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Developing writing skills in communicative language teaching

Abstract

Teaching English as a second Language involves exposing the practice to the constant
changes of new and innovative methods and techniques in order to maximize the
communicative competence of the learner. In the past several years Communicative
Language Teaching (CLT) has initiated a shifted from the top-down to the bottom- up
approach in order to ensure classroom interaction- become more learner centered. Given the
persistent failure rate of our students in English language examinations at the Secondary level
this paper makes a call for teachers to understand the CLT methodology more clearly and to
employ more creative and innovative technologies in their teaching of writing. This paper also
implores teachers to begin to teach writing communicatively from the primary level and
encourages teachers of writing to become writing teachers themselves.

Introduction

For quite sometime now there has been a new development in the area of language teaching.
Like most innovations, acceptance has been slow and has been approached warily by some or put
aside altogether by other teachers of English. One wonders why many teachers have developed
this attitude given the fact that writing- a key language skill-is usually dogged by despair- both
by teachers and students alike. The agony of the frustrated students when posed with a writing
task and the disappointment of the teacher when responding to such a task bears this out. This
problem not only remains at the class level, but also manifests itself on a national scale as can be
seen in the massive annual failures in English at SSCE level; the concessions which have to be
made for students entering the university system; and the high level of semi- illiteracy being
experienced in Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and other tertiary institutions.

Communicative Language teaching has now challenged the more traditional approaches into
being more content specific and learner-centred thus creating more exciting , creative and
unexpected outcomes. Unexpected, because earlier language teaching was largely preoccupied
with the predictable, leading the learner towards pre- specified objectives (White, 1987).

This paper discusses a very important skill in language teaching continuous writing- and details
how it should be taught in this more learner- centered approach. Given our own specialization as
ESL teachers some of our problems are highlighted and possible solutions suggested in the hope
of improving the teaching learning situation in this vital area.

Writing Research

Writing has been identified as the supreme checkpoint of the writers total mastery of the
language. It is a complex process which involves generating and developing ideas, analyzing
meanings and making decisions about content, form, organization, and style (Dehaven,1983). It
is only in 90s however, that research into writing established thought- provoking ideas about
what good writers do and how they do it. Past research into writing provided us with few
significant findings and were often contradictory as Zamel (1987) observed:

These past efforts to establish the best method were based on the faulty
assumptions that there was a best method and one just had to find it, that
teaching writing was a matter of prescribing a logically ordered set of
written task and exercise and that good writing conformed to a pre-
determined model. (p 97)

Earlier model- based approaches therefore concentrated with the product of writing and with
students writing as being patterns of the model. Critics for example Escholz (1980) and Watson
( 1982) pointed out that models tend to be too long and too remote from the students writing
problems. Flower and Hays (1977) noted that we task people to write primarily by describing
and dissecting a completed piece of writing, analysed the product but left the process of writing
up to inspiration. These efforts typically involved familiarization where learners studied
grammar and vocabulary, usually through a text; controlled writing where learners manipulated
fixed patterns, often from substitution tables; guided writing where learners imitated model texts
and free writing where in this case, learners use the pattern the have developed to write.
The search for something better led to more research into how students (both good or bad) write.
Much research in the &0s concluded that a linear model of writing is unhelpful since writing
seems to be a recursive process. Furthermore as writing is essentially a thinking process,
references to cognitive theories holds out some hope of providing a richer account of the writing
process that a view which explains it in terms of habbit- reinforcement ( white 1987:88). The
interest to researchers in writing as it explains that new informations acquired by a person in
either related or existing scheme or scheme accomadates it. The richer the scheme results in
more varied and adaptive the behaviour.

The Process Approach

Emphasis on viewing and experiencing writing as a product began to shift to ot as a process in


recent times when research began focusing on questions like :

How do write this?


How do I get started?

Basically the thrust of process- oriented research has been to explore the underlying process of
composing and all the different constraint that writers go through to produce a text.
Communicative language teaching involves communicative goals and the learner is encouraged
to communicate as fluently as possible. Flower and Hays ( 1980:27) have set up procedures for
the process. However, I will take this opportunity to share with you an eight step version of the
process which I am using and I find extremely helpful for my situation.

A possible sequence of teaching Writing would be :

1. Identify Writing Task- task should be identified clearly e.g Read all the words in the title
of the essay. Identify it according to the purpose of the writing and audience . what
message do I want to carry across to the reader? MAP ( Message Audience Purpose).
2. Produce Ideas (Brainstorm)-
Brainstorming means gathering / collecting ( researching) ideas, points, words,
expression that are connected to the topic. The extent of brainstorming depends on the
time and level of writing e.e an assignment in class vs a short or a long project where the
information gathering will be more sophisticated. As ideas come they should be jotted
down immediately in the form that they appear.
3. Organize ideas- ideas are grouped together to form distinct units with the aim of turning
them into paragraphs. Introductory and conclusion can also be constructed.
4. Write First Hand Draft- the first draft begins and student writes.
5. Improve first draft- this is another crucial stage of the process as Murray ( 1980: 2) states
writing is rewriting . this stage is neither editing nor perfecting but careful examination
of the content, aims, structure, vocabulary and other aspects of the writing At this stage
sentences may be reconstructed and huge chunks of the work may e reconstructed or may
be even change directions. Flowers and hays (1981) suggest that the writing is ego-
centric( writer-based). Writng is completely recursive and highly dynamic.
6. Write the Second Draft- improved version is rewritten neatly proofread
7. The second Draft- This where proof reading the second draft comes in with areas of
grammar, and mechanics take preference. Here the writer turns his prose into a reader
based acivity considering how his reader will be affected by what he has written.
8. Read and Respond- this is a teacher based task but sometimes it can also be a peer
assignment.

Problems

Several criticisms are often made either by those teachers who have tried the process and have
not been very successful or by those who have just speculated on possible issues that might arise
from the process. Some of these are :

1. Our students are different from native speakers who seem to have a head start in the
process. Our students have serious problems in grammar and syntax. Where do we fit in
the process approach?
2. We strongly feel that for corrections of from and expression that our students still need a
model. Can there be a place for a model in this approach?
3. Many teachers are afraid of loosing their authority and control in the classroom.
4. Teachers responses do not help writer improve.
5. Classes are too large . too much work to mark
6. There are no textbooks/ no teaching aids/ equipment
7. The process seems to lengthy. Can students follow the stress under examination
conditions?

In order however to avoid a problem of where to place the model, I suggest using the integrated
approach where a relevant text is given with grammar points, structure and vocabulary aid
brought out of the text then some type of questions could be answered. This would encourage
writing in a sentence level. Later on more lengthy continuous writing topics given. The grammar
points, structured vocabulary and would ensure remediation before the developmental process
begins.

Suggestions to Improve Teaching and Learning of the Writing Process within ESL

1. Teachers need to make a fresh commitment. Unfortunately, many teachers are still being
trained to use the traditional approach and as such are part of the problem not the
solution. More workshops to retrain teachers could be conducted with groups meeting on
a regular basis to report back and discuss problems. Teachers should be flexible towards
Communicative Language Teaching and be willing to try something new. This method
encourage collaboration not competition.
2. Task Specified Communicate as far as possible Study Model Practise
Recycler. (Grammar has its place but before the lesson. The model too has a place as
researchers White( 1988:88) Robinson (1991:104) and Raines (1983:11) agree. The
model should be placed after the first attempt at writing so that the model is then drawn
upon as resource materials.
White 1988:7)
However in some instances where texts must conform to certain specifications then the
class must include a study of the final product (Robinson 1991: 104).
3. Materials can be developed by teachers and pooled. A lot of reading materials to enrich
the scheme and also to provide models for writing can be collected.
4. At no point should the teacher feel in control , rather a greater freedom should be
experienced to enable him or her move around to assist students, individually or in
groups and to learn more about what is actually going on in the art of composing.
5. The teacher should often attempt writing task before the class to encourage students to
use the process at work first hand with false start s, rewriting and final decision on the
writing.
6. In the area of large classes several strategies can be adopted, team- teaching , group and
pair- works, pair assessment e.t.c can help. Teaching both in the learning process and to
cut down on large quantities of grading- these would then give students MORE
WRITING OPPORTUNITIES.
7. Zaniel (1987) states that ESL writing teachers view themselves as language teachers and
attend to surface level features of writing. teachers are then encouraged to look beyond
minor grammatical errors when grading and to assess the writing as a unit.
8. In the beginning the process is a bit lengthy with time and practice the students get more
proficient and they write and rewrite at a faster pace. In an examinations environment
therefore, students would have reached (because of practice) a higher level of expression
of their ideas and gain better grades even at the first draft stage.

What this paper has done is to briefly discuss what the writing process is and what is
involved when teaching it. Easy to follow steps were included for anyone wishing to try it
out with a class. The paper encourages teachers to be more flexible and willing to try the
methods in language teaching as it could only improve students writing and expose the
teacher to limitless opportunities to use his/her own creativity.

References