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Vol. 6. No.

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September 2002 Return to Main Page

Second Language Writing and Research: The Writing Process and Error Analysis in Student Texts
Johanne Myles Queen's University

Academic writing requires conscious effort and much practice in composing, developing, and analyzing ideas. Students writing in a second language are also faced with social and cognitive challenges related to second language acquisition. L1 models of writing instruction and research on composing processes have been the theoretical basis for using the process approach in L2 writing pedagogy. However, language proficiency and competence underlies the ability to write in the L2 in a fundamental way. Therefore, L2 writing instructors should take into account both strategy development and language skill development when working with students. This paper explores error in writing in relation to particular aspects of second language acquisition and theories of the writing process in L1 and L2. It can be argued that a focus on the writing process as a pedagogical tool is only appropriate for second language learners if attention is given to linguistic development, and if learners are able to get sufficient and effective feedback with regard to their errors in writing.

The ability to write well is not a naturally acquired skill; it is usually learned or culturally transmitted as a set of practices in formal instructional settings or other environments. Writing skills must be practiced and learned through experience. Writing also involves composing, which implies the ability either to tell or retell pieces of information in the form of narratives or description, or to transform information into new texts, as in expository or argumentative writing. Perhaps it is best viewed as a continuum of activities that range from the more mechanical or formal aspects of "writing down" on the one end, to the more complex act of composing on the other end (Omaggio Hadley, 1993). It is undoubtedly the act of composing, though, which can create problems for students, especially for those writing in a second language (L2) in academic contexts. Formulating new ideas can be difficult because it involves transforming or reworking information, which is much more

complex than writing as telling. By putting together concepts and solving problems, the writer engages in "a two-way interaction between continuously developing knowledge and continuously developing text" (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987, p. 12). Indeed, academic writing requires conscious effort and practice in composing, developing, and analyzing ideas. Compared to students writing in their native language (L1), however, students writing in their L2 have to also acquire proficiency in the use of the language as well as writing strategies, techniques and skills. They might also have to deal with instructors and later, faculty members, who may or may not get beyond their language problems when evaluating their work. Although a certain amount of consciousness-raising on the part of the readers may be warranted, students want to write close to error-free texts and they enter language courses with the expectations of becoming more proficient writers in the L2. [-1-] This paper explores error in writing in relation to particular aspects of second language acquisition and theories of the writing process in L1 and L2. I argue that the process approach to instruction, with its emphasis on the writing process, meaning making, invention and multiple drafts (Raimes, 1991), is only appropriate for second language learners if they are both able to get sufficient feedback with regard to their errors in writing, and are proficient enough in the language to implement revision strategies. A brief survey of the nature of L2 writing and L1 models of the writing process illustrates why it is difficult to apply L1 research to a model for second language writing. Further, certain social and cognitive factors related to second language acquisition show that strategies involved in the language learning process also affect L2 writing. With a discussion of these factors, fundamental questions about error in writing and L2 proficiency are raised. It should then become apparent that the process approach to writing instruction can only be effective if these two components are taken into consideration.

Models of L1 and L2 Writing
Most ESL students studying in post-secondary institutions have writing skills. However, their purposes for writing are sometimes not the kind valued by Western academic communities. The nature of academic literacy often confuses and disorients students, "particularly those who bring with them a set of conventions that are at odds with those of the academic world they are entering" (Kutz, Groden & Zamel, 1993, p. 30). In addition, the culture-specific nature of schemata--abstract mental structures representing our knowledge of things, events, and situations--can lead to difficulties when students write texts in L2. Knowing how to write a "summary" or "analysis" in Mandarin or Spanish does not necessarily mean that students will be able to do these things in English (Kern, 2000). As a result, any appropriate instruction must take into consideration the influence from various educational, social, and cultural experiences that students have in their native language. These include textual issues, such as rhetorical and cultural preferences for organizing information and structuring arguments, commonly referred to as contrastive rhetoric (Cai, 1999; Connor, 1997; Kaplan, 1987; Kobayashi & Rinnert, 1996; Leki, 1993; 1997; Matalene, 1985), knowledge of appropriate genres (Johns, 1995; Swales, 1990), familiarity with writing topics (Shen, 1989), and distinct cultural and instructional socialization (Coleman, 1996; Holliday, 1997; Valdes, 1995). In addition to instructional and cultural factors, L2 writers have varying commands of the target language, which affect the way structural errors are treated from both social and cognitive points of view.

116). The "problem-solving activity" is divided into two major components: the rhetorical situation (audience. The basic difference is revealed in their two models of writing: the knowledge-telling model. It examines the rhetorical problem in order to determine the potential difficulties a writer could experience during the composing process. From their research . In more recent studies that examine the goals students set for themselves. and formulaic expressions particular to the discourse. inner-directed cognitive process. Instruction should. writing "should not be viewed solely as an individually-oriented. assignment). 1981) model focuses on what writers do when they compose. the writer's persona. such as in peer group responses. [2-] The Flower and Hayes (1980. By guiding students toward a conscious awareness of how an audience will interpret their work. Flower and her colleagues (1990) analyze the academic task of reading-to-write to establish the interaction of context and cognition in performing a particular writing task. which involves more reflective problem-solving analysis and goal-setting. rhetorically. . where students need to learn how to operate successfully in an academic conversation that implies knowledge of the textual conventions. expectations. L1 models have had a significant influence on L2 writing instruction and the development of a theory of L2 writing. a look at two popular L1 models will give us some insight into the problem of developing a distinct construct of L2 writing. and in the process develop strategic knowledge. the emphasis here is placed on "students' strategic knowledge and the ability of students to transform information . However. and the writer's own goals (involving the reader. but as much as an acquired response to the discourse conventions . By comparing skilled and less-skilled writers. p. learners then learn to write with a "readerly" sensitivity (Kern. 222). One of the problems they note is the transition students are required to make when entering the academic discourse community (a peculiar. However. communicative act is later incorporated into Flower's (1994) socio-cognitive theory of writing. . 1996). the social dimension is important too. 1993). the construction of meaning. 1996. Although L2 writing is strategically. According to the researchers. . 2000). Indeed. to meet rhetorically constrained purposes" (Grabe & Kaplan. In the social cognitive curriculum students are taught as apprentices in negotiating an academic community. "conceptualizing this transition as a social/cognitive act of entering a discourse emphasizes both the problem-solving effort of a student learning to negotiate a new situation and the role the situation will play in what is learned" (p. Writing skills are acquired and used through negotiated interaction with real audience expectations. socially constructed convention in itself). . Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) also propose a model that suggests reasons for differences in writing ability between skilled and less-skilled writers. and the production of the formal text). whose basic structure depends on the processes of retrieving content from memory with regard to topical and genre cues. The authors discuss the notion of mental representation as a writing strategy. p. afford students the opportunity to participate in transactions with their own texts and the texts of others (Grabe & Kaplan. within particular communities" (Swales. topic. and the knowledge-transforming model. 1990. the strategies they use to develop their organizing of ideas and the metacognitive awareness they bring to both these acts. The view that writing is typically a socially situated. which is revealed through writing tasks that vary in processing complexity. then. The latter model is important because it opens up the idea of multiple processing. and linguistically different in many ways from L1 writing (Silva.Much of the research on L2 writing has been closely dependent on L1 research. 4).

composing. They also argue that the ability to wrestle with and resolve both content and rhetorical problems calls upon a dialectical process for reflection. These observations warrant consideration for L2 instruction and course design. Silva (1993) observes that learners revise at a superficial level. By incorporating pre-writing activities such as collaborative brainstorming. Similarly. L2 writers. Additionally. On the other hand. especially in the revision stage. Attention to the writing process stresses more of a workshop approach to instruction. and assume responsibility for what becomes of their minds" (p. p. in particular. and editing. the models do not account for growing language proficiency. however. those who have difficulty writing in their native language may not have a repertoire of strategies to help them in their L2 writing development (Sasaki & Hirose. . they are not likely to be able to perform those skills easily. students who are skilled writers in their native languages and have surpassed a certain L2 proficiency level can adequately transfer those skills. . 354)." rather than encouraging them "to follow their spontaneous interests and impulses . The Flower model. revise less. [-3-] Both the Flower and Hayes. multiple drafts and peer-group editing. choice of personally meaningful topics. L1 writing ability may also transfer to L2. 1996). and engages students in analyzing and commenting on a variety of texts. are in the process of acquiring these conventions and so they often need more instruction about the language itself. 361). Of course. which fosters classroom interaction. drafting. language structure. Despite their implications for classroom instruction. the revision is primarily focused on grammatical correction. The composing process does not depend on memories and emotions and on external (teacher) assistance for its direction. and the purposeful achievement of those goals. and when they do. The knowledge-transforming or intentional writing model is different from knowledge telling in that it involves setting of goals that are to be achieved through the composing process. Limited knowledge of vocabulary. "writing ability is more closely linked to fluency in and familiarity with the conventions of expository discourse" (Kogen 1986. In fact. 25). 2000). and content can inhibit a L2 writer's performance. revising. In addition.with graduate students. does not recognize crosscultural differences and issues related to sociocultural variation in the functions of the written language (Kern. especially for those courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) writing that include less-skilled writers or those who have never had the opportunity to engage in more knowledge-transforming tasks in their native languages. the instruction takes into consideration what writers do as they write. and the Bereiter and Scardamalia writing process models have served as the theoretical basis for using the process approach in both L1 and L2 writing instruction. In his research on how L2 writers revise their work. they observe that the students "generated goals for their compositions and engaged in problem solving involving structure and gist as well as verbatim representations" (p. The L1 theories also seem to support less teacher intervention and less attention to form. not all the components of these models are appropriate in an L2 context. . with native speakers. As a result. Bereiter and Scardamalia criticize formal schooling that encourages the more passive kind of cognition by "continually telling students what to do. If students rarely practice the kinds of writing tasks that develop knowledge-transforming skills. They re-read and reflect less on their written text. strategy instruction in the stages of composing. which is a vital element of L2 writing development. challenges L2 writers.

Consequently. motivations. As a result. Robinson & Smith. L2 writing instructors need to understand the social and cognitive factors involved in the process of second language acquisition and error in writing because these factors have a salient effect on L2 writing development. Despite problems in Gardner's research design. and as a result. then instrumental orientation becomes the more effective motivational factor. 1975. then it benefits more from integrative motivation. and concrete goals will have these attitudes reinforced if they experience success. just as they do when a person is acquiring a new language. I often ask . Giles. learners' negative attitudes may be strengthened by lack of success or by failure (McGroarty. There is a direct relationship between learner attitudes and learner motivation. and Hamers & Blanc. 1982. In addition to this interest. in proficiency type (for instance. social-cognitive theories of writing show us how social contexts for writing operate together with the cognitive efforts of the writer. whereas if it takes place among a community of speakers. [-4-] The Sources of Error in L2 Writing: Social and Cognitive Factors Social Factors Both social and cognitive factors affect language learning. have strong reasons for learning and improving their skills. For example. 1978. Learners who are instrumentally motivated are interested in learning the language for a particular purpose. p. the setting (formal and/or informal learning contexts). and goals can explain why some L2 writers perform better than others. 1982 for examples of other models that focus on the social circumstances of learning in relation to second language acquisition).In sum. especially at the revision stage. Research based on direct (self-report questionnaires) and indirect measures generally shows that learners with positive attitudes. the people or the culture represented by the other language group may also inspire them. Likewise. individual learner differences (related to motivation and language aptitude). but they can create a more positive context in which language learning is likely to flourish" (Bialystok & Hakuta. such as writing a dissertation or getting a job. 140). Exploration of social factors gives us some idea of why learners differ in rate of L2 learning. and in ultimate proficiency (Ellis. Gardner's (1985) socio-educational model is designed to account for the role of social factors in language acquisition. and learning outcomes. It interrelates four aspects of L2 learning: the social and cultural milieu (which determines beliefs about language and culture). in order to provide effective pedagogy. L2 students generally want more teacher involvement and guidance. 1994. However. 1994). the problem with applying L1 theories and subsequent models of instruction (such as the process approach) to L2 instruction is that L2 writing also involves the cognitively demanding task of generating meaningful text in a second language. According to the theory. (See Lambert. if second language learning takes place in isolation from a community of target language speakers. conversational ability versus writing ability). motivation. Giles & Byrne. 1980. On the other hand. although ESL learners may have negative attitudes toward writing for academic purposes. Schumann. Integrative motivation involves a desire to learn an L2 because individuals need to learn the target language to integrate into the community. many of them are financially and professionally committed to graduating from English-speaking universities. it can be concluded that motivational factors "probably do not make much difference on their own. at the beginning of each of my ESL writing classes. Learners' attitudes. instrumental motivation acknowledges the role that external influences and incentives play in strengthening the learners' desire to achieve. Needless to say. 1996).

and. are welcomed. it is likely that they will be inattentive to errors. and rhetorical concerns (Carson. Social factors also influence the quality of contact that learners will experience. if L2 learners are motivated to integrate into the L2. they often associate with other students from their L1 and speak their native language. such as difficulties getting started. Students are often disappointed that they do not have as much interaction with native speakers as they had expected. Consequently. a lack of integrative and instrumental motivation for learning. Common purposes for learners writing in an EAP context include writing a research paper for publication in an English-speaking journal or writing a business report for a multinational company. Even writing a standard research essay may seem like a waste of time for those who will need to write project reports and memos. and developing topics. instructors recommend that students studying English for academic purposes should read academic texts. negative attitudes toward the target language continued lack of progress in the L2 a wide social and psychological distance between them and the target culture. perceive that there is parental and social support. if students are highly motivated. Interaction is key. understand the talks. they may approach them in a careless manner. However. and have a desire to achieve their professional goals (instrumental motivation). 2001). they can become more proficient in their ability to write in English. Most students will answer that they hate writing in English (and in their native language. finding the right words. because they perceive that these tasks are not related to their needs. Unfortunately. this pattern can slow down L2 development in all skill areas. 4. [-5-] Writing teachers should be aware of how the instrumental motivation of their L2 students will influence the effectiveness of their lessons. A common complaint among ESL students at university is that they have difficulty meeting native speakers and getting to know them. abound.students to fill out a personal information form to determine their needs and interests when planning my course. these activities will have little effect on student progress. learners may continue to exhibit errors in their writing for the following social reasons: 1. In fact. they will develop a higher level of proficiency and positive attitudes. The answers to questions such as. These learners may be less motivated to write stories or poetry. it seems that many of the students would prefer to be practicing conversation. 3. or actively contribute to the study sessions. and even work with students who are native speakers in order to become more acquainted with the discourse. Cognitive Factors . for that matter). if they do not engage in the texts. If learners perceive writing tasks to be useless. Indeed. Students may enjoy writing e-mail messages to friends around the world. if students show an overall interest in the target language (integrative motivation). In addition. then any sort of writing task. 2. In short. "Do you enjoy writing in English?" and "What are your strengths and weaknesses in writing?" are revealing. we cannot assume that "more contact" with the target language will result in more acquisition of the L2. despite the initial lack of self-motivation. attend academic lectures. which can have a positive effect on their writing. However. monitoring. The instructor is often responsible for providing incentives or opportunities for interactions with native speakers. Certainly. and are only taking the course for educational and/or career purposes. but challenges. expressive or otherwise. Generally speaking. However.

coherence problems may be due to not knowing how to organize text or how to store the relevant information. 1990). including discourse knowledge. Due to the complex process of writing in a second language. cognitive. in which the writer plans what he/she is going to write by brainstorming. learners often find it difficult to develop all aspects of the stages simultaneously. The transformation stage involves converting information into meaningful sentences. then using production systems to generate language in phrases or constituents" (O'Malley & Chamot. and ultimately. The first two stages have been described as "setting goals and searching memory for information. if an environment is perceived to be stressful or threatening. understanding of audience. As a result. Revision is also part of this stage. and sociolinguistic rules (O'Malley & Chamot. 1996). 1990). being aware of what one is doing and responding appropriately to the demands of a task). practice in using this knowledge. the writer uses various types of knowledge. ideas. such as planning the organization of written discourse or monitoring (that is. O'Malley and Chamot have differentiated strategies into three categories: metacognitive. Anderson's learning theory supports teaching approaches that combine the development of language and content knowledge. the writer translates or changes his/her plans into a mental representation of the goals. 1988). As previously mentioned. but they need to be internalized so that they can be utilized in adverse learning situations. strategy selection. According to cognitive theory. but also the ability of students to analyze and evaluate the feedback they receive on their writing. revision is a cognitively demanding task for L2 learners because it not only involves task definition. and organization developed in the construction stage. transformation. for example. communicating orally or in writing is an active process of skill development and gradual elimination of errors as the learner internalizes the language. which corresponds to the physical process of producing the text. such as transferring or using known linguistic information to facilitate a new learning task or using imagery for recalling and using new vocabulary. writing as part of a job interview process. Writers vascillate between these processes as they actively develop the meaning they wish to express in writing. and social/affective strategies. In order to enhance or facilitate language production. With practice. 1990. acquisition is a product of the complex interaction of the linguistic environment and the learner's internal mechanisms. and modification of text in the writing plan (Grabe & Kaplan. students can develop particular learning strategies that isolate component mental processes. there is continual restructuring as learners shift these internal representations in order to achieve increasing degrees of mastery in L2 (McLaughlin. in which language rules are applied to transform intended meanings into the form of the message when the writer is composing or revising. 42). in peer revision classes. 2001). and execution. and strategy training to encourage independent learning (Snow. which involve cooperating with peers. for example. Indeed. p. using a mind-map or outline. evaluation. For example. For instance. [-6-] One model that applies to both speaking and writing in a second language is Anderson's (1985) model of language production. Learner strategies can be effective. which can be divided into three stages: construction. 1987). At this point. Acquisition of academic vocabulary and discourse style is particularly difficult. for the quality of the written product (Scardamalia & Bereiter. they selectively use only those aspects that are automatic or have already been proceduralized (O'Malley & Chamot. Organization at both the sentence and the text level is also important for effective communication of meaning. or performing . In structuring information.Academic writing is believed to be cognitively complex.

Some studies have indicated that input. 1994). p. or their age. which have focused on characteristics of L1 languages and cultures. learners are influenced by many global phenomena and are themselves continually changing with new experiences. Schumann (1998) argues that affect may influence cognition through its role in framing a problem and in adopting processing strategies. . 1989). many feel that these studies have also led to reductive. we may also employ feelings when time constraints and competing tasks limit our cognitive capacities" (p. [-8-] Input and interaction also play important roles in the writing process. along with L1 transfer and communicative need may work together to shape interlanguage (Ellis. 1997). Selinker. transfer is seen as a resource that the learner actively draws upon in interlanguage development (Selinker. race.under timed test conditions. 1994. . avoidance of target language forms. gender. p. 1994. In addition. 2000. though. 143). and purpose of their learning to write. 1972). and pedagogical traditions" (Kern. 1990). But such an account says little about why certain linguistic forms transfer and others do not. 1998. essentializing generalizations about ways of writing and cultural stereotypes about students from certain linguistic backgrounds (Fox. This outcome may affect the way second language students perform when they are under stress. when learners write under pressure. they may call upon systematic resources from their native language for the achievement and synthesis of meaning (Widdowson. p. "the L1 can have a direct effect on interlanguage development by influencing the hypotheses that learners construct" (Ellis. 1994. The study of transfer involves the study of errors (negative transfer). In other words. 342). Research has also shown that language learners sometimes use their native language when generating ideas and attending to details (Friedlander. class. 176) and the impact of language transfer can be illuminating for an understanding of why learners make certain structural and organizational errors. In addition. facilitation (positive transfer). have helped us predict rhetorical error in writing. According to McLaughlin. Spack. Behaviorist accounts claim that transfer is the cause of errors. Transfer is defined as the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously acquired (Odlin. In spite of these criticisms. the nature of comprehensible input. especially in classroom settings. However. Leki. learners' affective states can influence cognition. such as "the contexts. He states that we very often use feelings as information: "When faced with a situation about which we have to make a judgment we often ask ourselves how we feel about it . p. 1990). erroneous predictions about students' learning based on their L1 language and culture have occurred regardless of social factors. As a result. Research has focused on four broad areas: input frequency. to a certain extent. a writer's first language plays a complex and significant role in L2 acquisition. Emotional influences along with cognitive factors can account for achievement and performance in L2. contrastive studies. education. For example. [-7-] Language transfer is another important cognitive factor related to writing error. (1988. 50) Despite the fact that L1 transfer is no longer viewed as the only predictor or cause of error at the structural level (since it is difficult to distinguish empirically between instances of communication and language transfer in research studies). an understanding of "difference among epistemological rhetorical. and prior experience" (Raimes. whereas from a cognitive perspective. transfer errors can occur because: [L]earners lack the necessary information in the second language or the attentional capacity to activate the appropriate second-language routine. 1972). 1997. and their over-use (Ellis. These studies have been valuable in our understanding of L2 writing development. learner . 247).

Hull. We can see that writing in a second language is a complex process involving the ability to communicate in L2 (learner output) and the ability to construct a text in order to express one's ideas effectively in writing. However. These kinds of errors are especially common among L2 writers who have a lot of ideas. may actually be a mistake. in many of my own classes. The Sources of Error in L2 Writing There are several ways to think about error in writing in light of what we know about second language acquisition and what we know about how texts. [-9-] . (See Pellettieri (2000) for what happens when learners respond to each other on the computer and read texts containing spelling and grammar errors). the greater the possibility there is for errors at the morphosyntactic level. Spanish-speaking writers must undergo the task of cognitively exchanging the style of the Spanish language for that of English. Errors abound in peer review classes or in computer-mediated exchanges where learners read and respond to each other's compositions. For this transformation to happen. For instance. Indeed. which have emphasized the product (the error itself) to more constructivist views. According to Ellis (1985). context and the writing process interact with one another. but not enough language to express what they want to say in a comprehensible way. depending on proficiency level. If students are not exposed to native-like models of written texts. 1980. Social and cognitive factors and learner strategies help us in assessing the underlying reasons why L2 learners exhibit particular writing errors. their errors in writing are more likely to persist. which focus on underlying process (why the error is made). 2000). which is associated with learner competence.output in interaction. 1977). peer responses can be very useful. rhetorical and cultural conventions and even new uses of writing. errors can help us identify the cognitive strategies that the learner is using to process information. a "derailment" related to learner performance (Shaughnessy. students writing in a second language generally produce texts that contain varying degrees of grammatical and rhetorical errors. if the interaction. writing in an L2 can have errors and be less effective than writing in L1 (Kern. allows for adequate negotiation of meaning. and cultural norms (Plata. such as replacing their birth name with an English one. and the processes of collaborative discourse construction. In short. especially when the task requires more complex ideas. oral or written. From behaviorist and mentalist perspectives of error. can help them to become more immersed in the target language and culture. some students find that creating another persona. researchers have attempted to understand the errors in writers' texts by hypothesizing their possible sources (Bartholomae. it is through analyzing learner errors that we elevate "the status of errors from undesirability to that of a guide to the inner working of the language learning process" (p. including the effects of transfer and interference from the Spanish language. the more content-rich and creative the text. These "derailments" occur when students attempt to use the academic voice and make their sentences more intricate. because learners are less familiar and less confident with structural elements of a new language. What we classify as an error. 1995). Although reading an error-filled text can be tiring and disconcerting. 53). or more specifically in an EAP context. Writers need to receive adequate L2 input in order to form new hypotheses about syntactic and rhetorical forms in the target language. interlanguage talk or discourse is often the primary source of input for many learners. In fact. the writing problems experienced by Spanish speakers living in the United States may be due to a multiplicity of factors. As mentioned. 1985).

In addition. critical thinkers. most L2 learners' writing is judged according to criteria that are static and product-based. Implications for Teaching: Proficiency. Zamel. and writing as a skill developed over time. L2 writing relates closely to native-language literacy and particular instructional contexts. they are schematic representations of the writer's unique experiences within a particular social milieu. For example. More important. and receive recognition as well-informed. writers in L2 might lack familiarity with new rhetorical structures and the organization of ideas (Carson. 1997. which attempts to explain language as code. The definition of proficiency has consequences for L2 students. cope with the demands of academic English. learners may translate from L1. p. any definition of language proficiency is deeply entangled in theoretical attitude. 502). which is typical of a learner's interlanguage. in other words. On the one hand. 1993.which would cause them to make mistakes in any language. especially to the reader who has had little experience interacting with L2 speakers and texts. or backsliding. there is the functionalist approach. Matalene. Students may not be acquainted with English rhetoric. 2001. Instruction and Response to Error Although instructors may think of errors as part of a language learning process related to linguistic. In the learning process. Chinese or Indonesian students may write in accordance with a set of rhetorical norms (such as the "eight-legged" essay) that differ from those of English (Cai. According to this perspective. Errors in writing. 1989). & Zamel. According to Bialystok (1998). 1985. Finally. Fossilized errors can be problematic in writing because the errors become ingrained." where the emphasis is on fluency and not linguistic correctness. or they may try out what they assume is a legitimate structure of the target language. like bad habits. 13). is a concern when addressing proficiency issues. they often experience native language interference from developmental stages of interlanguage or from nonstandard elements in spoken dialects (a common occurrence in students writing in their native language as well). That teachers draw conclusions about intellectual ability on the basis of structural and grammatical problems has also been well documented (Sternglass. although hindered by insufficient knowledge of correct usage. and psycholinguistic contexts (Carson. Repeating a previous mistake. is a common occurrence in L2 writing. Raimes. Williams. 1987). On the other hand. Kutz. it affects their ability to complete writing tasks across the disciplines. some of which have already been mentioned. [10-] One problem in assessing language performance is that it must address the many factors related to the contexts in which language is used. can be glaring. mistake. situational. is the issue of fossilization--when "learner interlanguage competence diverges in more or less permanent ways from the target language grammar" (Odlin. Variability in writing. though. 1998). 2001). in a learner's repertoire. They can be common among immigrants who have learned much of the L2 "on the street." awkward discourse can occur for a variety of reasons. fossilized or otherwise. 1999. which explains proficiency in its relationship to communication in . Connor & Kaplan. 1994. First of all. Rhetoric and writing are direct outcomes of sociocultural and political contexts.Whether an error. Groden. or "derailment. learners are often unsure of what they want to express. 1987. and they reappear despite remediation and correction. which can lead to writing that appears off topic or incoherent to many native English speakers. there is the formalist approach. "language proficiency is an ultimately unknowable abstraction that reflects the universal competence of native speakers" (p. They also tend to over-generalize the rules for stylistic features when acquiring new discourse structures.

and proficiency as the degree of deviation from this norm. it is "the outcome of social interaction with a linguistic environment" (p. the greater the language proficiency (however defined). Wells (2000) argues that writing approached in this way is also an opportunity for knowledge building. then. and communicative application. counted and statistically analyzed. "as the writer both tries to anticipate the likely response of the envisaged audience and carries on a dialogue with the text being composed" (p. and if they do not receive enough conceptual feedback at the discourse level. but also a variety of genres of writing." Klein (1998) advocates acknowledging learner varieties.specific contexts. 2000). for L2 writers. accounted for in evaluating L2 writing performance and instruction (Grabe & Kaplan. with errors "marked. 1996). acknowledges personal characteristics. letters. 502). Language requires a combination of formal structure. 1998. error-free by definition and characterized by particular lexical repertoire and particular interaction of organizational principles" (p. However. the writer may need to provide more background information in order to communicate clearly. including flyers. Learners vary in the ultimate level of proficiency they achieve. the better the writing quality. communicative competence in writing should also take into consideration learner variability and error within particular contexts. 538). 504). therefore. Alongside the cultural and curricular aspects of standardization. Taking the concept of "knowledge transformation" further. However. 77). often both parties assume some common knowledge and take advantage of verbal and nonverbal communication. In this respect. especially for academic purposes. Instructional approaches that can be used effectively with L2 writers show us what is at stake for L2 instructors and students alike. such as inferencing and self-monitoring for obtaining input and for learning from it (Ellis. p. By examining a variety of written . topical or real-world knowledge. 1982). among other factors related to the social and cultural context (Brown. From a functionalist perspective. if students have not developed learning strategies to monitor their writing errors. and so forth. these are "systems in their own right. it may be more useful to think about proficiency as a process. common knowledge cannot be assumed. and affective schemata. In fact. In fact. there is variability in the process of L2 learning. 1994. functionally balanced system. Krashen. instead of setting the standard as a well-defined. in addition to the use of an assortment of strategies. a proper definition of language proficiency would "present identifiable standards against which to describe language skills of users in different contexts" (Bialystok. with many failing to reach target-language competence. or perhaps should be. which includes recognition of variations from the rules. that is. 1994). According to Klein. Both Flower (1994) and Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) have stressed the benefits of process approaches to writing instruction and the need for more knowledge-transforming tasks. A more complete conceptualization of language performance. Valuable insights from research in second language acquisition and writing development can assist in developing instructional techniques linking the two processes--acquiring a second language and developing writing skills. magazine articles. however. students may be able to communicate more effectively if they are exposed to models of not only standard paragraphs and essays. one in which learners alternate in their use of linguistic forms according to the linguistic and situational contexts (Ellis. In conversation. in written discourse. This variation is often the result of individual learner differences in motivation and aptitude. [-11-] First of all. Consequently. both language proficiency and composing abilities can. Nevertheless. then the positive effects of the instruction may backfire. a clear set of standards.

and social dimensions of error identification to be integrated with individual students' composing processes and their immediate concerns about language. [-12-] Students come to class both to improve their language proficiency and become more confident in their writing abilities. has proved to be valuable. Models can also be used for text analysis. 1994. Instruction should provide students with ample amounts of language input and instruction. structures. 142143). 548). and revising texts. 1991. students' awareness can be raised with regard to the way words. However. 1990. and it may not be effective for all learners. many teachers have large classes. Cumming (1995) also points out the benefits of cognitive modeling in writing instruction. They can also be made aware of different types of textual organization. Cummings refers to self-assessment as a component of one-to-one tutoring sessions.texts. Both these approaches promote knowledge-transforming models of composing. pp. which can help L2 writers see how particular grammatical features are used in authentic discourse contexts. In this way. and texts" (p. by extensive modeling. Self-evaluation can be encouraged in student portfolios. as the students progress. as well as writing experience (preferably through the interweaving of writing and reading. "students are supported by a scaffold of prompts and explanations. Proficient students who are also fairly skilled writers can benefit from this approach. they need to be aware of a variety of forms that "serve the writer's purpose instead of the other way around" (Atkinson & Ramanathan. Apprenticeship models of instruction. Depending on the learners' levels of proficiency and writing abilities. ideas. are also becoming more common. 1995. the use of specific prompts for cognitive modeling in different aspects of composing. and genre contribute to purposeful writing. In addition to the use of written models. 1995). Raimes. 2000. and teacher and peer responses. which can in turn affect L2 students' composing processes (Swales. p. convincing students to evaluate their own work requires additional instructional tools. as in the knowledge-telling model of the five-paragraph essay. models can seem fairly formulaic. Granted. Unfortunately. as it affords both students and teachers the opportunity to consider writing dialogically. Writing practice can also present diagnostic feedback that helps learners improve their linguistic accuracy at every level of proficiency. They start with what they already know and can do. 1998). reflecting on strategies for approaching a variety of literary tasks. including prompts for error identification. are ideally "more conducive environments for the textual. Cazden (1992) advocates the practice of scripting and performing texts in order to sensitize students to the many voices in a reading and how they interact. verbalizing the writing process step-by-step can be effective. and by reflection that connects strategic effort to outcomes" (Flower. but their learning is extended into what Vygotsky termed the "zone of proximal development" through strategic instruction. referred to as . which developed out of Vygotsky's sociocultural theories of language and literacy. Apprenticeship models enable learners to utilize the new language as a tool in the process of becoming selfregulatory. which involves explicit demonstration of the strategies experienced writers use when planning. making decisions. He also advocates that ESL instructors make explicit use of thinking or procedural-facilitation prompts and student self-evaluation as the optimal mode of assessment. cognitive. In addition. models of the target language are reinforced. collaborative construction of opportunities and active participation (Lantolf. However. Drawing on and revising student knowledge of genres. 1999). Similar to Cumming's suggestions for fostering writing expertise. and cultivating a metalanguage for discussing texts are important components of socio-literate methods (Johns. nonetheless. self-review checklists. by in-process support. 393). which in contrast to the classroom context. Schinke-Llano.

1994. Should teachers stress early mastery of the mechanical aspects of writing. whether given separately or together. White. except for a "note reminding the student that the final copy needs to be edited" (White. discourse. Specifically. but if errors are not pointed out and corrected. their cognitive style. for instance. and language. since improvement can be gained by writing practice alone (Robb. course goals. . 1990). In addition. locate errors. L1 research may advocate for focusing on conception and organization. student reactions to commentary. ideas. but if writers' linguistic ability sets limits to what they can do conceptually or affects the writing process itself. but problematic. In addition. 1988). and student revisions interact with each other in a formidable way. concluded that grammar and content feedback. some feel it may not be worth the instructor's time and effort to provide detailed feedback on sentence level grammar and syntax. focus on the structural aspects so that the writing closer resembles target language discourse. 1994. Practice alone may improve fluency. It is then assumed that the instructor has the authority to change the student's text and correct it (Rodby. Ross. there are many contradictory findings. 1989. Zamel. and grading procedures and standards are also important (Leki. To its benefit. 2001. p. The initial impulse for many teachers when reading L2 student writing is to edit the work. However. Ideally. Focused error correction can be highly desirable. their current language level. clarity. from their research on feedback and revision in an ESL context. learners should be encouraged to analyze and evaluate feedback themselves in order for it to be truly effective. 1993). and not on mechanical errors. survey reports in L2 have indicated that students both attend to and appreciate their teachers' pointing out of grammar problems (Brice. Classroom settings. Radecki & Swales. Ideally. and text are equated with structure. In classroom practice. code errors. Omaggio Hadley. Indeed. Teachers can correct errors. p. 1991. Fathman and Whalley (1990). We must be aware of the complexities involved in the revision process and respond to writing so that students can make modifications with confidence and competence. 1995. providing students with feedback on their writing is the other. Cohen. we need to consider factors related to language proficiency. and coherence before identification and grammar correction. 1987). is only one part of the teaching process. or should they urge their students to pay little attention to correctness. and writing skill development when giving feedback. and indicate the number of errors. 1997. Overt classroom instruction through modeling. the focus is on idea development. 109). then language. if this focus on error becomes the totality of the response. & Shortreed. 1986). attention to errors "provides the negative evidence students often need to reject or modify their hypotheses about how the target language is formed or functions" (Larsen-Freeman. Leki. 1991. second language acquisition. 1995. in addition to further writing practice (Cumming. the process approach may be effective. induce problemsolving and critical thinking. the effectiveness of feedback may depend on the level of students' motivation. Ferris. In support of this claim. encourage learning. Systematically encouraging learners to reflect on what they want to write and then helping them to make an appropriate choice of language forms has pedagogic value. and feedback to fulfill their goals. the way the feedback is used. as mentioned earlier. 1987. [-13-] However. and the attitudes of students toward their teacher and the class (Ferris. Goldstein. 293). 1999).. at least until after a first draft has been written? Again. the clarity of the feedback given. process models of writing instruction allow students time to reflect and seek input as they reshape their plans. Teacher commentary. 1997. Essentially."intertextuality" (Blanton. instruction and response serve to motivate revisions. then we need a combination of process instruction and attention to language development. they can become ingrained or fossilized in student writing. and how L2 writers react to the feedback influences the composing process. 1992). that is. How teachers intervene in writing instruction.

He has characterized it as inattentive to "learners' understanding of links between form and communicative conventions that will allow them to construct meanings in ways that are appropriate within the immediate academic context as well as the larger societal context" (p. Indeed. we need to apply to L2 writing the research methods utilized in exploring the composing process in L1 writing. it is apparent that many L2 writers do not have the necessary linguistic ability to reap the benefits of the approach. Although the process approach to instruction. Without individual attention and sufficient feedback on errors. and the opportunity for revision. the influence of second language factors on writing performance is something we have to reckon with and not pretend that concentrating on the process would automatically resolve the difficulty caused by these factors. improvement will not take place. such as think-aloud protocols. Overly detailed responses may overwhelm L2 writers and discourage substantive revision. [-14-] Feedback is of utmost importance to the writing process. (See Sengupta (2000) for research on the effects of explicit teaching of revision strategies on L2 learners' writing proficiency and perceptions about writing). Grammatical and rhetorical feedback should be attentive to the writers' level of proficiency and degree of readiness (Ferris. along with the acquisition of communicative competence. More research on the effectiveness of responses on revision should be examined. I used to tell my students that the only way to improve their writing is to keep writing-thinking that with enough practice in writing and revision (involving problem solving and reflection). collaboration. they would eventually acquire the fundamentals. will help to create a more comprehensive theory of L2 writing. Furthermore. then students will be disadvantaged in improving both writing and language skills. 1996. L2 writers require and expect specific overt feedback from teachers not only on content. Hedgcock & Lefkowitz. the process of writing in an academic environment is challenging. grammatical feedback had more effect on error correction than content feedback had on the improvement of content. but also on the form and structure of writing. 268) Kern (2000) also mentions that process-oriented teaching does not acknowledge the influence of sociocultural context on individual processes. We also need to understand how students compose in both their native languages and in English to understand more about their learning strategies (especially in monitoring errors). . or at least the standard. 1995. characterized by practice. Summary and Conclusion For English L2 writers. learners may be uncertain about what to do with various suggestions and how to incorporate them into their own revision processes. may be suitable for most English L1 writers.positively affect rewriting. 1997. 182). required of academic discourse. and transfer of skills. it is our responsibility to help learners to develop strategies for self-correction and regulation. (p. ethnographic research in L2 writing that examines the writing process. We must accept the fact that L2 writing contains errors. Lee. 1991). Certainly. However. the role of translation. In order to learn more about L2 writers' use of language in the process of writing. As Yau (1991) points out: [A]lthough we should not cripple our students' interest in writing through undue stress or grammatical correctness. If this feedback is not part of the instructional process. Leki. whereas minimal feedback may result in only surface modifications to the text.

D.About the Author Johanne Myles has been teaching ESL. (1999). Blanton. 48. Cultures of writing: An ethnographic comparison of L1 and L2 university writing/language programs.Heath and Company. ESL writers' reactions to teacher commentary: A case study. Cooper & L. College Composition and Communication.). Freeman. Text and context: Cross-disciplinary perspectives on language study (pp. M. Atkinson. learning and culture (pp. Ontario.D in Education with a focus on cultural and curriculum studies at Queen's University. Silva and P. (1995). 119-142). (2001). Her research interests include intercultural communication. MA: D.H. In T. Second language writing and second language acquisition. Brice. . Bartholomae. Lexington. Carson.TESOL Quarterly. (1980). Texts in contexts: Understanding Chinese students' English compositions. & Scardamalia.). [-15-] Cazden. Cai. 57-69). Coming of age in applied linguistics.5 meets college composition (pp. She is presently working on a Ph. Harklau. C. 539-568. (1987). (1992). EAP. The psychology of written composition. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.). 29. In C. D. NY: Longman. UK: Prentice Hall International.). Language Learning. Cognitive psychology and its implications. New York: W. Generation 1. V. In L. Hillsdale.). 31. D. Kingston. Study of error. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 279-297). White Plains.C. second language acquisition and second language writing. Siegal (Eds. ED 394 312). A. Bereiter. Performing expository texts in the foreign language classroom. In C.Urbana. G. 67-78). (1987). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. McConnell-Ginet (Eds. She intends to conduct ethnographic research on the communicative competence of engineering students who are non-native speakers of English in the workplace environment when on their internships. Evaluating writing: The role of teachers' knowledge about text. 191-200). Learner strategies in language learning (pp. Cohen. 253269. 497-518. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. K. J. C. Ill: National Council of Teachers of English. J. Odell (Eds. Wendon and J. Kramsch & S. H. References Anderson. Classroom instruction and language minority students: On teaching to"Smarter" readers and writers. and TESL for over 20 years in Canada and abroad. Mahwah. Bialystok. Student processing of feedback on their compositions. Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed. Mahwah. Brown.Matsuda (Eds. On second language writing (pp. Losey & M. C. In A. E. (1999). L. & Ramanathan. (1998). (1995). (2000). Canada. (1985).). Rubin (Eds.

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21. Recent research on writing pedagogy. (1987). 249-264). TESOL Quarterly. In V. (1998). V. TESOL Quarterly.Zamel. © Copyright rests with authors. 17. Mahwah. Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation. The composing processes of advanced ESL students: Six case studies. Strangers in academia: The experiences of faculty and ESL students across the curriculum. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately. Zamel. V. Spack (Eds. V. Zamel. (1983).). Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures (pp. 165-187. 697-715. Return to Table of Contents [-20-] Return to Top Return to Main Page . NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Zamel & R.

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