Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Chapter Three: Classic Approaches to Teaching Writing

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Chapter Three: Classic Approaches to Teaching Writing

Article excerpt

The first two Chapters of this book establish the "who" and "what" of teaching academic writing at European universities. We have looked at the stakeholders (students, teachers, professionals, university administrators and others) and, in general terms, at the kinds of writing on which writing courses may focus in European university contexts. For those of us who are practising teachers, these questions are important, but we probably already know the answers as far as our own situation is concerned. We know our students' level of English, the competences they bring to the task of writing in English, the type of text they need to write, and the problems that tend to occur. What is not so clear are the answers to questions that begin with "how": how can writing be taught, what methodology should be used, how can we scaffold the learning experience, how can we give effective feedback? The purpose of Chapters Three and Four is to explain the current mainstream writing pedagogy which informs the way students are taught to write in English as a second language in Europe and other contexts (L2). However, this is harder to understand without reference to the background of first language (Ll) writing, that is, how writing is taught to native speakers of English. In this Chapter, trends in teaching Ll writing are described. This is followed in Chapter Four by an analysis of the way these methods are usually applied to L2 writing. The extent to which this truly takes account of the differences between Ll and L2 writing is then explored.

"Current-traditional" approaches

Until the mid-twentieth centuiy, the teaching of writing in English-speaking countries was characterised by an emphasis on the written product. Writing was presented in schools and universities in terms of proper usage and mechanical correctness, and students were expected to concentrate their efforts on perfecting a limited range of written genres, particularly narrative, description, exposition and argument. In the USA, the compulsory first-year university course in "composition" centred on the "five-paragraph theme", a rhetorical exercise requiring the student to develop an idea within a welldefined framework of introduction, points and conclusion. Through expository assignments, students were taught patterns of logical organisation such as classification, definition and comparison, and were given models of "good writing" to emulate. Essays were generally supposed to be written from start to finish in a single draft, by students working on their own, aided where necessary only by a dictionary and a handbook of usage. It was simply assumed that the contents of the essay could be organised with a little careful thought, and that once this was accomplished the language would flow easily into the generic container prescribed. Scant regard was paid to the painful realities of apprentice composition. This type of writing instruction is generally known by its critics under the name of "current-traditional" practice, a term which is frequently encountered in the literature of the subject. The rejection of this "current-traditional" practice was one of the main tenets of what has been called the single most important development in writing pedagogy in the second half of the twentieth centuiy: the process writing movement

Process writing

The process writing movement was one of the most influential developments in the way writing was taught in the 20th centuiy. Even though the notion that the process movement brought about a genuine paradigm shift in the teaching of writing has recently been called into question (Matsuda, 2003), and preprocess writing pedagogy has been re-evaluated to reveal a range of differing techniques and approaches, it is still essential to have an overview of the main elements of the process writing movement, regardless of whether they were truly innovative or simply a reworking of older ideas.

The process writing movement, which was felt for some decades to be revolutionising the teaching of writing at all levels of education, cannot be reduced to a trick of rhetoric, an attempt to reconstruct a discipline through a "narrative of transformation", or a move to win academic and pedagogical respectability for English teachers (Matsuda, 2003, pp. …

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