Journal of Second Language Writing


Volume 3 (1994)
[ No. 1 | No. 2 | No. 3 ]

Editorial Board
Table of Contents
Information for Authors
The JSLW Award
About the Editors
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| Comprehensive Abstracts |
| Vol. 1 (1992) | Vol. 2 (1993) | Vol. 3 (1994) | Vol. 4 (1995) |
| Vol. 5 (1996) | Vol. 6 (1997) | Vol. 7 (1998) | Vol. 8 (1999) |
| Vol. 9 (2000) | Vol. 10 (2001) | Vol. 11 (2002) | Vol. 12 (2003) |
| Vol. 13 (2004) | Vol. 14 (2005) |

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Volume 3, Number 1 (1994)

Discourse, Artifacts, and the Ozarks: Understanding Academic Literacy

University of New Orleans

As we teachers of ESL reading and writing continue our discussions about preparing second language (L2) students for the academic mainstream, we find ourselves on a theoretical and pedagogical frontier that is largely uncharted. In essence, we seem to be moving rapidly toward a broader social view of language with hardly a border check as we cross from one paradigm to another. In order to understand where we are headed and why we should venture there, it seems important to survey the landscape and consider the potential ahead. My survey proceeds as follows: (1) I wrestle with the notion of academic discourse community, for without it we cannot understand or even posit a concept of academic literacy; (2) in light of the socially constructed nature of an academic literacy, I argue for a different way of framing the questions we need to answer as we compose our ESL classes; (3) I discuss the role of personal experience in learning, language acquisition, and academic writing and reading, a role that I claim is essential; and (4) I end with an assessment of the implications for the ESL classroom.

Writing Groups: Cross-Cultural Issues

Georgia State University

It may appear that writing groups, used in many English as a Second Language (ESL) composition classrooms, would be familiar to ESL students from collectivist cultures where group work is common in school both as a means of knowledge acquisition and as a vehicle for reinforcing the group ethic. However, writing groups may be problematic for students from collectivist cultures (e.g., Japan, the People's Republic of China) in at least three ways. First, writing groups, as used in composition classes in the U.S., function differently than groups in collectivist cultures: instead of functioning for the good of the collective, writing groups more often function for the benefit of the individual writer. Second, as a result of the dynamics of ingroup relationships in collectivist cultures, ESL students may be concerned primarily with maintaining group harmony at the expense of providing their peers with needed feedback on their composition drafts. Finally, the dynamics of outgroup relationships for ESL students from collectivist cultures may result in behavior that is hostile, strained, and competitive-behavior that is likely to work against effective group interactions.

Process Approaches in ESL/EFL Writing Instruction

Doshisha Women's Junior College, Japan

Process has been an important and sometimes contentious concept in both first language (L1) and English as a Second Language/English as a Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) writing instruction. This article attempts to resolve this contention by defining process approaches and examining their role in ESL/EFL writing instruction. The article first discusses three different meanings of process, showing that the term is not the name of a writing theory, and then describes the two main elements of process writing pedagogies, awareness and intervention. The ESL/EFL writing literature is analyzed to show how process approaches have been accepted in ESL/EFL composition. Finally, this article discusses some problems in implementing process writing pedagogies in ESL/EFL writing instruction.

Examining Expert Judgments of Task Difficulty on Essay Tests

University of Colorado, Denver
Associacao Alumni, Sao Paolo, Brazil

The question to which the writer must respond (commonly called the prompt) is a key variable of an essay test, and research to date has produced conflicting positions on this variable's influence. Essay scorers, and language teachers who prepare students for writing tests, often claim not only that some prompts are harder than others, but also to know which are harder and which are easier. This study investigated these "expert" judgments of prompt difficulty in order to discover whether such judgments could be used as a source of information at the item-writing stage of test development. The results of the study show that "expert judges" share considerable agreement about prompt difficulty, prompt task type, and difficulty of prompt task type. However, the patterns shown by the score data ran in a direction which was the reverse of that predicted by the "expert" judgments. The findings contradict common assumptions in both testing and teaching practice and suggest that close investigation of "expert judges"' assumptions about tasks and other important variables of essay tests can be a valuable research tool in understanding more about test design and test difficulty.

Volume 3, Number 2 (1994)

Evaluating ESL Students' Performance on Proficiency Exams

University of New Orleans

Research suggests that English as a Second Language (ESL) students have difficulty passing holistically scored proficiency exams. To determine why, researchers have investigated the role of error in regular coursework and exams, the nature of the exam and scoring procedure used, and students' writing processes. This study investigates the success of ESL students as compared to native English-speaking (NES) students on an institutional exit proficiency exam. It also compares the source of success (the exam or the appeals folder, a portfolio of writing done during the semester) and the number of attempts required by ESL students and NES students to pass the exam/course. The results indicate that ESL students are twice as likely as NES students to fail the exam, but they compensate for their failure by passing the appeal, giving ESL and NES students a comparable pass rate in the course. In addition, the results show no significant difference in the number of times the two groups attempt the exam/course. This research suggests that holistically scored proficiency exams are difficult for ESL students and that some form of portfolio assessment may be more valid to judge their writing. Suggestions for improving evaluations of ESL writing include training non-ESL faculty to evaluate ESL error during holistic readings.

Journal Writing in the Training of International Teaching Assistants

University of South Africa
University of Cincinnati

Research in international teaching assistant (ITA) training suggests that four areas of competence are critical for success, namely language proficiency, cross-cultural communication skills, teaching skills, and personal and institutional support. Journal writing has been used as a technique for developing language skills, learning course content, and reflecting on educational and personal experiences. Although journal writing has not been widely used in ITA training programs, the uses to which it has been put in other contexts seems to mirror the needs of ITAs in training. This article reports a case study involving a detailed content analysis of the daily journal writing of 20 ITAs to determine whether journal writing could contribute to the previously identified needs of ITAs. Results showed that the students' major focus of concern was language proficiency and the resulting stress in their daily lives. The majority of students approved the assignment and benefited from journal writing, particularly in developing confidence and fluency in language use, and as an outlet for stress management. However, there was little evidence that the instructor's expectations for reflective or analytical journal writing were met. Suggestions for modifying the assignment to appeal to differing student backgrounds and to encourage greater reflectivity are made.

Speaking of Writing: Some Functions of Talk in the ESL Composition Class

New Mexico State University

The social interactionist view of emergent literacy holds that a learner's early attempts at writing are grounded in speech and, therefore, that the development of written language is best fostered within a supportive conversational environment. Many second language (L2) teachers recognize that an interactive classroom also benefits L2 writers by providing them with an enhanced oral language environment in which to develop literacy skills. However, the specific roles that oral discourse plays in the L2 writing classroom are not well understood. This article explores the functions of oral language in university English as a Second Language (ESL) composition classes. A case study is reported describing instructional discourse in five ESL writing classes. A set of discourse categories is employed that analyzes classroom conversation specifically as it relates to writing. Findings indicate relatively little classroom talk devoted to topic invention and development or to oral rehearsal of potential written text. The majority of teachers' speech moves functioned either to give direct instruction or to analyze already written texts. Results also point to the critical role that transmission-style instruction and textbook use play in determining the oral discourse characteristics of composition classes. Finally, techniques are suggested through which ESL writing teachers can better manage the role that talk plays in their composition classes and allow for a greater range of classroom discourse styles to best fit their instructional goals. 

Feedback on Feedback: Assessing Learner Receptivity to Teacher Response in L2 Composing

Monterey Institute of International Studies
Central Washington University

Writing research has generated impressive empirical data on composing processes, including text production, recursive procedures, and the contribution of feedback to revision. Second language (L2) intervention studies further indicate that certain forms of teacher feedback affect text quality more positively than others. Mixed findings suggest that we should look beyond the written product to explore the cognitive effects of intervention as they influence the mediational processes of text construction and modification. Few studies have accounted for learner reactions to teacher intervention behaviors which impact emerging composing skills and ultimate proficiency. This study focuses on the following research questions: (1) How do L2 learners react when they receive teacher feedback? (2) How do these responses affect the evolution of students' perception of text quality and their composing processes? (3) Do English as a Second Language (ESL) and foreign language (FL) learners differ systematically in terms of self-appraisal patterns and responses to feedback? Quantitative data based on an analysis of an in-depth survey of 247 basic L2 (110 ESL and 137 FL) writers' responses to feedback conventions employed by their composition instructors are presented. The findings provide insight into teacher behaviors which function positively and negatively as apprentice writers create and modify text.

Volume 3, Number 3 (1994)

Language Development in Students' Journals

Keio University

In this article, I examine changes in the writing of a small group of intermediate English students over three semesters of their intensive language program in Japan. The purpose of the study was to find concrete ways that language development could be demonstrated in students' journal writing, in the absence of testing and systematic instruction in writing, grammar, or vocabulary. T-unit analysis demonstrated that the writing of all the students changed over time, but in a variety of ways not necessarily predicted by the T-unit research. The same individual diversity was revealed with simple measures of coordination and vocabulary. Samples of the students' writing demonstrate that improvement cannot be measured only quantitatively through group averages, but that it must be identified in a variety of ways that differ for individual writers. I conclude that the notion of "improvement" needs to be reconceptualized and that students need to be convinced of the many ways that their English can improve.

Explanatory Variables for Japanese Students' Expository Writing in English: An Exploratory Study

Aichi Prefectural University
Nagoya Gakuin University

The present study investigated the relationship between Japanese students' English L2 expository writing and several factors that might influence the quality of the writing product. Nineteen Japanese university students provided both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative analysis showed that the students' L2 proficiency and L1 writing ability accounted for a large proportion of variances in L2 writing quality. The finding that L1 writing ability was highly correlated with L2 writing ability is important because it suggests the existence of composing competence across L1 and L2 even for EFL students. There was also a significant interaction between this composing competence and L2 proficiency. Qualitative analysis suggested that the students' composing competence was related to: (a) use of several good writers' strategies, (b) writing fluency, and (c) confidence in writing. Furthermore, probably due to the input-poor EFL environment, the amount of self-initiated L2 writing experiences seemed to play an important role in determining students' L2 writing quality.

Guidelines for Designing Writing Prompts: Clarifications, Caveats, and Cautions

California State University, Northridge
University of Wyoming

Regardless of the pedagogy of any given writing program, in the academic world, students are frequently evaluated on the basis of writing products they produce in response to various writing topics in a variety of circumstances. In testing situations, the stimulus for the student to respond to is referred to as a prompt. Special consideration should attend the preparation of writing prompts when there is a significant number of test-takers who are nonnative speakers of English. Writing prompts must be carefully prepared by test developers so that the student has the best possible chance to demonstrate accurately his or her true level of writing skills. This article proposes that there are six categories that test developers must consider and control as they develop appropriate prompt items: contextual variables, content variables, linguistic variables, task variables, rhetorical variables, and evaluation variables. Using a variety of examples from topics developed for the Test of Written English (TWE) and for other testing purposes, we show step by step how to distinguish between well-developed prompts and problematic ones by detailed exploration of each of these six variables.

Peer Response Groups in ESL Writing Classes: How Much Impact on Revision?

Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis

The purpose of this research was to investigate the impact of peer responses on subsequent revisions, comparing comments from the teacher with other sources. The revisions in essays from two groups of freshmen ESL students were evaluated over several drafts. The peer collaboration was audiotaped; written comments by the teacher or others were noted. Faigley and Witte's (1981) taxonomy of revisions was used to identify the types of revisions: surface or text-based. There are six specific types of revisions in each of these broad categories. The results show that the students made many revisions but that few of these were the result of direct peer group response. Students who made the greatest number of changes made predominantly more text-based changes. Students who made fewer changes generally made more surface changes. The results of this research raise questions regarding group formation and types of modeling done for group work.


On Second Language Writing