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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Test/non-test variations in the composing behaviours of academic ESL writers Hall, Ernest W.


Fluctuations in the quality of text produced by an individual writer from day to day have long been recognized, but variations in composing processes which may account for this have largely been overlooked as an area of study in the composition research both in English as a first language and in English as a second language. While process tracing research has revealed great variation among individual writers and among types of writers, and in the quality of writing an individual may produce from time to time, fluctuation in writing behaviours has been ignored. By closely observing, through video techniques, six ESL writers who had demonstrated considerable inconsistency in the quality of their writing, this study examined differences in their behaviours as they wrote in two situations: one a practice essay composition test, and the other an actual English composition proficiency examination. The subjects observed were selected because they had failed the examination at least twice before contrary to the predictions of their instructors. The researcher speculated that this inconsistency in their ability to perform was related to the heightened stress of the examination situation. Between the situations, variations were observed in the complexity of the texts generated, in the allocation of time to various composing activities, in the writers' pausing behaviours, and in the type of alterations they made while inscribing. In addition, each of the six writers displayed a unique profile in approaching the writing tasks. The findings of the study suggest that assessment and instructional practices need to address writing problems as distinct from language proficiency problems and that assessment and instruction practices need to attend to behaviours during the writing act while accounting for student writers who are unusually apprehensive about writing or who suffer from high levels of anxiety in test situations. The findings also reiterate the long-standing suspicion about the validity of assessing writing skill based on a single sample of a student's writing.

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