The Process-Genre Approach: Some Ideas for Teaching Writing in Nepal
Madhav Raj Belbase
Are you teaching a writing course in a college of university in Nepal? If you are teaching in a school, is writing an important component of your language curriculum? Do you help your students write multiple drafts of a text or do you just ask them to submit final versions? Do you only provide a final score on students’ writing or do you provide feedback during different phases of their writing? Do you pay attention to the type of writing genre you are preparing your students for (e.g. emails, letters, websites, creative writing pieces like poems or essays, newspaper editorials, etc) or do you just focus on grammar, vocabulary and spelling? While the curricular mandates, time constraints, and availability of resources will largely determine what you can and cannot do, as teachers we also have a certain level of control over how we want to teach our students how to write and to facilitate their growth as writers.
Here is my proposal for teaching writing in our context—the process genre approach. In my experience, English teachers in the Nepalese context face unique challenges in teaching writing: while teacher education courses expose pre-service teachers with theories and ideas of teaching writing developed in the West, our teachings are mostly motivared by exam-driven product-based writing assignments that encourage students to reproduce what they learned in the classroom. Despite such tensions, “efficient teachers” can implement their “hidden” curricula where they can adopt an eclectic approach to teach writing and prepare students for the global world making them able to write a range of tasks, instead of just memorization and reproduction in exams. In order to build expertise in such a pedagogic skill, teachers need to be familiar with a range of teaching pedagogy options available to them. Here I try to present a model of an approach called the process genre approach that blends two approaches – the process approach and the genre approach. This approach takes account of different steps, for instance, preparation, modeling, planning, joint constructing, independent constructing, and revising and editing. However, before that I present some major shortcomings of product approach to writing which is dominant in the Nepalese context at present.
The product approach
In the product approach, according to Brown (1994), teachers focus on what a final piece of writing will look like and measure it against the criteria of vocabulary use, grammatical use, and mechanical considerations such as spelling and punctuation, as well as the content and organization. The normal procedure is to assign a piece of writing, collect it, and then return it for further revision with the errors either corrected or marked for the student to do the corrections. This approach has received much criticism because it ignores the actual processes used by students, or any writers, to produce a piece of writing. Yan (2005) claims that it focuses on imitation and churning out a perfect product, even though very few people can create a perfect product on the first draft. Another criticism is that this approach requires constant error correction, and that affects students’ motivation and self-esteem. The product approach does not effectively prepare students for the real world or teach them to be the best writers. I encourage the English teachers in Nepal to critically reflect on their approaches to teaching writing and think about making necessary changes.
The process approach
The process writing originated in the first language (L1) classroom, where it was developed in reaction to traditional types of teaching writing. This approach, for Caudery (1997), assumes that writing normally takes place through the making of series of multiple drafts of text. The process approach identifies four stages in writing- prewriting, drafting/composing, revising, and editing. These stages are recursive, taking place many times over in the course of composing. This approach emphasizes revision, and also feedback from others, so students may produce many drafts with much crossing out of sentences and moving around paragraphs. The correction of spelling and punctuation is not of central importance at the early stages. Caudery (1997) points out that the process approach is in many instances potentially extremely motivating and, to teachers and students alike. Most often it involves students in new and stimulating learning experiences. Peer feedback, for instance, is which students show each other their writing and obtain comments on it.
The genre approach
The genre approach to the teaching of writing developed as an approach inAustraliain the 1970s which is now gaining recognition throughout the world. By investigating different genres such as essays, editorials, and business letters students can perceive the differences in structure and form and apply what they learn to their own writing. Following Cope and Kalantzis (1993), the genre approach to writing consists of three phases: (1) the target genre is modeled for the students; (2) a text is jointly constructed by the teacher and students; and (3) a text is independently constructed by each student. Badger and White (2000) support that the approach acknowledges that writing takes place in a social situation and reflects a particular purpose and that learning can happen consciously through imitation and analysis, which facilitates explicit instruction. This approach seems more capable in showing students how different discourses require different structures. In addition, introducing authentic texts enhances students’ involvement and brings relevance to the writing process.
The process-genre approach
Today many ESL researchers have recognized that the teachers should not rigidly adopt just one approach all the time in the writing classroom. I also encourage English teachers in the Nepalese context to reconsider their own current practices and welcome insights from this model of teaching writing. Combining of approaches results in a new way of thinking about writing. One example is synthesis of the process and genre approaches, which Badger and White (2000) have termed the process genre approach. This approach allows students to study the relationship between purpose and form for a particular genre as they use the recursive processes of prewriting, drafting, revision, and editing. Using these steps develops students’ awareness of different text types and of the composing process. The different activities included in this approach ensure that grammatical and vocabulary items are taught not in isolation, but in meaningful, interactive situations and derived from the particular genre.
According to Badger and White (2000), the teaching procedure for the process genre approach is divided into the following six steps: (1) preparation, (2) modeling, (3) planning, (4) joint constructing, (5) independent constructing, and (6) revising. Figure 2 illustrates how these six steps interact in a recursive way with themselves and with other writing skills.
The teacher begins preparing the students to write by defining a situation that will require a written text and placing it within a specific genre, such as a persuasive essay arguing for or against an issue of current interest. This activates the schemata and allows students to anticipate the structural features of the genre.
During this step the teacher introduces a model of the genre and lets students consider the purpose of the text. For example, the purpose of an argumentative essay is to persuade the reader to act on something. Next, the teacher discusses how the text is structured and how its organization develops to accomplish its purpose.
This step includes many meaningful activities that activate the students’ schemata about the topic, including brainstorming, discussing, and reading associated material. The aim is to help the students develop an interest in the topic by relating it to their experience. Since they have to participate and contribute in the classroom, learners will find the activities interesting and entertaining.
In this step, the teacher and students work together as a beginning of writing a text. While doing so, the teacher uses the writing processes of brainstorming, drafting, and revising. The students contribute information and ideas, and the teacher writes the generated text on the black/white board. The final draft provides a model for students to refer to when they work on their individual compositions. It fosters collaborative writing. This step can be boosted by providing a very caring and sharing environment by the teacher. This step will provide students with a chance to write in a group and to prepare them for individual work.
By this time students will have examined model texts and have jointly constructed a text in the genre. They now undertake the task of composing their own texts on a related topic. Class time can be set aside for students to compose independently so that the teacher is available to help, clarify, or consult about the process. The writing task can also be continued as a homework assignment. The teacher has to clarify what students should do for writing homework.
Revising and editing
Students lastly will have a draft that will undergo final revision and editing. This does not necessarily mean that teachers have to collect all the papers and mark them one by one. Students may check, discuss, and evaluate their work with fellow students, as the teacher again guides and facilitates. The teacher may make an effort to publish the students’ work, which will impart a sense of achievement and motivate the students to become better writers. Their final achievement will foster self-esteem among learners as they have produced something.
Things are easier said than done. Learning to write in a foreign language is a demanding task that can easily leave learners unmotivated. It can be more discouraging when students are evaluated on the basis of their writing products only, as we now observe in the Nepalese context. To combat this problem, teachers have to play more agentive role in order to empower the learners with their ability to perform real world writing tasks. We are not preparing our students just for exams, but for the global world that may require an unpredictable set of writing skills. We language teachers are the change agents even if our curricula are constrained. Use of the process-genre approach to writing allows teachers to help students recognize the steps they go through to create a written text which should lead to less stressful and motivated writing. The fact that learners are encouraged to discuss, asses, and analyze their own writing made them feel more confident and less threatened. Theoretical ideas can be confusing and conflicting at times; it is the teacher who is responsible for translating abstract ideas into a classroom practice. Further the practice to produce optimal learning benefits, teachers should constantly and systematically record, contemplate, and analyze what they have done in the classroom, and use their reflective experience as a basis for improving their instructional practice.
Badger, R. G. & G. White. 2000. A process genre approach to teaching writing. ELT Journal 54(2): 153-60.
Brown, H.D. 1994. Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy.Eaglewood Cliffs,NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
Cope, B. & M. Kalantzis. (eds). 1993. The powers of literacy: A genre approach to teaching writing.Pittsburgh,PA:University ofPittsburg Press.
Coudery, T. 1997. Process writing. In Glenn, F. (ed). Writing in the English Language Classroom. Hertfordshire: Prentice HallEurope ELT.