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A Process Approach to Writing
by Adam Simpson

1. Introduction

When I first started teaching writing in the English Language classroom, two issues immediately sprang to my attention;
i) the students were extremely demotivated whenever asked to write in English;
ii) the end product was fairly disappointing and didn't seem to correlate with my students' abilities as displayed in other aspects of their language ability, such as speaking for example. As my teaching developed over several years, so did my understanding as to why the students displayed such aversion to writing and why the end product of the writing they did do left something to be desired.

Numerous authors(1) note that there has been a dramatic evolution in the way that writing is being approached in the English Language classroom, with the aim of making writing a more personal and satisfying experience for the learner. This has evolved alongside the development of different approaches to teaching in general, and a greater impetus has been placed on the role of writing in the Language classroom. Writing, however, remains one of the most difficult areas for the teacher and learner of English. This is evident in the way that it has been neglected and/or treated poorly in the past. Indeed, many high level English learners cannot write. As Baskoff (1990) notes, many writing weaknesses in advanced learners can be traced back to lack of systematic practice during the earlier stages of learning(2) .

In this paper I will discuss how the concept of process writing has raised the profile of writing, how it differs from the traditional 'product' approach, and how the application of a process approach to writing, even at low levels, can eliminate most of the problems normally associated with this skill.

2. An Analysis of Writing

In the past, writing was something that teachers expected learners to do in class without giving any prior thought to the meaning of the finished product(3) . As a consequence, learners' attitudes towards writing were less than positive. This was compounded by the fact that this skill was often relegated to the status of 'homework' due to pressures of time and syllabus requirements(4) , thus nullifying the possibility of teacher guidance. Furthermore, writing was viewed primarily as a tool for the practice and reinforcement of specific grammatical and lexical patterns; accuracy being all important whereas content and self expression given little if any priority. Basically students were 'writing to learn' and not 'learning to write'(5) .

However, this is a trend that has changed greatly in recent years. Meriwether (1997) notes that there is now widespread recognition that writing is a process which involves several identifiable steps(6) . The basic steps are as follows;

  • Prewriting (selecting a topic and planning what to say)
  • Writing (putting a draught version on paper)
  • Revising (making changes to improve the writing)
  • Evaluation (assessment of the written work)(7)

2.1 Process Versus Product

Nunan (1999) clearly states how very different this 'process' approach is from the traditional product-oriented approach(8). Whereas the product approach focuses on writing tasks in which the learner imitates, copies and transforms teacher supplied models, the process approach focuses on the steps involved in creating a piece of work(9). The primary goal of product writing is an error-free coherent text. Process writing allows for the fact that no text can be perfect, but that a writer will get closer to perfection by producing, reflecting on, discussing and reworking successive drafts of a text(10).

Jordan (1997) acknowledges that process writing evolved as a reaction to the product approach, in that it met the need to match the writing processes inherent in writing in one's mother tongue(11) , and consequently allow learners to express themselves better as individuals. This is not to say, however, that the product approach no longer exists, nor that it has no practical applications. Indeed, the process approach can still contain elements of product-based writing. Nunan (1999) reaffirms this by stating that there is no reason why a writing program should not contain elements of both approaches(12) . With this in mind, each of the aforementioned stages will now be considered.

1.Including Nunan (1999), Meriwether, (1997) and Jordan, (1997)
2.Baskoff, (1990), p.5.
3.Meriwether, (1997), p.2.
4.Hedge, (1988), p.301.
5.Tribble, (1996), p118.
6.Meriwether, (1997), p.2.
7.Examples of strategies for all of these stages will be explored in more depth in section 6.
8.Nunan, (1999), p.272.
10.Nunan, (1999), p.272.
11.Jordan, (1997), p.164.
12.Nunan, (1999), p.298.

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