Developing Students’ Writing Skill: Teachers’ Views from Far West

Background

Januka Bhatta

I have been teaching English for more than a decade in English medium schools in the far western region. During my teaching, I found some students actively participating in classroom activities, whereas others have a slow pace in their learning. Students are found to be enjoying the reading sections and listening to their teachers, while they fear to make mistakes in other skills, like listening and speaking (Bohara, 2016). They do writing exercises every day like copying and answering questions given in the textbook but they are not yet able to produce an original and coherent piece of writing. The present curriculum of school level (secondary) has set a goal of achieving the students’ ability to produce a variety of written texts through controlled (guided) to free writing, allocating 35% of weight on it.

Challenges

English teachers, however, face several challenges to enhance the writing skills of students. I have collected the views of five English language teachers from the far western part of Nepal, especially the challenges they face while teaching writing to their students. I met two of them and telephoned the rest. Regarding challenges in developing writing, one of the teachers said:

I find difficulty in teaching writing skills than teaching other skills as my classroom is a multilingual one. I don’t understand their mother tongues except for Nepali but they take help of mother tongues to think first and express ideas on the papers. Students commonly commit errors in grammatical patterns and fail to use the punctuation marks.

The view of this teacher reveals the process the students undergo to come up with a writing piece in the English language. Likewise, it also shows how students commit errors in their writing due to the influence of their mother tongues. Another participant of my study shared his challenge this way:

My students understand the given questions but they are unable to write down the answers as they don’t have a sound vocabulary. They find difficulty in organizing sentences. They don’t use appropriate vocabulary. But I find that students can do better in guided writing and it’s easier to work because they make fewer mistakes on them.

Using appropriate vocabulary in writing answers of the questions and maintaining coherence in different pieces of writing is another challenge mentioned above. However, the teacher finds comfortable to work with students in guided writing practice than to move on a free writing (Tamang, 2018). One of the teachers from rural parts of the region said:

Mixed level of students’ English language proficiency is a challenge in my class. In the case of free writing, the students make more mistakes in terms of accuracy and organizing the ideas.

It shows that heterogeneous class is another challenge for teachers to enhance the writing skills. Likewise, a teacher teaching at English medium school explains her experiences this way:

The students can produce good paragraphs when they are provided with some clues-ideas to include in the paragraph, the sentence structures and vocabulary. Otherwise, their sentences are grammatically incorrect. They don’t even use the correct punctuation marks.

It indicates that the teachers need to provide a framework for writing a paragraph along with sentence structure and key vocabulary to use. Similar is the challenge of the following teacher, who uses the translation method to make things easier.

Students commit mistakes in spellings, sentence structure and organizing sentences. I find it easy to assign guided writing to the students. There is less exposure of the English language to students in my school. Therefore, I have to translate the written text into the Nepali language. Then it helps them to understand ideas and they can think of additional ideas to write.

Major Challenges Observed

Based on the views of the teachers, the following are the major challenges of the teachers

  1. Lack of vocabulary: students lack sufficient vocabulary to compose their writing. In fact, the vocabulary is the prerequisite for any types of writing.
  2. Incorrect grammatical pattern: use of the incorrect grammatical structure is another common challenge. One of the reasons behind this, as shared by the teachers, is the influence of their mother tongue.
  3. Less exposure in English: In many of our teaching-learning contexts, students do not get enough exposure in the English language- in terms of listening, reading, writing or speaking.
  4. Large multilevel classes:  Having different levels of students in English language proficiency in a large English classroom is an another challenge for teachers’ resourcefulness.

Some Strategies to Overcome the Challenges

These teachers use different strategies to overcome the challenges in teaching writing. One of the teachers presents some samples of writing before students generate their own writing. While another teacher reported of discussing the topic and providing some clues to further elaborate them. It could help students to think about the pattern and organize ideas in the given piece of writing (Dewan, 2018). Likewise, another teacher brings some authentic pieces of writing to the classroom. He asserted, “I bring teaching materials like the brochure, invitation card, notices and so on to show them in the classroom. It helps them to be familiar with the authentic pieces of writing.” Similarly, the next teacher explains the pattern to be followed while writing essays and paragraphs and reward students for their good effort. Likewise, another teacher provides the framework of writing on the topic, guide them in organizing the sentences and use the correct grammatical pattern. He further said: “I tell them to use simpler and shorter sentences in writing. I even make my students go to the library so that they can read short stories and other forms of writing.” This practice maximizes their exposure in the English language. The teachers’ experiences and practice show that the guided-writing practices are helpful in the initial stages to develop writing in my context.

Conclusion

I believe that EFL learners need to pay attention in planning and organizing the ideas in before producing a piece of writing. Similarly, the writing should not be taught separately but should be integrated with other language skills. Developing writing skills in students is not an easy job in rural parts of the region. Therefore, more exposure in English, use of supplementary materials, presenting model writing, sufficient practices in vocabulary and sentence structures could help in the initial stages of writing practices.

References:

Bohara, L.B. (2016). ELT at tertiary level: Perspectives from far west Nepal. ELT Choutari, December Issue, 2016.

Dewan, S. (2017). High expectations, low product: Why is writing scary ghost among our students? NELTA ELT Forum, 2017.

Tamang, BL. (2018). Paragraph writing: A process-based model. Journal of NELTA, vol-22.

 (Ms. Januka Bhatta teaches English at secondary level in Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari-Kailali.)