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The Process of Writing

Este material es una guía para que el docente pueda ayudar a los estudiantes a mejorar el proceso de escritura en inglés.


No one likes writing much


How about you? How often do you write? What do write (about)? Who do you write to? Do you ever write in English?

Let's confess: many of us run away from a blank sheet of paper, or screen, we always try to find excuses to postpone it. Is it we're lazy? Is it we-ll be punished if a spelling mistake or a typo slips unnoticed? (A typo is a typing error, a slip of the finger, an elegant euphemism to blame the finger that pressed the wrong key. Not the head that gave the wrong command.)

What's written will be written. Forever?


We'll see. What are our fears?

As teachers we’ve been led to believe that writing is a one –shot affair– one writes once and that’s it; that writing is there to stay, that it therefore cannot be changed; that one' d better avoid writing what one is not sure of; that before writing there should be careful planning…

But experience shows that no effective message occurs the first time we write it, and we therefore require it to be reshaped several times, in whichever language. All that matters is the message we want to communicate.

Isn't it a shared experience that writing is rarely taught; that it is rather assigned and then corrected? The –«our»– teachers’ emphasis was –is?– on a final product, not on the processes that led the writer to laboriously produce his piece.
Let's relax, and help our learners relax when they write. For many learners, the red –or green– pen is one of the most feared classroom objects.


Writing is one more communicative ability

As such it rests upon the pragmatic principles all communicative situations respond to. Moreover, it's a fantastic way to leave records of things we do, things that happen, a very useful way to organise our thoughts. Yes, «as» we write.

Some people write outlines, or notes, or sketches before writing a piece. Others «just set out to write», and then they discover what they want to express through their own writing. Those are «unruly» cause they don't follow the «prescribed steps»: they find that writing helps them think. And they set out to explore their own heads in search of an idea to write about.


But are there any prescribed steps?

The «norm» says «yes». The non-comformists say, «No, on the contrary.». What is true is that there are few hard and fast rules. Writing style responds to cognitive and learning style as any other type of activity a learner/a mature language user might embark on. Writing is certainly a private affair with public consequences.

Meaning?

That as writers we have a target, an interlocutor or audience in mind, and that we imagine their frame of mind, how much they know about what we’re writing And so we write to «them», as we have imagined them. And let's not forget ourselves. Don't you ever write to yourself?

But for the writer to direct a written piece to a clearly defined interlocutor there must be clues. Contextual clues. Either the writer draws the clues from the immediate situational context, or he infers them from a linguistic/communicative context.

The two very often merge. A phone call from a friend and the agreed need for one of them to write down some information to be passed to a third party. Or a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine telling them about our reactions on a topic brought up in the newspaper. Or the need to write down messages on the answering phone. Linguistic or situational? Hard to tell.

And how to find the clues?

How is an audience, an interlocutor defined? There are several parameters. One very important aspect is the relationship between the reader and the writer. Their social roles. Are they (supposed to be) peers? Or does one hold a condition of superiority over the other? And then, what are their psychological roles? How do they feel about each other? Enthused? Bored? Angry? Indifferent? Can you think of other possible feelings that might link up writer and reader? In your own experience as a writer? (Now, don't go on to say, «I’m not a writer. 'Cause you are!». )

So, your learners must not believe that they’re writing to you or for you. Unless you’re the selected audience. In this case this might be made clear to them. Especially with adolescents. They have big, sensitive noses to smell out all that is not genuine. Remember that.

And then what for. The famous «communicative purpose». (Famous because it’s been bandied about countless times as one of the basic tenets of a communicative approach.)

The interlocutor, their social and psychological roles and the communicative purpose will determine the format, that is, the text type. A note? A diary? A letter? A report? A biography? A story? An advertisement? A myth? An interview? A review? What else?

Each text type will require a certain internal structure. And vocabulary, and tenses and structures. But also connectors –cohesive devices, which express temporal sequences, addition, contrast, choice, consequence. And general words which replace others which are more specific. All this we call cohesion, or the semantic relationship that puts sentences together so that they do not makeup a bare list but an organic fabric with texture.

How can we teach learners to write? The basic thing is that discourse types do not develop naturally. They must be taught There's a great difference between oral and written discourse. Conversational discourse could be developed naturally, but only some of its variants.

  1. To learn how to write the first and most important stage is to allow learners to have exposure to certain types of text we're interested in teaching because they will be functional in conveying useful information about certain topics we have chosen as key notes. There’s no need to reiterate the importance of exposure in language learning, L1, L2, FL.
  2. The next stage is to draw learners’ awareness to the features of the text: who the interlocutor is; what the communicative purpose is, and how this is manifested; what the format is and how it is organised; how the transitions between one part and the next are resolved; what syntactic and lexical resources are used to express the intended meanings. You can make lists of these features for learners to copy. Without remorse.
  3. The third stage is in the teacher’s hands. It implies «selling» the writing task, that is to say, presenting it attractively, as functionally useful, interesting, relevant, challenging, ‘within the learners’ reach’. Allow all kinds of questions at this stage: tell them they can look up their textbooks, notes, dictionaries and personal lexicons, and also, that they can consult other learners. And you as well. Make them at ease. «This is not a test».
  4. The fourth stage comprises the prewriting stage. Conduct an activity to encourage learners to organise their thoughts by brainstorming ideas, researching relevant materials, making webs or charts that outline their thoughts, and interviewing someone for useful information. Have feedback class-as-a-whole, for example.
  5. The fifth stage involves the learner as a writer, as solitary as ever, confronted with a satisfactorily familiar writing task. He «must» write his own «first draft», and probably he will start by jotting down his ideas without concern for spelling, grammar, or handwriting. The focus is writing for meaning, concentrating on conveying their thoughts to an audience. But there must be an interested reader-itinerant teacher helping him every time he puts up his hand to ‘yell’ for help. (This is more of an affective measure than a linguistic resource.)
  6. The sixth stage involves editing. When the allotted time is over –be firm but gentle about this– get learners to exchange their first drafts with their partners. Give them some time to exchange ideas and produce a second draft. Meanwhile, walk about clarifying doubts and also making mental notes for your final reflection on the writing activity.
  7. The seventh stage is still devoted to editing. This time you might encourage learners to join groups –four to six learners– and discuss their drafts for a second editing –and subsequent production of their «third draft». As you circulate, you will soon realise which learners have come to an acceptable third draft, and which require extra help. Encourage the ones who are through to do a final «personal editing» which could be «published» somewhere in the classroom, for example a bulletin board. Concentrate on the ones that require more help.

Learners revise their work for meaning, proofread and edit it for spelling and grammar mistakes, individually, in pairs, in groups, and/or in conference with the teacher.

Learners must keep all their research notes, personal interviews, annotated (underlined, highlighted)texts because they’ll provide data on their development and personal, peer and group process. This comprises the portfolio.

Correction is done by the authors themselves, individual peers often chosen by the author, accompanying member groups, and lastly, really as a very last resort, by the teacher.

This is one of the ways in which a process approach to writing can be enforced. It has rendered to be an excellent way to generate meaningful and grammatically correct written texts.


Bibliography

NUNAN, D. (1982). Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Publicado: 14 de enero de 2015

Última modificación: 10 de febrero de 2015

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