In this assignment, a critical summary of some of the key issues and considerations in relations to teaching reading and writing skills in TEFL/TESOL will be discussed.
One of the most popular and powerful view of reading in ELT is the psycholinguistic model, which deems reading to be a process of ‘making hypotheses about what is coming next, sampling the text for confirmation and then making new hypotheses’ (Paran,1996, 25). Through this method, Goodman argued that readers need only to reconstruct the text with the information they gathered in the text and prior knowledge of the language so decoding each word is not required. (Paran,1996, 25) Although this top-down/ schematic approach is not supported by L2 research, it heavily influenced ELT books on reading in the late 1970s and 1980s, promoting the role of guessing and predicting by using contextual cues and world knowledge. However, as pointed out by Wallace and Eskey, this method can be problematic for many L2 readers as they do not have the same level linguistic ability of L1 readers. As in more recent years, researchers established that the cause of difficulties in reading in L2 is L2 readers’ reduced automaticity of the reading process, a focus on bottom-up/ systemic approach emerged. To train their automaticity of word recognition, L2 readers have to learn ‘to do without [the former skills]’ (Paran,1996, 30). Specific exercises like timed word recognition by shape, word-meaning recognition and comprehension monitoring are devised to encourage and develop automatic processes. (Paran,1996, 32) However, it is not to say the schematic approach should not be used at all. According to Hedge (2016), both approaches are crucial to understanding a text by using an example ‘My father’s watch’. For readers to deduce the meaning of the words, they need to rely on both their cultural and language knowledge. Even though researchers are still working on how precisely the schematic and systemic knowledge interact with one another, it is agreed that ‘classroom methodology needs to pay attention to both’ (Hedge, 2016, 190). There are a range of ways to teach students reading. The most commonly way is to conduct pre-reading activities, work on the text and then follow-up activities. Examples of reading sequence include Harmer’s (1998) ESA sequence and SQ3R process from Brown and Lee (2015).
Like reading, there are a range of approaches to teaching writing and the three most commonly used ones are product, process and genre approaches. The product approach is the oldest among the three to dominate the teaching of writing in ELT until 1980s. According to Pincas, one of the most important aspects of this approach is about ‘linguistics knowledge, with attention focused on the appropriate use of vocabulary, syntax, and cohesive devices’ (Badger and White, 2000, 153). To make sure students are able to produce grammatically correct essays, the teaching process is split into four stages: familiarisation, controlled writing, guided writing and free writing. In the familiarising stage, students are introduced certain features like grammar, vocabulary, phrases, cohesive devices related to a particular text. Then, students are given the chance to use these features for making simple sentences in the controlled stage. This helps them consolidate and apply the newly learnt knowledge and prepares them for the guided writing section, where visual clues or questions are given to guide student’s writing. During these two stages, model sentences or texts are usually used for students to imitate. Free writing on the same topic is only allowed after numerous exercises and even then they are expected to show features learnt earlier in their production. While this approach gives students confidence and security as they can highly focus on practising specific features in their writing with model texts, it is criticised for lack of creativity and presonalisation and therefore, potentially demotivating students with repetitive writing through copying model texts. Also, as students are allowed to write to practice a language feature only in a particular way, their work is often inauthentic and too prescriptive. Hence, it does not reflect what real writers do in real situations.
To lessen the emphasis on linguistic knowledge, the process approach is adopted. Under this approach, ‘moving learners from the generation of ideas and the collection of data through to the publication of a finished text’ (Badger and White, 2000, 154) is stressed. According to Faigley (1986), there are two types of process approach: the expressivists and cognitivists. The expressivists emphasised on creativity, presonalisation and fluency instead of grammatical accuracy. However, this type of process approach is more in relation to L1 than L2 writers. For the cognitivists, they focused on how real writers write in real situations. Different views are voiced on the procedures writers go through when composing, but a typical one is to follow the process of prewriting, composing/drafting, revising and editing. (Badger and White, 2000, 154) In this approach, students first need to brainstorm on the given topic. Ideas generated from this stage are going to be selected and organised to be included in the next one. With the first draft composed, students are to reflect on and revise their work either individually or in groups. Finally, editing and proof-reading are done in the last stage before submission. With the opportunity to write more freely, redraft and collaborate with teachers and/ or classmates, both the confidence and motivation level of the learners are boosted. However, this approach does not work under situations like examinations because of time constraints. Also, without model texts, students never know what good writing looks like. In the most extreme case, their work may even be highly affected by the grammatical mistakes since not much attention is shown to grammatical accuracy.
As communicative approach to teaching has become widespread in recent years, the concept of genre emerges in both L1 and L2 teaching. (Hyon, 1996, 693) The genre approach to teaching writing, according to Swales (1990), is ‘characterised by [its] communicative purposes as well as by their patterns of structure, style, content and intended audience’. As a result, there are strong similarities with the product approach and in some ways, it can be regarded as an extension of the former. (Badger and White, 2000, 155) Although both the product and genre approaches see writing as predominantly linguistic, the latter emphasises that ‘writing varies with the social context in which it is produced’ (Badger and White, 2000, 155). As students need not operate in all social contexts, a writing syllabus is necessary. Central to this approach is purpose. Students are expected to produce different kinds of writing based on the purpose of the given situation. Apart from that, the subject matter, the relationships with the audience and the pattern of organisation are important considerations. Only with these aspects in mind can students make correct choices of grammar, vocabulary, content and organisation and produce a good piece of writing. Even though learners are empowered by teaching materials based on the ways language used in various situations and they are benefited from the systematic analysis of their work for grammatical, lexical and organisational skills from teachers, the genre approach can be mechanical and uncreative as genres can be seen recipes. (Hyland, 2004) To avoid being too prescriptive, variations within each genre should be allowed. Recently, a trend to push for writing in the process genre approach arises to combine the advantages of the three approaches, i.e. ‘knowledge about language (as in product and genre approaches), knowledge of the context in which writing happens and especially the purpose for the writing (as in genre approaches), and skills in using language (as in process approaches)’ (Badger and White, 2000, 158), for a more comprehensive means to facilitate students’ progress by enabling appropriate input of these knowledge and skills (Badger and White, 2000, 160).