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13.2 Theories of Teaching Writing

durenmgmail-com November 9, 2021

Teaching and learning writing in EFL and ESL classrooms are demanding. Researchers have developed various theories to assist students and teachers in coping with language proficiency and writing. The teachers must know and understand the theories and methods of teaching writing to allow them to implement research-based practices better.

Let us go over a few of the researched-based theories below:

a) The Cognitive Process Theory of Writing

Writing is a thinking process. To write, a writer needs creativity and mental processes such as brainstorming, planning, and organising. Therefore, the cognitive writing process aims to teach students to use mental processing in producing a piece of writing. It is more popular than other writing theories as it has many benefits. This theory was introduced by Flower and Hayes, which made an effort to introduce the theory of cognitive processes involved in composing and to lay the groundwork for a more detailed study of thinking processes in writing. The elements highlighted by Flower and Hayes in this theory are, “Writers have to go through a process of thinking before writing.” In short, it focuses exclusively on the mental writing process.

b) The Sociocultural theory of Writing

The sociocultural theory of writing was invented by Vygotsky, giving importance to motivation, affect, and social influences as writing components. It also explains human learning as a social process and how human intelligence originates in society or culture. Another critical point in this theory is that socialising or interaction is crucial in developing the mental action or process to acquire knowledge. Vygotsky introduced the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which explains that students need help and socialising to develop themselves. Therefore, in EFL and ESL writing classrooms, students need collaboration with peers and support from the teachers.

c) Ecological Theory

Copper proposed the ecological theory and described it as an ecology of writing which encompasses much more than the individual writer and his/her immediate context. The students in the writing class interact with one another creating a system where all students and the product of writing both regulate other students’ writings and have theirs regulated by others.

d) Teaching Approaches

EFL and ESL teachers need to design a very systematic plan for each lesson to engage students to achieve successful learning. Hence, besides methods and techniques, approaches matched to the needs of the students are essential.

Students in EFL and ESL classrooms come from various backgrounds and proficiency levels due to many factors; one is exposed to the target language. It may vary based on their location, urban or rural, family background, or certain situations.

e) Importance of Writing Approaches

Identifying the correct approach for the class is crucial to getting effective results. Choosing a non-ideal method can make the lessons daunting to the EFL/ESL learners and may also disappoint the teachers after putting in much hard work from planning and teaching.

Adopting an appropriate approach in the classroom is essential and can be very motivating to the students and teacher, depending on the teacher’s goal.

For instance, beginners with minimal proficiency should be exposed to a product-based approach as they need models or examples to begin their writing journey. Without an approach, the writing classroom will move in multiple directions; thus, the particular lesson goal will not be achievable.

EFL/ESL teachers can determine a specific approach for the class that needs to be applied in one particular lesson. However, It is also essential to expose and enable students to various types of approaches and methods. This will allow students to identify and use the correct approach in future writing activities. Students who are aware of the approaches produce a quality piece of writing.

f) Approaches to Teaching Writing in ESL Classrooms

Writing approaches to first language users differ from second or foreign language learners. Researchers formulated many theories and approaches to cater to EFL and ESL learners writing needs. These writing approaches have changed over the years to enable EFL/ESL students to become good writers. Let us have a look at a few approaches identified by practitioners for EFL/ESL students below.

  1.  Product-based Approaches

The product-based approach is a writing process that aims to see the end product. In other words, students imitate a model structure provided by the teachers. For example, in the writing classrooms, teachers provide examples or model structures for the students, and based on the models, the students produce a similar structure. To apply this approach in the EFL/ESL writing classroom, there are four steps to adhere to;

Model text:

  • Students need to read the model composition and take note of the notable features of composition, which are an arrangement of ideas, the use of language, and the mechanics of writing.

Controlled practice:

  • Students perform controlled practices to exercise the components outlined in the model text.

Organising ideas:

  • Students attempt to mimic the model essay by organising a collection of pre-set thoughts to suit the model.

Final Product:

  • Finally, students produce their texts. Students perform the task by using their skills, sentence structures, and various level of vocabulary to compose the anticipated composition. Some of the advantages of this approach are that students start learning how to systematically use particular pattern-product methods in writing composition, especially in writing narrative descriptive and persuasive essays. Also, students learn to correct vocabulary and various sentence patterns for these text types and improve students’ grammatical awareness. The teacher must provide students with feedback on their production.

The product-based approach has no concern over the writing process but the grammar structure and syntax. It can sometimes demotivate the students when accuracy in mimicking is focused rather than students’ creativity.

  1. Genre-based Approach

Genre recognises how we use language for a variety of social purposes. The genre-based approach is goal orientated and provides students with how to replicate particular genres and attempts to identify the features of successful writing within a defined genre.

Genre writing is considered similar to the product approach in that it also sees writing from a linguistic viewpoint. Nevertheless, there is a significant distinction between the genre and product approaches. Unlike the product approach, the genre approach focuses on the social context in which writing is produced. Texts can be grouped into different genres and are typically written for various social purposes. Each genre (e.g., email, formal letters, storytelling, etc.) has standard conventional features. The teachers’ role is to raise the students’ awareness of these features and help them learn how to produce texts with the same features.

We assume that teachers should also focus on their students’ awareness and interpretation of different genres to avoid producing texts that will likely cause an adverse reaction. The standard features of genres include things like layout, content, style, organisation, and diction. Suppose these are not examined and prepared by the students in different examples. In that case, they will not be able to communicate their intentions properly, and their productions will surely break the reader’s expectations.

Texts are socially built and follow social rules that the students have to value. It helps to understand the reason behind discourse formation by examining its language and its social context and goal. Wedding invitations, for example, share so many features that when we see an example of them, it is instantly evident from its layout and language.

Practically, the genre approach draws on Vygotsky’s social constructivism, which considers language as a consequence of human interaction. The procedure is based on three main stages: awareness-raising, appropriation, and autonomy. During the lesson, scaffolding is provided, and the teacher supports learners as they progress in their linguistic ability and become independent.

  • Process-based Approach

On the other hand, a process-based approach gives great importance to getting the end product. There are four processes involved in the writing process; planning, drafting, revising, and editing. Students receiving feedback on their drafts, be it from peers or the teacher, followed by revision of their evolving texts, is one of the crucial steps in the process-based approach.

In this approach, the students are urged to go through various stages before presenting their final version. Four stages are recognised in this process:

  1. Planning
  2. Drafting
  3. Revising
  4. Editing

As its name suggests, process writing focuses on the process a writer goes through before finalising a piece of writing.

The popular process-based approach has many benefits. It enables writers to move back and forth to improve their writing and develop creativity when they produce their compositions. Students can enhance their writing abilities in the classroom as scaffolding occurs, and teachers and peers provide feedback, allowing students to become better writers. Despite the advantages, the process-based approach has its disadvantages, and it consumes a significant amount of time and focuses on the process instead of structures and grammar.

  1. Planning

At the prewriting stage, students are encouraged to gather as much information about the topic as possible. Planning exercises can be used, such as:

  • answers to questions
  • brainstorming
  • quick write
  • discussions

After forming enough ideas about the topic, the students sort and organise them into an outline, preferably a visual diagram.

  • Drafting

Drafting is the first attempt at writing. Once the student has gathered enough ideas about the topic, they can begin writing the first draft. Pay careful attention to the following points:

  • At this stage, the focus is on the fluency of writing;
  • While drafting, the audience should be acknowledged. The audience in mind gives direction to the writing;
  • The learners should not be preoccupied too much with accuracy.

There might be some kind of response to the students’ drafts; this can be in the form of a quick oral or written initial reaction to the draft, either from other peers or from the teacher.

  • Revising

Using the feedback from their peers or the teacher, the learners will check whether their writing conveys meaning efficiently to the expected audience. For example, some ideas may be rejected, while others may be improved. Revising is not only correcting language errors. It is instead a look at the overall content and creation of ideas. The structure of paragraphs might also be altered during revision, and the overall organisation may be refined to convey logical content.

  • Editing

Editing can be done by the learners (i.e., self-editing) or with the help of their peers (i.e., peer editing). Once the learners have finished revising, they start tidying up their drafts. The focus is on elements like:

  • mechanics (punctuation, punctuation)
  • grammar (tense, sentence structure, prepositions)
  • diction (choice of words)

A checklist may be provided to this effect:

  • Are the prepositions correctly used?
  • Is the choice of vocabulary items appropriate?
  • Is the verb correctly formed?
  • Have you checked the subject-verb agreement?
  • Have you used correct sentence structures?
  • Are the verbs in the correct tense?
  • Have you checked the use of articles?