The Cognitive Domain Of Writing Processes English Language Essay

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Having discussed the most important contrastive rhetoric related textlinguistic characteristics of argumentative essays, i.e. written products, I focus on the cognitive aspects of the writing process in this chapter. Johns (1990) claimed that thinking and process are the two principal issues in cognitivist approaches, the former involving problem-solving strategies, the latter involving plans and ideas put on paper by constant revising and editing. In a study dealing with examining essays written in at least two different languages the most interesting question is to what extent L1 writing skills and processes transfer to L2 writing skills and processes. Therefore, cognitive models, writing processes and transfer issues are in the centre of this chapter.

The models developed for explicating the thinking and processing activities of writers are extremely important in the history of writing education that has changed radically from the late 1960s (Silva, 1990). Up to that time the product of the composing process was in the centre of teaching: teachers of writing did not teach the composing process, but they limited writing education to correcting students' grammatical mistakes on sentence level. US higher education institutions realised the shortcomings of this approach and initiated the so-called process concept in the teaching of writing. Educators laid emphasis on making the different phases of the writing process (planning, drafting, revising, editing) teachable. In order to achieve this aim, researchers carried out a wide range of activities to provide information on the composing process for teachers of writing. In the late 1970s the research was so varied in connection with L1 composing processes that there was a need to provide a coherent framework to explain the data found. Therefore, in the first section of this chapter two very influential L1 writing process models proposed by Flower and Hayes (1980; 1981) and Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) are discussed.

L1 writing process studies were the starting point for researching L2 writing processes. Although experts found a great deal of similarities between them, they also discovered that in several aspects the two attested certain differences. Consequently, a distinction must be made between studies on L1 and L2 writing processes. In the second part of the chapter, the most important studies dealing with L2 writing processes are presented. In contrast to L1 writing, no comprehensive theory for L2 writing has been proposed yet; therefore, in this section models like the ones for L1 writing discussed in the previous section cannot be covered. Instead, out of the wide range of issues like the different stages of the writing process, the recursive nature of the writing process, L1 use in L2 writing, dictionary use in L2 writing, or the use of background readings while writing in an L2 (Silva & Matsuda, 2002) the findings on the different phases of the writing process, and L1 use in L2 writing are highlighted.

In the third part, the differences between L1 and L2 writing processes are contrasted. The fourth section discusses some influential findings on the transfer effects between L1 and L2 writing skills development. Although the issue of transfer is apparent in writing processes as well, in this separate subsection a more comprehensive interpretation of transfer is taken into account: the interaction of L1 writing, L2 writing, L1 reading and L2 reading is discussed here. The chapter concludes with arguing for an integration of composing process research findings into contrastive rhetoric studies.

2.1 L1 writing processes

According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996), the history of research into L1 writing processes can be divided into four trends. The expressive stage emphasised the importance of writers' expressing themselves without any constraints by finding their own authentic voices. Although this approach was not founded with a solid theoretical basis and it did not take into consideration the contextual factors playing a part in the formation of written texts, it could create several new techniques for composition instruction. The social stage made an attempt to combine writing processes and the social context shaping the formation of written texts. The discourse community stage highlighted the significance of genre and audience in the writing process so that students could get accustomed to the norms of different discourse communities.

The fourth trend, the cognitive phase, is in the focus of this chapter since it made an influential contribution to our understanding of what takes place in writers' mind during the writing process. Several sources (Krapels, 1990; Connor, 1996; Grabe & Kaplan, 1996) claim that it was initiated by Emig (1971 as summarised by Krapels, 1990), who, in the framework of a case study, examined the L1 writing processes of eight high school students by using audiotaped while-writing think-aloud protocols, post-writing interviews, and students' notes and finalized compositions. By establishing a scientific approach to the study of writing processes (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996) Emig emphasised that writing is a recursive process. Her study paved the way for a great deal of studies dealing with L1 writing processes under different circumstances about which Krashen (1984) provided a comprehensive overview. The high number of studies made it necessary to develop well-established theoretical models to account for the sometimes contradictory research findings: one was the model proposed by Flower and Hayes and the other by Bereiter and Scardamalia.

2.1.1 The Flower and Hayes model

Flower and Hayes have dealt with the writing process from a cognitive perspective in several studies since the end of the 1970s (1980, 1981). Throughout the past two decades they have developed a powerful cognitive theory for the L1 composing process. As a starting point they hypothesised that writing processes are interactive, writers have a certain goal while they are composing, and expert writers do not compose in the same way as novice writers do.

As far as research methodology is concerned, Flower and Hayes carried out protocol analysis on the basis of transcripts and videotapes of students as they were talking while writing and these writings were compared to students' thoughts.

This writing process model has three main elements: the task environment, the composing process, and the writer's long-term memory. The task environment comprising the rhetorical problem and the text produced so far, and the composing process are in constant interaction with each other. The composing process has three components: (1) the planning phase that is made up of setting goals, generating and organising ideas; (2) the translating phase and (3) the reviewing phase that includes evaluating and editing. These three components are controlled by a monitor. In the composing process the most important phase is goal setting that does not only determine the generation and the organisation of the ideas but it also has a huge effect on how the ideas are translated into sentences and how these sentences are reviewed and evaluated. The writing process is not linear but recursive, which means that the phases can interrupt each other, for instance, the translation phase can be halted by the generation of new ideas.

According to Flower and Hayes, the aim of the model is to present what difficulties writers may have while they are composing texts. The model describes the common features of all writers including both experienced and inexperienced writers as well, who are on the two ends of the same continuum. The only difference between them is that skilled writers do the same processing activity much better than unskilled writers.

At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s Hayes, Flower, Schriver, Stratman and Carey (1987) and Flower, Stein, Ackerman, Kantz, McCormick and Peck (1990) completed their cognitively-based theory by putting more emphasis on the contextual constraints of writing. Hayes et al. (1987) concentrated on the reviewing element of the composing process to account for the fact how writers revise and why they, mainly novice writers, find it problematic. They distinguished four components in the reviewing part: (1) task definition, (2) evaluation, (3) strategy selection, and (4) text modification in the writing plan. Flower et al. (1990) further developed the connection between the task environment and the writing process. They claimed that writing is not only a cognitive but also a socially constrained activity, during which students are in need of two strategies: one to define adequate goals in writing and another one to carry out these goals.

Grabe and Kaplan (1996) gave a balanced evaluation of the Flower and Hayes model by listing its advantages and shortcomings. As far as the credits are concerned, the theory has generated important issues for researchers to discuss; it has also introduced the issue of recursion on a new level; and with this model Flower and Hayes have opened a new territory for composition researchers to test their hypotheses on writing.

The criticism that the model received was also threefold: the validity of the research methodology, protocol analysis, was questioned in examining writing processes since it cannot be the only source of evidence for building a theory on writing; critics claimed that nobody writes in the same way; therefore, this model cannot be uniformly applied to each individual writer; and the model is too vague especially because the way how the generated ideas are translated into written text is not adequately detailed.

2.1.2 The Bereiter and Scardamalia model

The second widespread and dominant model to account for the cognitive variables of the writing process was developed by Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987). In contrast with the previously discussed theory the novelty of their model was twofold: (1) they hypothesised that the writing process is not a single processing model but two, because inexperienced writers cannot perform the same writing process as experienced writers; and (2) this theory had an explanatory power on how different writers write.

Bereiter and Scardamalia made an attempt to explain the differences between the writing and revising processes of skilled and unskilled writers; why some writing tasks are more difficult than others; why writing skills in one writing task do not transfer to other writing tasks; why some writers find writing more problematic than others despite the fact that they are on the same proficiency level; why some children/unskilled writers regard writing as easy, while some skilled writers find it difficult; and why some writers never become expert writers in spite of the fact that they practise a lot.

They built two models to account for the differences of expert and novice writers: the knowledge-telling model applied by unskilled writers and the knowledge-transforming model used by skilled writers. They claim that there is a qualitative difference between these two processes. The evidence for a two-model theory is based on Bereiter and Scardamalia's research findings, namely that novice writers take fewer pre-writing notes, they do not make global revisions on their texts, and they generate content while they are actually writing rather than while they are planning their text.

Both models are based on three tenets: the mental representation of the assignment, content knowledge, and discourse knowledge. The knowledge-telling model presents a step-by-step approach to writing. Unskilled writers' main aim is to tell what they have recalled from their memory. First, they look for ideas to write about in connection with the topic of the assignment. Then, they take the specific features of the genre of the assignment into consideration and finally, they read what they have written up to that point in order to retrieve further information. This is the route people take when they write about topics given in early writing education programmes like personal experiences, journals, diaries, and narratives. In these assignments coherence is taken for granted if writers use chronological arrangement and students do not need to apply complex information restructuring or information transforming operations.

This model, however, does not explain writing processes which involve complex processing activities like logical restructuring of information or taking audience expectations into consideration. Skilled composing is based on a sophisticated interplay of problem recognition and solution. Therefore, Bereiter and Scardamalia claimed that skilled writers' composing processes require a different model, which they labelled as the knowledge-transforming model. The knowledge-telling process, as one element of the model, is also integrated into this theory. In contrast to the knowledge-telling model, the topic of the assignment does not directly lead toward the knowledge-telling process but toward a problem analysis and a goal setting. The complex writing problems are solved in the content problem space connected to the content knowledge and in the rhetorical problem space attached to the discourse knowledge. The two spaces are also connected to one another with problem translation sections through which the problems are resolved. When the problems are solved they go to the knowledge-telling phase, the result of which is the written text. In the actual writing phase new problems may arise which go back to the problem analysis stage and the whole process starts again.

The distinction between the writing processes of skilled and unskilled writers provide an explanation to the questions raised at the beginning of this subchapter. Suffice it to say here that the two models account for the fact why some unskilled writers find writing easy, while some skilled writers consider it extremely difficult.

According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996) the two-process model has several advantages over the single-process model. First, novice writers do not possess some writing process abilities at all, which does not support the view that inexperienced writers write in the same way as expert writers with the exception that they do not perform so well. Second, the Bereiter and Scardamalia model emphasises the differences rather than the similarities. Third, it explains why more complex tasks create problems for unskilled writers but can be solved by skilled writers.

However, the two-process model has received some criticism as well among researchers. First, it is not clear from the model how unskilled writers become skilled writers, in other words, how they step from the knowledge-telling level on the knowledge-transforming level. It should also be answered whether the knowledge-transforming process could be acquired by any writer. The elaboration of the components of the model would also be necessary (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996).

In this section of the chapter an overview was provided about the two most influential cognitive L1 writing process models. The following presents an outline of some important findings of L2 writing process research.

2.2 L2 writing processes

It is common knowledge that L2 writing research frequently draws on L1 writing research (Silva, 1993). From this follows the assumption that L1 and L2 writing are very similar to each other. As noted by several researchers, however, this is not the complete truth although there are, of course, several factors that are identical in the two processes. The findings of these L2 studies corroborate those of L1 research, "but L2 researchers must be careful not to let L1 studies guide or determine their investigations of second language writing processes, because the research contexts are not the same" (Krapels, 1990, p. 39). Therefore, this section of the dissertation concentrates on presenting the findings of studies that were conducted in L2 contexts. Due to the huge amount of studies accumulated in this field the discussion is far from being exhaustive; it only undertakes to provide an insight into the sometimes contradictory results on the different stages of the writing process and the use of L1 in L2 writing,

2.2.1 Stages of the writing process

One of the first important studies dealing with L2 writing is Zamel's (1983) case study on six advanced L2 students belonging to five different language groups: Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew and Persian. Zamel observed her participants during writing, she interviewed them afterwards and also examined their written products. She found differences between the writing processes of her skilled and unskilled writers. Despite the fact that all of her participants spent a certain amount of time planning, the good writers had more flexible plans than the weak students. Efficient writers also spent more time writing and revising than the less skilled writers. During the revising phase they first concerned themselves with global issues like meaning and content and only after checking their texts from these points of view did they turn their attention to local issues like grammar and vocabulary. Zamel also concluded that students' writing processes were not linear but recursive confirming the related findings of L1 research e.g. that of Flower and Hayes, as reported earlier. Zamel's participants did not claim that it was problematic for them to compose in a second language. In sum, Zamel found that her skilled L2 writers' writing process characteristics were similar to those of good L1 writers. The study is an important contribution to our understanding of L2 writing process because it paid writing practitioners' attention to base their teacherly practices on the real characteristics of students' writing behaviour and not on hypothetical predictions about students' performances.

In contrast to Zamel's results Raimes (1987) found some differences between the L1 and L2 writing processes of unskilled writers. She examined only L2 students' writing processes and compared her findings to the findings of other experts who conducted their research on L1 writing processes by using the same research design as Raimes did. She found that her L2 participants wrote more and paid more attention to editing and correcting than L1 students.

Jones and Tetroe (1987) examined whether L1 writing processes were transferable to L2 composing processes. Having examined the writing behaviours of six Spanish-speaking adults they found that "the quality . . . of planning transfers from L1 to L2" (Jones & Tetroe, 1987, p. 56) and also claimed that only writing strategies that students acquired in their mother tongue can be transferred to their L2. They concluded that although L2 language proficiency had an impact on the quality of L2 texts, it did not seem to constrain the process of planning. To put it differently, writing skills are transferable from L1 to L2 writing independent of language proficiency.

2.2.2 L1 use in L2 writing

Friedlander (1990) focussed his research on the effects of L1 on writing in English as an L2. He tested his hypothesis on Chinese students: if writers use the language for planning in which they accumulated knowledge about the topic of the writing task, they will perform texts of better quality than if they planned in their other language. For instance, if Chinese ESL students have to write about their home in English, they will write higher-rated compositions if they use the Chinese language for planning. The study justified this hypothesis.

Woodall (2002) hypothesised that L1 use in L2 writing is influenced by three variables: L2 proficiency, task difficulty, and the genetic connection of the L1 and the L2. His findings were the following: there was more L1 use in less proficient L2 writers' processes; the more difficult the task was, the more L1 use could be detected in L2 writing; and L1 use in the processes of L2 students whose L1 and L2 were cognate languages resulted in better L2 texts. Woodall concluded that it must be taken into consideration in L2 writing instruction that L1 is an important resource for L2 writers to rely on, and also that "the most salient qualitative difference [between L1 and L2 writing processes] is that in L2 writing, two languages can be at work at the same time . . . [which is] . . . a different experience altogether" (Woodall, 2002, p. 24).

A central issue in a comprehensive theoretical model for L2 writing will be what difference the use of L2 makes in the L2 writing processes in comparison to L1 writing processes. A theory for L2 writing must explain to what extent writing in a foreign language is an L2 proficiency problem or a general composing problem.

2.3 A comparison of L1 and L2 writing processes

Krapels (1990) provided a comprehensive summary of the findings related to the comparison of L1 and L2 writing process research carried out up to 1990. These results were the following:

a general composing competence is more important for L2 students than L2 linguistic

competence, although, as Woodall (2002) stated, there are mixed results in terms of the

role of L2 proficiency in L2 writing;

(2) skilled L1 and L2 writers' writing behaviour is similar, whereas unskilled L1 and L2

writers' writing behaviour is also similar to each other;

(3) L1 writing processes are transferable to L2 writing processes;

(4) there are some differences between L1 and L2 composing processes;

(5) L1 use during L2 writing takes place to different extent;

(6) L1 use in L2 writing mainly connected to L2 vocabulary problems and it maintains the

writing process; and

(7) topics related to L1 culture elicit more L1 use during the L2 writing process.

On the basis of overviewing 72 research reports Silva (1993) stated that L1 and L2 writing processes were similar to each other generally, but some distinctions, which are quantitative in nature (Woodall, 2002), could also be detected. In the prewriting phase L1 writers planned more both at global and local levels than L2 writers. L1 writers' idea generating and idea organising processes were less problematic and more effective. During the while-writing phase L1 writers were more fluent, more productive and less concerned with vocabulary. As far as the revising process is concerned, the research findings were contradictory, but L1 revision was less concerned with grammar and spelling than L2 revision. In summary, L1 writers composed longer, more accurate and higher-rated texts than L2 writers.

As Woodall (2002) suggested, for building a comprehensive theoretical framework for L2 writing both quantitative and qualitative differences between L1 and L2 writing need to be described. He claimed that the qualitative difference, as noted earlier, is the L1 use in L2 writing.

The two overviews and Woodall's assumption confirm the notion that in spite of the general similarities between L1 and L2 writing processes there are several differences between them, which must be taken into consideration both in L2 writing research and L2 writing pedagogy.

2.4 Transfer across L1 and L2 writing

A central cognition-related question besides writing process similarities and differences is the question of the transfer of L1 reading and writing skills to L2 reading and writing skills. Albeit in this chapter reading has not been mentioned, in the case of transfer it is inseparable from writing, that is why reading and writing are discussed together in this section.

One of the first important points that was made in connection with transfer across L1 and L2 was proposed by Cummins (1981) who claimed that that there is a common underlying cognitive/academic language proficiency (CALP) independent of languages, which makes transfer between L1 and L2 reading and writing possible. He also suggested that transfer can only take place if students achieved a certain threshold level of L2 proficiency.

McLaughlin's (1987) data, however, refuted Cummins's findings. He hypothesised that advanced L2 learners would utilize more effective reading strategies than less advanced L2 students but this assumption was not supported because the better students did not achieve significantly better results than the beginners.

Carson, Carrell, Silberstein, Kroll and Kuehn (1990) examined the relationships between L1 and L2 literacy development among Chinese and Japanese L2 students. They found that literacy skills did transfer between L1 and L2, but the extent of transfer differed depending on the mother tongue of the participants. Generally, Carson et al. (1990) drew two important conclusions from what they found. The first one was that L1 reading skills transfer to L2 reading more easily than L1 writing skills transfer to L2 writing for both groups. The second was that at lower proficiency levels teachers may rely more on L1 literacy influences on L2 literacy development, but they cannot do so at more advanced levels, where they have to rely more on the developing L2 literacy. To put it differently, at lower proficiency levels interlingual transfer, while at higher proficiency levels intralingual transfer is more significant in the development of L2 literacy skills. These data refute Cummins's proposal that for transfer to be successful a certain threshold level of L2 proficiency is needed.

In her literature overview on the cognitive aspects of L1-L2 writing transfer issues Eisterhold (1990), similarly to Cummins, claims that a certain L2 proficiency threshold level is a condition for successful transfer mechanisms to start. She describes two transfer models. In the first model there is a common underlying proficiency and shared structural components both in L1 and L2, which make transfer possible. She adds that "restructuring (modification of organisational structures and adoption of new strategies and procedures) must occur before transfer can be successful" (Eisterhold, 1990, pp. 99-100). In the second model there are interrelated proficiencies and discrete language systems which must be synthesised so that transfer could be successful. Eisterhold (1990) concludes that transfer is not automatic, adding that teachers of L2 writing should be familiar with the role of L1 reading, L1 writing and L2 reading in the development of their students' L2 writing development. Unfortunately, it is not described in the study how teachers, who are not researchers, can achieve this goal given the fact that these relationships are complex and dependent on students' mother tongue and L2 proficiency, to mention but a few factors that play a part in this issue.

Hedgcock and Atkinson's (1993) findings make the picture even more complicated. University students, 157 native English speakers and 115 ESL learners, were asked about their native and English language reading habits. The quality of their written products was assessed holistically. The researchers found that the amount of L1 reading explained their native speaking English students L1 writing quality. However, neither the extent of L1 nor L2 reading had almost any effect on ESL (L2 English) students' writing performance. This difference is in sharp contrast with the theories of Cummins (1981) or Krashen (1984), who both emphasised that L2 reading and writing skills are acquired in the same way as L1 reading and writing skills.

2.5 Conclusion

The aim of this chapter was to give an overview of the most influential findings on L1 and L2 writing processes and to discuss L1-L2 writing transfer phenomena. The two dominant cognitive L1 writing theories discussed were those of Flower and Hayes, and Bereiter and Scardamalia. Flower and Hayes attempted to present the common features of all writers by claiming that experienced and inexperienced writers compose in a similar manner but skilled writers perform on a higher level. By contrast, Bereiter and Scardamalia argued for a two-process writing theory, the knowledge-telling process characteristic of novice writers performing simple writing tasks and the knowledge-transforming process characteristic of expert writers performing complex writing tasks. As the discussion shows, both models have their drawbacks, but both have contributed significantly to our knowledge on the complex writing processes taking place in our mind and they are also important stages in the creation of a complex writing theory integrating the textual, social and cognitive domains of writing.

As far as L2 writing process research is concerned, in contrast to L1 writing processes, a comprehensive theoretical model to explain L2 writing processes has not been developed (Silva, 1990; 1993). Silva (1990) accounted for this by the fact that mainly small-scale studies were carried out, they differed in focus and methodology and they "often have not been conceived, conducted, or interpreted within adequate models of L2 composition" (Silva, 1990, p. 20). These assumptions motivate further research into the writing behaviour of other populations.

An important conclusion that Silva (1993) drew from the previous discussion is that due to the clear differences between L1 and L2 writing L2 writing specialists should not rely exclusively on L1 writing theories but they should look beyond them and develop theories especially related to L2 writing.

Another noteworthy lesson that is learnt from the examination of writing processes is that contrastive rhetoric and writing process research are not in an antagonistic relationship with each other as was believed for quite a long time (Leki, 1991). The broad concept of contrastive rhetoric, as discussed in the previous chapter, takes into consideration the whole rhetorical situation including not only the finalised written products but also the writing processes, the audience, the purpose and the context among other things, as could be seen in section 1.1.6, where Matsuda's (1997) dynamic model for L2 writing was discussed. Consequently, the inclusion of writing process research findings into contrastive rhetoric related studies is essential today.

In connection with L1 and L2 transfer phenomena some studies claim that a certain threshold level of L2 proficiency is essential for transfer to take place, while other researchers state that at lower proficiency levels L1 transfer to L2 is significant. In any case, it is notable that the pattern of transfer varies among language groups. Therefore, research results of international studies cannot be uniformly applied in the Hungarian context: Hungarian students' L1 writing processes should be explored and integrated into the writing curricula of both Hungarian Language and Literature, and EFL classes so that they could provide a solid, reliable basis on which students' writing skills could be built.

Having discussed some important cognitive aspects of writers' L1 and L2 processes the next chapter of the dissertation provides an overview of the educational context of L1 and L2 writing instruction in Hungary, which also contributes to a better understanding of students' written products and writing processes (Krapels, 1990).