Written Communication Within The Curriculum English Language Essay


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The first chapter of my paper puts forth three main issues: an investigation of writing in relation to the other language skills, a comparison between writing-for-writing versus writing-for-learning as well as an analysis of students' involvement in the process of teaching writing. By exposing these aspects, I demonstrate that writing should not be taught as an isolated language skill but rather as a part of an integrated approach. Additionally, I show how writing-for-writing is as significant as writing-for-learning and how students play a crucial part in teaching writing and take responsibility for their own learning.

An Integrated Approach to Writing and the Other Language Skills

Contemporary methodological tendencies split the four language skills into two broad categories: receptive skills and productive ones. The latter includes speaking and writing with their much-debated differences. The process of writing presupposes the use of graphic symbols or letters chained together in higher sentence sequences that respect a particular order and form a coherent text.

Writing is primarily linked to two other language skills: speaking and reading. On the one hand, the association writing-speaking gives rise to tough debates about whether teachers should focus more on teaching writing or teaching speaking. It may be argued that writing is not merely an ordinary extension of speech; the former practice differs from the latter in multiple ways as Donn Byrne cogently shows in the following table:

Thus, the written language asks for a greater standardization of grammar and vocabulary whereas speech is varied according to distinctions in regional dialects. Speaking usually occurs as a spontaneous act while writing is carefully planned. Then, speakers make use of their body language and voice to put across meaning but writers have to count on their words for the same purpose. Finally, speech has a more informal and repetitive character where the written discourse develops logically in a more formal and compact style.

On the other hand, writing is related to reading as these two skills represent the basis of literacy. Nowadays, theoreticians such as S.B. Kucer and E. Delgado-Larocco consider literacy as a multifaceted and active practice that encompasses sociocultural, cognitive, developmental, and cognitive factors (see Fig. 2 below). Consequently, for a person to become literate, he or she has to master all the abovementioned dimensions of literacy at the same time (Kucer 4). First, the cognitive influence dictates the writer's wish to find, build, and share meaning. Afterwards, the sociocultural component contains markers of social identity (ethnicity or gender). Third of all, the linguistic element puts forth the language used by the writer as the conveyor of meaning. Last but not least, the developmental aspect includes the other three factors: since literacy is a dynamic process, the writer's / reader's development never ceases (Kucer 5-6).

Fig. 2. Dimensions of literacy (Kucer et al. 59).

Moreover, the question of why and how writing should be taught arises. Since "writing is a skill which is (…) difficult to acquire" (Byrne 6), it is obvious by now that instructors should set very clear teaching goals as concerns writing. In this sense, writing may be taught as a response to students' needs and diverse learning styles: introvert learners do not feel at ease expressing themselves orally, so writing allows them to feel more self-confidence. But writing may equally be taught for reasons of memorization or retention and thus it offers students the confirmation for part of their learning progress. The most evident purpose for teaching writing seems to be the need for its presence in informal and formal examinations alike.

In general, teaching writing is not meant to be an isolated practice. Instead, an effective student exposure to the foreign language is acquired through more than one medium as Eli Henkel points out: "in meaningful communication, people employ incremental language skills not in isolation, but in tandem" (quoted in Harmer 265). In the classroom, the teaching-learning environment tries to mimic real-life situations and this is the reason why lessons often integrate multi-layered language skills. In this context, "writing invites us to gather and organize our thoughts in order to clearly communicate them" (Johnson 8).

Teaching Writing-for-writing versus Writing-for-learning

Language is the vehicle of thought. The essential hypothesis is that-being a language skill-writing "means writing a connected text and not just single sentences, that writers write for a purpose and a reader, and that the process of writing is a valuable learning tool for all our students" (Raimes 11).

Contemporary methodological trends dictate that writing should be taught interdependently with reading, speaking, and listening. There is no single approach to teaching writing but many. Writing may reinforce recently acquired language structures, it may improve the students' mental and linguistic development, and it may also emphasize individual learning styles.

Additionally, the type of writing teachers promote depends greatly on the learners' age, level, and personal interests. In The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer divides the teaching of writing in two broad categories: writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing. The former type is defined as "the kind of writing we do to help students learn language or to test them on that language" (Harmer 330). Thus, writing-for-learning can ask students to build sentences using the Past Tense Simple or the Going to Future for instance; here, the "aim is not to train students to write, but rather to help them remember" (Harmer 330) a certain grammar item. Learners build writing habits for language practice in this case-they come to grasp, retain, and acquire new language structures. Besides this, writing-for-learning promotes learners' involvement in the lessons' development and outcome by raising their awareness and by making them responsible for their own learning.

By contrast, writing-for-writing addresses specific writing genres such as narratives, ads, letters, postcards, job applications, reports, or articles whose construction we want our students to master. Therefore, "if we are to build the students' writing skills," it is advisable "to use such writing-for-writing tasks as often as is appropriate" (Harmer 330). This category focuses more on familiar, daily styles that the learners find useful and that they are likely to come across more frequently. Writing for fun or for pleasure is also included here since it allows students to acquire knowledge in their own rhythm; self-experience proves valuable and motivates learners intrinsically, making them accumulate new language items more rapidly and with more ease. There are countless types of writing of activities targeted for this type of writing, amongst which: questionnaires, scenarios, puzzles, instructions, quizzes, diaries, headlines, or programmes. Unlike the controlled practice in class where pupils are asked to comply to certain composition rules, writing for fun does not require obeying specific conventions but rather using the language that learners have at their disposal. As a result, writing for pleasure enhances students' creativity and underpins their level of proficiency in the foreign language.

Furthermore, Art Young-in Teaching Writing across the Curriculum-dwells on the same distinction between writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing, although he labels these categories differently: writing to learn and writing to communicate.

Fig. 3. Writing to learn and writing to communicate (Young 9).

Young exposes the fact that on the one hand, writing to learn encourages students to take the time to discover new language items step-by-step through creativity and problem-solving skills. Thus, writing to learn sets forth the writer's linguistic knowledge and principles in his attempt "to explain the matter to oneself" (Britton quoted in Young 10). On the other hand, writing to communicate enables writers to share newly acquired structures with others, "to explain the matter to others" (Britton quoted in Young 10). This time, the reader or the receiver of the writer's text is privileged and further supported to revise shared information or discover new perspectives.

All in all, writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing are only two of the many possible ways of teaching writing. These two categories are not reciprocally exclusive, so teachers should not focus solely on one of them at the expense of the other. Although writing-for-learning focuses more on content areas whereas writing-for-writing on compositional forms, they both represent invaluable tools for the teaching-learning process. Used jointly within pairwork or groupwork, these techniques bring about the advantages of unimpeded communication, creativity, self-confidence and peer-reliability.

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