September 1998 — Volume 3, Number 3
Write To Be Read: Reading, Reflection and Writing
William. R. Smalzer (1997)
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Pp. viii + 274
US $19.95 Write to Be Read is designed to prepare high-intermediate to advanced level ESL/EFL students to write in an academic context. The book is influenced by whole language philosophy , and the methodology chosen is “a blend of the process and product approaches to the teaching of writing” (p. v). Reading and writing activities are integrated throughout the book. Students explore topics in detail by reading and sharing their ideas in a written and spoken form with their colleagues. Then they practise writing paragraphs and essays on a number of topics. The advantage of the “process and product approach” is that students can be guided through the stages of writing to develop their skills, while at the same time they can learn how to write the types of assignment they will be asked to do in university courses.
The book is divided into eight chapters, each of which presents a main theme: Birth Order; Head or Heart; Friendship; Human Nature and the Nature of Work; Manners; Courtship; A Better Quality of Life; Our Planet. Each chapter is organised into five main sections: a) a pre-reading section called “Getting a Grip on the Topic” is designed to prepare students for the main reading text by activating their schemata on the topic; b) “Responding to the Main Reading” contains activities designed to activate the students’ responses to the text and to help them form points of view about the subject; c) “Going Deeply into the Topic” presents an alternative perspective on the theme; students read either a poem, short story, magazine article, or book extract and “negotiate the meaning of this second reading more independently, through a reader-response approach” (p. viii); d) in “Improving Writing Skills,” the focus is on the mechanics of writing, sequenced in order of complexity throughout the book, from “writing paragraphs with topic sentences” in chapter 1 to “taking exam essays” in chapter 8; e) in the last section of each chapter, students generate ideas for writing about the theme, engage in activities to expand their points of view, and then write, review, peer edit, revise and rewrite. The writing assignments are also sequenced throughout the course, from a “paragraph on birth order” in chapter 1 to an “argument essay on the relationship between development and quality of life” (p. v) in chapter 7.
Appendix A contains useful “Grammar and Punctuation Guidelines” and further writing skill exercises to supplement those in each chapter. “Complete Essay Assessment Guidelines” are provided for the teacher in Appendix B. [-1-] There are several notable features of the book. One is the use of a thematic approach, which, as Brandt (cited in Capossella, 1993, p. 76) argues, allows learners “to explore complex problems, conflicting viewpoints, and changes in understanding that occur with the acquisition of new knowledge.” In Write to be Read this approach helps students to consider each theme in depth and to develop an opinion about a topic before beginning to write an assignment. Furthermore, the themes chosen should be readily accessible to most learners. For example, the subject of arranged marriages in chapter 6 should encourage debate. In addition, this theme and the others in the book should be culturally appropriate to learners from a wide range of backgrounds.
Another positive feature is the use of collaborative activities before and after reading a text. These activities encourage an active response and also help students develop the skills they will need to participate in university seminars. Collaboration is also employed in peer appraisal of written drafts. This forces students to make decisions together and to consider other points of view apart from those of the teacher. Learners coming from backgrounds where collaborative learning is not the norm may require some training in these procedures at the start of the course. In addition, the objectives and utility of journal writing should also be clearly communicated to learners if this activity is to be successful (Lawrence, 1993).
Some readers may be surprised by the amount of reading material in the book. The reason for this is that reading and writing are not treated as separate skills, but are integrated at all stages and clearly linked, in accordance with the whole language philosophy. The texts also provide learners with material to practise valuable skills such as summarising or paraphrasing. In addition learners are encouraged to write a private journal entry after reading each text, which helps learners to find their own position (Pytlik, 1993), as well as develop their writing skills.
A common problem in most writing textbooks is how to develop writing skills without encouraging students to write essays that are formulaic. Some readers may feel that Write to be Read could be too prescriptive in this respect. For example, in relation to writing topic sentences, Smalzer tells students that “not all writers express the main idea in every paragraph, but for students trying to improve their writing, it is useful to express the main idea in a topic sentence” (p. 18). It appears that he considers these activities to be guidelines for students to follow when they are writing paragraphs and essays. The focus on writing skills in the fourth section of each chapter is deliberate, as Smalzer explains in the preface: “Teaching grammar outside the context of the student’s papers keeps the course focus on thinking and writing about ideas” (p. x). This is an example of how the book is designed to “focus on meaning rather than discrete skills . . .” (p. vii). If [-2-] we agree with Atkinson and Ramanathan that “prescriptivism” in writing textbooks is an “organic element in the field” (1995, p. 562), then at least Smalzer is stating his position openly to his readers.
Teachers and students alike will find that the text is easy to follow. The presentation is attractive, as each chapter contains high-quality photographs and illustrations. Students are encouraged to write on the printed page, in order to respond to questions or to add their comments. The instructions for each activity are very clear, and detailed guidelines for exercises are provided. Hence students should be able to work on their own for much of the time. All in all, Write to be Read provides a comprehensive range of spoken and written activities to develop reading as well as writing skills. The material is designed to integrate reading into the writing process and to encourage students to critically think about a range of topics in detail. Students also have an opportunity to write a variety of academic essays based on the themes in each chapter. The approach throughout the book is student- rather than teacher-centred, which is commendable. Most composition teachers should find this book to be a welcome addition to their courses.
 The main features of the whole language philosophy, according to Weaver (1990), are that “language is kept whole, not fragmented into skills; literacy skills and strategies are developed in the context of whole, authentic literacy events; while reading and writing experiences permeate the whole curriculum” (p. 3).
Atkinson, D. & Ramanathan, V. (1996). Cultures of writing: An ethnographic comparison of L1 and L2 university writing/ language programs, TESOL Quarterly, 29, 547-568.
Capossella. T. (Ed). (1993). The critical thinking workshop: Designing writing assignments to foster critical thinking. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook.
Lawrence, S. (1993). Making meaning through journal writing. In Capossella. T. (Ed). (1993). The critical thinking workshop: Designing writing assignments to foster critical thinking (pp. 165-177). Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook.
Pytlik, B. (1993). Sequencing writing assignments to foster critical thinking. In Capossella. T. (Ed). (1993). The critical thinking workshop: Designing writing assignments to foster critical thinking (pp. 71-93). Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook.
Weaver. C. (1990). Understanding whole language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
Alfonso X El Sabio University (Madrid, Spain)
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