for the teacher, not for themselves, and as a result, teachers are the only audience for whom students gain experience writing. One result of this is that writing teachers are often overloaded with the task of giving feedback to and correcting students' writing. This has led to the situation in which teacher-controlled feedback still remains dominant in Vietnamese English writing classrooms.
It is widely held that upper-secondary school English teachers mainly concentrate on the correction of grammar and spelling mistakes. They assume that such errors need to be eradicated immediately, and that the best way to help students is correcting all the errors in their writing in order to help students make progress. However, this traditional treatment is said to have no significant influence on students. From my observations, some good students do not like such a way. They feel discouraged and humiliated when having their writing papers marked with a lot of suggested correction. In some cases, some students just take a glance at what the teacher has corrected, while many others may not even look at the corrections.
It is also found that upper-secondary school students are never asked to revise their work for improvements based on the teacher's feedback. The first drafts are always the final ones. It is simply because there are too many students in a class, and most classes are mixed ability; revision may become a burden to the teachers as marking and correcting is time-consuming. They could not manage it when they have only 45 minutes allocated for each writing lesson. They sometimes feel guilty because they are unable to correct all errors for students or to work through all their written work. This results in a mentality in which students fail to think carefully and deeply about their errors.
Due to the fact that students are passive in the classroom, they naturally feel uncomfortable with cooperative interaction that requires them to take an active role. Most students are likely to think that writing in English, just like writing in Vietnamese, is individual work, not a collaborative effort. They are not accustomed to pair work or group work when they do the writing. They never share their written texts with their peers in order to get feedback as well as to learn from their friends' written products. Consequently, the teacher-led assessment makes writing meaningless and unproductive; student creativity and activeness are hindered, and thus motivation and proficiency in writing remain low.Â
On realizing students' problems of English writing, I assume that the product-oriented approaches and the teacher's traditional treatment of writing, to some extent, have now been disproved, discouraging students from writing in English in writing classrooms. Therefore, what English writing teachers in upper-secondary schools need to do is to improve the quality of students' pieces of writing, to give them a more cooperative learning environment, and to encourage them to share their written products with their peers'.
I myself have been making an effort to seek pedagogical methods which could help deal with the mentioned problems. And I assume that adapting the process-oriented approach could be a more effective strategy. Many studies on the effectiveness of this approach have proved that it can be applied in EFL writing classes to solve the above problems. Theoretically, this process approach calls for providing and maintaining a positive, encouraging and collaborative workshop environment (Silva & Matsuda, 2002, pp. 261). Related to my students' problems, I would like to conduct an experimental study in order to test whether adapting the process-oriented approach could have a positive impact on upper-secondary school students' quality of writing. Furthermore, I have not found any empirical research on this field in upper-secondary schools in Vietnam in general and in Cantho in particular so far.
2 Literature review
In this literature review section, I would like to present the following issues:
(1) Theoretical backgrounds of teaching writing
(2) Writing performance
(3) The relationship between the process-oriented approach and the improvement of writing performance
2.1 Theoretical backgrounds of teaching writing
2.1.1 Some views of writing
A large number of various views of writing show that there has not yet been any consensus of what writing is although its importance has been recognized in its own right.
Traditionally, writing was considered as transcribed speech. It was often assumed that the acquisition of spoken proficiency had to take precedence over the learning of written language, and that students would be able to write once they 'mastered' spoken language and orthographic conventions.
Another view of writing is that writing is 'decontextualized' (Ellis, 1994: 188) because it assumes that written communication never takes place in the presence of the writer and the reader. According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996) and Matsuda (1997), writing is "far from decontextualized because every writing task is situated in a rhetorical context, involving complex interrelationships among various elements of writing: the writer, the reader, the text and reality". As for Canale and Swain (1980), they defined writing as "a manifestation of, as well as the process of manifesting, sociolinguistic, strategic and grammatical competences mediated by the use of orthographic systems" (cited in Silva & Matsuda, 2002, pp. 252).
Moreover, writing is also defined as a social process by Candlin and Hyland (1999, pp. 107, cited in Phung, 2004). They stated "Writing is therefore an engagement in a social process, where the production of texts reflects methodologies, arguments and rhetorical strategies constructed to engage colleagues and persuade them of the claims that are made".
However, writing, in language teachers' opinions, is "a language skill which is difficult to acquire" (Tribble, 1996, pp. 3). It "normally requires some form of instruction" and "is not a skill that is readily picked up by exposure" (Tribble, 1996, pp. 11). Besides, writing is also "a process that occurs over a period of time, particularly if we take into account the sometimes extended periods of thinking that precede creating an initial draft" (Harris, 1993, pp. 10) (cited in Phung, 2004).
As for Byrne (1988), one of several authors on writing skills, makes the important point that writing is the process of encoding (putting your message into your words) carried out with a reader in mind. Nevertheless, it is likely that, in the great majority of situations, our students still write primarily for their teachers, or perhaps for an examiner, both acting in the role of evaluator. Grant (1987) makes the very useful point that, "although transferring real-life writing directly to the classroom is problematic, what we should be aiming at is at least the creation of 'plausible contexts'" (cited in McDonough & Shaw, 1993, pp. 183).
As we have noted several times, the classroom has its own purpose and structure, and is not simply a reflection of the outside world. In this sense, we can think of writing activities both from the 'instrumental' perspective of what is useful for external purposes, but also in terms of their educational function and the reality of the classroom itself.
So far we have looked at the "what" of writing, particularly at the nature of text and the importance of writing with a readership in mind. Obviously, writing continues to serve as a vehicle for language practice, and necessarily so, but this function is integrated into a broader and more diversified perspective. And I totally agree with Byrne when he puts it that teachers need to make students aware that "any piece of writing is an attempt to communicate something; that the writer has a goal or purpose in mind; that he has to establish and maintain contact with his reader; that he has to organize his material and that he does this through the use of certain logical and grammatical devices" (1988: 14) (cited in McDonough & Shaw, 1993, pp. 184).
2.1.2 Traditional approaches to teaching writing
In the recent history of second language writing, a number of different approaches to the practice of writing skills have vied for the attention of second language writing professionals. Among these approaches, controlled composition and the paragraph pattern approaches are the most prominent and widely used in a series of new English textbooks for Vietnamese secondary school students.
Controlled composition can be seen as offshoot of the audio-lingual approach to second language teaching because it sees language learning as a process of habit formation. Thus, it is not surprising to see, within this tradition, that speaking was its primary concern whereas writing was regarded as a secondary one and specially served as reinforcement for oral habits.
In the controlled composition classroom, the primary focus is on formal accuracy. The role of the teacher is to provide accurate and carefully selected language samples that students can repeat and memorize. Besides, the teacher can give structural frames within which students can do controlled substitutions. So, for example, they may be asked to change all the present tense verbs to past tense; in such a case, students may need to alter other time references in the paragraph. Within this tradition, students can write a lot without being afraid of making many errors, and the teacher can deal with these pieces of writing more easily.
Overall, controlled composition sees writing as a secondary activity; as a means of practicing structures and vocabulary learned in the classroom. Therefore, the context for writing is the classroom and the audience is the teacher. This approach focuses on form and accuracy rather than the fluency of the language, and writing is simply a means of assessing students' ability to manipulate the structures practiced in the classroom. Audience and purpose are not taken into consideration.
The paragraph pattern approach
Increasing awareness of second language writers' need to produce extended written texts led to the realization that there was more to writing than constructing grammatical sentences. The result of this realization was what Raimes (1983b:7, cited in Silva & Matsuda, 2002, pp. 259) has called the 'paragraph pattern approach', which emphasizes the importance of organization at the above-sentence level. This approach owes much to Kaplan's (1966) notion of 'contrastive rhetoric' - the notion that writers' different cultural and linguistic backgrounds will be reflected in their 'rhetoric', with rhetoric typically seen as primarily a matter of textual structure.
Within this tradition, the primary concern was the logical construction and arrangement of discourse forms. In the early years, the paragraph was of primary interest. Its focus was on its elements as well as options for its development such as a topic sentence, supporting ideas, and a concluding sentence. Another important concern was 'essay' development, which grew from paragraph principles to complex texts. This involved larger structural components, namely introduction, body and conclusion.
Classroom procedures associated with this tradition have tended to focus students' attention primarily on 'form'. Students are asked to read and analyze a model text and then write another piece of writing that has the same organization with the original one. Besides, some common writing activities, within this tradition, require students to group provided relevant facts, rearrange them in the logical order to form an outline, and then write a complete text based on that outline. Or sometimes, students may be asked to complete a paragraph or a story by adding an ending or a beginning or a middle section and so on.
In short, this tradition sees writing as basically a matter of arranging sentences and paragraphs into particular patterns. Typical organizational principles for materials include paragraph structuring, particularly related to functional categories, and the use of a range of linking devices. Sentence-level and grammar practice is not omitted but is set in the context of a longer and purposeful belief of language.
To sum up, these traditional approaches to the teaching of writing focus on the product. In other words, this brief and generalized summary indicates several trends in the 'traditional' teaching of writing:
There is an emphasis on accuracy.
The focus of attention is the finished product, whether a sentence or a whole composition.
The teacher's role is to be the judge of the finished product.
Writing often has a consolidating function.
However, imitating models inhibits writers rather than liberating them. There is little or no opportunity for the students to express their own ideas. It is inevitable that little attention is paid to the ideas and meaning of students' pieces of writing. Also, over-emphasis over accuracy and form can lead to serious "writing block" (Halsted 1975: 82) and "sterile" and "unimaginative" pieces of work (Mahon 1992: 75, cited in Ho, 2006).
2.1.3 The process approach to teaching writing
The overview of the writing process
Dissatisfaction with controlled composition and the paragraph pattern approach paved the way for the process approach, an 'expressive approach' which became prominent in English-speaking composition classrooms during the 1980s. This approach entered the classroom as the 'process movement': a concentration on personal writing, student creativity, and fluency (Zamel 1982, cited in Reid, 2001)
The understanding of what constitutes the writing process instructional model has evolved since the 1970's, when it emerged as a pedagogical approach. In the early years, it was regarded as a nondirectional model of instruction with very little teacher intervention. In his review of research on composition from 1963 to 1982, Hillocks (1984) concluded that the teacher's role in the process model is to facilitate the writing process rather than to provide direct instruction; teachers were found "not to make specific assignments, not to help students learn criteria for judging writing, not to structure activities based on specific objectives, â€¦ not to provide exercises in manipulating syntax, not to design activities that engage students in identifiable processes of examining data" (p.162; emphasis in original, cited in Pritchard & Honeycutt, 2005, pp. 275). It is not surprising that the research Hillocks summaries showed minimal impact on the quality of writing products as a result of this "natural process mode"
In the formative years, the process approach model was regarded as applying mainly to stories, was linear and prescriptive, merged proofreading and editing as the same thing, and usually did not involve direct instruction - a sort of anything-goes model whereby the process was valued over the product. In this early model, a simplistic pedagogy resulted: After their teacher describes four stages, students recall and rehearse the steps, use the process to produce a story, and get into groups to share their stories and gain feedback. In the literature in special education, such instruction to help students plan, organize, and carry out a writing task is called teaching "plans of action" (Gersten & Baker, 2001, cited in Pritchard & Honeycutt, 2005, pp. 276). Such plans comprise only some of the procedural tasks of the current process model.
Today, most researchers of the process model recognize that it involves both procedural knowledge and many other kinds of strategies that can be nurtured and directly taught, including activating schemata to access prior knowledge; teaching self-regulation strategies; helping students understand genre constraints; guiding students in re-visioning and in editing surface errors; providing structured feedback from teachers and peers; teaching the differences between reader- and writer-based prose; developing audience awareness and effects of audience on style, content, and tone; and dealing with emotional barriers. In general, those studies that view the process model as encompassing more teacher direction in the process show positive effects on the quality of students' writing, on their view of themselves as writers, and on their understanding of the writing process.
The development of multiple drafts to achieve meaningful communication - as well as focus on the problem-solving aspects of identifying and practising discourse conventions - also occupy teachers and L2 students in school-based writing classes. Teachers are designing curriculums based on the balance of institutional, programme and student needs rather than around dogmatic theories or approaches. Placed in the classroom context, this process approach calls for providing and maintaining a positive, encouraging and collaborative workshop environment, and for providing ample time and minimal interference so as to allow students to work through their composing processes. The objective is to help students develop viable strategies for getting started, drafting, revising and editing. From a process perspective, then, writing is a complex, recursive and creative process that is very similar in its general outlines for first and second language writers; learning to write requires the development of an efficient and effective composing process. The writer is engaged in the discovery and expression of meaning; the reader, on interpreting that intended meaning. The product (that is, the written text) is a secondary concern, whose form is a function of its content and purpose (Silva & Matsuda, 2002, pp. 261).
It is clear from the process perspective that writing instruction involves demonstrating and providing practice in composing strategies; and learning to write entails obtaining and using these strategies to manage the creation of a text and monitor its development.
Stages in the writing process
There are different points of view on the number of stages comprising the writing process.
As early and influential model of the writing process was that of Hayes and Flower (1980, cited in Weigle, 2002, pp. 23). They described the writing process in terms of the task environment, which included the writing assignment and the text produced so far, the writer's long-term memory, including knowledge of topic, knowledge of audience, and stored writing plans, and a number of cognitive processes, including planning, translating thought into text, and revising.
Hedge refers to all the components of the process taken together as 'composing' (taken alongside 'communicating' and 'crafting'). She suggests the following as a representation of the stages of writing:
Getting ideas together ïƒž planning and outlining ïƒž making notes ïƒž making a first draft ïƒž revising, re-drafting ïƒž editing ïƒž final version
(adapted from Hedge, 1988: 21, cited in McDonough & Shaw, 1993, pp.186)
Byrne (1988, cited in McDonough & Shaw, 1993, pp. 186) has a similar set of steps:
List ideas ïƒž make an outline ('scaffolding') ïƒž write a draft ïƒž correct and improve the draft ïƒž write the final version
Meanwhile, according to Oshima and Hogue (1991, cited in Phung, 2004), the writing process embraces essentially three stages:
Pre-writing ïƒž planning (outlining) ïƒž writing and revising drafts
Each stage involves certain kinds of task that the writers have to fulfill in order to construct a good piece of work.
As for Ron White and Valerie Arndt, they are keen to stress that 'writing is re-writing; that re-vision - seeing with new eyes - has a central role to play in the act of creating text' (White and Arndt 1991:5, cited in Harmer, 2002, pp. 258). In their model, process writing is an interrelated set of recursive stages which include:
Structuring (ordering information, experimenting with arrangements, etc.)
Reviewing (checking context, connections, assessing impact, editing)
Focusing (that is making sure you are getting the message across you want to get across)
Generating ideas and evaluation (assessing the draft and/ or subsequent drafts)
However, I think Seow (2002, cited in Richards & Renandya, 2002, pp. 316-319) offered a more complete description. Process writing as a classroom activity incorporates the four basic writing stages - planning, drafting (writing), revising (redrafting) and editing - and three other stages externally imposed on students by the teacher, namely, responding (sharing), evaluating and post-writing. Therefore, I assume that teachers may plan appropriate classroom activities that support the learning of specific writing skills at every stage. The planned learning experiences for students may be described as follows.
Pre-writing is any activity in the classroom that encourages students to write. It stimulates thoughts for getting started. In fact, it moves students away from having to face a blank page toward generating tentative ideas and gathering information for writing. The following activities provide the learning experiences for students at this stage:
Group members spew out ideas about the topic. Spontaneity is important here. There are no right or wrong answers. Students may cover familiar ground first and then move off to more abstract or wild territories.
Students form words related to a stimulus supplied by the teacher. The words are circled and then linked by lines to show discernible clusters. Clustering is a simple yet powerful strategy: "Its visual character seems to stimulate the flow of association â€¦ and is particularly good for students who know what they want to say but just can't say it" (Proett & Gill, 1986, pp. 6)
Rapid free writing
Within a limited time of one or two minutes, individual students freely and quickly write down single words and phrases about a topic. The time limit keeps the writers' minds ticking and thinking fast. Rapid free writing is done when group brainstorming is not possible or because the personal nature of a certain topic requires a different strategy.
Students generate who, why, what, where, when and how questions about a topic. More such questions can be asked of answers to the first string of wh-questions, and so on. This can go on indefinitely.
Once sufficient ideas are gathered at the planning stage, the first attempt at writing - that is, drafting - may proceed quickly. At the drafting stage, the writers are focused on the fluency of writing and are not preoccupied with grammatical accuracy or the neatness of the draft. One dimension of good writing is the writer's ability to visualize an audience because a conscious sense of audience can dictate a certain style to be used.
Responding to student writing by the teacher (or by peers) has a central role to play in the successful implementation of process writing. Responding intervenes between drafting and revising. It is the teacher's quick initial reaction to students' drafts. Responding can be oral or in writing, after the students have produced the first draft and just before they proceed to revise. This activity is intended to help students rediscover meanings and facilitate the revision of initial drafts. Such responses may be provided in the margin, between sentence lines or at the end of students' texts. Peer responding can be effectively carried out by having students respond to each other's texts in small groups or in pairs.
When students revise, they review their texts on the basis of the feedback given in the responding stage. They reexamine what was written to see how effectively they have communicated their meanings to the reader. Revising is not merely checking for language errors (i.e., editing). It is done to improve global content and the organization of ideas so that the writer's intent is made clearer to the reader. Another activity for revising may have the students working in pairs to read aloud each other's drafts before they revise. As students listen intently to their own writing, they are brought to a more conscious level of rethinking and re-seeing what they have written. Meanings which are vague become more apparent when the writers actually hear their own texts read out to them.
At this stage, students are engaged in tidying up their texts as they prepare the final draft for evaluation by the teacher. They edit their own or their peer's work for grammar, spelling, punctuation, diction, sentence structure and accuracy of supportive textual material such as quotations, examples and the like. Formal editing is deferred till this phase in order that its application does not disrupt the free flow of ideas during the drafting and revising stages.
Very often, teachers pleading lack of time have compressed responding, editing and evaluating all into one. This would, in effect, deprive a student of that vital link between drafting and revision - that is, responding - which often makes a big difference to the kind of writing that will eventually be produced. In evaluating the student writing, the criteria for evaluation should be made known to students in advance. They should include overall interpretation of the task, sense of audience, relevance, development and organization of ideas, format or layout, grammar and structure, spelling and punctuation, range and appropriateness of vocabulary, and clarity of communication.
Post writing constitutes any classroom activity that the teacher and students can do with the completed pieces of writing. This includes publishing, sharing, reading aloud, transforming texts for stage performances, or merely displaying texts on notice-boards. The post-writing stage is a platform for recognizing students' work as important and worthwhile. It may be used as a motivation for writing as well as to hedge against students finding excuses for not writing. Students must be made to feel that they are writing for a very real purpose.
Working process-oriented writing framework
Writing, like reading, is in many ways an individual, solitary activity: the writing triangle of 'communicating', 'composing' and 'crafting' is usually carried out for an absent readership. However, it should be remembered that our students are language learners rather than writers, and it would not be particularly helpful to have them spend all their time writing alone. Although process research points to a need to give learner-writers space and time to operate their own preferred individual strategies, the classroom can be structured in such a way as to provide positive intervention and support in the development of writing skills.
Placed in the Vietnamese upper-secondary school context, one of the disadvantages of getting students to concentrate on the process of writing is that it takes time: time to brainstorm ideas or collect them in some other way; time to draft a piece of writing and then, with the teacher's help perhaps, review it and edit it in various ways before changing the focus, generating more ideas, redrafting, re-editing and so on. This cannot be done in forty-five minutes. However, the various stages could be adapted so that when process writing is handled appropriately, it stretches across the whole curriculum.
From the above reasons, I propose a working process-oriented writing model which is used as a framework for the lesson plans in this study. The classroom can provide the following stages adapted from Seow's process model (2002):
Stage 1: Pre-writing: helping students to generate ideas and building awareness of discourse organization
One of the hardest tasks in writing is getting started. Therefore, the teacher needs to stimulate students' creativity, to get them thinking how to approach a writing topic. In this stage, the most important thing is the flow of ideas, so the teacher should divide students into groups and ask them to produce words or ideas about the writing. Sometimes, they can be asked to read the model text to explore ideas. This raises students' awareness of the features of different genres of writing in English. Each member can make a plan of the writing and then share and discuss their ideas in groups. Next, each group can present their best ideas to the class; a lot of questions can be generated about the topic. This helps students focus on the audience as they consider what the reader needs to know. The answers to these questions will form the basis to their writing. During their discussion, the teacher helps students develop their ideas in a positive and encouraging way.
Stage 2: Drafting: letting students write freely
This stage involves thinking about which of the many ideas generated are the most important or relevant, and perhaps taking a particular point of view. During this stage, students write without much attention to the accuracy of their work or the organization. The most important feature is meaning. Here, both the teacher and students should concentrate on the content of the writing: Let students write as quickly as possible; if they cannot think of a word in English, they leave a space or write it in Vietnamese. Then in groups, they work together and compare what they have written. This collaborative writing is especially valuable because students can help each other with vocabulary and this gives confidence to students before they share their writing to the class. During this stage, the teacher can also give some advice on some useful structures or vocabulary or collocation. This gives students the helpful tools to better express their own ideas.
Stage 3: Peer evaluation: enabling students to appreciate the criteria for an effective text
During this stage, the products are interchanged and the evaluation is done by other students. They can move around, check the texts for spelling, look for errors, compare their ideas or find the differences or the best ideas, and so on. The teacher gives students some criteria for judging their peers' written texts in the form of an editing checklist, asking them to reduce or to edit the texts concentrating on the most important information. The teacher may also respond at this stage by commenting on the content and the organization of ideas.
Stage 4: Revising: helping students to develop crafting skills
When writing a final draft, students should be encouraged to check the details of grammar and spelling, which may have been ignored in the previous stages. And once again, instead of correcting all the writing, the teacher may guide students how to deal with their own mistakes. The teacher only needs to choose the most common or serious errors for correction in front of the class. This will raise students' awareness of their mistakes because it is a good idea that it would be better for students to learn from their errors rather than to be told about theirs.
Finally, a period of writing may end with the presentation or display of some students' written products.
2.2 Writing performance
2.2.1 Evaluation of writing performance
The writing skills are complex and sometimes difficult to teach, requiring mastery not only of grammatical and rhetorical devices but also of conceptual and judgmental elements. The following analysis attempts to group the many and varied skills necessary for composing a good piece of writing into five components.
Language use: the ability to write correct and appropriate sentences;
Mechanical skills: the ability to use correctly those conventions peculiar to the written language - e.g. punctuation, spelling;
Treatment of content: the ability to think creatively and develop thoughts, excluding all irrelevant information;
Stylistic skills: the ability to manipulate sentences and paragraphs, and use language effectively;
Judgment skills: the ability to write in an appropriate manner for a particular purpose with a particular audience in mind, together with an ability to select, organize and order relevant information (Heaton, 1989, pp. 135).
When writing ability is evaluated, that ability itself is not measured directly, but rather, assessed on the basis of inferences drawn from an individual's performance. In other words, his or her performance is evaluated through his or her written text. In terms of written products, then, what is good writing? According to Peha (1996-2003), good writing has all of these qualities:
Ideas that are interesting and important: ideas are the heart of the writer's piece - what he is writing about and the information he chooses to write about it.
Organization that is logical and effective: organization refers to the order of the writer's ideas and the way he moves from one idea to the next.
Voice that is individual and appropriate: voice is how the writer's writing feels to someone when they read it. Is it formal or casual? Is it friendly and inviting or reserved? Voice is the expression of his individual personality through words.
Word choice that is specific and memorable: good writing uses just the right words to say just the right things.
Sentence fluency that is smooth and expressive: fluent sentences are easy to understand and fun to read with expression.
Conventions that are correct and communicative: conventions are the way we all agree to use punctuation, spelling, grammar and other things that make writing consistent and easy to read.
Besides, Ayer (2005) assumes that good writing expresses a clear point, is tightly structured, grammatically and syntactically correct, substantive, and interesting.
With these considerations in mind, I now turn to a discussion of procedures for scoring the written product.
2.2.2. Rating scales used for assessment of upper-secondary school students' written products
As McNamara (1996, cited in Weigle, 2002, pp.109) notes, the scale that is used in assessing performance tasks such as writing tests represents, implicitly or explicitly, the theoretical basic upon which the test is founded; that is, embodies the test (or scale) developer's notion of what skills or abilities are being measured by the test. For this reason the development of a scale (or set of scales) and the descriptors for each scale level are of critical importance for the validity of the assessment.
One of the first decisions to be made in determining a system for scoring is what type of rating scale will be used: that is, should a single score be given to each script, or will each script be scored on several different features? This issue has been the subject of a great deal of research and discussion over the past three decades. In the composition literature, three main types of rating scales are discussed: primary trait scales, holistic scales, and analytic scales. However, for the purpose of my study, I would like to mention one type of rating scales: analytic scales.
In analytic scoring, scripts are rated on several aspects of writing or criteria rather than given a single score. Depending on the purpose of the assessment, scripts might be rated on such features as content, organization, cohesion, register, vocabulary, grammar, or mechanics. Analytic scoring schemes thus provide more detailed information about a test taker's performance in different aspects of writing and for this reason preferred over holistic schemes by many writing specialists.
One of the best known and most widely used analytic scales in ESL was created by Jacobs et al. (1981, cited in Weigle, 2002, pp. 115-116). In the Jacobs et al. scale, scripts are rated on five aspects of writing: content, organization, vocabulary, language use, and mechanics. The five aspects are differentially weighted to emphasize first content (30 points) and next language use (25 points), with organization and vocabulary weighted equally (20 points) and mechanics receiving very little emphasis (5 points).
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: knowledgeable ï‚· substantive ï‚· thorough development of thesis ï‚· relevant to assigned topic
GOOD TO AVERAGE: some knowledge of subject ï‚· adequate range ï‚· limited development of thesis ï‚· mostly relevant to the topic, but lacks detail
FAIR TO POOR: limited knowledge of subject ï‚· little substance ï‚· inadequate development of topic
VERY POOR: does not show knowledge of subject ï‚· non-substantive ï‚· not pertinent ï‚· OR not enough to evaluate
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: fluent expression ï‚· ideas clearly stated/ supported ï‚· succinct ï‚· well-organized ï‚· logical sequencing ï‚· cohesive
GOOD TO AVERAGE: somewhat choppy ï‚· loosely organized but main ideas stand out ï‚· limited support ï‚· logical but incomplete sequencing
FAIR TO POOR: non-fluent ï‚· ideas confused or disconnected ï‚· lacks logical sequencing and development
VERY POOR: does not communicate ï‚· no organization ï‚· OR not enough to evaluate
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: sophisticated range ï‚· effective word/ idiom choice and usage ï‚· word form mastery ï‚· appropriate register
GOOD TO AVERAGE: adequate range ï‚· occasional errors of word/ idiom form, choice, usage but meaning not obscured
FAIR TO POOR: limited range ï‚· frequent errors of word/ idiom form, choice, usage ï‚· meaning confused or obscured
VERY POOR: essential translation ï‚· little knowledge of English vocabulary, idioms, word form ï‚· OR not enough to evaluate
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: effective complex constructions ï‚· few errors of agreement, tense, number, word order/ function, articles, pronouns, prepositions
GOOD TO AVERAGE: effective but simple constructions ï‚· minor problems in complex constructions ï‚· several errors of agreement, tense, number, word order/ function, articles, pronouns, prepositions but meaning seldom obscured
FAIR TO POOR: major problems in simple/ complex constructions ï‚· frequent errors of negation, agreement, tense, number, word order/ function, articles, pronouns, prepositions and/ or fragments, run-ons, deletions ï‚· meaning confused or obscured
VERY POOR: virtually no mastery of sentence construction rules ï‚· dominated by errors ï‚· does not communicate ï‚· OR not enough to evaluate
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: demonstrates mastery of conventions ï‚· few errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing
GOOD TO AVERAGE: occasional errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing but meaning not obscured
FAIR TO POOR: frequent errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing ï‚· poor handwriting ï‚· meaning confused or obscured
VERY POOR: no mastery of conventions ï‚· dominated by errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing ï‚· handwriting illegible ï‚· OR not enough to evaluate
Figure 2 Jacobs et al.'s (1981) scoring profile
Analytic scoring has a number of advantages. First, some research suggests that analytic scoring is more useful in rater training, as inexperienced raters can more easily understand and apply the criteria in separate scales than in holistic scales (Francis, 1977, and Adams, 1981, both cited in Weir, 1990). Analytic scoring is particularly useful for second-language learners, who are more likely to show a marked or uneven profile across different aspects of writing. Finally, analytic scoring can be more reliable than holistic scoring: just as reliability tends to increase when additional items are added to a discrete-point test, so a scoring scheme in which multiple scores are given to each script tends to improve reliability (Hamp-Lyons, 1991b; Huot, 1996, cited in Weigle, 2002, pp. 120)
However, the major disadvantage of analytic scoring is that it takes longer than holistic scoring, since readers are required to make more than one decision for every script. An additional problem with some analytic scoring schemes is that, if scores on the different scales are combined to make a composition score, a good deal of the information provided by the analytic scale is lost. It may also be the case that raters who are experienced at using a particular analytic scoring system may actually rate more holistically than analytically if scores are combined into a single score: experienced raters may target their ratings towards what they expect the total score to come out to be, and revise their analytic scores accordingly (Charlene Polio, personal communication, 1998, cited in Weigle, 2002, pp. 120)
Placed in the Vietnamese classroom context, I think adapting analytic scoring is a better choice because our students are learning to write. Exact and objective assessment will create the first motivation to encourage students to write better. Assoc.Prof.Dr. Hoang Van Van suggests a rating scale for marking a writing product which I assume is appropriate in Vietnamese upper-secondary school context. It consists of parameters such as content, organization, language use (discourse, syntax), vocabulary and mechanics.
Content 0 - 3.5
Organization 0 - 1.5
Discourse 0 - 1.0
Syntax 0 - 1.5
Vocabulary 0 - 1.5
Mechanics 0 - 1.0
Total 10 points
From the above discussion, I propose a working marking scale which is used as a framework for the graders' evaluation in this study. The scale consists of five aspects with four levels for each adapted from Jacobs et al.'s (1981) (cited in Weigle, 2002, pp. 115-116) and from Hoang (2007). (See appendix 7)
2.3 The relationship between the process-oriented approach and the improvement of writing performance
2.4 Summary of the literature
3 Research aims
My study aims to find out whether adapting the process-oriented approach into teaching and learning writing in English has more positive effect than adopting the product-oriented approach on upper-secondary school students' quality of EFL writing. The research also aims to investigate the participants' perception towards the use of the process-oriented writing activities in their EFL writing class.
4 Research questions
In order to investigate the effectiveness of adapting the process-oriented approach used in writing classes at Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school, I will make an effort to find out the answer to the following questions:
(1) Does adapting the process-oriented approach improve students' EFL writing performance in the context of Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school?
(2) What are students' perceptions towards the use of the process-oriented writing activities in their EFL writing class?
Based on the related literature review and the research question, I hypothesize that the participants' EFL writing performance would be improved as the effect of adapting the process-oriented approach. Besides, I also expect that the participants would have positive perception towards the use of the process-oriented writing activities in their EFL writing class.
My research is an experimental study in which I will investigate the cause-effect relationship between adapting the process-oriented approach and writing performance. I will follow the two-group pre-test and post-test design in order to determine the effectiveness of teaching and learning writing adopting the product-oriented approach and adapting the process-oriented approach.
In this experimental study, the implementation of the process-oriented approach (the independent variable) will be monitored and the students' writing performance will be measured. The main purpose of the writing activities adapting the process-oriented approach is to offer upper-secondary school students a cooperative learning environment in order to improve their quality of English writing by sharing their written products and learning from their peers, not only from the teacher.
During the 16-week semester, the two writing groups will be equally instructed by the same researcher. However, the main difference between the two conditions is that adopting the product-oriented approach will be applied in the control group whereas adapting the process-oriented approach will be implemented in the experimental group. In both conditions, the other two writing teachers together with the researcher will grade the students' written products.
The participants in the study are 57 non-English major students in Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school. All of these participants are in grade 10, thus they are supposed to be at the same level of English proficiency. They are permanently arranged in two separate classes by Ly Tu Trong upper-secondary school, so I randomly choose one for the control group and the other, the experimental one. The same teacher will teach two groups with 30 students in the control group and 27 students in the experimental group. The writing class will be met every two weeks for 45 minutes. And eight sessions will make up one semester.
Besides, 57 students at the same level of English proficiency in other two classes of the same school helped me pilot the questionnaires and the writing tests. In addition to the researcher who will be responsible for implementing the project of adapting the process-oriented approach to teaching and learning English writing and collecting as well as analyzing data, other two writing teachers in my English Department will get involved in my project to help me grade and evaluate the pre-tests and post-tests.
To answer the above research question in this study, I will measure the students' writing performance in the two groups before and after the study. I will use (1) the pre- and post-tests on English writing to measure students' writing performance, (2) the pre- and post-questionnaire on students' perception of the writing process in order to find out whether students have positive perception towards the use of the process-oriented writing activities in their EFL writing class.
6.3.1 Questionnaire on students' perception of the writing process
The questionnaire (see appendices 2, 3 & 4) aims at investigating the students' perception of the writing process in English before and after the study. The original version of the questionnaire is from
However, I adapted the questionnaire to focus on investigating students' perception of the writing process in English, which has been adapted to fit the upper-secondary school classroom context.
The questionnaire used in this study was designed both in English and in Vietnamese because the respondents (non-major English students of grade 10) of this questionnaire are at a pre-intermediate level of English. The questionnaire consists of fifteen items in total. Each item includes a statement about students' perception of the writing process in English followed by a five-point scale (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree). All the items are categorized into four clusters including pre-writing, drafting, peer evaluating, and revising activities.
Administering the piloting of the questionnaire
Before officially used in the study, the pre-questionnaire and the post-questionnaire were piloted with 30 Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school students with the same level of English proficiency (grade 10) to test the reliability of the instrument. To obtain reliable data, I gave careful instructions before students began to answer the pre-questionnaire (Vietnamese version). When students had difficulty understanding a certain item in the questionnaire, I tried to make it clearer to them. The participants had 15 minutes to complete this pre-questionnaire.
First, the data obtained from the questionnaire were transferred to SPSS for data analysis. The five-point scale was coded from 1 as strongly disagree to 5 as strongly agree. Then I ran the scale test to test the reliability of the pre-questionnaire. The result showed that the reliability coefficients of the pre-questionnaire is relatively high (Î± = 0.75) (See appendix 10). The result showed that the pre-questionnaire on the perception of the writing process was reliable and could be used for collecting the data of the study. Besides, standardized item alpha (Cronbach) is consistent (Î± = 0.74), which indicated that the items of the pre-questionnaire are internally consistent.
6.3.1 Tests on English writing
Designing writing tests
To measure the quality of the participants' written texts before and after the research, I have designed a pre-test (see appendix 5) and a post-test (see appendix 6) on English writing. The test types selected for this study are popular kinds of writing test similar to those which students are instructed, and those which are often used in the secondary school classroom context. Therefore, the students are supposed to be familiar with the test format.
Actually, the pre-test and the post-test on English writing are similar but not the same. They are similar in format, instruction, length, level of difficulty, and allotted time. However, the specific writing topics between the two tests are different although they both are the same genre, writing a complaint letter. For this reason, I assume that the participants would have no trouble.
Scoring the pre-test and the post-test
To score the pre-test and the post-test, I will use the same marking scale (see appendix 7). This analytic marking scale with specific evaluation criteria was adapted from Jacobs et al's (1981) and from Hoang (2007). The main reason for the choice of this analytic marking scale instead of a holistic scale is that it provides more useful diagnostic information about students' writing abilities.
The aspects, criteria, and scale of the instrument were carefully developed and validated three times by a foreign language specialist from the Office of Secondary General Education and other four English writing instructors at the English Department, Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school. The marking scale for evaluation consists of five aspects: content, organization, vocabulary, language use, and mechanics. Each aspect is analyzed and graded by specific criteria with four-degree scale, so the total score of each test ranged from 1 as the minimum to 10 as the maximum. This original score will then be processed by SPSS for data analysis.
Administering the piloting of the pre- test on English writing
After designing the pre-test, I tested it before using it in the present study. The pre-test on English writing was piloted to ensure the validity of this instrument. 57 participants got involved in the pilot test; these participants were of the same level of English proficiency (grade 10 in Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school) as those in the official study.
First, I got a foreign language specialist from the Office of Secondary General Education, Service of Cantho Education and Training, and other four English writing instructors at the English Department, Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school, to check the consistency of the test format, instruction, the length, level of difficulty and content. After improving the test draft based on the instructors' suggestions, I delivered the revised draft to the participants to validate the instrument.
After the administration of the pre-questionnaire in the preparatory week, the pre-test on English writing was delivered to participants in two piloted groups in the second period of this week. The pre-test was administered to check the participants' EFL writing performance between these two piloted groups.
Participants had 45 minutes to work on the writing pre-test. They were arranged to take this pre-test on the same day to ensure that the writing pre-test was performed in the same condition. To ensure the reliability of the grading, each test paper was graded by three different graders: two English writing instructors at the English Department, Ly Tu Trong Specialized upper-secondary school and the researcher. Each grader marked the papers on their own marking sheet based on the analytic marking scale adapted from Jacobs et al.'s (1981) and from Hoang (2007). (See appendices 7 & 8). It was observed that the grading scores among the three graders were consistent.
The result of the piloted test was then analyzed to make other necessary changes. The reliability of the piloted test was alpha (ï¡) = 0.87 (See appendix 10). The result showed that the pre-test was reliable and could be used for collecting the data of the study. Therefore, I can assert that the pre-test on English writing used in this research is valid.
Reporting the result of students' writing performance
In this section, I will present the result of students' writing performance between the two piloted groups.
First, I ran the Descriptive Statistics Test to analyze the participants' writing performance in the two piloted groups. Next, the Independent Samples T-Test was used to compare the mean difference in participants' writing performance. The results of these tests are reported as follows.
Students' writing performance between two piloted groups
* The writing score scales from '1 as minimum' to '10 as maximum'
Descriptive statistics of students' writing performance between the two piloted groups
As shown in the above table, the total mean score of students' writing performance of group 1 (M = 5.000) and that of group 2 (M = 5.000) are average on the scale of '1 as minimum' to '10 as maximum'. This value indicates that the initial level of students' writing performance of the two piloted groups was not high, just average.
Comparison of students' writing performance between the two piloted groups
An Independent Samples T-Test was conducted to evaluate whether there is a significant difference in writing performance between group 1 and group 2. The test was not significant (t = .000, df = 55, p = 1.000) (See appendix 10). Students in the two piloted groups did not differ from each other in terms of writing performance level. This result matched my previous assumption that participants' writing performance between the two piloted groups was at the same level.
The material used in this study will be the official textbook Tieng Anh 10 published by the Ministry of Education and Training. It will be used as the main course book for two groups. Students will be instructed the first eight units of the book, in which eight topics related to the main themes discussed in the course book will be used for writing practice.
However, a series of eight lesson plans designed on the basis of the process-oriented approach will be applied to teaching and learning writing for the experimental group. It is supposed that students would be provided with a better cooperative learning environment.
The procedures of this empirical study are briefly presented as follows:
Procedures of the research
25/8 - 30/8
- Pre-test on writing performance
- Questionnaire on students' perception of the writing process
Date 5/9 - 27/12
- Intervention: adapting the process-oriented approach
29/12 - 3/1/2009
- Post-test on writing performance
- Questionnaire on students' perception of the writing process
- Data analysis
- Result report
- Conclusion & Recommendation for further research