The present chapter focuses on the types and stages of writing that are taught in the classroom, then it presents a study of collaborative writing within writing workshops, and finally, it explains the connection between teaching writing and the World Wide Web. As a result, I will illustrate how writing is the result of various intertwined acts such as note-taking, planning, drafting, editing, and revising. Next, I show how workshops enhance collaborative writing and how Internet resources may improve the writing experience in the classroom.
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Types and Stages of Writing
Teaching writing is often if not always bound by genre categories. Jeremy Harmer avers that "Genre represents the norms of different kinds of writing" (327). It is an acknowledged fact that writers choose a certain pattern for their work: poem, novel, letter, commercial, article, or essay. This writing format is easily recognizable by other members of the discourse community and enables writers to build their work taking into consideration aspects such as audience, register, topic selection, or tone.
Nowadays, methodologists group the approaches to teaching writing in two broad categories: writing as process and writing as product. The latter-i.e. writing as product-is defined by Harmer as follows: "When concentrating on the product, we are only interested in the aim of a task and in the end product" (325). Therefore, by targeting a certain type of writing, teachers can offer students writing strategies, content syntagms, cues, and layout guidelines in order to obtain the desired written product.
In its turn, writing as product is subdivided into two additional groups, often labelled controlled or guided writing and free writing respectively (Ross-Larson 59). The controlled writing stage is appropriate for all levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) when the teacher acts as a resource, conveying new English structures and composition principles to the students. For beginners, the teacher might show learners how to write an informal letter, a dialogue or he / she can ask them to define a new word; filling in gapped texts, questions and answers, or brief transformation exercises are also used at this level. The intermediate students may be given tasks which suppose developing a paragraph, describing a picture, writing short poems and formal letters, or designing a commercial. There are more options to choose from at this level because students have already acquired more language structures. At an advanced level, students benefit from the biggest language autonomy as their linguistic background is already more complex. In this case, guided writing means that students are usually taught how to write various types of essays (descriptive, persuasive, argumentative, reflexive, or narrative), articles, reports, job applications, or complaints.
By contrast, the free writing approach is student-centred as the teacher only acts as a tutor or prompter this time. A successful free writing approach may be included as a sequence in the teacher's lesson plan within the post-writing stage. Therefore, a classic writing lesson in three steps may be organised into pre-writing, while-writing, and post-writing tasks (Hidi 86): during the first stage teachers help students organize their ideas and plan their composition based on revising previously acquired structures; afterwards, the while-writing stage is the moment when the students carry out the writing task per se; finally, throughout the post-writing phase, students can come up with their own examples drawn from personal experience to demonstrate their understanding of what has been taught. Free writing may be easily included during this last stage of the lesson and further developed at home by students. In fact, most of the writing that learners unconsciously accomplish at home on a daily basis is free writing: notes, diary pages, text messages on cell phones, e-mails, and other written comments. Free writing enhances personal writing styles, registers, and even choices.
Nevertheless, the second major category-writing as process-no longer centres on a particular writing genre whose composition principles the students have to take in; instead, "This pays attention to the various stages that any piece of writing goes through" (Harmer 326). Methodologists identify several major steps a writer takes when trying to produce a piece of writing:
Fig. 1: The Process Wheel (Harmer 326).
Source: Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. 4th ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2007.
In the classroom, planning presupposes that students obtain new writing ideas through brainstorming, groupwork or note-taking in order to avoid the well-known writer's block. Drafting entails choosing and sequencing the optimal ideas to be included in the piece of writing. Then, editing means putting everything together in a coherent and cogent manner whereas revising asks the learners to check their written work one more time for the sake of crossing out any possible inadvertences. Although paying attention to writing as a process is a time-consuming activity, it is quite helpful when teachers require students to decide together on the stages of composition even before engaging in planning writing. Mention has to be made of the fact that, in reality, the stages of writing are never linear. As writing is a creative process, students always move to and fro and perform simultaneous actions because "writing is re-writing â€¦ re-vision-seeing with new eyes" (White and Arndt quoted in Harmer 326).
All in all, the practice of writing proves to be most successfully taught and learnt in class when it is understood and adopted as both a process and a product.
Writing Workshops and Collaborative Writing
In his article "Social Construction, Language and the Authority of Knowledge" (1984), K. Bruffee explains that collaborative writing arises in the 1970s in the United States of America for practical reasons: the plethora of students admitted to university assist one another in their endeavour to broaden their horizons. As Bruffee avers, "For American college teachers, the roots of collaborative learning lie neither in radical politics nor in research" but actually on "a pressing educational need" (quoted in Clark 16).
In the classroom, collaborative writing is best carried out through writing workshops. This does not necessarily mean that students can group up and know exactly what to do without any guiding from the teacher, but rather it signifies that "in language classes teachers and students can take advantage of the presence of others to make writing a cooperative activity, with great benefit to all those involved" (Harmer 328). Consequently, a successful class workshop presupposes an equal share of responsibility granted to students and teachers alike, an active student participation in the writing tasks, group effort and collaboration with peers as well as the "decentering of the writing class" (Clark 16).
Besides this, the teacher plays a crucial role in organizing and guiding workshop sessions since he / she has to plan in advance every activity, the time allotted to each task but also the criterion by which learners are arranged in groups. It is advisable to "assign the groups through random selection" (Clark 17) and "keep the groups constant throughout the semester" (ibidem) in order to avoid students amusing themselves more than working on a given task or to steer clear of situations when only the more prepared member of the group carries out the task alone. By initially demonstrating the instructions and checking out students' understanding of these but also by asking learners to report back to the class in the end (thus making them aware of their audience), teachers can ensure a smooth flow of a workshop activity.
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Additionally, a great way to boost peer cooperation in a writing workshop is the use of realia. Images, diagrams, flashcards, charts, posters, personal items, and others represent the most suitable means to trigger the learners' impulse to draw on their shared information, previously acquired English structures, or on their personal life experience-in other words to make use of all their available knowledge-to complete a particular assignment. Employing realia for writing workshops similarly implies bringing "the outside world into the classroom in a vividly concrete way" (Raimes 27) and thus enabling instructors to plan cascading or chained lessons over a larger period of time but also offering them the opportunity to permanently recycle English language items taught earlier.
Nowadays, theoreticians and commentators of methodology concentrate on writing workshops as powerful generators of student motivation. Harmer explains that "Writing in groups (â€¦) can be greatly motivating for students, including (â€¦) not only writing, but research, discussion, peer evaluation" (329). Intrinsic motivation in particular is increased not exclusively by traditional pen-and-paper group writing assignments but equally by top-notch technological gadgets and software that allow learners to corroborate a piece of writing on the Internet and receive peer feedback (as I shall further expose in my last subchapter).
Generally speaking, collaborative writing as part of classroom workshops boosts students' self-confidence, peer reliance, group communication, and ensures that learners become responsible for their own learning. At the same time, in Writing to be Read (1968), K. Macrorie underlines the fact that writers gain insight and experience "through engaging in critical sessions with peers" (85).
Writing and Technology: the World Wide Web
Technology currently permeates every segment of our daily lives and it is a powerful factor in the development of interpersonal communication, learning environments, digital literacy, and career evolution. Nowadays, it is an acknowledged fact that computers have started being used during the 1960s as a means to standardize spelling and punctuation teaching as well as the assessment of learners' writing.
In the English classroom, technology serves three main functions according to Vicki Urquhart and Monette McIver, namely information resource, collaboration tool, and multimedia tool (43-4). The first main category-information resource-means that by using technology, the teacher of English has the opportunity to improve and enrich the content of the teaching-learning process. The most significant and, at the same time, an unlimited source of knowledge is the Internet. The Internet connects personal computers worldwide and puts forward a large number of possibilities for advanced students to organize and complete study projects. The Internet also synchronizes communication through the use of e-mails for instance-the students may be taught how to correctly write e-mails when focusing on writing as a product. The same coordinated exchange of information may take place when teachers involve their learners in cross-curricular projects with the participation of other classes or schools as well. Yet information must not necessarily be received but also sent. In this respect, students' web pages are a suitable way with informal character by which put out their interests, queries, or opinions without the need of guided writing. E-mails, personal web sites, and research projects are all "exchanges" which "teach students to write for a real audience" (Clark 495).
Despite the knowledge overload that the World Wide Web encloses, there arise the questions of how reliable such information is and of how students can avoid plagiarism. On the one hand, it is always helpful that teachers revise previously taught English structures before engaging in a technology-oriented class in order to ensure a smooth transition to a new lesson. Likewise, offering students tutorial-programmed software or demonstrating a web quest yourself is very supporting. On the other hand, the issue of plagiarism-whether inadvertent or not-is an omnipresent contemporary concern. To dodge it, teachers can explain advanced students what plagiarism is and how to steer clear of it but he / she can equally use search engines that recognize plagiarized passages.
The second major function, collaboration tool, enhances collaborative writing as previously mentioned. Within this category, word processors allow students to adjust their written work, to edit, alter, delete, or organize it differently even during larger periods of time. This type of learner cooperation is particularly appropriate for advanced students, who can engage in ongoing writing workshops, draft their writings according to peer responses, and include the teacher's feedback or suggestions. "Collective knowledge-building" (Clark 485) as emphasized today focuses on socialization; for example, blogs are informal, virtual collaboration instruments that encourage peer reactions and editing but also foster various graphic styles (highlights, cross-out, underlines) to reflect the bloggers' preferences, personalities, and input. Students' blogs may be drawn upon as starting points for further, more formal study of writing in the classroom.
Ultimately, technology as multimedia tool refers to the combo between writing and audio, video, colour, graphics, or animation. In fact, this top-notch enhancement permits students to "become fluent in 'multimedia literacy'" (Urquhart and McIver 43). Writing within chat rooms (hence the many abbreviated language forms that encode virtual conversation such as lol, brb, the use of emoticons, etc.), video footage accompanied by texts, movie subtitles, or PowerPoint presentations prove that advanced students and efficient teachers have to remain up-to-date with new technological discoveries that boost a positive writing experience during the teaching-learning process in today's globalised world.
On the whole, "What computers offer are different ways to deliver our best practices in composition teaching" (Clark 502). There is no single formula to ensure a successful writing class; what is clear is that joining the writing as process with the writing as product approaches, fostering cooperative writing workshops, and promoting technological learning tools is sure to guarantee a positive, beneficial experience for learners and teachers alike.
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