Journal of Second Language Writing


Volume 4 (1995)
[ No. 1 | No. 2 | No. 3 ]

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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 4, Number 1 (1995)

Assertions and Alternatives: Helping ESL Undergraduates Extend Their Choices in Academic Writing

The University of Hong Kong

English as a second language (ESL) undergraduates in various educational contexts are likely to make assertions in their writing that experienced academic readers judge to be unwarranted or unnecessary, or to qualify their assertions in ways that appear inappropriate to subject lecturers and ESL teachers. After reviewing reasons why this should be so, this article presents and discusses short extracts from essays written by first-year undergraduates following an ESL-medium humanities curriculum at the University of Hong Kong. Some of the choices of wording carried what were apparently unintended consequences for knowledge claims and relations with readers. Class and tutorial feedback sessions on students' essays looked into ways in which a writer's factual or evaluative claims might be advanced, qualified, or assumed in linguistic choices from word to sentence level and beyond. The suggestion is made that, in a "general" academic-purpose context, focused explorations of warding can begin to relate writers' textual choices to questions that matter in academic communication.

Designing and Assessing Effective Classroom Writing Assignments for NES and ESL Students

University of Wyoming
California State University, Northridge

Academic writing is a form of testing; moreover, for most writing tasks across the U.S. college/university curriculum, the designer of the writing assignment is also the audience and the evaluator, and that designer-evaluator expects student-writers to demonstrate specific knowledge and skills. Therefore, like all test designers, designers of writing assignments should carefully consider the purpose(s), the parameters and constraints, and the evaluation criteria for each writing assignment. In this article, we discuss a range of issues in the design and assessment of classroom writing tasks assigned in courses across the U.S. college/university curriculum. We use a framework we designed previously to discuss the preparation and evaluate the design of writing tasks. We then analyze successful and unsuccessful writing across the curriculum assignments, particularly from the perspective of English as a second language writers, and offer suggestions that will enable teachers to design and assess effective writing tasks.

Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing Proficiency Exams, and the NNS College Student

University of Northern Iowa

The growing trend in American universities toward establishing stricter standards of writing proficiency is an issue that directly affects students who are nonnative speakers (NNSs) of English. Traditionally, institutions have attempted to address NNS writing needs through a variety of means, including special composition courses and Writing Center-based tutorial assistance. However, the adequacy of such methods is now being tested as NNS students attempt to satisfy new and presumably more stringent institutional writing requirements. In brief, where it may once have been possible for NNS students to graduate without being expected to write as often--or as well--as students who are native English speakers (NESs), today's Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs mandate (theoretically, at least) that they be held to the same standards of writing proficiency as native speakers. This article explores issues concerning instruction and evaluation of NNS students in institutions employing WAC programs. It examines faculty expectations of NNS writing quality, NNS performance on Writing Proficiency Exams, and support options available to NNS students, and concludes that NNS students are being held to o double standard that places them at risk. Finally, it discusses alternatives for recognizing and dealing with discrepancies in WAC policies and practices on both the individual and institutional levels.

Objective Measurement of Low-Proficiency EFL Narrative Writing

Osaka University

Two groups of low-proficiency English as a foreign language students were given different practice tasks (writing out or answering questions about the same picture stories) in order to determine which task type was more related to increase in writing proficiency. One task forced a holistic approach, while the other allowed students to focus on shorter, unconnected segments. Since no suitable objective measures for low-proficiency levels have been established, 24 measures and a high criterion level for significance (p < .001) were used. The class which practiced writing out picture stories (the holistic approach) showed more improvement. To determine which of these objective measures would best discriminate between extremely low and extremely close levels of second language writing, the data obtained in this study were reanalyzed. Scores for each student on each measure were converted to z scores and summed. The sums were correlated with scores on each of the 24 measures to determine which measures showed the highest and most reliable correlations with the z-score sums. The best measure was found to be total words in error-free clauses. The next-best measure was the number of error-free clauses per composition. These measures discriminate well among samples of low-proficiency writing.

Volume 4, Number 2 (1995)

Teachers' Conceptions of Second Language Writing Instruction: Five Case Studies

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

We interviewed five experienced instructors weekly about their ESL writing classes in selected courses over 2 years at a Canadian university, aiming to document the qualities of their thinking about their pedagogical practices as well as the ways in which three of the teachers' thinking accommodated a specific instructional innovation. Analyses of 48 tape-recorded interviews showed each instructor's conceptions to be highly consistent in their individual, expressed views about their teaching practices but also individually grounded in a specific set of personal beliefs about teaching ESL writing. The instructors using the pedagogical innovation focused much of their attention initially on composing processes (seemingly in response to the innovation). This focus then declined markedly over time as they incorporated the innovation into their existing beliefs about teaching ESL writing. These findings suggest that curricular changes in second language writing necessarily need to be situated in reference to the individual qualities of teachers' pedagogical conceptions as well as long-term views on the accommodation of pedagogical change.

L2 Writers and the Writing Center: A National Survey of Writing Center Conferencing at Graduate Institutions

University of Wyoming

Writing centers have become increasingly important resources for L2 academic writers across the United States. This article reports and analyzes the results of a survey of writing centers at 75 graduate institutions nationwide regarding their work with L1 and L2 graduate writers. It discusses the kinds of L2 writers writing centers serve, the training of writing center staff for L2 conferencing, the types of assistance L2 writers most frequently request, the differences writing centers perceive in working with L1 and L2 graduate writers, and the difficulties they encounter in meeting the needs of L2 clientele. Survey results suggest that collaborative efforts between ESL and writing center specialists, particularly in the area of tutor training, would greatly increase the benefits of writing center conferencing for L2 writers.

The Relationship of Lexical Proficiency to the Quality of ESL Compositions

Northeast Missouri State University

The extent to which impartial readers take into account lexical richness and lexical errors when assigning a quality score to compositions written by learners in an intensive English program is discussed in this article. For placement purposes into both ESL programs and academic programs, the writing of these students is often assessed by anonymous readers who base their judgments on timed writing tasks. Much remains to be known, however, about the relationship between language proficiency, specifically lexical proficiency, and reader judgments of the overall quality of timed essays. This study reports on the role of the lexical component as one factor in holistic scoring. Sixty-six placement essays written by students from mixed language backgrounds in the intermediate to advanced range of an intensive English program were holistically scored. These quality scores were then compared to four lexical richness measures: lexical variation, error-free variation, percentage of lexical error, and lexical density. High, significant correlations were found for (a) lexical variation, that is, the ratio of the number of different lexical items to the total number of lexical items in the essay adjusted to length; and (b) lexical variation minus error. The latter measure, error-free variation, correlated best with score.

ESL Composition Program Administration in the United States

University of Illinois at Chicago

A survey of 78 colleges and universities was conducted (a) to ascertain the degree to which native speakers (NSs) and nonnative speakers (NNSs) are instructed separately in composition classes, and (b) to discover what kinds of instructors generally teach the NNS composition courses. Results show that academic NNS composition classes are still generally isolated from NS composition programs and that they continue to be viewed as remedial at many institutions. In addition, a well-prepared, permanent staff for the NNS courses appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Most instructors are hired part-time and from term to term, often with limited experience in teaching writing to this population. Suggestions are given for improvements in teacher preparation and modification of instructional strategies.

Volume 4, Number 3 (1995)

Reexamining the Affective Advantage of Peer Feedback in the ESL Writing Class

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Various arguments have been made on affective grounds to justify peer feedback in teaching composition in English as a first language (L1). Those arguments have had considerable influence on the teaching of English as a second language (ESL) writing. Based upon current assumptions about the affective values of teacher-, peer-, and self-directed feedback, hypotheses were formulated concerning the relative appeal of the three types of feedback in the ESL writing process. Eighty-one academically oriented ESL learners who had experienced the three types of feedback responded to a questionnaire, and their preferences were statistically analyzed. The results show that claims made about the affective advantage of peer feedback in L1 writing do not apply to ESL writing. ESL students overwhelmingly prefer teacher feedback. The findings are discussed in conjunction with the larger issue of the appropriateness of L1 writing theories as guidelines for ESL writing research and instruction.

A Contrarian View of Dialogue Journals: The Case of a Reluctant Participant

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Dialogue journal writing has become a much heralded activity by researchers and practitioners alike, yet few studies explore the efficacy of this practice from the students' perspective. Still fewer studies examine the benefits of dialogue journal writing with adult English as a second language (ESL) students in a university setting. This study reports the case of Dang, one of 21 university ESL students who participated in an ethnographic study exploring students' perspectives on dialogue journal writing. Dang's case is described because he represents a view contrary to currently made claims about the benefits of dialogue journal writing. While Dang benefited from and enjoyed formal writing assignments, he resisted and disliked the informal writing of the dialogue journals. Implications from the case of Dang suggest the need for researchers and practitioners to consider students' perspectives when employing nontraditional writing assignments like dialogue journal writing. 

The Use of Metadiscourse in Good and Poor ESL Essays

Illinois State University

A text is composed of two parts: propositional content and metadiscourse features. Metadiscourse features are those facets of a text which make the organization of the text explicit, provide information about the writer's attitude toward the text content, and engage the reader in the interaction. In this study, we analyze the metadiscourse in persuasive essays written by English as a second language (ESL) university students. Half of the essays received good ratings and half received poor ratings. Differences between the two sets were found in the number of words, number of T-units, and density of metadiscourse features. When features were analyzed as a proportion of number of T-units, differences were found in all categories. Furthermore, the good essays showed a greater variety of metadiscourse features within each category than the poor essays. It is proposed that skilled writers have an awareness of the needs of their readers and control the strategies for making their texts more considerate and accessible to the reader. Poor writers, on the other hand, are not able to generate considerate texts.

NNS Performance on Writing Proficiency Exams: Focus on Students Who Failed

Georgia State University

An increasing number of U.S. universities require students to pass a writing proficiency examination before receiving undergraduate degrees. It is often assumed that these exams present special problems for nonnative speakers of English (NNSs). Johns (1991) reported on a case study of one student's difficulties with a writing proficiency exam. The student performed well in other courses but failed the required writing exam twice-and had not passed it prior to publication of the study. In our study, academic records of 191 NNSs who took a writing examination in 1991 were analyzed to assess their performance on the writing examination at Georgia State University (GSU). In addition, profiles of the students who failed were compiled, in part to determine how common the type of student profiled by Johns is at GSU. Of the original 191 NNSs, 16 were shown in the Registrar's record keeping system as still not having passed the writing exam by December 1994. The analysis shows that only 3 of these 16 students closely match the Johns profile. Of the remaining 13, 4 have C averages and 9 have failing grade point averages (GPAs). For these nine, failing the writing exam is part of an overall pattern of academic difficulty. Questions remain about the relationship between English proficiency and academic preparation and about responsibilities for academically weak students.


On Second Language Writing