University of Cambridge

The role and significance of the writer, the text and the reader in the teaching of writing

  1. 1. Introduction

Writing is one of the four language skills. It is considered as a productive skill since learners do this to produce language. It is clear that a well-written piece can be described as incorporating elements of writing in such a way that a reader can experience the writer’s intended meaning, understand the writer’s premise, and accept or reject the writer’s point of view.  In this essay, I will explain and discuss the role and significance of the most important elements in the teaching of writing. These elements are the writer, the reader and the text. Moreover, a brief description of a writing lesson will be given in which I will exploit and develop an understanding of these elements. The teacher needs to decide on which means (or type of exercise) can facilitate learning of the target area. Once the target skill areas and means of implementation are defined, the teacher can then proceed to focus on what topic can be employed to ensure the students’ participation.

  1. 2. The role and significance of main elements in the teaching of writing

There are three significant elements in the teaching of writing which are the writer, the text and the reader asHyland (2002: 79) identifies. I will discuss the role and importance of them with relating them with other approaches as follows.

a. The writer

Clark and Ivanič (1997: 142) state that writing conveys a message about content as well as about the writer. They emphesise that the writers, either consciously or unconsciously, produce a statement about their identity not only by writing about themselves, but also through their practices or discourse types that they gradually gain.  Moreover, Hyland (2002: 80) points out that writing has to be regarded as a cultural activity and the students should be taken part in the writing process. He thinks that teachers should be aware of the writers’ issues such as cultural background, first language and proficiency as well as finding the ways of engaging the writers by providing relevant topics, clear goals and strategies to make the writing task manageable. Furthermore, Tribble (1996: 40) points out that teachers have to take into account the writer’s culture background. He states that “a teacher working with such a paradigm will try to respect the learner’s cultural background and try to avoid the imposition of ideas or language behaviour which would deny the validity of his or her own experience”. Hyland (2002: 81) also focuses on the importance of the writers’ first language background that I think it has a good relation with the culture. Indeed, I think the language is a mirror of people’s culture.

Tribble (1996: 43) also claims that the writers have to require a range of knowledge which are a) content knowledge that involves knowing the concepts in the language area b) context knowledge that requires knowing the context in which the text will be read c)  language system knowledge that involves knowing the aspects of the language system in order to complete the task d) writing process knowledge that requires the ability of choosing the most suitable way of preparing for a specific writing task. In addition, Hyland (2002: 81) states  that successful writing instruction requires an awareness of the importance of cognitive and motivational factors. This means that teachers should provide relevant topics, encourage cooperation with peers in planning and writing tasks (working in groups) and incorporate research group activities of various kinds. In my experience, creating competition between students also motivates them to produce a good piece of writing during a writing task.

Hyland (2002: 81) also adds that a workshop environment which provides peer support and opportunities for students to talk about their writing-in-progress with skilled, attentive readers through writing conferences is considered as crucial to writing development. He points out students do not compose in the same way so they need realistic strategies for generating plans, researching topic information, rough drafting and gradually refining both content and form. To accomplish this, many teachers provide students with training in composition strategies which can be transferred across situations, assist them to brainstorm, draft in stages and to separate rhetorical revising from grammatical editing to accommodate their restricted communicative resources.

b. The text


Hyland (2002: 81) states that the most problem is that students are provided with little advice with regard to structuring their writing experiences in accordance to the demands and constrains of target contexts. He believes that the focus is on writing to discover one’s thought more than to appropriately express them. As a result, he announces that students have to acquire strategies of response and involvement to a community discourses. The solution to this can be solved through genre approaches. Flowerdew (1993: 307) points out genre approaches emphasise that writing varies with the social context in which it is produced. So, we have a range of kinds of writing such as sales letters, complaining letters, descriptive paragraphs, research articles, and reports that are linked with different situations. Hyland (2002: 81) points out this partially can be done by familiarity with a range of text type. Harmer (2007: 327) also claims that genre represents the standards of different kind of writing. He says that when teacher concentrate on genre, students study text in the genre before they embark on their own writing. For example, if the teacher wants the students write a recipe of various kinds, he has to provide them with typical models of such recipes before starting to write their own. In my opinion, you can read without writing but you cannot write without reading.

Furthermore, Badger and White(2000: 154) figure out that, in a genre class, learners might examine authentic descriptions of houses that are produced by an agent in order to sell them. “As with product approaches, the learners would carry out an analysis of the text, perhaps looking at some elements of the grammar or patterns of vocabulary using a concordancer. They would also consider the social context, including the fact that the text is, hopefully, based on a visit to the house, that its purpose is selling a house, that the audience is made up of potential buyers, and that the words are supported by pictures and diagrams” (Badger and White2000: 154). With various degrees of help, learners will then produce partial texts. After that, they will work on their own, and then they will have full texts that reflect the social context and the language of the original description of a house.

Hyland (2002: 81) suggests another solution that is that writing tasks should be authentic in order to give students the alternatives they need to achieve real rhetorical purposes in the target context. He claims that learners learn writing that must be related to genres that they should produce as well se the contexts in which they have to produce them. Moreover, Hyland (2002: 81-82) explains that teachers can also utilise their writing syllabuses to enphasise on the formal constraints of text in order to provide the learners with adequate patterns and rhetorical conventions they will need. He suggests that this can be achieved by two ways such as Group analysis of real (authentic) texts and modeling genres to reveal how they are staged to accomplish certain goals. Scaffolding can be given to the students in order to attend to the reader and the writer as much as the text itself.

Hyland (2003: 92-94) argues with himself. He states that authentic texts are not often ideal models. He recommends that teachers should be aware of those texts that are not well-structured, organised, cohesive and coherent. In addition, finding an authentic text that is suitable for the learners could take a lot of time and effort. In other words, it may waste a lot of time. On the other hand, Tribble (1996: 148-150) claims that there are many ways to collect data. For example, he says that the teacher may ask students to spend some time every day for a week looking at letters to newspaper. The teacher will ask them to make notes of particular vocabulary and grammar constructions used in those letters. For example, the students may be asked to note down any passive statements and any language that expresses an argument. In this case, teacher gets the students read a controversial letters in today’s newspaper and then they plan these collections into letters using the data collected to response to these letters. The students have to work hard on them as those letters may be published.

Nevertheless, Kamler (1995: 9) also criticises the genre approach since he believes that “its narrow focus on language and text and its lack of attention to the instructional and disciplinary contexts in which texts are constructed”. On the other hand, many researchers are in favour of it. For example, Harmer (2007: 327) states that ” A genre approach is especially appropriate for students of English for Specific purposes. However, it is also highly useful for general English students, even at low levels, if we want them to produce written work they can be proud of”.

c. The reader


The reader has an important role in teaching of writing. Teachers have to draw their students’ attention to their readers (audience). Hyland (2002: 79) states that students should take into their account the interactional strategies, background understandings, and rhetorical convictions which their audience are likely to anticipate. Hyland (2002: 83) also points out that the readers of the classroom are very important as teachers can response to the students writing. In addition, peers also can have an important role in response to each other’s writing after being trained by the teachers to do so. Overall, these responses can provide feedback that may be help students to become as input in terms of improving their writing in the future. Moreover, both teachers and students have to be sensitive to task-specific and community-specific issues, and teachers can also help the students to expect the needs and expectations of particular groups of readers. Hyland (2002: 83) suggests that “This can be achieved through think-aloud reader protocols of their texts (Schriver, 1992) by tasks that require students to address different goals and audiences (Herrington, 1985) or by researching real audiences (Johns, 1997)”. In addition, Clark and Ivanič (1997: 166) point out that writer have to make the task of reading as easy and interesting as much as possible for their audience. The audience will interpret what is written in accordance to various ideological perspectives. In other words, successful piece of writing needs for real and multiple audiences. Therefore, teachers need to gather a range of real and mock audiences’ sources.

In my experience as a teacher in the Jordanian Ministry of Education and a student who took part in English for Academic Purposes Module at Salford University, I believe that if the students know their audience, they can make decisions about what information they should include, how they should arrange that information, and what kind of supporting details will be essential for the reader to understand what they are presenting. I feel that knowing the audience also influences the tone and structure of writing. In other word, in order to develop and present an effective argument, students have to be able to appeal to and address their audience. For instance, when students write an academic paper, they have to recognise that their tutor is not the only member of their audience. Although the tutor is often the only person who will read the finished product, customising a paper to his or her level of knowledge can run the risk of leaving out important information, since many tutors know far more about the topic than the average reader would. Moreover, if the students omit information that their tutor already knows can result in a weak or unbalanced paper. Consequently, the students should assume that their readers are less knowledgeable than them and they have to provide more details and better explanations, which usually results in a much stronger paper (writing). Overall, the students, in the example above, have to consider teachers’ needs as well as any specific intended audience when writing any piece of paper. The ultimate goal of writing is to be read. Otherwise, we do not have to write anymore.   Many strategies are designed to help the students understand the importance of audience and determine what their audience needs to know to follow their ideas as Hyland (2002: 83) states above.

  1. 3. A description of a writing lesson in which you utilise or develop an understanding of one or more of these elements.

The lesson that I will describe and discuss is almost similar to one cited in Hadfield and Hadfield (2000: 66). I have made some amendments on that activity since I think the lesson below will be more invaluable and involve the three elements which are the writer, the text and the audience as follows.

The main goal of the lesson is to write a descriptive narrative paragraph about an action that the learners have during one of their trips during a vacation. It will last for 60 minutes and it is designed for elementary students as follows.

The procedures of the lesson

  1. The students will be asked to remember a humorous action that they met in one of their trips with their parents (5 minutes).
  2. The teacher will distribute a paragraph that describes an action that happens with someone in one of his trips and ask one of the students to read it loudly (5 minutes). Here, I want to point out that the teacher must be aware that the text provided is well-structure, coherent, cohesive and organised as Hyland (2003: 93) recommends. The most important language will be highlighted throughout the text such as linking words, adjectives word….etc. Moreover, the text may be taken from informal letter that one friend sent to another telling him about how wonderful was his trip to the countryside.
  3. The teacher will discuss the text with the students and point out the most important parts that enhance it (10 minutes).
  4. The teacher will divide the class into four or six groups depend on the number of the students. He will ask each group to write a paragraph about an event that happens with one of them (20 minutes). Here, the teacher has to point out that these paragraphs will be a part of the fulfillment in their first assignment and each group will have an opportunity to comment on other group’s work. He can also announce that the group that will get the highest mark will win an award.
  1. The narrative descriptive paragraphs will be collected and distributed again that each group has now another group’s description.
  1. A volunteer from each group will read loudly the paragraphs that they have (10 minutes).
  2. Each group will comment on other group’s work in accordance to the criteria that the teacher will write on the board (10 minutes).
  1. Finally, the teacher will collect the paragraphs in order to mark them.

In lesson above, we can observe that the writers of the previous paragraph have knowledge about the topic since it is related to their life and they are provided with a well-structured and coherent text. The writers have many motivational factors such as wining award and having a high mark as a part of their assignment that can also be considered as clear goals. To choose a task which is humorous, it could be another motivational factor since it makes them cheerful and keen to know each others’ stories. They are also helped to brainstorm at the beginning of the lesson.

With regard to the text, it has rhetorical conventions and the students have a chance to have group analysis of real (authentic) text that is related to their life. The students study text in the genre before they embark on their own writing. It is well-structured and coherent as I mention above.

In terms of the readers, the readers of the classroom are the teacher and peers since they can response to the students writing. The students are conscious about having real multiple audiences. The responses can provide feedback that may be help students to be come as input in terms of improving their writing in the future. Moreover, the students can expect the needs and expectations of their readers depending on the comments that are made on the text that provided by the teacher before writing their own ones.

  1. 4. Conclusion

To conclude, teaching writing is not an easy mission. Teachers have to put in their account the role and importance of each of elements in the teaching of writing that discussed above. Well-organised and prepared lessons can help the students produce a well-structured, coherent, cohesive, accurate, organised piece of writing. Teachers can utilise the lesson to develop their students’ ability to produce a good piece of writing. In my opinion, providing authentic text, being aware of the students’ issues and anticipating the readers’ needs are the most important factors must be applied in every lesson.

Acknowledgements

Thanks also to my friend, Ahmed Junina, who has supported and motivated me during my MA course.

I am also grateful to my close friend, Abdullah Jassim Alshammari, for everything
References

Badger, R. and White, G.(2000) A process genre approach to teaching writing, ELT Journal, 54(2), pp. 153-160

Clark, R. and Ivanič, R. (1997) The Politics of Writing. London: Routledge.

Flowerdew, J. (1993) ‘An educational or process approach to the teaching of professional genres, ELT Journal, 47(4), pp. 305-316

Hadfield, J. and Hadfield, C. (2000) Simple Writing Activities. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Harmer, J. (2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching (4thed). Harlow: Longman Pearson

Hyland, K. (2002) Teaching and Researching Writing. Harlow: Longman Pearson

Hyland, K. (2003) Second Language Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Kamler, B. (1995) ‘The grammar wars or what do teachers need to know about grammar?, English in Australia 114 December, pp. 3-16, Australian Association for Teaching of English: Australia

Tribble, C. (1996) Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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