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The use of a process-oriented approach to facilitate the planning and production stages of writing for adult students of English as a Foreign or Second Language
- by Nicola Holmes


A brief appraisal of changes in approaches to the teaching of writing in English as a Foreign Language classes:

There have been numerous approaches to the teaching of writing in the history of language teaching. These have evolved with the development of different approaches to teaching in general, which have in turn contributed to the changing role and status of writing within English language syllabuses and the English as a Foreign Language classroom. In spite of other general methodological changes, however, writing continues to be one of the most difficult areas for the teacher and learner of English to tackle.

Traditionally, writing was viewed mainly as a tool for the practice and reinforcement of specific grammatical and lexical patterns, a fairly one-dimensional activity, in which accuracy was all-important I2ut content and self-expression virtual non-priorities. To paraphrase Tribble, students were purely 'writing to learn' as opposed to 'learning to write'. (Tribble 1996, p 118). Even in more recent communicative approaches to language teaching, writing can often still be seen by teachers as something of a taboo area, threatening to detract valuable classroom time from the development of oral communication skills.

However, with an increase in attention to students' practical needs, born out of functional/notional approaches and further developed in the various areas of English for Specific Purposes, the importance of the writing of certain text-types as a skill learners might need to develop has gradually come to the fore. This gradual increase in the status of writing as a skill, along with the development of a more discoursal rather than purely grammatically-based approach to language teaching, and general moves towards more learner-centred syllabuses, has altered the teacher's perspective on both the needs of and the problems faced by language learners. Whereas traditionally, in the words of Raimes, teachers have 'trapped our students within the sentence' and 'respond to the piece of writing as item checkers not as real readers' (R.aimes, 1983a), we are now beginning to develop a more top-down. and student-centred, approach to the teaching of writing, wherel2y issues of content, genre and discourse have been assigned greater importance, and, as Nunan comments, paraphrasing Zamel:

....the writing class should take into account the learners' purposes for writing, which transcend that of producing texts for teacher evaluation. (Nunan, 1991, p88, referring to Zamel, 1987).

Typical problems and difficulties encountered by the EFL/ESL student of writing

For various reasons, as far as students (and teachers!) are concerned, writing usually appears an extremely daunting task. First of all, the main focus when a writing task is assigned has traditionally been on the final product The need to produce a coherent, well-written text can be a great source of stress to the writer if the intervening stages in the process of creating this text are overlooked. Few native speaker writers, let alone EFL student writers, can be expected to produce a highly structured text without first going through various pre-writing and drafting stages. However, this has not always been made clear to students of English as a Foreign Language, who are still often assigned writing tasks with little advice or support on the processes involved in completing them. (cf Tribble, 1996, p 75).

To produce different varieties of acceptable written texts, EFL students can also encounter problems arising from their unfamiliarity with the conventions of various different genres of written English. Moreover, the covert nature of written discourse, whereby distance from the reader obliges the writer 'to make inferences about the relevant knowledge possessed by the reader, and decide what to include and what to omit from their text', (Nunan, 1991, p86), can constitute a further obstacle to the already daunted EFL-student writer. This particular obstacle can L2e compounded by the frequent lack of any clear purpose or audience for writing resulting from the artificial nature of many EFL writing assignments and the lack of attention paid to the relevant issues of discourse and genre in the traditional, largely syntax-focused classroom.

All of the above, combined with the frequently limited and unconstructive, sometimes negative and often purely grammatically focused nature of teacher feedback on the completed piece of writing, can contribute to a strong lack of student motivation and a distinct reluctance to complete writing assignments either inside or outside of the classroom.

Finally, the students' task in completing a writing assignment is made yet more difficult by the lack of provision for practice of the writing skill in class, writing often becoming a low priority for the teacher when time and syllabus constraints come to the fore.


What is 'process writing' and how can it help with the above-mentioned problems?

Tribble defines the 'process approach' as 'an approach to the teaching of writing which stresses the creativity of the individual writer, and which pays attention to the development of good writing practices rather than the imitation of models'. (Tribble, 1996, p160). Thus, the focus shifts from the final product itself to the different stages the writer goes through in order to create this product. by breaking down the task as a whole into its constituent parts. writing can seem greatly less daunting and more manageable to the EFL student.
Various headings have been given to the different stages in the writing process, possibly the most exhaustive being White and Arndt's 'generating ideas, focusing, structuring, drafting, evaluating and re-viewing'. (White and Arndt, 1991, p 4. See also Hedge, 1988, p 15 and Tribble, 1996, p 59). These stages generally involve different forms of brainstorming, selecting and ordering ideas, planning, drafting, redrafting and revising and editing. Furthermore, as Raimes comments, the process in 'not linear at all' but 'recursive' (Raimes, 1985, p229. quoted in Tribble, 1996, p59), as, in Tribble's words, 'at any point in the preparation of a text, writers can loop backwards or forwards to whichever of the activities involved in text composition they may find useful'. (Tribble, 1996, p 59). This not only provides the student writer and the teacher with a practical and manageable framework within which to work through the writing process, but also allows for great flexibility, depending on each individual task and the personality and preferences of each individual writer.

The more a writing activity can engage the learner as a person, the more it will capture his/her imagination and spark his/her motivation. This involves a consideration l2oth of what our students might need to write outside the classroom and of what they are interested in, as highlighted by White and Arndt (1991, p 49), and marries quite well with the shift in primary focus inherent in the process writing approach from language, to ideas and content. As Raimes comments, students have traditionally had 'no intellectual or emotional investment in what they are writing about. They are saying something that nobody cares about in order to practise something else'. (Raimes, 19~5 a). Advocates of process writing approaches have attempted to remedy this, in the provision of interesting and stimulating topics to write about, the development of activities which engage the students' interest in these topics and help them to express and develop their ideas on them and in the attempt to develop tasks where students have a more genuine purpose to write and a stronger sense of the audience for whom they are writing.

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