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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The adult English as a second language writer and the writing workshop approach : performance, biodemographic variables, and attitudes Rothschild, Denise Terry


Research in written composition in first language (L1) has undergone a major paradigm shift from interest in product to interest in processes experienced by writers as they compose. Changes in instructional approaches have begun to follow: in many L1 classrooms a variety of process or workshop approaches to the teaching of writing have been implemented. Second language (12) composing research and instruction are also undergoing a similar paradigm shift— with some reservations about the value of implementing a process or workshop approach in the second language classroom. The question now being asked is, "How effective are the various process/workshop approaches in the 12 classroom situation?" The current study, building upon mother-tongue research as well as the mainly case study research which provided the foundation of the English as a second language (ESL) literature on composing, examines the effects of a process or workshop approach on the writing performance of adult English as a second language learners. In addition, the study investigates certain biodemographic variables such as first language, and an affective variable, attitudes toward writing, all of which were hypothesized to interact with the treatment. This study is a controlled experiment in which the treatment consisted of instruction in writing using a workshop format. Two pre- and posttest measures-informal (classroom conditions) and formal (test conditions) writing tests-were used to ascertain writing growth. On each test overall scores were analysed as well as two sub scores, one for content and organization, and one for structure and mechanics. In addition, a pre-instruction background survey was given to elicit information on seven biodemographic variables, and a post-instruction survey on attitudes toward writing was administered. Results were mixed. For writing quality, only results obtained on the formal (test-like) measure were significant or near significant in favor of the treatment, the workshop approach. Of the biodemographic variables, only length of time in an English-speaking environment could be interpreted because of a cell distribution problem: it may be that those students with less than two years in a second language environment benefit more from the workshop approach than students with more time and experience in their adopted culture. Regarding attitudes toward writing, the workshop group showed significantly more positive attitudes than the product group. In addition, the content of responses to an open-ended question about writing revealed differences between the two conditions. The workshop students' comments showed awareness of (1) writing as communication and (2) writing as a process requiring time for the development, revision, and editing of ideas and language. These findings indicate that this variety of workshop approach may offer a viable alternative to product-oriented instruction. The formal (test conditions) measure suggests that the workshop may be of benefit in helping students improve their writing, particularly the content and organization aspects. Results from the attitude survey imply that students in the writing workshop are receptive to this approach and that they exhibit more positive attitudes toward writing than do students in the product group. If attitude is indeed the key to improved motivation and performance, as many suggest, these results have important implications for the L2 classroom.

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