Vol. 5. No. 3 R-11 December 2001
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Landmark Essays on ESL Writing

Tony Silva and Paul Kei Matsuda, Eds. (2001)
New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Pp. xxv + 265
ISBN 1-8803-9318-2 (paper)
U.S. $29.95

Every field reaches a point at which it has developed a body of research sufficient to permit thoughtful reflection on the research and pedagogy in its past. A compilation of seminal essays in the area is indispensable at that juncture. Such a collection enables researchers and teachers alike to reflect thoughtfully as they continue to develop effective methods in their respective areas. Silva and Matsuda's assemblage of essays provides us with both guidance through the halls of the past and direction for the paths of the future in L2 writing. The text is designed both to reflect and inform the perceptions and expectations of specialists in first- and second-language writing scholarship and pedagogy. As a result, not only researchers and teachers, but also graduate students entering the field of second language composition, will find the volume useful.

The introduction to the volume serves as a guide to essays representing the past 40+ years of L2 composition research. It also includes numerous references, added by the editors to encourage the reader, once armed with the background provided by this volume, to search out other noteworthy articles in the field.

The essays are arranged chronologically. However, although this serves the purpose of pulling the essays together in "the early years," a thematic organization quickly emerges. The following summaries are organized under the headings provided in the volume's introduction. An introductory phrase identifies the focus of each essay.

The Early Years

In this section two essays deal with the place of linguistic theory and rhetoric relative to L2 composition.

Linguistic Theory: In "Structural Linguistics and Systematic Composition Teaching to Students of English as a Foreign Language," Pincas considers the implications that structural linguistics has for EFL composition instruction and notes the need for exercises following the belief "[a]n ideal exercise is one which poses a problem for the learner in such a way that he feels stimulated and yet is led to the right solution." (8)

Cross-Cultural Rhetoric: In his oft-cited article, "Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-Cultural Education," Kaplan addresses the issue of cross-cultural influence on rhetorical styles, primarily in order to support the idea that "[t]he teaching of reading and composition to foreign students does differ from the teaching of reading and composition to American students, and cultural differences in the nature of rhetoric supply the key to the difference in the teaching approach." (11)

ESL Writing Process Research

The articles in this section report on ESL writing process, focusing on the applicability of L1 research as well as consideration of the composition processes of unskilled ESL writers.

L1 Comp Research: In "Teaching Composition in the ESL Classroom," Zamel emphasizes the usefulness of findings in L1 composition research while stressing the need for more research in L2 composition. She notes: "We have acted as if teaching composition to ESL students is something totally unrelated to the teaching of composition in regular English classes. . . ." (27-28)

L2 Writers and Writing: In "What Unskilled ESL Students Do as They Write," Raimes notes that unskilled writers (whether in L1 or L2) seem to follow similar steps in the composing process and suggested that certain writing skills may transfer from L1 to L2. She also addresses the relationship between linguistic proficiency and writing skill, indicating that ". . .students whose proficiency is judged as insufficient for academic course work generate language and ideas in much the same way as more proficient students. In other words, they use what they have and move on from there." (54-55) [-1-]

Analyzing Second Language Texts

The next section in the volume presents research that addressed the analysis of texts themselves.

Text Analysis: Connor, in "Research Frontiers in Writing Analysis," considers both sentence-based and process-centered approaches to analysis of texts. She notes that a combination of these approaches is ". . . necessary for a comprehensive theory of writing." (87)

Reader-Writer Roles: In "Reader Versus Writer Responsibility," Hinds provides evidence that the roles of readers and writers vary across cultures, a variation that may affect text construction and accessibility.

Purposes and Contexts

This section addresses issues related to the question of what to teach in the ESL/EFL composition classroom in the academic arena.

WAC, EAP, General Rhetoric: Spack, in "Initiating ESL Students into the Academic Discourse Community" looks at the debate over what it means to teach "academic writing." The disciplines of WAC and EAP stand at odds with what may be thought of as traditional humanities-based composition training. Spack notes: "It is ironic that the pressure on ESL/English teachers to teach the writing of other disciplines is manifesting itself . . . when influential technological institutes . . . are funding programs to increase student exposure to the humanities . . . to produce more well-rounded, open-minded students." (105)

Learner Goals: In "Fiction and Nonfiction in the ESL/EFL Classroom" Horowitz makes a plea for a needs-based approach in curriculum for the ESL/EFL composition classroom. Horowitz reminds us: let the learners' goals help determine the selection of appropriate materials and activities for the classroom.

Emergence of a Field

These articles address the identification of L2 Writing as distinctive from L1 composition, the extent to which ideology is a part of the L2 writing classroom and the integration of reading and writing in the L2 comp classroom.

L1 vs. L2 Writing: Based on a review of numerous empirical studies, Silva summarizes the most noticeable differences between L1 and L2 writing in "Toward an Understanding of the Distinct Nature of L2 Writing." He reminds us that there are fundamental differences in L1 and L2 writing that must be addressed ". . .if these [L2] writers are to be treated fairly, taught effectively, and thus, given an equal chance to succeed in their writing-related personal and academic endeavors." (203)

Ideology: In "Ideology in Composition," Santos considers the sociopolitical in relation to ESL composition classroom. Referring to directions taken in L1 vs. L2 pedagogy, she reminds us to be wary of the place of the sociopolitical in the latter.

Reading/Writing: In "Reciprocal Themes in ESL Reading and Writing," Leki reviews research and teaching practices in an effort to inspire us towards the "transactional reading/writing classroom. . . [with] every promise of enhancing our ESL students' ability to both read and write English through the cross-fertilization of reading and writing pedagogy, research, and theory." (187) [-2-]

Understanding ESL Writers

The potential relationships between first and second language literacies are addressed in Carson's essay.

L1>L2 literacy: Revisiting the issue of the extent to which L1 skills may transfer into or be accessible in L2, Carson, in "Becoming Biliterate," reviews the factors that may influence the move from L1 to L2 literacy. She reminds us: "To the extent their [L2 students'] expectations do not match pedagogical practices, they are likely to be confused about the purpose and effectiveness of these methods." (154)

Interacting with Second Language Texts

In this section, authors discuss interaction with texts through consideration of feedback and assessment.

Feedback: In her essay, "Responding to ESL Students' Texts," Reid reviews research on the appropriation of student texts by L2 composition instructors.

Assessment: Johns, in "Interpreting an English Competency Exam," reviews the implications of assessment and raises questions intended to direct the design of exams that are appropriate for an increasingly diverse student population.

Assessment Design: Hamp-Lyons and Kroll, in "Issues in Writing Assessment," remind us that it is at once highly desirable and challenging "to design a test that acknowledges on some level the writing processes that all written products depend on." (237)

Toward a General Theory

In the final section, Matsuda's essay presents the Dynamic Model of L2 writing, a theory to inform future ESL writing research and pedagogy.

Pedagogical Application: In his article, "Contrastive Rhetoric in Context," Matsuda proposes a dynamic model of L2 writing that he hopes will serve as ". . . a heuristic, a tool for thinking about the dynamic nature of the context of writing and the complexity of decision-making processes that are involved in the construction of L2 text." (252)

The breadth of topics covered by these essays will present both seasoned professionals and newcomers with inspiration for reflection. Novices can trace essential questions that have guided research over the past 40 years and will continue to inform it in the years to come. Experts can revisit ideas that may appear fresh once more, given the constantly evolving context of the field itself. Indeed, the only area that I would have liked to see covered more thoroughly is the reflection on the research process itself. Essays reviewing the design of research could have added another level to the volume. But, then, perhaps that simply reflects a gap in the field itself, one that may be soon filled by current scholarship. Overall, however, the volume does an admirable job of bringing together samples of the type of scholarship that has led us forward in the area of L2 composition research, reminding us of the need for prudent eclecticism in the selection of pedagogical approaches. And, as Horowitz noted in the early 1990s, "[I]t will be a sign of our growing maturity as a profession when new ideas--or old ones that have come calling again--are met not only with open arms but with a critical eye as well." (115)

Andrea Word-Allbritton
University of Alabama in Huntsville

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