September 2001 — Volume 5, Number 2
Academic Writing Programs
Ilona Leki (Editor) (2001)
Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Pp. x + 178
$29.95US/ $25.95US for TESOL Members
Academic writing programs cover a large range of situations. In order to succeed in their particular situation, programs need to meet the challenge of making a good fit between purpose and goal, the students and the institution they serve. Successful programs encourage learner autonomy by engaging learners in tasks that develop necessary skills for attaining their goals. In doing this, academic writing programs set high standards, involve learners in meaningful writing activities, and encourage their membership in the particular literacy communities they aspire to join. This collection reveals the ways different programs in different situations have met the challenges.
The collection compiled by Ilona Leki enables readers to examine twelve successful academic programs in EFL and ESL situations, any one of which might be similar to the reader’s situation. The descriptions introduce readers to the students, teachers, and innovators along with the challenges faced and the solutions adopted. Each program possesses qualities that make it unique because each program grew out of a response to student, social, and university needs. Yet, each program shares some characteristics in their approaches that link the different chapters.
Academic Writing Programs consists of twelve chapters detailing different approaches for helping students acquire the necessary skills for academic study. The twelve chapters are divided into three sections. The first section describes innovations in English as a Foreign (EFL)language settings. The second section, Connecting L2 Writers to Communities, details four programs from a community college setting to an Australian graduate program that involve students in either academic or social communities in the process of acquiring academic writing skills. The final section, Using L2 Academic Writing to Explore and Learn, examines four university English as a Second Language (ESL) programs that enable students to achieve proficiency through using language as the means of exploring academic literacy.
In the first section, Exploring Writing Program Innovations in EFL Settings, Maida Kennedy Xiao’s chapter, The Writing Assistance Programme: A Writing Center with Hong Kong Characteristics, describes the careful steps taken in setting up a writing assistance program modeled on first language writing centers. Necessary adjustments made to writing center models to fit the local situation include the teacher-writer conferencing in lieu of peer conferencing, flexibility in conferencing instead of relying on a pure Socratic approach, and addressing a mixture of higher order and lower order concerns, unlike L1 conferences that emphasize higher order concerns. [-1-]
John Flowerdew describes the development of an Oman university writing program for science students in his chapter, Toward Authentic, Specific-Purpose Writing at the Lower Levels of Proficiency. Using available concordancing technology, materials were developed in collaboration with the science teachers. These targeted language materials helped the students meet the demands of their science classes. Using materials derived from their academic subjects proved motivating for the students and enabled them to succeed in attempting more challenging tasks in these classes. The materials also gave teachers tools to provide targeted help for their students.
In the next chapter, Keiko Hirose describes a writing course for first year undergraduate English majors in Realizing a Giant First Step Toward Improved English Writing: A Case in a Japanese University. The course she describes seeks to improve the written fluency of students with little previous English writing experience. The course culminates in a research paper. The learners are prepared for the research paper by developing fluency through journal writing while engaging in building their awareness of their perceptions of writing and strategies for achieving their goal of writing a research paper. The learners choose the research paper topic, a common topic for the class, and are permitted to use L1 research strategies in part because of the limited accessibility of English materials on many of the topics..
The second part, Connecting L2 Writers to Communities, includes four chapters describing connections made between the academic writing classes and different communities either within the school or the community. The first two chapters involve undergraduate students either in learning communities or interinstitutional exchanges; the third and fourth chapters describe programs for undergraduate and graduate students that begin their integration into their disciplines and the genres of these disciplines.
Marcia Babbitt shows how learning communities can be used to help develop analytical skills in her chapter, Making Writing Count in an ESL Learning Community. Babbitt describes the collaboration and cooperation in the development of an interdisciplinary block of classes that a group of students takes together or with other students. The ESL classes expand the students’ experience with the content class by assigning readings, including a full novel, and writing activities that mirror the demands of the content classes. The program succeeds through reinforcing its collaborative, interdisciplinary and block program structure in building successful learning communities. These communities provide students with both varied and focused learning support and opportunities while enabling them to make social connections.
An innovative program which in one class involves cooperation with a high school is the subject of Ann Johns’s chapter, An Interdisciplinary, Interinstitutional, Learning Communities Program: Student Involvement and Student Success. Johns describes the Freshman Success Program, a three-option program that seeks to address the needs of the diverse student populations. The option detailed, an anthropology focus, involves students working in cooperation with a local high school with a large immigrant population. The composition element has students writing in a research paper that includes data collected from the high school students. The resulting research papers are first presented by university students to high school students, and then the high school students visit the university to make their presentations. The students draw on their own experiences as well as their research in gaining meaningful and demanding textual experiences.
Involving graduate students in collaboratively investigating academic writing through their disciplines characterizes the programs described by Roberta Vann and Cynthia Myers in their chapter, Capitalizing on Contacts, Collaboration, and Disciplinary Communities: Academic ESL Options in a Large Research University, and Margaret Cargill, Kate Cadman, and Ursula McGowan in their chapter, Postgraduate Writing: Using Intersecting Genres in a Collaborative Content-Based Program. Vann and Myers outline how cooperative learning pairs or teams inductively analyze field specific writing and investigate writing needs in their disciplines in the process of writing different types of documents such as memos, proposals, abstracts as well as making at least one oral presentation. Cargill, Cadman and McGowan show how using a set of nonnegotiable tasks identified as basic to postgraduate programs for both course work and research students enables the learners to develop familiarity with their disciplines and the writing demands. The students work from personal profiles through research groups exploring individual research projects culminating in a statement of their personal research.
The final section of the book, Using L2 Academic Writing to Explore and Learn, begins with the chapter Language and Public Life: Teaching Multiliteracies in ESL, by Judy Hunter and Brian Morgan. Students in the Language and Public Life elective course conduct critical studies of language use in different media through reading, responding to questions posed by the instructors, and analytical projects. The writing assignments require critical analysis of how the media construct a topic, in order to produce both oral presentations and papers. The writers build their assignments on the readings and discussions that precede them and supply the question prompts at different stages in the writing to point students to analytical thinking for completing the assignment. [-2-]
With a similar goal, A Task-Based Composition Course for Resident L2 Writers by Jessica Williams describes an advanced ESL composition course that prepares students for university study. The course involves students completing personal narratives, write ups of surveys, oral interviews, and data collection and analysis activities through analyzing advertisements, research about and analysis of the texts used by a university service, and making a presentation on the service. The learners synthesize this information in a research-based essay.
In their chapter, Academic Writing for University Examinations, Sara Cushing Weigle and Gayle Nelson describe a different approach to academic success. Based on a study of student needs for first- and second-year students conducted at their university, a program was developed that focuses on helping students develop writing skills in responding to different types of university written examinations. The pre-university ESL program prepares students for the academic tasks of making reading notes and writing responses to identification, short-answer, and essay question test types. While this program looks unlike the other programs described in the book in terms of writing outcomes, it is grounded in the needs of the students.
“This Course is Giving Me Cephalalgia…”: Linking ESL Writing and the Greek and Latin Roots of English, the chapter by Trudy Smoke, Tamara M. Green, and Elizabeth Isenstead, describes the links between expository writing and a class in Greek and Latin roots. The linkage results in the ESL courses working on problems identified in the etymology course along with reading assignments that address the issues of learning a new language and moving into a new culture. Students make use of material from the ESL and etymology classes to write papers about their experiences in learning a new language and moving into a new culture.
David Hall describes a program that challenges students to identify problems to explore and then analyze and explore these problems in the final chapter, Relinquishing Teacher Control: Learners as Generators of Course Content. The learners explore issues relevant to their future studies by following a cyclical pattern of plan, do, report, evaluate, and plan. The exploration begins with learners seeking the answers to what a single word means to them and moves to identifying problems they think are important. The second underlying pattern of this approach is the field, problem, solution, evaluation pattern that is used with the texts the learners evaluate each week. The program results in students developing presentations for the whole class several times with the presentations developing in sophistication along with a written piece of work.
The book is clearly written, since the writers and the editor have taken pains to make their texts clear and reader-friendly throughout. The chapters follow a standard pattern of organization including Context, Description, Distinguishing Features, and Practical Ideas that makes the chapters comfortably predictable for readers. The innovations in the writing programs are described with sufficient detail to enable teachers and curriculum coordinators to determine how to make use of them. The descriptions include the research that often went into developing the program thus supplying a guide for anyone interested in pursuing the particular innovation. The practical ideas provide guidance in implementing the innovations and suggest additional possibilities.
While not every type of program could be included, the editor made certain that the collection is very representative including EFL and ESL contexts plus several programs from different English speaking countries, though unfortunately none from England. The writing programs are diverse in character, location, and student populations, but share certain qualities. Learners are challenged through inductive approaches that involve them in either academic and/or discipline preparatory activities through either the tasks undertaken or through linked courses in which the learners investigate their future disciplines or issues in those disciplines. The repeated emphasis is on challenging and authentic tasks, using readings for writing in text responsible ways, and having the learners go out of the classroom to collect data or investigate. Furthermore, the programs all seem to be works in progress, adjusting to the learners and the contexts. [-3-]
The cases included in this collection should give teachers ideas for their own classes and give coordinators and directors ideas for innovations that they may wish to pursue or adapt. Students of ESL writing will find a good overview of some innovative approaches to the many problems inherent in academic writing programs. Readers will find this to be a clearly written collection that should engender ideas for improvement or implementation for teachers, coordinators, and directors.
John M. Graney
Santa Fe Community College
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation.