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Writing Proficiency in English at the Primary School Level in Slovakia

Looking Back and Moving Forward

by Pavol Burcl (Author)
Monographs 192 Pages

Summary

This book analyses the role of writing as an integral part of communicative competence in the teaching/learning process, particularly in TEFL at Slovak primary schools. The author chooses primary schools in the Nitra Self-governing Region in Slovakia as the sample, with an intention to find out if primary school learners in Slovakia understand the instructions to the written exercises they are given. He analyses the mistakes/errors they usually make, and judges the criteria for reaching the expected level of writing proficiency in English. Using the very same methodology, he compares a previous research with the current situation, taking all aspects into account.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • 1 About writing
  • 1.1 Various definitions of writing
  • 1.2 The nature, purposes, and problems of writing
  • 1.2.1 Why writing is difficult
  • 1.2.2 Purposes of writing
  • 1.2.3 Micro-skills involved in writing
  • 1.3 Speaking vs. writing
  • 2 On the way to written production
  • 2.1 The second/foreign language acquisition
  • 2.2 Children as learners
  • 2.2.1 A good language learner
  • 2.2.2 Young learners and their motivation
  • 2.3 Good teachers
  • 2.3.1 The quality of EFL teachers
  • 2.3.2 Teachers vs. learners: The language of instruction
  • 2.4 Learning to write in English
  • 2.4.1 The position of mother tongue and second/foreign language in learning to write English
  • 2.4.2 Basic principles for teaching writing
  • 2.4.3 Developing writing skills
  • 2.4.4 Understanding the text and its processing
  • 3 Responding to learners’ writing
  • 3.1 The teacher as controller and assessor
  • 3.1.1 The teacher as controller
  • 3.1.2 The teacher as assessor
  • 3.2 Mistakes
  • 3.2.1 Notions of mistakes
  • 3.2.2 Correcting written assignments
  • 4 The CEFRL and writing
  • 4.1 The CEFRL and plurilingualism
  • 4.2 Writing according to the CEFRL
  • 4.2.1 Written production (writing) activities
  • 4.2.2 Written interaction
  • 4.3 The CEFRL and writing in English lessons at Slovak primary schools
  • 4.3.1 Competences according to the CEFRL
  • 4.3.1.1 General competences
  • 4.3.1.2 Communicative language competence
  • 4.3.2 The CEFRL and writing English in English lessons
  • 5 Curricula and education standards for teaching English at Slovak primary schools
  • 5.1 Curricula
  • 5.1.1 Variant for Grades 3 to 9
  • 5.1.2 Variant for Grades 5 to 9
  • 5.1.3 Variant for Grades 1 to 9
  • 5.2 Education standards
  • 5.3 A few words about comparing the CEFRL and national curricula
  • 6 Slovaks and writing
  • 6.1 How Slovaks understand the importance of writing
  • 6.2 How Slovaks feel about writing English
  • 6.3 Initial points of the research on writing in English lessons at Slovak primary schools
  • 6.3.1 Some problematic details of academic research in philological faculties at Slovak universities
  • 6.3.2 Research on writing proficiency at the primary school level
  • 7 Our own research on writing skills in 2008
  • 7.1 Outline of the research
  • 7.2 Methodology of the research
  • 7.2.1 Objective of the research
  • 7.2.2 Research techniques
  • 7.2.2.1 Dictation
  • 7.2.2.1.1 Arguments against dictation
  • 7.2.2.1.2 Arguments for dictation
  • 7.2.2.2 Guided/controlled writing
  • 7.2.3 Selection of respondents
  • 7.2.4 Location: The Nitra Self-Governing Region
  • 7.2.5 Data processing methods
  • 7.2.6 Description of the test given
  • 7.2.6.1 A dictation exercise
  • 7.2.6.2 A guided letter writing exercise with a gap to fill
  • 7.2.6.3 Guided/controlled rewriting of a short text
  • 7.2.7 Assessment
  • 7.3 Hypotheses on the test given
  • 7.4 Data analysis and comments on mistakes
  • 7.4.1 Dictation
  • 7.4.2 A guided letter writing exercise with a gap to fill
  • 7.4.3 Guided/controlled rewriting of the short text
  • 7.5 Data analysis and comments on the results of the test given
  • 7.5.1 Dictation
  • 7.5.2 A guided letter writing exercise with a gap to fill
  • 7.5.3 Guided/controlled rewriting of the short text
  • 7.6 Hypotheses verification
  • 7.6.1 Hypothesis 1
  • 7.6.2 Hypothesis 2
  • 7.7 A few words on our ‘that-time’ research (our original literal commentary from 2008)
  • 8 Old-new challenges, old-new problems
  • 8.1 A lack/loss of motivation
  • 8.1.1 Notions of motivation
  • 8.1.2 Unmotivated teachers
  • 8.1.3 Unmotivated learners
  • 8.1.3.1 Why they give up
  • 8.1.3.2 How to avoid problems with motivation
  • 8.2 The new roles of writing
  • 8.2.1 Debates over the methodology of teaching/learning
  • 8.2.2 A digital era vs. writing
  • 8.2.2.1 Texting, messaging
  • 8.2.2.2 Blogging
  • 8.2.2.3 E-books
  • 8.3 Brexit vs. the English language teaching/learning
  • 8.3.1 Consequences of Brexit (language policy of the EU)
  • 8.3.2 Consequences of Brexit (TEFL in Slovakia)
  • 9 New micro-research 2017
  • 9.1 Outline of the research
  • 9.2 Methodology of the research
  • 9.2.1 Objectives of the research
  • 9.2.2 Research techniques
  • 9.2.3 Selection of respondents
  • 9.2.4 Location: The Nitra Self-Governing Region
  • 9.2.5 Data processing methods
  • 9.2.6 Description of the test given
  • 9.2.7 Assessment
  • 9.3 Hypotheses on the test given
  • 9.4 Data analysis and comments on mistakes
  • 9.4.1 Dictation
  • 9.4.2 A guided letter writing exercise with a gap to fill
  • 9.4.3 Guided/controlled rewriting of the short text
  • 9.5 Data analysis and comments on the results of the test given
  • 9.5.1 Dictation
  • 9.5.2 A guided letter writing exercise with a gap to fill
  • 9.5.3 Guided/controlled rewriting of the short text
  • 9.6 Hypotheses verification
  • 9.6.1 Hypothesis 1
  • 9.6.2 Hypothesis 2
  • Conclusion
  • Outputs and implications
  • Annex 1A – The test given
  • Annex 1B – Assignment sheet
  • Annex 2 – The model of 3 stages in ‘new’ European plurilingual education
  • List of figures and graphs
  • List of tables
  • Useful glossary
  • Glossary resources
  • Bibliography
  • Online bibliography
  • Further online resources, webpages

1 About writing

1.1 Various definitions of writing

There are many ways of understanding writing. When we talk about young learners (primary school) in Slovakia, we must pay extra attention to explaining to them that writing is an irreplaceable part of the educational process, communication, and life itself.

During our pretesting meetings with them, we asked a question about how they understand the terms “text” and “writing”. Yes, their simplest understanding of writing was “use of graphic symbols” or “our thoughts or pronounced words that are put to paper using a pen or typed using a typewriter or PC”. A little bit more difficult for them was to define the term “text”. They spent more time thinking, but we were surprised. Their answers were: “something written in a book”, “a combination of written letters or words”, “a logical sequence of words” or “written sentences”. We have found that even children in this school age with their knowledge and experience potential already have some idea of writing and text. They were not far from the right definition.

Most people usually understand writing as letters or combinations of letters in connection to the sounds we produce when we speak. Afterward, we create sentences and the sentences form a coherent whole called “text”. According to Byrne (1993, p.1), when we write, “we produce a sequence of sentences arranged in a particular order and linked together in certain ways.” The frequency of written communication is not the only reason for including writing as the part of our second-language syllabus. Fulwiler and Young (1982, x) point out that writing is a value-forming activity, a means of finding our voice as well as making our voice heard. The act of writing allows authors to distance themselves from experience, and helps them to interpret, clarify, and place value on that experience. Writers can become spectators using language to further define themselves and their beliefs. Value-forming activity is perhaps the most personally and socially significant role writing plays in our education. According to Raimes (1983, p.3), writing helps in learning. It reinforces the grammatical structures, idioms, and vocabulary. Learners have a chance to be adventurous with the language. As they write, they become involved with the new language. The effort to express ideas and the constant use of eye, hand, and brain is a unique way to reinforce learning.

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“Writing gives them (learners) more ‘thinking time’ than they get when they attempt spontaneous conversation. This allows them more opportunity for language processing – that is thinking about the language – whether they are involved in study or activation.”

Harmer (2007a, p.112)

According to McKay (2006, p.249), writing is a complex activity requiring young learners to think about a number of factors simultaneously – formation of letters or characters, vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, layout, organisation and selection of appropriate content for the intended audience. Forsman (1985, p.162) directs her attention to a practical rationale for writing:

“As teachers we can choose between (a) sentencing students to thoughtless mechanical operations and (b) facilitating their ability to think. If students’ readiness for more involved thought processes is bypassed in favor of jamming more facts and figures into their heads, they will stagnate at the lower levels of thinking. But if students are encouraged to try a variety of thought processes in classes, they can, regardless of their ages, develop considerable mental power. Writing is one of the most effective ways to develop thinking.”

According to Kerstetter [n.d.], writing is the most popular and prevalent method of creating connections among people. As a means of building links between individuals and within communities, writing serves as the flexible foundation for almost every type of communication media. Print, video, audio, speech and interactive web media all begin with writing.

Writing connects people across time, space and culture. Because of the influence of writing, individuals can learn from yesterday, gain knowledge about today and design for tomorrow. There are many other definitions of writing which cover various aspects of this way of communicating, such as:

“Writing is the process of using symbols (letters of the alphabet, punctuation ad spaces) to communicate thoughts and ideas in a readable form. To write clearly it is essential to understand the basic system of a language. In English this includes knowledge of grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. Vocabulary is also necessary, as is correct spelling and formatting.”

(englishclub.com/writing/what.htm)

“… a group of letters or symbols written or marked on a surface as a means of communicating ideas by making each symbol stand for an idea, concept, or thing, by using each symbol to represent a set of sounds grouped into syllables (syllabic writing), or by regarding each symbol as corresponding roughly or exactly to each of the sounds in the language (alphabetic writing).”

(collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/writing)

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“Writing is the productive skill in the written mode. It seems to be the hardest of the skills. … It involves not just a graphic representation of speech, but the development and presentation of thoughts in a structured way.

Aydoğan and Akbarov (2014, p.674)

“…letters or symbols written or imprinted on a surface to represent the sounds or words of a language.”

(wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)

“…the skill or activity of producing words on a surface”

(dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/English/writing#dataset_cald4)

“…the domain of language proficiency that encompasses how students engage in written communication in a variety of forms for a variety of purposes and audiences.”

(www.wida.us/resources/ELP_Standards_Overview/section_09.html)

“…the visible recording of language peculiar to the human species. Writing enables the transmission of ideas over vast distances of time and space and is a prerequisite of complex civilization.”

(Reference.com/Encyclopedia/Writing)

“Writing, form of human communication by means of a set of visible marks that are related, by convention, to some particular structural level of language.”

(www.britannica.com/topic/writing)

1.2 The nature, purposes, and problems of writing

According to Tandlichová (2001b, pp. 126–132), in the early stages of a course oriented towards oral proficiency, writing serves a variety of pedagogical purposes. It is not just writing for writing’s sake.

Some learners, especially those who do not learn easily through oral practice alone, feel more secure if they are allowed to read and write in the language. Written work serves to provide the learners with some tangible evidence that they are making progress. Though not a true index of their attainment, it satisfies a psychological need. Writing also provides variety in classroom activities, serving as a break from oral work, and increases the amount of language contact through work that can be set out of class. Writing is often needed for formal and informal testing.

Writing is an active, individual activity which is the result (the culmination) of mastering the material of the language items, as well as all the other skills. We can approach the evaluation of writing from these aspects: psychological – as it is a solitary, individual mental activity; linguistic – the learner (pupil/student) utilises his/her previous knowledge of language; cognitive – the learner has a certain point to make in writing.

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1.2.1 Why writing is difficult

In addition to this, both in mother tongue and in a foreign language, we must address certain psychological, linguistic, and cognitive problems (see Byrne, 1993, p.4–5).

Psychological problems – Speech is the natural and normal medium of communication with someone physically present. Writing is essentially a solitary activity, without the possibility of interaction or the benefit of feedback. This distinction, however, disappears with some new forms of cooperative writing activities – Brainstorming, Speed-writing, Story Sequences (focus is on ‘messages’ and targeted communication functions) or Group Letters, Dictogloss, Group Timeline Projects (focus is on Form/Structure: Grammar, Punctuation). See Jacobs and Yong (2004).

Linguistic problems – Oral communication is sustained through a process of interaction, and the participants help to keep it going (except lectures). It is spontaneous, so we have little time to pay attention to organising or connecting our sentences. Incomplete or ungrammatical utterances usually pass unnoticed. We have a range of devices to help get our meaning across. In writing, we have to compensate for the absence of these features and the text we produce can only be interpreted on its own.

Cognitive problems – We grow up learning to speak and we spend much of our time doing it. Writing is learnt through a process of instruction: we have to master the written form.

From our (Slovak) perspective, young learners can face problems regarding certain individual dispositions for a foreign language. Basically, we can talk about foreign language-learning talents. Still, we do not know why some of them are more inclined to learn English, German, Russian or other languages. It is very interesting. The same goes to particular skills, e.g. writing. Some learners do not have problems with writing, others do. Some of them feel more comfortable in written communication than in speaking and vice versa. Personality traits can also be very important when choosing a foreign language, its practising, and reinforcing.

1.2.2 Purposes of writing

We understand the purpose of writing as the goal or aim of a piece of writing. When someone communicates ideas in writing, he/she usually does so to express oneself, to inform, to entertain, to explain, to persuade, to argue, to evaluate, or to create a literary work.

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According to Kerstetter [n.d.], writers write to inform, educate, entertain, persuade and motivate.

Writing to inform tells the audience about a person, place, thing or idea in a neutral, unbiased and fair manner. Informative writing seeks fairness because objectivity is impossible. The background and beliefs of the writer distort and skew attempts at objectivity. Instead of striving for objectivity, the information writer aims for even-handedness – researching a topic from multiple points of view before sharing the findings in a straightforward manner. Informed writing requires honest self-analysis, plus accuracy in research, followed by the services of a skilled editor to eliminate any biases. According to their own training and ethics, news reporters should write to inform with fairness, not objectivity.

Educational writing begins at the knowledge level of the audience and increases their learning. More than reporting information, writing to educate explains the meanings of personalities, locations, events, objects and concepts. The educational writer studies audiences to meet their intellectual expectations. Researching with accuracy keeps this type of writing interesting and fair.

Biographical notes

Pavol Burcl (Author)

Pavol Burcl is an assistant professor of English at Jazykové centrum, Filozofická Fakulta, Univerzita Konštantína Filozofa, Nitra, Slovakia. He is specialised in the Theory of Teaching English Language and Literature as well as in Translation Studies.

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Title: Writing Proficiency in English at the Primary School Level in Slovakia