Writing is traditionally considered to be a very important part of the learning process since with poor writing skills students can hardly achieve positive results in their learning. At the same time, the teaching of writing skills is often accompanied by numerous difficulties that make the entire learning process less effective than it could potentially be. In spite of the fact that writing is an essential component of learning process that has been practiced almost from the beginning of teaching, there are still a lot of arguments concerning really effective methods of teaching which could be really successful and provide students with sufficient knowledge and skills that could make their writing good and corresponding to their level of development.
Also, it is worthy of mention the fact that educators are often focused on the search for effective methods of teaching writing, and naturally they fail to succeed in their work since it is necessary to view writing at large. What is meant here is the necessity to view writing not as a separate activity students have to learn but as a part of the educational process at large that implies that teachers should understand the essence of the writing process and conditions on which writing skills could be developed the most effective as well as the impact of students background on their learning, especially in relation to their writing skills. In such a way, it is necessary to view the writing in the cultural context, analyze its correlation to reading as an essential element that contributes to successful teaching writing and find out some perspective approaches to teaching writing skills.
Beliefs concerning writing
However, first of all, it is necessary to dwell upon the basic views on writing and traditional beliefs that educators have concerning writing. Naturally, the development of educational doctrines concerning teaching writing skills resulted in the spread of various beliefs which are not always supported by evidence or which turn to be just a kind if myths than real facts.
First of all, it should be said that probably one of the most widely spread beliefs concerning writing is the idea that writing is social and, therefore, is best taught in collaborative and communal settings (Kirby et al. 2004). At this point, it is necessary to agree that writing is social but on the other hand it is also necessary to underline the fact that the practical realization of the idea of creation a collaborative and communal setting does not increase the effectiveness of the learning process. Specialists (Kirby et al. 2004) underline that while realizing the collaborative strategy teachers need to encourage student cooperation and their group work that often results in the wasting of time on activities that are not directly related to the teaching writing. To put it more precisely, teachers often need to spend “more time on crowd control and playing the group cop” (Kirby et al. 2004:4).
Obviously, such a belief and its practical implementation turn to be not very effective. Consequently, this approach cannot be fully applied to teaching writing skills, even though such a belief is widely spread among many educators.
Furthermore, when educators discuss the problem of teaching writing skills they often argue that coached practice is essential (Kirby et al. 2004). This belief implies that writing should be an interactive process while often it is a one-sided activity when student writes and, in response, just receive some comments from teachers. Instead, teachers should assist their students and show the ways to improve their writing, encourage them to write better and give them advice that can help them become good writers.
At the same time, many teachers face a serious problem in teaching writing skills just at the beginning of their work with students. In fact, teachers often cannot define what they should start with. In this respect, specialists (Kirby et al. 2004) recommend starting with fluency. This means that teachers should prepare their students to their writing though easing into new, unfamiliar forms (Kirby et al. 2004). In other words, students should get acquainted with new forms and then start practicing their writing skills and get ready to experiment with their writing.
As students progress in their writing, the teaching grows more and more complicated. However, many educators tend to focus on teaching parts while they do not help students to learn writing at large as a whole, while the whole is, beyond doubt, more important than the sum of parts (Kirby et al. 2004). In fact, it is probably the most difficult thing about teaching writing – to teach students to unite all their knowledge about writing into the whole that is one of the major goals of teaching writing skills. If teachers succeed in it, students will make considerable progress, but it is necessary to remember that the growth of students’ skills should be supported by an adequate and objective assessment that can stimulate their work and encourage them to write more (Kirby et al. 2004).
Obviously, the beliefs mentioned above are just the basic concepts that may be crucial for successful teaching of writing skills but anyway they need to be realized in practice first to become effective.
The correlation between reading and writing
Obviously, students need to have a lot of examples of good writing to achieve fluency in their writing skills. In this respect, it is necessary to pay particular attention to reading which should be viewed as an essential component of teaching writing skills. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that Linda Rief underlines that “we have forgotten that a person can read without writing, but cannot write without reading” (2003:10).
In such a way, teachers should start teaching writing skills from the improvement of students reading proficiency. Even though it sounds a bit paradoxical but the benefits of such approach are evident. In fact, through reading, students learn various styles, forms, and structures of writing. They get acquainted with the ready-made models of writing which they can amply use in their further learning of writing skills. It is quite possible to apply the reading material as a model for students writing. In such a way, the desirable fluency of students writing may be achieved due to their reading experience. At the same time, reading also helps students to avoid numerous mistakes they can make in their writing since they can learn from reading the correct grammatical and stylistic forms which they use as samples in their writing.
As students acquire their basic knowledge about writing mainly from reading, it is possible to improve their fluency through stimulation of their writing. At this stage, it is possible to start to implement various methods targeting at the improvement and enlargement of students’ writing skills and abilities. In this respect, it is possible to recommend implementing coaching writing developed by William Strong (2001). In spite the fact that this approach is often criticized, it can be quite effective and contribute to the positive development of students’ writing skills. Naturally, it is possible to argue that coaching writing tends, in a way, to some drilling but at the same time this approach may be quite interesting for students.
In this respect, Strong underlines that he uses sentence combining, which is the basis of his approach, “to make good sentences, not long ones” (2001:16). This is one of the major principles of this approach since the quality should dominate over quantity. Furthermore, Strong argues that sentence combining “builds fluency and prompts students to write more varied, syntactically mature sentences” (2001:23). At the same time Strong is conscious of the possible negative impact of pure drilling, this is why he warns that it is necessary to focus on “ways of working smarter, not harder – and thus reducing the risk of burnout in teaching” (2001:7).
In such a way, this approach may be viewed as another step in the increasing students’ fluency in writing which may harmoniously accomplish their skills and experience acquired from reading.
Writing as a writer
Naturally, the fluency is important in teaching writing skills, but students need to learn new skills to keep progressing in their writing. This means that they need to become more proficient in their writing that implies the acquisition of new, more profound knowledge of language and writing. What is probably even more important is the practical implementation of students’ knowledge and skills. In fact, Tom Romano underlines that “learning to use language, to discover and communicate ideas is essential for making sense of our experience – our academic experience, our personal experience” (1987:7). At the same time, the profound understanding of language and the view on writing from the position of a writer should be mutual, i.e., on the part of both students and teachers. In this respect, Romano states that “sensitive, knowledgeable teachers who know writing from inside are invaluable” (1987:7).
Obviously, if teachers can perfectly understand what writing is, then they can convey all the nuances of the writing process to their students. They should be able to make their students be a writer, to think like a writer and, what is more, students should “think about their thinking” (Strong 2001:186). In such a way, students acquire essential experience and can improve their writing skills, while teachers can teach their students to view the language and to write as the whole, as the system uniting all their knowledge about its parts.
Writing in cultural context
At the same time, at the upper stages of the development of students writing skills, teachers face another challenge – they need to take into consideration the cultural context and background of their students. It is not a secret that students from different cultural experience may have different writing skills. In fact, this difference may be not so obvious at first stages of teaching writing skills when elementary skills are needed but, as the learning process grows more and more complicated, the language proficiency may be crucial. Naturally, the cultural background plays an extremely important role since the language proficiency may vary considerably in different socio-cultural groups.
In this respect, it is possible to refer to Mike Rose’s “Lives on the Boundary” (1989), where the author depicts representatives of different socio-cultural groups whose writing skills are quite poor because they originate from immigrants families and, therefore, their language proficiency is poor. Nevertheless, the author reveals the fact that regardless the initial difference students can achieve positive results in the acquisition of new writing skills. At the same time, students from different cultural background inevitably influence each other since “education is one culture embracing another” (Rose 1989:27).
Thus, teaching writing skills is a very complicated process. This process should start with the development of students fluency and, in this respect, reading and coaching teaching may be quite helpful. At the same time, to achieve proficiency, students should acquire profound knowledge about language and writing process as the whole, and the role of teachers is to convey this information from the position of writers who understand how the writing process occurs and what it includes. Finally, it is necessary to take into consideration the socio-cultural context in teaching students since they may have a different level of skills and knowledge.
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