English as a Foreign Language Writing & Self-Assessment

Historically, the approaches to the teaching of EFL writing developed concurrently with those of native English writing. From the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, there have been several approaches to the teaching of composition. At different stages, some of these approaches gained popularity over others and then receded into the background but never disappeared completely (Silva 1990). Until the 1970s, the pedagogical practice focused on skills of interpretation of literary texts rather than planning, drafting, and proofreading writing. To amend this teaching drawback, educators developed models for essays that included linear outlines and templates. Students were to use these tools in the composition of their writings and teachers assessed their works as writing products in terms of instructional compliance (Ferris & Hedgcock 2004). This product approach is considered traditional and is used in many schools and universities that provide education in English as a foreign language. In Saudi Arabia, for example, researchers have observed the domination of the product approach to the teaching of EFL writing (Al-Hazmi & Scholfield 2007). According to Gabrielatos (2002, p. 5), the student’s task in the product approach is to “mimic a model text”, paying special attention to language structures. Traditionally, educators distinguish four stages of writing in the product approach: familiarisation, controlled writing, guided writing and free writing. A brief description of each stage is as follows. In the familiarisation stage, students are shown a sample text and the teacher’s task is to draw their attention to stylistic and linguistic features of the text. Controlled writing implies practicing the techniques that were studied at the familiarisation stage. As a rule, the practical tasks are context-independent, which means that students may be asked to make up different, isolated sentences using target language structures, such as “Would it be too much to ask…” or “I am writing to inform…” and so forth. The guided writing stage presupposes the organization of ideas for a writing product. More often than not, educators express the belief that the organization of ideas in product writing is “more important than the ideas themselves” (Steele 2004, p. 12). In the free writing stage, in the composition of their writing products, students should apply all knowledge and skills obtained during the previous stages.

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Apparently, the widespread occurrence of the product approach in the teaching of EFL writing may be explained by several factors. First, it concerns specific language structures that are commonly used in various types of writing. Moreover, the product approach explains the use of vocabulary and stylistic differences between synonyms and focuses on the composition of sentences and paragraphs. On the whole, students who are taught EFL writing by this approach tend to make fewer grammatical and spelling mistakes (Silva 1990). The product approach is oriented on individual work, making it suitable for those students who prefer working alone. Furthermore, a model text that is shown to students before their writing may serve as an example and provide a basis for composition. However, many writers and educators have criticized this approach for its excessive amount of instruction. Thulasi, Ismail and Salam (2015) point out that product-oriented teaching trains students to imitate sentences. Thus, the product approach in EFL writing limits creativity since the student’s main task is to follow the linguistic instructions. A teacher plays the role of an “error hunter” by searching for mistakes in grammar and marking and grading the writing product instead of evaluating it (Lee 2011; Thulasi, Ismail, & Salam 2015). Gabrielatos (2002) argued that by “over-concentrating on grammar and vocabulary”, students may ignore other aspects that are significant in good writing, and we fully support this view (p. 3).

As a response to the product approach that focused on the linguistic knowledge rather than linguistic skills, in the 1980s, educators began to search for teaching methods that would concentrate more on the content than the form. These searches resulted in the process approach that serves as an umbrella term for an extensive number of composition teaching methods. All these methods are aimed at the development of an individual writing style and regard a writer as “a creator of original ideas” (Ferris & Hedgcock 2004, p. 5). Process-oriented writing implies the cyclic process of a close teacher-student or student-student cooperation. In the course of writing, a student is supposed to make several drafts, show them to peers or a teacher, receive some feedback and then revise and rewrite the text (Ferris & Hedgcock 2004; Hasan & Akhand 2010). According to Gabrielatos (2002), the teacher’s task is to teach students to consider several points in their writing: the relationship between the writer and the reader, the reader’s purpose, the writer’s purpose, the reader’s knowledge and background information. Many educators have divided the process of writing into a different number of stages. For example, Tribble (1996), followed by Badger and White (2000) distinguished four stages: prewriting, composing/drafting, revising and editing. However, Steele (2004) distinguished eight basic stages in process-oriented writing. These stages include brainstorming, planning, mind mapping, first-draft composing, peer feedback, editing, final draft composing and evaluation. The brainstorming stage implies the initial generation of ideas and their subsequent discussion. At this stage, students are free to suggest any ideas that come to their minds. Planning involves the selection of relevant ideas that are organized into a hierarchy at the mind mapping stage. After discussion and planning, students write their first drafts in class and exchange them with peers. After the peer feedback stage, students edit their drafts according to the suggestions they have received for improving, creating a final draft that they submit to a teacher. One of the features of the process approach is that after the teacher’s evaluation, students may revise and edit the written work using the teacher’s comments as a basis for improvement.

The process approach presupposes the collaborative work of students. This feature is favorable for extroverted learners who obtain most of their knowledge through communication. Cohen and Cavalcanti (1990) conducted an empirical study that has shown that two of three students prefer to consult a teacher before engaging in the writing process or during writing. On the other hand, the process approach will not work with those students who perform better in individual writing. Moreover, in the process approach, teachers pay more attention to the content of the paper, tolerating grammatical mistakes, which may be considered as a primary drawback of this approach (Al-Hazmi & Scholfield 2007; Thulasi, Ismail, & Salam 2015). However, Gabrielatos (2002) argues that the process approach does not exclude teaching activities that are devoted to the development of linguistic knowledge in students. On the contrary, a teacher should provide information about the elements of good writing. The process approach is highly pragmatic since it teaches students to consider the final recipient of the text. This consideration helps the student to select relevant information that will be interesting for the reader and to organize it in a way that will allow for a facilitated and immediate comprehension. Badger and White (2000, p. 154) express the rather interesting idea of comparing second language learners with children: “Like babies and young children who develop, rather than learn, their mother tongue, second language learners develop, rather than consciously learn, writing skills.” Thus, the teacher’s task in the process approach is to facilitate this development and unlock the potential of learners.

Similar to the process approach, the genre approach is developed to teach EFL students to write for the final reader. However, the teaching of genre-oriented writing also emphasizes the significance of the situation or the social context in which the writer will take place (Badger & White 2000; Flowerdew 1993; Hyland 2004). Following Swales’ ideas, Flowerdew (1993, p. 305) defines the genre as “class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of purposes”. The first to introduce the concept of genre in the teaching of composition was Christopher Candlin in the early 1990s. He believed that genre is an important factor that should be emphasized in the course of professional communication teaching since the representatives of individual professions, the “discourse communities”, will build their professional communication on common purposes or genres (Flowerdew 1993, p. 305). Thus, a teacher should focus the attention of students on those discourses and linguistic features that will be relevant in the particular communicative contexts. The genre approach is often compared to the product approach because it has three stages of text composition that essentially correspond to the four stages of product-oriented writing (Badger & White 2000; Hyland 2004). The first stage is the modeling of a target genre in which students are shown the model of the genre that they should reproduce (similar to the stage of familiarisation in the product approach). The second stage is text composition in which both a teacher and students take an active part. The assistance of a teacher is crucial at the second stage because the instructor should explain and exemplify all language constructions that are relevant to the given genre. The second stage is similar to the stages of controlled and guided writing in the product approach where students do practical tasks with a teacher’s assistance. The third stage involves independent text composition in which students create texts using all the knowledge they obtained during the previous stages (similar to the free writing stage of the product approach).

As in the case with the product approach, genre-oriented writing will be suitable for those students who learn better from exposure to examples than from active communication (Hyland 2004). The genre approach does not limit individual creativity and, at the same time, is relatively pragmatic since it is oriented towards social context (Hasan & Akhand 2010). Moreover, given the fact that writing for communicative purposes requires various types of outside knowledge, the genre approach allows for versatile cognitive development of both the teacher and students (Badger & White 2000). However, this may present a problem since the familiarisation with a model text requires the understanding of its rhetoric, and if students are not familiar with the suggested topic, it will be difficult for them to work through the subsequent stages of text composition (Hasan & Akhand 2010). As in the product approach, genre-oriented writing does not presuppose much in the way of pre-writing instructions and focuses only on certain types of writing. Moreover, Hasan and Akhand (2010) argue that the genre approach sometimes “over-focuses” on the reader, completely neglecting student expression (p. 83). In genre-oriented writing the composition of a text presents, in fact, analysis and imitation of a model, which allows concluding that this approach undervalues the language skills of students and considers them as largely passive (Badger & White 2000; Hasan & Akhand 2010).

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Since all three approaches have their strong and weak points, Badger and White (2000) believe that the combination of the three would be the most advantageous strategy since they would complement each other. Indeed, with the production approach that teaches the imitation of models, the process approach with its disregard for different types of texts, and the genre approach with its over-focus on the social context, EFL teaching needs more balance in its methodology. The balanced combination of approaches should include linguistic knowledge (as in the product and genre-oriented approaches), skills that allow students to use this knowledge (as in the process approach) and purpose of writing (as in the genre approach) (Badger & White 2000). It seems to be a logical conclusion since, in this case, the teaching of EFL writing would be aimed at the realization of students’ writing potential as in the process approach. The role of an educator would be more helpful because, instead of evaluating and assessing students, a teacher would help them to develop their cognitive and writing skills (Lee 2011). The history of the development of these EFL teaching methods has lasted from the beginning of the 20th century, shifting its focus from one of the three existing approaches to another. Nowadays, the education system has all prerequisites needed to adopt a new approach that would combine all advantages of the product, process and genre approaches.

The 20th century was marked by the necessity of developing the approaches to the teaching of EFL writing. As a response to this necessity, educators gradually developed three approaches that had different objectives and goals for teachers and students. At different stages, some of these approaches became more popular and were accepted in the majority of educational organizations. The product approach is considered to be the prevailing one, as it is traditionally used in various schools, universities and linguistic centers. Perhaps its wide application can be explained by the formality of modern education where a teachers’ objective is to grade and assess students’ papers but not their knowledge. Apparently, the genre approach is opposed to the product-oriented one, as it considers the social context in which students should apply the linguistic skills and competencies that they acquired during the class. However, the genre approach is complicated by the fact that it presupposes the outside knowledge that students may need in order to understand the teacher’s objectives. In this case, the process approach seems to be the most reasonable as it aims at the development of students’ linguistic potential. Therefore, the modern teaching of EFL writing should focus on the development of a new method that would use all the advantages of all three approaches or apply the process approach.

Reference List

Al-Hazmi, S & Schofield, P 2007, ‘Enforced revision with checklist and peer feedback in EFL writing: the example of Saudi university students’, Scientific Journal of King Faisal University (Humanities and Management Sciences), vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 237-267.

Badger, R & White, G 2000, ‘A process genre approach to teaching writing’, English Language Teaching Journal, vol. 54, no. 2, pp. 153-160.

Cohen, A & Cavalcanti, M 1990, ‘Feedback on compositions: teacher and student verbal reports’, in B Kroll (ed), Second language writing: research insights for the classroom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 155–177.

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Ferris, DR & Hedgcock, J 2004, Teaching ESL composition: purpose, process, and practice, Routledge, New York.

Flowerdew, J 1993, ‘An educational, or process, approach to the teaching of professional genres’. English Language Teaching Journal, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 305-316.

Gabrielatos, C 2002, EFL writing: product and process. Web.

Hasan, MK & Akhand, MM 2010, ‘Approaches to writing in EFL/ESL context: balancing product and process in writing class at tertiary level’, Journal of NELTA, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 77-88.

Hyland, K 2004, Genre and second language writing, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Lee, I 2011, ‘Formative assessment in EFL writing: an exploratory case study’, Changing English, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 99-111.

Silva, T 1990, ‘Second language composition instruction: developments, issues, and directions in ESL’, in B Kroll (ed), Second language writing: research insights for the classroom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp.11-23.

Steele, V 2004, Product and process writing: a comparison. Web.

Thulasi, S, Ismail, FB & Salam, ARB 2015, ‘Role of model essays in developing students writing skills in Malaysian schools: a review of literature’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 6, no.1, pp. 789-795.

Tribble, C 1996, Writing, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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