CHAPTER 10 A proposal for the development of academic

CHAPTER 10 A proposal for the development of academic
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CHAPTER 10
10.1
A proposal for the development of academic
writing course materials for the study group
Introduction
Important issues related to academic literacy and writing have been highlighted in
Chapters 2 and 3 and these, in turn, informed the development of the framework in
Chapter 4.
Specific issues proposed by the framework necessitated empirical
investigation, and the results of these investigations are reported in Chapters 5-8.
Chapter 9 relates the most prominent and useful findings in these sections to how they
impact on writing course design. This chapter then represents a culmination of the
rest of the study in the sense that it takes into account the insights and information
collected through the literature survey, as well as the empirical investigations, in order
to make practical suggestions for writing course materials for the specific study group
of postgraduate students.
With regard to the proposed framework specifically, there are a number of focuses (cf.
Chapter 4) that should be considered in a comprehensive approach to the design of
writing course materials at university level.
An important principle in this
approach is the interconnected nature of these focuses.
Therefore, the writing
materials that are eventually developed for a specific group of students will be
strongly influenced by issues related to the identity of the writers, the types of texts
they are required to produce, the primary readers (and assessors) of their writing, as
well as the results of the contact with additional parties involved with/impacting on
the students' writing. Additionally, issues relating to institutional constraints and
opportunities, as well as one's approach to the development of writing, will shape the
writing materials designed in this context. This chapter therefore attempts to account
also for how the requirements and principles addressed in the application of the
framework in Chapter 4 may be practically translated into suggestions for writing
practice for the group of students from Agriculture.
It should be noted that although the comprehensive approach proposed by this study
may be justifiable in theory, and while this study shows that it is practicable to
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approach the development of writing course materials in this manner, one of the
possible limitations of applying this approach is that, in practice, it may be time
consuming. One would thus have to consider realistically how much of the approach
proposed by this study could be accomplished at the beginning of the year for a
number of possibly different groups of students.
However, once a basic
understanding of the literacy requirements of specific disciplines has been achieved,
this foundation may be used in the development of writing courses for subsequent
groups of writers in these disciplines, depending on continuous and productive contact
with lecturers/supervisors in such disciplines. This study has, to a large extent,
created such a platform for Agriculture. It has, in addition, provided a point of
departure for a similar process to be pursued in the writing development of
postgraduate students from diverse disciplines throughout the University by means of
the general supervisor survey.
It is further apparent at this point that even in the case of aiming for the development
of discipline specific writing materials, a degree of generalisation will be inevitable
initially. One would, therefore, have to rely on general trends in the data on student
needs as well as reader requirements. A basic discipline-specific writing intervention
would thus be based on salient, generic difficulties and writing requirements for the
group. In other words, one will have to utilise a basic generic core of issues to be
addressed in the course.
Depending on the size of student groups and, as a
consequence, the time that may be spent on writing consultation with individual
students, core issues may be adjusted and augmented (and other issues introduced) in
order to address the needs of specific individuals in a group of students – an issue that
can be addressed in a scenario where one deals with individual students in one-on-one
writing consultation. The potential use of such a basic course for subsequent groups
of writers in the same discipline will obviously be determined by collecting the same
type of information as was done in this study, and deciding on this basis whether
drastic changes are necessary to the materials that constitute the course. It will clearly
also depend on the feedback one receives about the value of the course, once
implemented, from both students and supervisors in conjunction with the writing
lecturer's observations on student progress, and how, after having worked with the
writing tasks in class, such tasks may be adjusted to have the optimum impact on
student development.
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In general, what one would wish to accomplish through adequate writing course
materials is to develop students' functional literacy abilities while, at the same time,
also raise awareness about disciplinary conventions and features of academic
discourse. It is crucial in this context that a writing course for these students should
have real potential in making a contribution in developing their writing ability, but
also that one does not create inflated expectations of what may be accomplished in
such a course. In other words, one's expectations should take into account the realities
of the context in which students write, as well as the realities of language and writing
development.
For example, since it is generally accepted that this kind of
development takes time, it would be wise not to create the impression that a writing
course is the ultimate answer in solving the academic literacy woes of supervisors
regarding their students. One should, therefore, be careful in not creating expectations
that would be impossible to meet, but rather focus on what may be achieved
realistically over a year. It would, for example, be inane to suggest to supervisors that
a writing course would make students fully proficient users of English. Although one
would hope that better basic English proficiency will be a result of the writing course,
it is well known that any number of other variables may influence such a result. In
any case, rather than attempting to 'remedy' students' basic language proficiency at
this juncture, it might be more important to create a heightened awareness of the
central role of language and writing specifically in the tertiary context, and to
provide students with opportunities to develop strategies that would enable them to
become flexible, life long language learners that can adjust to the demands and
requirements of different contexts. To accomplish this, students will have to be
aware that no one set of requirements exists for academic writing at the University,
and that they should strive to discover as quickly as possible those requirements that
hold for any specific context.
The approach followed from the outset in this study is that literacy/writing specialists
cannot work in isolation in the design of writing interventions for students. This
proposal for the design of writing course materials therefore forms part of a
comprehensive strategy that proposes regular contact with supervisors discussing
student needs, supervisor requirements (and possible writing needs), supervisor
feedback on writing, as well as the possible implementation of a writing tutor system.
If a departmental tutoring system cannot be implemented, one may consider the use of
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the academic literacy tutors employed at the UAL, but this would basically amount to
an editing service, albeit with explanation of language issues in students' texts. In this
regard, a series of meetings/consultations could be arranged with departments in order
to negotiate the issues referred to above.
This proposal is, therefore, discipline specific in as far as it considers the specific
writing requirements and the needs of postgraduate students of Agriculture in the
decisions about such materials. It further makes use of an integrated design regarding
two crucial aspects: the integration of academic literacy abilities that finds expression
in the employment of a process of writing in developing students' writing ability; and
the integration of a number of prominent approaches to the teaching of writing, each
emphasising a unique primary focus on a specific aspect of writing development. Of
course, the specificity of the proposal in disciplinary terms applies more than anything
else to the content of the instructional intervention. In terms of its form, the course
proceeds from a generic, and therefore potentially generalisable starting point. In this
way the materials of which examples are given and discussed below entail an
accommodation of the indicated specificity (Chapter 9) and the inevitable general
nature of any writing intervention.
So far, this study has thus been an attempt at engaging in a responsible and justified
approach to the investigation of academic writing in a tertiary academic context. In
order to present a more refined notion of this justification with regard to student
learning, the overarching principle to which such a validation for course design
should adhere for any language course, is that it "should make language learning
possible in the classroom" (Weideman, 2003a:37).
The development of writing
course materials will thus have to adhere to principles of course design that are
pedagogically responsible and justified so that optimum learning opportunities are
created for students. Weideman (2003a:15) mentions a number of design criteria (cf.
also Nunan, 1991) that should be considered in justifying the tasks one develops in
language courses. Although he discusses these criteria in the specific context of
communicative language teaching (CLT), one would agree that these criteria have
been incorporated into language course design over a wide spectrum, and that they
generally hold true for the design of language learning tasks today. The first criterion
emphasises the importance of making use of authentic texts (and tasks) in the
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design of language materials. "It means, therefore, that language teaching must be
related as closely as possible to real language use, as well as to the present and
prospective needs of the student (Weideman, 2003a:31)" The second criterion refers
to the equal importance of all the different skills in the development of language, a
criterion that is also echoed in a literacy approach that emphasises the integrated
nature of different language abilities. This is also the principle Nunan (1991) applies
in his acknowledgement of the interactive nature of language and that, as a result,
language tasks should emphasise communication through interaction.
Another
important consideration for Nunan is the importance of a focus on learner needs.
One therefore has to consider learners' needs in terms of their functional language
needs, but also their emotional needs in terms of the learning atmosphere in class.
Weideman (2003a) suggests a 'stress index' that may be used for determining the level
of stressfulness of language learning tasks. Although his criteria in such an index
focus on 'beginner' students, he mentions that the criteria could be adjusted easily to
make provision for different levels of learners. Responding to these criteria that focus
on student affect, language tasks should, as far as possible, make learning free of
embarrassment, fear and anxiety. Connected to this issue is the notion that good
language learners take risks, and that learners may engage increasingly in such
behaviour in situations that are relatively stress free.
Regarding the learning
atmosphere created in the writing class, one will have to create a careful balance
between what is required of students in terms of their writing ability at this level, and
the stressfulness of actually producing such texts. Keeping in mind the academic
literacy problems of the specific group of learners, it will thus be crucial that writing
tasks are 'scaffolded' sufficiently so that students do not feel 'abandoned' in their
production of such texts. The fourth criterion focuses on the information gap activity
that stands central to the design of language tasks. Although this type of activity was
developed specifically in the context of communicative language teaching, it is clear
that it has enduring relevance in the sense that it enables authentic information
transfer between participants in order for the negotiation of meaning to take place. In
addition, Weideman mentions two further criteria suggested by Nunan (1991). These
involve, firstly, that learning opportunities should enable learners to focus on not
only the language, but also on the language process itself. The second of these
criteria focuses on what the learners' personal experiences may contribute to
learning in the classroom. It should be evident at this point that some of the criteria
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discussed above have not only already been accounted for to varying degrees
throughout the study, but in a very real sense bring together the various yardsticks for
course design as these are reflected both in the framework discussed above, and in the
findings of the empirical part of this study.
They will further be employed as
barometer for a justification of the materials proposed in the rest of this chapter.
The following section presents a list of the intended outcomes for the writing course,
and then discusses each separately with regard to how such outcomes may be
achieved through specific writing tasks and materials.
10.2
General aims, critical outcomes and learning outcomes for the course
In this section, the objectives of a comprehensive strategy for writing development are
stated in the form of firstly, discussing general aims that do not necessarily form part
of the specific writing materials for the course, but need to be addressed as a result of
their possible influence on the design of the materials as well as on the
implementation and functioning of a writing intervention. Thereafter, the objectives
for the writing materials specifically are stated in the form of critical outcomes and
learning outcomes, with the subsequent section discussing how such outcomes may be
addressed through writing tasks and materials.
Apart form the fact that Outcomes Based Education (OBE) is the accepted
educational model for all sectors of education in South Africa and has been so for
some time in higher education, the development of objectives for the course in the
form of learning outcomes requires one to deal with what students should be able to
do practically and functionally with regard to their academic literacy abilities. It is
therefore an educational approach that forces one to make justifiable decisions about
the development of learner ability and to express elements of such ability in a way
that should be measurable on a practical and functional level.
A writing intervention for the study group would thus include the general aims,
critical outcomes and learning outcomes mentioned below.
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10.2.1 General aims
A comprehensive approach to writing development for the study group aims to:
•
Expand the current working relationship with supervisors from Agriculture;
•
Create opportunities for supervisors to share their strategies on providing
feedback on the writing of their students – initiate contact with supervisors on
the development of a standardised feedback system for their students; and
•
Support supervisors in the development of their own academic writing ability
if requested.
Up to this point, the relationship with supervisors from Agriculture functioned on an
ad hoc basis with regard to having contact in the beginning of the year when they
usually request that their postgraduate students write the literacy test (TALL). After
this initial contact, students with risk are directed to the EOT 300 writing course and
contact effectively stops. This study would like to propose a more meaningful and
productive relationship for future groups of students from this School where the
formalised support in determining their students' academic literacy abilities, as well as
student views and perceptions of academic literacy and writing, are augmented by
work
sessions
with
the
supervisors
where
information
is
provided
to
supervisors/lecturers on their students' performance on the literacy test as well as the
results of the student questionnaire. One could, therefore, help them to identify the
specific academic literacy needs and requirements of students and, as a consequence,
raise supervisor awareness about the specific difficulties their students experience
with academic literacy.
One could further arrange opportunities where a negotiated system of feedback could
be jointly developed for supervisors in the School. This could take the form of
supervisors commenting on a specific student text from the discipline (preferably a
weak text), which could then be discussed in a work session in order to determine
differences in the way supervisors indicate the same issue, as well as differences of
opinion about the importance of certain stylistic conventions used in the School. Such
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work sessions could typically be promoted as part of staff development sessions, an
obligation that all departments at the University are to fulfil.
The interview data suggests that there is an awareness among some supervisors that
because they are not mother tongue users of English themselves, they may also
benefit personally from contact with writing educators regarding their own writing
ability. This contact will obviously influence the quality of support and feedback they
could provide to their students. A closer working relationship with supervisors in the
School that emphasises academic literacy issues as its main focus may, therefore, also
make supervisors more aware of their own writing strategies and as a possible
consequence, equip them to better facilitate a process of writing to their students.
10.2.2 Critical outcomes
The course will address the following critical outcomes:
•
Identifying and solving problems in which responses indicate that responsible
decisions using critical and creative thinking have been made;
•
Working effectively with others as a member of a group;
•
Communicating effectively in an academic environment using language skills;
and
•
Collecting, analysing, organising and critically evaluating information.
10.2.3 Learning outcomes
The learning outcomes for the course are the following:
At the end of the writing course, students should be able to:
•
Employ their heightened awareness of their own academic literacy and writing
abilities in order to seek out actively opportunities and resources for the
development of such abilities;
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•
Apply adequately the knowledge and strategies with regard to the writing
requirements of their specific disciplines in their own academic writing
practice;
•
Engage in writing activity as an integral part of academic literacy by making
productive use of writing practised as a process; and
•
Make productive (and continuous) use of opportunities for (or guidance as to
what resources may be used in) the development of their basic proficiency in
English.
10.3 Writing tasks and materials
The following section contains a description of writing materials that may be used
towards achieving the learning outcomes for the course, and eventually, the critical
outcomes as well. It is important to note that most of the students in the study group
have already completed parts of the writing course being proposed. The writing
materials suggested in the section that follows, however, serve as an example not only
of how writing materials may be designed for subsequent groups of students in the
same School and Faculty, but also for student groups from other faculties.
Because this research subscribes to a view of making use of authentic academic tasks
(and texts) in the development of writing, it does not support a view of exposing
students to isolated, out of context writing exercises that do not contribute as a
functional part of an authentic, integrated writing task.
Such a strategy would
compromise the integrity of the approach proposed here in terms of the integrated and
contextual nature of academic literacy ability. The following section will therefore
discuss the learning outcomes mentioned above with regard to three integrated writing
tasks that serve as examples as to how these outcomes may be addressed adequately.
10.3.1 Support students to become more aware of their personal needs with
regard to academic literacy (and writing)
As an information gathering instrument that is to be used in the placement of
students, an academic literacy test should be administered as early as possible in the
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students' studies (preferably even before they have formally commenced with their
studies). Once a selection has been made of students who will attend the writing
course, sharing the results of the academic literacy test may be instrumental in making
students more aware of their literacy needs. It is important then that the results of this
instrument are available to students, not only in the form of reading a final score from
a list, but also discussed in detail with each student on an individual basis, in order to
strengthen the impression of students that their unique needs are important and to
emphasise the fact that the specific difficulties that students experience can be
addressed productively by a literacy intervention. The heightened awareness that may
result from such discussion may also lead students to begin to seek out actively
opportunities that are presented in other contexts than the writing class in order to
develop the specific abilities identified by the test. In addition, all students should
complete the student questionnaire on academic literacy and writing, and their
expectations discussed with them individually. Such discussion will help the writing
lecturer to focus on the unique background and expectations of individual students,
but also has the potential to emphasise certain misgivings students have about literacy
and writing in a postgraduate environment.
Connected to the issue mentioned above, it is further suggested that the writing
lecturer responsible for this group of students keep a personalised record, a portfolio if
you may, of individual students (that includes, for example, test scores, questionnaire
results, copies of written texts, etc.) with the purpose of providing individualised
attention in consultations. Such a system should enable the writing lecturer not only
to determine at which level individual students are with regard to their academic
literacy levels at the start of their studies, but also to monitor their progress as they
develop their writing ability over time. It is important to realise that in our context,
the writing lecturer who presents the course and the course designer may not always
be the same person. It would, therefore, be essential for the writing lecturer to have
access to all information that was collected about a specific group of students in a
specific discipline, and thus to also be aware of the writing requirements of the
specific discipline he/she is teaching. Although what has been discussed above does
not constitute a writing task per se, it is considered an essential exchange between
students and the writing lecturer towards raising student awareness about their
academic literacy and writing needs.
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Furthermore, consistent and appropriate feedback (supported by individual
discussions with students about such feedback) on the writing that students produce
for the writing course should also result in a stronger awareness of how students'
writing needs relate to important writing conventions and conditions in the tertiary
academic context.
10.3.2 Make use of writing tasks that would guide students to discover the
writing requirements of the specific discipline
10.3.2.1
Investigate the specific writing requirements of the discipline
As was mentioned above, an important point of departure for the kind of writing
intervention proposed here is to raise student awareness about their own literacy and
writing needs in conjunction with the academic literacy and writing requirements of
their disciplines. When translated into the design of a meaningful, integrated writing
task, the results of the student questionnaire which contain students' expectations, the
results of the supervisor questionnaire that include the requirements of supervisors, as
well as the results of a survey task where students need to interview their supervisors
about academic literacy and writing, could be shared and compared in class and
subsequently be incorporated into a set of writing requirements for the discipline.
Making use of this data, students could then be required to produce a short research
report on the requirements for academic writing.
Regarding the student interviews with their supervisors (see Figure 10.1, Task 1
below), this specific section of the writing task requires students to initiate contact
with their supervisors (or lecturers teaching on a tutored postgraduate course) on
specific issues in academic literacy and writing.
The social and contextual
situatedness of academic writing is thus emphasised by the information seeking
strategies (which essentially amounts to students negotiating writing requirements
with supervisors) employed by this task.
The task attempts to get students to
determine what is required specifically of them in their disciplinary writing contexts
and connecting such requirements to their own expectations. Practically, students
could be given guidance on which issues to address in the interview (see Task 1.1
below). These may include, for example, specific stylistic matters such as the use of
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personalised writing and which specific system of referencing they should use, and
will essentially foreground assessment in terms of students finding out from
supervisors what they value in academic writing (students will further be encouraged
throughout the course to explore with supervisors/lecturers the exact requirements of
specific writing assignments they need to complete for their studies). After having
conducted the interviews, the group can negotiate during a class discussion what the
most prominent writing conventions appear to be in respective disciplines within the
School (see Task 1.2 below). Ideas could be refined with the assistance of the writing
lecturer, be combined into a comprehensive set of requirements (Task 1.3) and
students requested to write up the combined and integrated data in the form of a short
research report (Task 1.5).
One would also, however, like to introduce students to a strategy of peer revision and
editing as early as possible in the writing course. Keeping in mind that most of the
students will probably be relatively inexperienced peer revisers and editors, it would
be unwise to expect of them to engage in a peer-revision task without any guidance at
this point. It is thus suggested that students are supported by means of a task (Task
1.4) that mediates between the information collected on writing requirements and
students' production of the research report (where they will be required to revise and
edit one another's reports). The proposed scaffolding task may take the form of
providing students with a short, authentic written text (taken from the previous year's
assignments) and requesting their critique of this text for the next class session. A
specific requirement for this task would be that students need to apply selectively only
one of the three focus areas (see Task 1.3) used as organising principle in the
compilation of the integrated requirements that were negotiated during the class
discussion. Students thus have to critique the text regarding its content (ideas) and
structure. The main reason for this selective focus is that one cannot, in all fairness,
expect of students to comment adequately on language correctness or, for that matter,
correct academic style this early in the course. Their first introduction to revision and
editing should, therefore, be restricted to commenting on the ideas (e.g. claims that are
unsubstantiated) and structure of the text. In other words, the first peer revision task
should attempt to focus on the quality and relevance of the ideas (meaning) first. A
subsequent (surface editing) task may then emphasise surface issues regarding
language and style (correctness).
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This matter is, however, not as uncomplicated as the above contention may imply,
since the meaning of ideas is sometimes obscured by incorrect language use
(Parkerson, 2000). For example, the incorrect use of words and incorrect word order
in writing have greater potential in obscuring meaning than for instance, errors in
concord and article use. Inevitably, instances will thus arise in a discussion of the text
where one will have to comment on grammatical problems in as far as they conceal
the meaning of ideas. As stated before, other grammatical issues that do not have
such a direct impact on meaning could form part of a later surface editing exercise. It
is also important, however, that one does not confine students in this regard by taking
away naturally occurring learning opportunities in class sessions. Therefore, if they
do notice surface language errors, they may, of course, indicate them (and one may
discuss them at this point). It is also important that the text one uses for this task have
some rather obvious structural and argumentation problems (e.g. repetition of ideas;
unsubstantiated claims; irrelevant ideas; etc.). Considering mistakes with language
and style, one may opt for selecting a number of issues in the text that are prominent
problems in the students' writing, and focus on these rather than discussing the
mistakes in the text comprehensively. As noted previously in this study, although
studies on error correction are largely inconclusive at this point, some do suggest that
selective attention to specific aspects of language could have a positive effect on
student uptake of grammatical and stylistic issues.
This writing task should also be a good opportunity to introduce students to a system
of revision and editing symbols that they need to use in what they indicate about
texts they will be required to assess. This set of correction symbols should be limited
initially to include only aspects that focus on the issues concerning ideas mentioned
above (Task 1.4 below). In the subsequent discussion about their revision of this text,
one could physically go through the text with students (on transparency) and make use
of the correction symbols (and indicate them as such in the text on the overhead for
students to see), as students identify what they see as problematic in the text.
Regarding problems concerning language and style, a useful strategy may be to focus
on a limited number of prominent language problems identified by the text analysis,
to explain these to students and to ask them to attempt to identify these errors in the
text on the transparency (see Addendum E for an error correction scheme that may be
used in this regard).
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It should be noted that this task serves the function of introducing students to peer
revision and editing in order to get them started. The ultimate aim of this strategy is
that students may get so used to commenting on others' writing (and receiving
comment), that they would of their own accord seek out opportunities for offering
their own writing to somebody else to comment on. Whether students will engage in
such strategies out of their own accord will depend to some extent on whether they
find the feedback of their peers (and any other resources) valuable in improving their
writing, which obviously implies the judicious selection of such resources.
In
essence, this study suggests that a system of revision and editing used by students for
peer revision and editing, as well as the system of feedback that the writing lecturer,
supervisors and possibly a writing tutor use, emphasises the construction of meaning
first before focusing on surface language errors that do not impact as severely on
meaning.
Students will further be given guidance as to the structure of the research report, and
as a next step be required to physically write the research report (Task 1.5) and then to
have it revised and edited by a writing partner from the group (they would already
have had the introductory experience to revision and editing discussed above). After
receiving back their texts from their writing partners, students will also have the
opportunity to make the changes they wish to their texts (and also make use of outside
resources such as the writing tutor) before the final submission of these.
This writing task already introduces students to one type of data – that collected
through conducting interviews and administering questionnaires – considered
important in the School, as well as their interpretation thereof (a discussion of the data
will also focus on students' ability to judge the strength of this kind of evidence). The
writing task discussed above thus has the potential to create a sense of immediate
relevance regarding the materials dealt with in the course. In addition, part of the
justification for the task is to be found in that it is a typical task in which students
have to seek information, process such information and then produce information on
the basis of what they have learnt.
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Figure 10.1
Task 1 – Supervisor requirements of academic writing
Task 1 – Supervisor/lecturer expectations of student academic writing
1.1
Make an appointment with your supervisor (if you have been assigned one at this
stage) or one of your lecturers (not a writing lecturer) during his/her consultation
times. Interview this person with regard to what he/she believes are the features of a
quality written academic text. Make use of the form provided below to guide you in
which questions to ask your lecturer/supervisor.
Questionnaire - Supervisor/lecturer expectations of written academic texts
Name and surname of supervisor:
__________________________
Subject:
__________________________
Department:
__________________________
Supervisor/lecturer expectations: student academic writing
1
What are, according to you (the supervisor/lecturer), the characteristics of a quality written
academic text (also ask them to explain why these issues are important)? Are there
specific guidelines in the form of a written document that you prescribe for writing? (If
yes, try to get hold of a copy of this as well.)
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
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2
Are there any important stylistic conventions to which I should adhere in my writing?
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
3
What do you expect from students with regard to the language used in a written text?
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
4
Do you award marks for language and style in written texts? (If you do, what is
penalised/rewarded when you mark for language and style?)
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________
5
What referencing system should I use for my own writing in the department?
___________________________________________________________________________________
6
To what extent do you indicate or correct language/stylistic mistakes in written texts?
___________________________________________________________________________________
1.2
Draw up a prioritised list of at least 3 supervisor requirements for quality student
writing from your interview.
1__________________________________________________________________________________
2__________________________________________________________________________________
3__________________________________________________________________________________
4__________________________________________________________________________________
1.3
Aided by your EOT 300 lecturer, compile a comprehensive, prioritised list of
supervisor requirements/expectations about student writing from a whole class
discussion about the topic:
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Lecturer expectations about student academic writing
Content/argument
1.4
Style and presentation
Language use
Your lecturer will provide you with a text that contains a number of structural and
thinking errors, as well as errors in grammar and style. For the next class session,
you need to read through the text and try to identify as many errors as possible
regarding those aspects contained in column 1 above (content/argument). Try not to
focus too much on how the language was used, since this aspect will be considered
jointly with your writing lecturer after a discussion of your findings on the value of the
ideas in the text. Please make use (as far as possible) of the following symbols in
indicating specific issues in the text itself:
1.5
Rep
Repetition of an idea
Evid
Unsubstantiated claim (no evidence provided)
Con
You are contradicting yourself
Log
No logical flow between ideas (ideas unrelated)
Pos
Idea does not belong here
Irr
Idea is irrelevant to the topic
?
I do not understand/it does not make sense
[NP
New paragraph
Write a short research report of between 1000 to 1500 words in which you give an
account of lecturer expectations of student academic writing (it is important to realise
that your report should also adhere to the specific requirements you are discussing in
235
the report). Make use of all information you have gained on the issue thus far. After
you have finished writing the report, hand it to your writing partner so that he/she can
check it for inconsistencies and errors in argument (ideas). Such errors should be
indicated in pencil in the report itself. Make use of the same symbols we have used
in Task 1.4 to indicate problems with the ideas in the text and also make use of the
writing check (see Addendum D) as a guide to what specific issues to focus on in the
text. After you have made the changes you want (in response to what your writing
partner has indicated), write a second draft of your report and give this to your writing
tutor for editing. Only after you have made the changes suggested by the writing
tutor, you may submit your final draft to your writing lecturer.
10.3.2.2
Make use of generic written genres in the School
Writing materials should, as far as is practically possible, focus on strategies for
discovering the characteristics of the written genres employed in the School, as well
as require students to produce such genres that adhere to their supervisors'/lecturers'
requirements. In the rest of this section, it should be apparent from the proposed
writing tasks that the aim is to make the tasks as authentic as possible.
Students will thus be required to write a literature survey (see Task 2 below) on a
specific topic selected in the course. A limited number of topics relevant to the
discipline in general may be negotiated with students for the focus of the literature
study. A topic such as 'desertification', for example, is generic for the discipline in the
sense that students registered for different courses may approach this topic from their
specific perspectives (e.g. a student from Animal and Wildlife Sciences may approach
the topic in terms of the impact of this phenomenon on animal management, a student
from Plant Production and Soil Sciences could approach desertification from the
perspective of the impact on soil resources and a student registered for Agricultural
Economics, Extension and Rural Development may approach the issue from the
perspective of the economic [and social] impact of desertification). As discussed
comprehensively in 10.3.4.1, students could be provided with a number of basic texts
on the issue of desertification and be required to analyse such texts and extract
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relevant information. This would address literacy abilities such as distinguishing
relevance, classifying information, paraphrasing, etc.
Figure 10.2
Task 2 – A survey of the literature
Task 2 – The Literature survey
1
Copies of six different texts on 'Desertification' have been reserved for you in the
main library on campus. As a first step, you need to decide which of these texts are
relevant for the topic you need to investigate. You could, therefore, first skim read the
texts in order to gain a general impression of what they are about. Make copies of
the texts you select and read them comprehensively.
Read specifically for
information on the following important issues:
•
A definition of desertification
•
Major causes of desertification
•
Major consequences of desertification
•
Proposed solutions for how the effects of desertification could be minimised
2
While you read, keep these issues in mind and write short, summarising notes under
each heading. Also write down important quotes (as well as their references) you feel
may be useful in support of specific ideas/issues in your discussion of the topic.
3
Make use of your notes in order to construct a schematic diagram on the important
information you have extracted from your selected texts. Copy this diagram on the
transparency that your lecturer will provide (you may also make use of a Powerpoint
presentation if you wish). Also make sure that you include the complete details of
each of the texts you use according to the Harvard method of citation (as was
discussed in class) on a separate transparency. During the following class session,
each student will be required to present his/her diagram to the rest of the class.
4
Another important article on the topic has been reserved for you in the library. Make
a copy of this article and read through it thoroughly.
You will note that the
perspective in this article contradicts that of the previous texts you read. Based on
the evidence provided in this article, decide for yourself how you will include this new
information into the diagram that you have already developed on the issue.
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5
Now that you have established a basic understanding and framework on the issue of
desertification, you have to address this problem in your specific field of study. For
example, if you are registered for a degree in Animal and Wildlife Sciences, your
angle on the topic would be how issues in this specific field are affected by
desertification. At this point it will be necessary for you to consult more sources on
research that was conducted specifically about the impact of desertification in your
field. Make use of the basic diagram you have constructed and add any new, more
specific information from your additional reading into the diagram in a logical manner.
6
Make use of your diagram as well as any additional notes and write a first draft of a
survey of the literature on the impact of desertification in your field. Make sure that
the structure of your text adheres to the general structure of introduction / body /
conclusion. Follow the same procedure of revision and editing used in Task 1. You
thus need to have your first draft edited by a writing partner from the group and the
second draft by the writing tutor before submission of the final draft.
Since all students are required to produce a research proposal in the School, this is an
important genre that will be exploited in the writing course. Every student will thus
have to produce a research proposal during the year (see Task 3 below). This task
will be explained comprehensively to students relatively early in the course and they
will be encouraged to start working on it as soon as possible. It will also be made
very clear that this is the same proposal that they have to produce for their research
project in their field. Students may submit their proposals as a writing assignment for
the course at any time they wish during the year, depending on the requirement that
they have had at least three consultations on the proposal with their writing lecturer,
and have presented it as a seminar to the rest of the group. An additional requirement
will therefore be that students have to present their proposals in the form of a seminar
(both written and orally) to the rest of the students in the group, for the purpose of
receiving feedback from their peers, that may help them in improving the proposal. A
writing task of this nature is surely the closest one could get in adhering to the
criterion of making use of authentic academic tasks (and texts) for the development of
writing in a writing course. The proposal is thus that the same research proposal they
have to produce for the main research project of their studies is utilised as an authentic
text for writing development.
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Because proposal writing also tends to differ across disciplines and even within
disciplines (there is, therefore, not one 'correct' or standard format for the writing of
research proposals), it will be important for students to investigate this issue with
regard to the specific reader/audience (their supervisors) who will require of them to
produce this genre. In order to support students with this investigation, one could ask
them to bring examples of research proposals they have collected from their
supervisors to the writing class (obviously they need to ask for a proposal that has
already been accepted), analyse such proposals in terms of content and structure, and
then expect of each student to produce his/her own proposal during the year. As noted
above, students may further be supported through a series of individual consultations
with the writing lecturer about the proposal. One may, therefore, make productive use
of the notion of text modelling in the sense that students may request examples of
model texts (such as a research proposal) from their supervisors and that these then be
analysed in order to discover what the appropriate structure and content would be for
these genres in the School.
The research proposal is used here as a writing task that highlights the practical worth
of employing a process of writing in terms of its emphasis on requesting feedback
from various sources and making changes accordingly.
Figure 10.3
Task 3 – The research proposal
Task 3 – Writing a research proposal
1
This task requires of you to produce a research proposal for the main research project
towards completing your degree. This is essentially the same research proposal you will
have to produce for your supervisor before you can start with your research project.
2
For the next class session, please ask your supervisor for an example of a research
proposal on which you may base yours (preferably, this should be a proposal that has
already been accepted by a research committee). Read through this proposal thoroughly
and try to take note of the type of information that is required for a research proposal as
well as how it is structured with regard to such information. Each student's proposal will
be discussed in class with regard to the two issues mentioned above in mind
3
Your task now is to write a research proposal for your main research project after having
discussed at length a possible topic, as well as your supervisor's specific requirements for
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proposal writing, with him/her. Obviously, the date of submission of this proposal (as a
writing task for the writing course) will depend on your own time frame according to your
study schedule. The requirement for the writing course is, however, that you should
submit the proposal during this year. Obviously, you will have to take this task into
account when you plan for your studies, since you are required to have three
consultations with your writing lecturer on your progress with the writing of the proposal
(you may also make any additional appointments with your lecturer if required).
4
If at any time you feel you want the rest of the writing group's input and feedback on your
progress with your proposal, you should please inform your lecturer so that he/she could
schedule a time in which you may present your proposal in the form of a seminar to the
rest of the group (you should also hand a copy of your seminar to your lecturer so that it
could be distributed in the group). Obviously, this should be done before you hand your
final proposal to your supervisor or submit it as a writing task for the writing course. The
presentation of this seminar is compulsory for the writing course.
10.3.2.3
Strengthen student awareness about different types of evidence that are
acceptable in their disciplines
The writing tasks proposed here also aim (as far as possible) to integrate the different
types of evidence that are acceptable in the School into the texts students are required
to produce. Supervisors for the study group have indicated primarily that evidence
from the literature and empirical evidence (gained through experiment as well as
survey-type evidence) are acceptable types of evidence in the School. All three
writing tasks discussed in this chapter are well suited to emphasise the judicious use
of at least two of these evidence types in student writing. For example, Task 1 that
requires students to conduct a survey and write a short research report is suitable in
addressing the collection of data from interviews as well as questionnaires (and their
interpretation) as a source of evidence. Apart from offering support to students in
collecting information about disciplinary writing requirements, this task is also an
attempt to guide students in making justifiable decisions about the strength of claims
put forward and engaging in the responsible interpretation of data in their own
writing.
Regarding evidence from the literature, Task 2 (Figure 10.2) focuses on the
consultation of a number of different sources on a specific topic and emphasises the
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extraction of salient information (and evidence) from the literature that would enable
one to construct a sound argument based on evidence located in such literature. This
task is discussed in more detail in 10.3.4. Task 3 (Figure 10.3), which involves the
writing of a research proposal, also focuses on evidence from the literature in the
sense that for this genre, one is usually expected to include a short survey of the
literature in order to situate one's research problem in the context of one's discipline.
This task is discussed comprehensively in 10.3.2.2.
Although experimental data have been identified by supervisors from Agriculture as
one of the sources of evidence for the discipline, this type of evidence is at the heart
of the discipline regarding insight into the content of the field. Apart from the
difficulty of setting an authentic writing task that includes such experimental data, it
may be wise for the course designer not to engage too closely with the intricacies of
content in the discipline. Students may, however, be supported with the individual
written texts they produce in the discipline regarding the way in which they have
made use of language to construct their arguments based on experimental evidence.
10.3.2.4
Address prominent stylistic conventions of academic discourse for the
School
Apart from what students may learn from their supervisors about writing requirements
(and, more specifically, stylistic conventions) in the interviews (Task 1), the data from
the interviews with supervisors from Agriculture indicate that stylistic issues they find
problematic (or that they value) in this School are mainly restricted to the formality
and impersonality of the language used in academic writing, as well as consistency in
citation. Although stylistic matters would be addressed throughout the course (mainly
in the feedback students receive on their written texts), this issue will be addressed
comprehensively in the class discussion session about supervisor requirements in
Task 1.3. The writing lecturer could further emphasise specifically those issues that
are considered to be important in the discipline by indicating them on the transparency
of the text that students had to critique with regard to argumentation and structure
(Task 1.4).
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One could, therefore, make use of instances of style emphasised by supervisors during
students' interviews with them, and augment such instances by information gained
from the supervisor questionnaire (Chapter 5) and interviews (Chapter 8).
10.3.3 Provide opportunities for (or guidance as to what resources may be used
in) the development of basic proficiency in English
Both the results of TALL and the textual analysis indicate that students in the study
group need support with the development of their basic English proficiency. It is
therefore crucial that students with proficiency difficulties in English are supported to
improve their proficiency. If not, many of these students will probably have extra
difficulty in starting to write, and when they do, be tempted to plagiarise sources
because they simply do not control English at a functional level that would enable
them to deal in a productive manner with the reading and writing demands of studying
in a postgraduate context.
Obviously, one would expect that a situation where students are partly immersed into
the additional language through which they study should improve their basic English
proficiency as they proceed with their studies.
However, what complicates this
situation is that students with an inadequate proficiency in basic English are already
involved in postgraduate studies and will probably be hamstrung with regard to the
progress of their studies in general. A writing course will have to take this into
account with regard to the pace at which the course proceeds. Writing educators will
have to be aware of such problems for specific students (something that could be
determined by using a literacy test) and monitor the progress of individual students in
terms of how they are coping with the demands of the writing course. Again, it is
clear that for the type of writing intervention suggested by this research, the size of
writing groups will have to be restricted to allow for the individual monitoring of
students' progress suggested here. As has been mentioned previously, it would be
unwise just to assume that students' basic English proficiency will improve to a level
that makes productive study on postgraduate level possible by mere exposure to the
language.
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One would therefore have to consider alternative possibilities for the improvement of
basic English proficiency, such as the (foreigner) English proficiency courses that are
presented by a lecturer from the Department of English at the UP (under the auspices
of CE at UP). This course is presented at different levels of proficiency, and may
provide an opportunity for English additional language students to acquire a threshold
level of basic English proficiency that would provide the necessary foundation for
such students to engage productively with a writing course. This is, therefore, another
reason for approaching writing development in a comprehensive manner by
establishing a co-operative working relationship with that Department regarding what
type of English proficiency courses are available to students.
The second possibility is that of the judicious integration of key grammatical issues
into an academic writing course for such students. This way, one could incorporate
priority language structures (as well as stylistic issues) that are prominent in academic
discourse, but also those proficiency difficulties that are identified for a specific group
of students through the assessment instruments one uses.
It is, moreover, an
opportunity to focus on the functional nature of such grammatical structures/issues
and stylistic devices with regard to what they contribute towards producing texts that
adhere to the specific conditions and conventions of academic discourse.
For
example, students may be made aware of the functionality of making use of correct
passive constructions to conform to the condition of impersonality of academic
discourse.
Clearly, it would be important to guard against presenting language
structures in isolation where it is difficult for students to realise the connection with
the academic discourse used in the tertiary environment. A potentially productive
way to address this issue practically would probably be to utilise those naturally
occurring opportunities in a context where meaning is negotiated in class. Therefore,
if one notices a consistent grammatical problem in a student's writing, one may
address such a problem in individual writing consultation with specific students or, if
required, through an extra group discussion about the specific problem (if other
students display the same problem). Another suggestion is that one may adjust the
error correction scheme that students will use for peer editing in the course to include
the specific grammatical problems identified through the text analysis so that special
emphasis may be placed on these. Obviously, these aspects will be addressed in the
feedback the writing lecturer provides to students on their writing as they occur. It is,
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however, crucial that practicable solutions are sought constantly for addressing
language proficiency problems. As stated before, one cannot depend on students’
immersion into an English environment to resolve the issue, since it is apparent in this
study that in many instances it does not happen.
Although one may then be cautiously optimistic about the potential of a writing
course to contribute to the development of basic English proficiency, it is clear that
the main focus of a writing course cannot be the development of such proficiency and,
therefore, students who display serious difficulty with English proficiency will be
advised to register for the proficiency courses offered through CE at UP, either before
they enrol for the writing course, or doing the two courses concurrently.
10.3.4 Introduce students to academic writing as an integral part of academic
literacy ability
10.3.4.1
Introduce students to writing as a process
All three integrated writing tasks proposed in this chapter will require of students to
make use of a multiple-draft (or a process) approach to writing.
Students will,
therefore, be introduced functionally to such an approach already in the very first
writing task in the course. Apart from the fact that a process approach to the writing
of academic texts involves the production of more than one version of a text towards
increasing complexity and acceptability for this context, the stages of planning the
text and collecting relevant information on the topic are crucial aspects of such a
process. Through their active engagement with the tasks proposed here, students will
be guided through the different steps of the writing process: from the initial planning
stage to the writing of the final draft.
In order to adhere to the criterion of authenticity, the tasks further emphasise the
integrated nature of academic literacy abilities, most notably that of academic reading
and writing that, in tertiary education, are functionally bound together. Tasks in a
writing course should therefore focus on the utilisation of specific academic reading
strategies that are used deliberately in seeking and accessing (processing) information.
Working on a set writing topic, one may, for example, provide students with a number
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of reading texts on the topic (see Task 2). Whereas a number of these texts must be
relevant to the topic to different degrees, at least one text should be unrelated, but not
too obviously so (for example, that students could immediately see in the title that it is
unrelated). In a writing session, one could therefore ask students to select the texts
they want to use towards constructing a valid academic argument on the topic, and
require of them to explain by means of concrete evidence taken from the texts why
they have chosen certain texts and not others.
By restricting the time in which students have to select these texts, students will have
to make use of a reading strategy such as skim-reading, a vital ability in the armour of
any postgraduate student towards finding relevant information on specific topics. By
discussing their selection at this point, one would be able to learn which strategies
they have used in their decisions. Students could then be asked to search for specific
phrases or quotes that offer evidence on specific aspects on the topic. Students would
thus engage simultaneously with two other important reading strategies, that of
scanning for information but also reading comprehensively in making sure that what
they have chosen as evidence does actually provide substantial evidence for the issues
at hand.
Students will probably also, at this stage, start to appreciate the interrelated nature of
academic literacy and the central role of adequate reading in the construction of an
academic argument.
Eventually, after having discussed students' selection of evidence from the literature
with them, one could ask them to write a short review of the literature they have
studied where they need to integrate (and provide a logical sequence for) the
important issues they have extracted from the different sources. As the first literature
study in which students engage, the task could be 'scaffolded' in the sense that one
may provide guidance with regard to the specific issues to which students should pay
attention in the writing of their texts. Students would thus not be expected to accept
full responsibility for choosing the major issues in the construction of their arguments
at this stage since, if one considers the data on students' interpretative abilities, this
aspect might be beyond their current capabilities.
By providing them with a
framework, it should be easier for students to read for specific information relevant to
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main issues identified beforehand for them.
One would, however, expect from
students to make the kind of judgment referred to above in subsequent writing tasks
(such as Task 3), since the ability to find relevant information from sources (in effect
then, judging its worth) is crucial towards the construction of valid arguments in the
tertiary context. Later writing tasks would thus have to focus specifically on students'
ability to be critical readers as a necessary precursor for presenting legitimate and
authoritative written arguments.
Another important issue that was raised by supervisors is the adequacy of the
background reading students do. Writing tasks should, therefore, encourage students
to make use of academic reading strategies that also emphasise comprehensive and
critical reading as necessary abilities in their construction of valid written arguments
The adequacy of the background reading that students do will to a large extent depend
on students' information seeking ability, as well as the way in which they process
sources of information on specific topics. An integrated writing task may emphasise
this requirement by, for example, providing students with texts advancing one side of
an argument initially (as in Task 2 explained above), having them make use of these
texts to construct their own text on the topic by making use of information taken from
these texts. Only after students have written their own texts, they could be presented
with an additional text that contradicts the argument of the previous sources. Students
would then need to adjust their own texts (and arguments) accordingly in
acknowledging the existence of such counter arguments, deciding whether it is
necessary to change their stance completely based on the strength of the counter
argument, or perhaps deciding that the evidence presented in this argument is not
compelling enough to change their angle on the topic.
This may raise student
awareness about the importance of doing adequate background reading for their
research, in the sense that if one fails to consult important texts on a specific topic that
present valid opposing arguments (that one does not acknowledge at least in one's
own argument), one's research may be perceived as deficient/inadequate as regards its
theoretical background.
This literature survey could then also be presented to other students in the group as
well as the writing lecturer in the form of a seminar.
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10.3.4.2
Use writing as a device to organise ideas
Writing down one's initial ideas in one's planning of a writing text as well as during a
consultation of the literature on a specific topic, gives one the opportunity to create a
conceptual framework on paper with regard to what one really wants to address about
a specific topic. It may also serve as encouragement for those who have difficulty in
starting to write, in the sense of knowing that they have already written something
(albeit as notes or ideas organised into some logical scheme or framework) on the
topic. Again, the writing process will be utilised in this regard by expecting students
to use the texts provided in Task 2, for example, where they have to extract the most
important issues and first write them down in the form of a diagram (they could also
be encouraged to attempt to write down such ideas in their own words). Students
could subsequently be required to present their diagrams (summaries) to the rest of the
class where issues they raise may be further explored and discussed and as a
consequence, planning documents refined before they start writing the first draft of
the text.
10.3.4.3
Build students' confidence in their ability to write acceptable academic
texts
Building students' confidence in their own writing ability is obviously an aspect that
will be developed over time as students become increasingly more proficient
academic writers in the tertiary academic context. What is crucial in this context is
that students should be aware of their starting point as well as how they are
progressing towards producing written texts that are acceptable in this context. This
awareness will depend, to a large extent, on the nature of the feedback that is provided
to students on their writing. It would therefore be important that students know that
they are making progress with their writing ability. In essence, the feedback one
provides should be balanced so that, apart from indicating unambiguously what
students still need to learn and acquire about academic writing, they also have to
know what they are doing correctly. Again, it would be ideal if this principle in the
provision of feedback could be practised by all those involved in the writing of these
students.
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It is further important to take note that the issue regarding basic English proficiency
raised in 10.3.3 will probably also have an effect on students' confidence in writing. It
has been my experience in the past that students on the EOT 300 course with
proficiency problems have difficulty in coping with the demands of the writing
course: in essence, their proficiency is so low that it is difficult to have a simple
conversation in English, let alone have them engage in productive academic writing in
English. As has been suggested in 10.3.3, what would probably serve such students
best is to attend a course in English proficiency first in order to really benefit from
developmental opportunities offered in the writing course.
10.3.4.4
Assist students in their interpretation of feedback on their writing
At the very least, students should be exposed to consistent and appropriate feedback.
However, apart from what may be accomplished in the writing course itself regarding
the provision of appropriate feedback, the ideal scenario proposed in a comprehensive
approach to feedback suggests that if possible, a similar system of feedback should be
used by everyone involved in the writing of specific groups of postgraduate students.
Whether this is a realistic aim in the context of the specific School used in the
application of the framework is still to be ascertained. If such a feedback system
could be negotiated with supervisors from this School, it would obviously be the
feedback system that will be employed in the writing course as well. If not, one
would attempt that the feedback system used in the writing course is unambiguous to
the greatest possible extent, and that students would be encouraged to discuss
feedback with the writing lecturer, supervisor and writing tutor whenever they do not
understand what is indicated. With regard to writing course materials, students will
be introduced to the system of feedback that would be used in the writing course (and
possibly by supervisors and writing tutors) as part of their first writing task in the
writing course. As was mentioned in 10.3.2.1, this may coincide with the task that
focuses on their critique of an actual text that was produced in their field. One would
hope that the more students make use of the feedback system, either in criticising
others' texts or interpreting comments on their own texts where such a system was
employed, the more they will become used to the system, and, as a consequence,
minimise confusion with regard to how they understand feedback.
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10.3.4.5
Introduce strategies that would minimise the language errors in student
texts
As mentioned before, one of the more serious problems for supervisors seems to be
that because of the number of language errors made by students, they find it difficult
to assess the argumentation in such texts. It has further been discussed in 10.3.2.1 that
different types of language and stylistic mistakes could contribute in differing degrees
to obscuring meaning in a text. However, the overall impression from supervisors
indicates that they do not necessarily differentiate between the different types of
mistakes, but tend to group them together under 'language mistakes'. Thus, although
one may downplay initially the importance of surface level language mistakes in
favour of mistakes in argumentation when following a process of writing in the
writing course, students need to be suitably aware of the impact of all such errors on
the readability of their texts (for supervisors). To address this need, one of the aims of
a writing course would thus be to encourage error free writing in students. There are
various strategies through which one could address this issue, one of which is to
develop students' own ability to productively revise and edit their own texts (which is
pursued in all three tasks proposed here). However, as noted before, although it is the
ideal that students should be able to edit their own texts for language correctness, this
is also an ability that typically develops over time, and it would be unrealistic to think
that students will be able to accomplish anything near what is required in this context
when they start with their studies. One would thus have to explore additional avenues
through which this issue could be addressed adequately.
As has been suggested earlier, one way of ensuring relatively error free student texts
(after their utilisation of computer resources such as spell checkers), is by making use
of a writing tutor system. Part of the discussion on a negotiated feedback system to be
used for this group of students, is the notion of a writing tutor system where writing
tutors (who should obviously be proficient writers in their disciplines) from the
School are used to support other postgraduate students with their writing. This is,
however, an ideal scenario (one has to keep in mind that such tutors will have to
receive training in the provision of feedback).
If the implementation of a
departmental writing tutor system is not possible, one will have to consider making
use of the literacy tutors at the UAL to fulfil this function. However, while the tutors
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at the Unit may have a good working knowledge about issues in academic literacy
(and writing), they will not necessarily know much about other disciplines, and could
thus not be expected to offer much more than a 'glorified' editing service to such
students (language issues could, however, be discussed with students on a consultative
basis). Even in this instance, such a strategy could alleviate some of the language
pressures that supervisors experience and may lead to a situation where more time
could be devoted to student argumentation. Students would thus be required to
consult the writing tutor assigned to their group for all the written texts they produce
in the writing course before final submission of such texts (I usually require that
students hand in all the different drafts of any assignment produced through a process
of writing). Therefore, although the issues of revision and editing will be a constantly
recurring theme in the writing course itself (regarding peer revision and editing tasks),
this strategy should ideally be extended to include outside resources that are available
to these students whenever they have the need for them: once students become more
aware of the importance of how they use language in their writing, they may thus start
to make use of a wider support system in terms of finding someone they may trust to
help them with language correctness in their writing.
10.3.4.6
The construction of authoritative academic arguments
Both the literature and the empirical findings of this research indicate that
argumentative writing is the primary text type used in tertiary education (especially at
postgraduate level) for the advancement of one's ideas. Writing course materials and
tasks therefore need to acknowledge this primacy in the construction of arguments,
and create an awareness as to what makes it possible to argue convincingly and with
the necessary authority (essentially, then, discover one's 'voice') in this context. In the
first place, writing tasks should emphasise the importance of acknowledging
authoritative literature in advancing the authority of one's own argument, and, in
effect, promote the principle of making use of sound evidence in order to construct
convincing arguments. Authoritative argumentation would therefore, in part, depend
on students' functional literacy abilities discussed in Chapter 7 with regard to their
ability to locate relevant information, to classify (categorise) and sort such
information, to make valid inferences based on the information and to integrate the
information (synthesise) coherently into their own writing. These issues have all been
250
addressed in the different writing tasks proposed in this chapter where students will be
required to make use of these strategies in their analyses of reading material in order
to complete specific writing tasks.
Furthermore, students should be aware that at postgraduate level (with specific
reference to doctoral studies), making use only of the literature to construct an
argument will not be adequate, and that an element of originality in their research is
also important. This is probably what results in one being able to distinguish a
student's 'voice' in their writing, that unique combination and interpretation of
information that convinces the reader that they have something substantial to say
about a topic.
As has been implied above, the notion of writing with authority is also closely
connected to writing convincingly on a postgraduate level. Undoubtedly, apart from
using unassailable evidence in argumentation, the way in which one makes use of
language resources will influence the authoritativeness of one's writing, in the sense
that incoherent argumentation with regard to how language is used may well lead to
weak argumentation. The presence of language mistakes in a text presented for
assessment will probably further add to an impression of weak and careless research.
In effect then, it might be difficult to take students' ideas seriously that are presented
by means of poor language. Students will, therefore, have to be aware that in order to
be taken seriously in this context, they will have to ensure that apart from making use
of compelling evidence in their arguments, such arguments should be expressed by
means of a logical (and therefore coherent) structure created through the way
language is used. Moreover, they need to ensure that the language they employ
adheres to stylistic conventions as well as the principle of clarity, so that it is easy to
follow and understand. Developing a 'voice' in this context thus refers to firstly,
having something that you want to say and secondly, ensuring that one is heard when
saying this.
To this end, it will further be important for students to develop an awareness about the
finer nuances of how one makes use of language in one's specific writing style, in the
sense that one could come over too strongly to the extent of sounding pompous and
arrogant.
One's choice of vocabulary (with regard to strategies of hedging also
251
identified in the interviews) is obviously important in this regard in relation to using
appropriate utterances for the strength of claims made in one's writing. It should be
noted, however, that the issue of hedging is a relatively advanced aspect of writing
that develops as one receives increasingly more feedback on one's own writing, as
well as being exposed progressively to reading more academic texts in a tertiary
environment. It is something that will be addressed continuously in the feedback
provided on students' writing.
10.3.4.7
Use the Harvard method as foundation for the principles of referencing
In all writing tasks that require the integration of sources, the approach to referencing
will be based on the Harvard method. Students will, however, be made aware that
referencing is pretty much regulated by the context for writing, and that they should
be suitably aware of what system is required by different contexts. It is exactly for
this reason that this issue is also to be addressed in the interviews students conduct
with their supervisors in Task 1.1, which should provide one with valid information to
highlight the flexibility of this issue in the writing course. Writing tasks should allow
for a focus on citation within the text itself, as well as how to compile a list of
references for a written assignment.
Although one would expect students at
postgraduate level to know how to cite sources correctly, previous experience with
student writing in the EOT 300 course has shown that, probably because of the
variability with which citation methods are applied, students are confused as to what
is regarded as the 'correct' method. Most importantly, therefore, students should be
made aware that there is not one 'correct' method, but only a contextually appropriate
method where correct application of the method will depend largely on their
inquisitiveness about the issue.
In both the literature survey (Task 2) and the research proposal (Task 3) students will
be required to integrate additional sources into their own texts. Since students will be
dealing with the same set of texts for Task 2, this is also where, when they make use
of the sources they have consulted for this writing task, the specific intricacies of the
citation of different types of sources will be introduced.
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10.3.4.8
Address the nature of plagiarism
As mentioned before, students may well be aware of the consequences of plagiarism
and may even be able to provide a rather refined definition of plagiarism. This does
not ensure, however, that they do not revert to plagiarising texts in their writing. It is
therefore necessary for students to discover the true boundaries of plagiarism in the
sense of working with sources in such a manner that these boundaries are strictly
defined for (and by) students. Writing Task 2 requires of students to paraphrase
sources (in the short summarising notes they have to write) as well as make use of
direct quotation.
This task may be used productively towards creating such
observable boundaries for students. The fact that all students (as well as the writing
lecturer) will have a reading knowledge of the same texts will make it easier to
address misconceptions and misunderstandings students may have in this regard.
Obviously, students will be aware that it is impossible for their lecturers or
supervisors to read all texts that are available on specific topics, and that it will
depend on their academic integrity (and, therefore, how they see themselves regarding
their academic identity) whether they would revert to plagiarising texts.
10.3.4.9
Make productive use of connecting devices
One of the most important aspects in writing cohesive and coherent academic texts is
whether one makes productive use of connecting devices in order to signal
relationships between ideas and different sections in one's text. Writing tasks will
introduce the use of such devices in a functional manner in the writing course (cf.
example included in Addendum F).
Students will, therefore, be introduced to
different types of connectors they may use in the functional relationships they create
between their ideas, but also as a stylistic device that offers alternatives in how to
create a specific type of relationship between ideas (e.g. regarding a relationship of
cause and effect a number of different connectors such as: 'because'; 'as a result';
'subsequently'; 'consequently'; etc. may be used). This may also help to emphasise the
notion that all information is not equal, and that the use of connecting devices should
clearly signal such relationships between ideas.
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10.4
Conclusion
The suggestions for writing tasks and materials contained in this chapter emphasise
the importance of the integrated nature of different literacy abilities that should be
reflected in the tasks in which students engage in a writing intervention. More
specifically, the three examples of writing tasks discussed here show how the learning
outcomes for such an intervention could be addressed through the manner in which
writing course materials are designed. The two primary issues, however, that these
three tasks address in an integrated manner are 1) a consideration of the academic
literacy and writing needs of the specific group of writers investigated in the study
and 2) a focus on the disciplinary writing requirements of the context in which the
students write. A set of further examples, not discussed here, is included as further
illustrative material in Addendum F.
The last chapter contains a number of concluding thoughts as well as specific
limitations encountered in the study. Recommendations for further research will also
be made, based mainly on the limitations of the study.
254
255
Present texts that are visually appealing regarding layout;
Write in an appropriate academic style;
If we could return to what has been said in Chapter ??, students should be able to seek
info, process info and produce (new) information in an authentic way.
256
In a subsequent section, it then comments on a potentially productive structure and
sequence as to how the writing tasks could be integrated to form part of a holistic and
comprehensive approach to the academic writing development of the study group.
Probably, assessment criteria will have to be connected to those of supervisors for
their writing tasks. This is also where student discussion with supervisors could be
invaluable in determining exactly how and what they assess – to some extent this has
been done generally in focusing on their requirements for writing.
Therefore, when conceptualising a writing course for postgraduate students, they
should probably be tutored by more experienced writing lecturers/tutors in small
(depending on the amount of individual attention required), homogenous (regarding
the type of postgraduate qualification) writing groups, while undergraduate students
could, for example, be tutored by trained writing tutors (possibly senior students)
from their specific faculties. One option is that such a system could be coordinated to
function as a decentralised writing centre, therefore, to function within specific
faculties but being coordinated from a central point.
Writing teachers who teach writing within specific disciplines and who are not
discipline specialists will have to rely on the students as informants and allow them to
teach them about the content – this needs a special kind of teacher (Belcher,
1990:222).
257
•
Employ their heightened awareness of their own needs with regard to
academic literacy development in order to seek out opportunities and make use
of specific strategies for the development of such abilities;
•
Make use of writing tasks that would guide students to discover the writing
requirements for their specific disciplines;
•
Introduce students to academic writing as an integral part of academic literacy,
therefore focusing on academic reading strategies (with a specific focus on
critical reading) as a necessary precursor for constructing valid written
arguments;
•
Provide opportunities for (or guidance as to what resources may be used in)
the development of basic proficiency in English (also recommend that students
on a specific level do the foreigner English course at the Department of
English)?
•
Introduce writing tasks that would encourage students to make use of the
different steps in a process of writing;
•
Encourage students to organize their ideas through writing them down and, in
the process, attempt to persuade them of the value in starting to write as soon
as possible;
•
Build students' levels of confidence in their ability to write coherent academic
texts;
•
Motivate students to do adequate background reading (from a variety of
sources) for writing assignments;
•
Attempt to minimize student confusion in interpreting supervisor feedback in
the possible development of a standardized feedback system (in consultation
with supervisors) and to obviously also make use of this system in the writing
course – also how to provide feedback in terms of, for example, focusing on
specific issues at specific time, or just make supervisors aware of the research
on this?
258
•
Develop and introduce strategies that may limit the number of language errors
made in student texts so that supervisors have an opportunity to pay more
attention to the value of ideas and argumentation (students' own abilities in
revision and editing but also in making use of other resources [such as
computer resources and people in the know] for this purpose);
•
Focus on argumentative writing as the primary text type in postgraduate
academic writing;
•
Develop the concept of authority in student writing (their 'voice') in terms of
what exactly makes one's writing 'authoritative';
•
Strengthen students' awareness about the nature of different types of evidence
as well as support them in judgments about the strength of claims put forward
– support students with the interpretation of data (possibly in the survey done
on supervisor requirements);
•
Make use of the Harvard method of citation to highlight the principles of
referencing but also raise student awareness about the flexibility of the issue;
•
Address plagiarism on a practical level that would make students aware of
exactly what constitutes an act of plagiarism in the tertiary context;
•
Support students in the use of connecting devices towards the construction of
cohesive and coherent academic arguments in their writing;
•
Address academic writing conventions (style and register [formality;
impersonality]; citation);
•
Employ, as far as is practically possible, the written genres used regularly in
the School for writing tasks in the writing course and attempt to use model
texts from the discipline to teach about genre – also explore further the idea of
students making use of academic texts in general on which to model their own
written texts;
259
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CHAPTER 11
11.1
Conclusion and recommendations
Introduction
Perhaps the most significant finding of this study is that the comprehensive approach
adopted here for the development of academic writing materials (in its application of
the framework proposed in Chapter 4) is practically feasible. This is so despite the
fact that one of its potential limitations may be the availability of time for conducting
such investigations. Such an approach enables one to justify academic writing course
design from a variety of pertinent angles and perspectives. As mentioned in Chapter
1, it was necessary in this study to utilise a range of research methods, which has
enabled the researcher to exploit the congruencies in such methods, identified in the
findings through the employment of a variety of approaches. All of these approaches,
together with the multiple sources of data that were utilised, have contributed towards
the comprehensive approach to writing course design that was adopted here.
In essence, therefore, the character of this study is partly qualitative (ethnographic) in
the sense that it employed multiple strategies for data collection (e.g. the
questionnaires and interviews) in order to gather the necessary information that was
required by the different focuses in the framework.
A number of information
soliciting instruments have thus been developed and administered in order to gain a
better understanding of the contextual requirements for postgraduate writing, as well
as the perceptions and attitudes of students engaging in such writing at the University.
The study is, however, also quantitative in its reporting of the statistical results
obtained for the questionnaires as well as the literacy test. In order to obtain reliable
data on the academic literacy levels and writing ability of students in the study group,
different assessment instruments have been utilised in this study. These instruments
had the additional function of identifying specific literacy problems students
experienced. The ultimate purpose of all the different methods of data collection used
in this study was to inform the design of writing interventions in a responsible and
theoretically justifiable manner. In an echo of the approach adopted in the rest of this
study, it is evident, too, that no one research method on its own will provide one with
255
an approach that is dynamic enough to account for all the different focuses that have
been complementarily employed in this study.
What is further evident is that, because one may wish to make use of a similar
approach for other departments at the UP, it will be necessary for the research
instruments utilised here to be constantly adjusted and refined in order to offer the
most useful and relevant information for writing course design. The comprehensive
approach adopted here should therefore be seen as a dynamic approach that seeks to
achieve the constant refinement of instructional materials, and relevance towards the
writing needs of students as well as the requirements of lecturers in the tertiary
context.
The one finding that is of specific interest in its general applicability for the
University, is that the results of the supervisor questionnaire used in this study
indicate that their perceptions about the literacy levels of their postgraduate students
are generally not very positive. In particular, they perceive their additional language
students to be weak academic writers. Although this study focused on a formal
determination of such ability for students in the study group only, the perceptual data
suggest that this may be a more general problem, and that perhaps all supervisors
should be encouraged to make use of the formal postgraduate academic literacy test
that should be available to them in the near future. This will enable them to assess
their students' academic literacy abilities reliably in order to address possible student
difficulties timeously.
The potential benefits in doing so have been discussed
extensively in this study.
11.2
Limitations and recommendations for further research
One of the most obvious limitations of this study is that, while it does refer to the
author's experience in working with similar kinds of materials, it does not report on
the actual implementation of the writing materials proposed here. It will, therefore,
subsequently be necessary to gauge the effectiveness of these materials in addressing
adequately the specific development of writing that they were purposefully designed
to emphasise. The effectiveness of the materials suggested in Chapter 10 will now
256
have to be assessed through their implementation over a period of time in the writing
class (by means of action research; cf. Van der Wal, 2004 and Habte, 2001) and the
materials refined accordingly for new groups of students from this School. The same
comprehensive strategy proposed here for writing course design will, therefore, also
be utilised in the design of writing courses for subsequent intakes of postgraduate
students from the same School, and the materials for the course adjusted according to
the results of such work. This ongoing research will also be reported on in scholarly
publications in order to get the input of a wider audience of academic scholars on
these materials.
The intensive working relationship proposed here between the UAL and Agriculture
will be further pursued with regard to constantly emphasising pertinent issues in the
development of their students' academic literacy abilities, but also more specifically to
negotiate a combined feedback system for their students, as well as to discuss the
possibility of implementing a departmental writing tutor system.
A similar strategy to the one proposed in this study for writing development will be
suggested to a number of other departments at the UP that have expressed the need for
writing support for their postgraduate students. The results of the initial supervisor
survey are flexible to the extent that an abstraction may be made of the results for any
department at the university (depending obviously on whether supervisors in such
departments have completed the questionnaire) in order to provide a foundation on
which future discussions may be based.
The academic literacy test for postgraduate students specifically referred to in the
study is in the process of being developed, and a final version of the test should
probably be available to supervisors at the University from the beginning of 2008.
A second limitation is that the study did not investigate institutional perceptions about
the feasibility of the establishment of a (postgraduate) writing centre for the future.
One would, however, not just want to follow current thinking on the issue because it
is fashionable to do so. It has been remarked in this study that although a writing
centre offers the possibility of quality individualised writing consultation, one will
257
have to determine whether the potential benefits for students are worth the
considerable financial implications of establishing and running such a centre.
Another issue that requires further investigation is the possibility of establishing an
institutional editing service for postgraduate students.
Although we offer a
professional editing and translation service (through Creative Language Services) as
part of the UAL, this service is maintained as a business unit that caters mainly for the
editing and translation of documents from people outside the University. Although I
do regularly refer postgraduate students on the EOT 300 course to make use of this
service, this is not its primary focus and it is not marketed as such. One may,
therefore, consider to start advertising Creative Language Services as a service that is
available specifically for the editing of postgraduate writing (if resources permit), and
perhaps attempt to get the service subsidised by the University so that such students
know that they have access to an affordable final resource in terms of the language
correctness of their texts. A related issue is whether an institutional policy about the
editing of Ph.D. and master's theses is desirable at the university. This matter is
complicated by the fact if such a policy requires in its extreme that all postgraduate
students should have their research edited by a professional language editor before
final submission, one may disadvantage those students who are competent writers.
This issue will thus have to be addressed with the necessary sensitivity about the
flexibility of such a policy.
The study also suggests that the establishment of a database for academic literacy
requirements may be a valuable resource for focusing literacy course design in terms
of changing needs and requirements at the University. Further research could thus
explore the possibility of creating such a database, where one would make use of
either an already instituted information-gathering instrument such as the HEMIS
information system, or if this is not possible, considering adapting the questionnaire
utilised in this study for such purposes. The main purpose of such a database would
be, however, to have a continuous flow of information on specific literacy issues from
all academic departments at the University, and should therefore preferably not be a
once off occurrence.
258
Another important finding of the study emphasises the predicament of part-time
postgraduate students who are not on campus regularly and who can, for this reason,
not utilise fully opportunities to discuss in person supervisors' feedback on their
writing, as well as the difficulty of such students with literacy problems to attend a
writing course on a regular basis. It would, therefore be important to investigate the
possibility of designing web-based writing courses for such students, which would in
turn depend on the interactive nature of a computer platform such as Web-CT
currently used at the UP.
11.3
Conclusion
It is hoped that the proposals made in this study for a comprehensive approach to
writing course design for tertiary students will benefit other professionals working in
the field of tertiary academic writing not only in the identification of important issues
that should be considered in conceptualising possible writing support for students, but
also in presenting a workable and justifiable strategy for the practical investigation of
such matters.
Course design initiatives such as the ones that have formed the
background of this study, inevitably, it seems, have to meet the requirements both of
feasibility and, in the current post-modern context of academic work, defensibility.
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