Process Approach to Writing: Is it better than other approaches to teach writing skills to ESL Ss? #ELTchat Summary 27/03/2013

This is a summary of the 1200 PM GMT #ELTchat on the Process Approach to Writing held on March 27, 2013. It’s my first ELTchat summary and it’s come out looking like an extended and tortured reported speech exercise 🙂 I’m definitely not taking this route the next time round. 

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Definitions

The chat kicked off with @Marisa_C sharing a link to a definition of process writing (PW). The Teaching English site describes process writing as treating “all writing as a creative act which requires time and positive feedback to be done well” and lays out three stages to accomplish this: pre-writing, focusing ideas, and evaluating, structuring and editing. Additionally, @kevchanwow shared an insightful blog post focusing on the practical application of PW. Later, @MisterMikeLCC tweeted a link to a presentation on PW.

Creativity or conformity

Source: http://www.morguefile.com/

@adi_rajan felt that process writing forces students to conform and create output that is often very similar.  @kevchanwow commented that if students get caught up in group-think, especially if the teacher starts with a brainstorming activity, then similar texts are a very real danger. @adi_rajan echoed this view and felt that brainstorming activities could lead to similar content; and structuring exercises could lead to a similar look and feel. @Marisa_C questioned this perspective and asked whether @adi_rajan and @kevchanwow were suggesting that when left to their own devices, students couldn’t produce text independently of the group. @adi_rajan argued that especially in business writing, exercises to structure text often target an ideal response and he wasn’t sure if this was desirable. However, @Marisa_C and @efl101 didn’t see a problem in students producing similar texts especially in the case of business letters which as @Marisa_C pointed out are generally very similar making them more teachable. @Marisa_C went on to suggest that there wasn’t a problem with students producing similar texts unless you were teaching creative writing classes. @galactadon extended this idea by stating that she too doesn’t see a problem with similarity because imitation isn’t exclusive to ELT and that many creative writing exercises use imitation of style and form for mastery.

The group seemed to be reaching consensus about acquitting PW of accusations of limiting creativity. However, the original dissenters weren’t yet ready to concede. @kevchanwow contended that within the constraints of the genre, students should still be expressing some serious individuality. @adi_rajan questioned the goal of working towards a model text and added that he would rather see a diversity of responses in the absence of which he could just distribute templates and ask students to fill in the blanks. @Marisa disagreed and stated that this was a moot point for her in a language class because the training ground is not always where you display creativity. @kevchanwow clarified the issue of creativity by pointing out that the question isn’t whether texts are similar but if students have an opportunity to truly express what they wish to. In response, @efl101 shared the following formula: “creative = expression, most/rest = communicate message + don’t get embarrassed by writing”.  @Marisa concluded this part of a discussion when she sagely added “we can happily disagree. The ability to creatively use language and practice language use isn’t separable to me.”

Value or vapid

The chatters agreed that PW was generally useful. @efl101 commented that since communication is key and most writing in TL is for purpose, chunks are very useful; which PW helps with.  Despite his earlier comments about the drawbacks of PW, @kevchanchow admitted to still liking PW. He suggested that his students generally don’t like to take the time to write well and PW slows the process down. @shaunwilden highlighted the built-in time PW allows for feedback and its benefits.  @MarjorieRosenbe drew on her experience with teaching writing for CAE and BEC classes which require a lot of structure to illustrate PW’s value.

Product or process

The discussion, thus far, avoided contrasting the product and process approaches. However, @efl101 asserted that the overuse of PW causes problems in exams because there’s no time to process-write in an exam. @shaunwilden wondered whether @efl101 would recommend teaching product instead in an exam context. @efl101 countered this by suggesting it would be better to change the exam system. @Marisa_C recommended that just before an exam, a product approach, sans preparation, might be better.

A glut of writing

Source: http://www.morguefile.com/

@efl101 asked the group to consider whether too much time is spent on writing.  When @shaunwilden responded that this might depend on the type of class, @efl101 clarified that he was referring to general classes where he felt that writing as a percentage of total time was overdone.  @Shuanwilden suggested that this imbalance could be the result of the school syllabus, course book, teacher or all three. @efl101 added that all three were responsible for the dominance of writing which is also measurable and perhaps easier to work on than speaking. @adi_rajan thought that the number of writing lessons was disproportionate to how often we write in real life.  @efl101 agreed but felt that this was personally also an area that he was least comfortable with when using L2 himself.

@muranava argued that writing is not over done because there are many problems in L1 writing.  @joannaacre had the same opinion and said that students often don’t know how to write in their L1 and are expected to write in L2.   @kevchanwow wasn’t sure whether too much time is spent on writing but thought there’s not enough time for the kind of feedback that leads to students’ development.  @michellegriffin and @alanmtait shared similar perspectives from Spain and Korea respectively.  @michellegriffin added that the issue is compounded when we consider the types of writing we are most likely to do in real life.  @adi_rajan concurred with this stating that students were more likely to write tweets and text messages as opposed to the elaborate texts that come out of writing classes.

Leveraging PW

After much deliberation over the challenges of process writing, as well as writing in general, the discussion turned to ways of leveraging PW to make it more effective. @efl101 quipped that PW is a process of diminishing intervention when it works best. @Marisa_C recommended including mini syllabuses of PW before moving to FW for each genre. @joannaacre echoed this idea by stating that it was like building and layering bit by bit. @muranava felt that product, process and genre are complimentary and @Marisa_C agreed saying that ‘PW wholesale’ didn’t seem like a great idea to her.  @efl101 suggested combining PW with TBL, including real tweets, updates and forum comments. Others agreed that integrating writing with other skills was an area with a lot of potential.

Feedback in PW

@shaunwilden sensing that we were drifting from the topic queried the group on how we handle feedback during PW and here are the results:

Self & Peer assessment

  • @bnleez lets learners correct what they can first (self/peer assessment) before intervening.
  • @adi_rajan likes to use peer feedback with a simple inventory of things to look for as students review each other’s work
  • @Marisa_C pointed out the importance of using criteria and acquainting students on how to use them.

Teacher prompts

  • @Marisa_C suggested using PW time for teacher prompted (discreet) hints rather than correction to save time spent on explicit feedback.
  • @bnleez suggested that when using teacher prompts, mixing up corrected feedback so the L2 writer doesn’t feel discouraged. @bnleez also added that a lot of corrected feedback tends to be indirect, creating teachable moments.

Error correction codes

  • Negligible discussion on the ever-familiar codes except a zany link from @Marisa_C.

Color-coding:

  • @Marisa_C offered colour coding as an alternative to  the well known error correction codes

Tech tools:

  • @shaunwilden pointed out that the advantage of using tech tools such as Google docs and Wikis is the focus on PW.
  • @adi_rajan recommended using social media for “redoing” which involves getting students to blog their writing, get peer and teacher feedback and then reposting.
  • @Marisa referred chatters to @russell1955 for more on how screencasting can be used for giving feedback and @shaunwilden shared a link to Russell Stannard’s research paper.
  • @adi_rajan has used online writing evaluation tools like Criterion but finds them lacking.
  • @shaunwilden records himself talking about a piece of work then sending the recording to students.

Issues

  • @efl101 pointed out that feedback which involves probing underlined items, attempting self correction, redoing, content analysis and discussion takes a lot of time. However, this is time well spent because he feels that concrete feedback and correction are motivating in writing particular if students can redo their writing.
  • @kevchanchow finds that even with intense training, students identify less than 50% of their own mistakes and that feedback is for growth, not error correction.
  • @Marisa_C queried the group about dealing with students who prefer the teacher to correct. @adi_rajan shared that his learners often feel cheated if they don’t get teacher feedback. He talks about the benefits of self-correction and peer to peer feedback with his students but they are not always convinced.  @Marisa_C suggested employing a good sales pitch.

Aside: PW banned in the DELTA?

@EBEFL wanted to know whether it was true that process writing classes were banned from DELTA module 2.  @Marisa_C explained that this wasn’t the case but she thought many DELTAs avoid PW because the lesson needs to be micro-planned to a very fine detail and the teacher is in danger of seeming inactive. She went on to add that if you have planned for 20 minutes of continuous writing and you are just sitting and monitoring, then it might suggest a poorly planned lesson for that context.

Conclusion

Source: http://www.morguefile.com/

The overall trend of the discussion seemed to indicate that despite some drawbacks, PW is a robust approach to teaching writing to ESL students.  What’s more, it’s not all that difficult to run and as @Marisa_C puts it “if two people collaborate, they can experience PW in action.” Beyond ease of use, there were questions about effectiveness. @efl101 identifies purpose of writing as key i.e., writing that is translatable into real world experience.  @bnleez suggests an authentic audience in addition to purpose to make writing meaningful. In conclusion and in  defense of PW, we return to @efl101 and his pithy statement that most writing is structured and that genuine ‘stream of consciousness’ writing is best left to Joyce et al.

Resources

Here’s a list of links shared during the chat and the people who tweeted them.

All images in this post are sourced from http://www.morgueFile.com 

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