Thursday, December 23, 2010

Is writing overrated?

In Fall semester I took a course on second language writing from Tony Silva. This class had several very good readings and I didn't have a chance to write on them. Now maybe it is time to share my reflections.

Leki, I. (2006). The legacy of first-year composition. In P. Matsuda, C. Ortmeier, & X. You (Eds.). The politics of second language writing: In search of the promised land (pp. 59-74). Indiana: Parlor Press.
______(2003). A challenge to L2 writing professionals: Is writing overrated? In B. Kroll (Ed.). Exploring dynamics of L2 writing (pp. 315-331). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

When I read the articles I was a little shaken because I have to say Leki caught me off guard. After reading several articles about the legitimacy, history, autonomy, significance of second language writing studies for the course, Leki's article was quite unsettling. Not only because Leki suggests that the need for our jobs has to be questioned but because of the strength of her arguments. Admittedly I took her challenge as a big blow to our egos as second language professionals and scholars. I would like to share the image with you but words betray me so just imagine a fight scene from a martial arts movie where the bad guys fly on the air as a result of one blow after another by our hero. (don't get me wrong Leki does not attack people but ideas in her article and her tone is not adversarial at all). As this image was lingering in my mind, I thought why would someone who has invested in this field write such an article. After all, this act might very well be considered as shooting oneself in the foot. Thus, my first question is what do you think led Leki to write such an argument and what do you think were the consequences of these arguments. Unfortunately, I do not know what happened after the publication of these two chapters.

My second question is actually the question in the title. In your opinion, is writing overrated? When I took another course on second language writing with Tony Silva, I remember accounts of several scholars and my classmates, including myself, saying that writing instruction is not a common practice in L1 or L2 in other countries. I also remember thinking, wouldn't it be great if we had writing instruction in other countries as well? However, Leki's article made me think about this assumption I had. Perhaps some countries have good reasons for not including writing instruction some of which are presented in Leki's chapters. Perhaps in other countries, Ministry of education officials, schools, or colleges think that there are other classes that are more urgent for their students. Since I do not have an answer to the question if writing is overrated or not I would like to hear your opinion. I have to admit though I tend to agree with most of Leki's arguments.
Next, I would like to say that I agree with Leki in that since composition classes are so prevalent in U.S. college education we are responsible toward our students. Leki writes, "Precisely because many L2 writing teachers and researchers function within an institutional power structure that can dramatically impact our students' lives and futures, I would argue that we have an ethical obligation to scrutinize our assumptions about what to do" (p. 316). I could not agree more and to be honest this statement made me think that it is not just about the necessity or significance of first year composition courses but also about decisions we make as writing instructors everyday, big or small, just to name a few we can talk about the work load for our students, the assignments, attendance, participation, including or excluding topics such as culture, ideology, politics, what we assume our students know or should know, grammar, what we teach and what we test, our prejudices about language backgrounds, etc. I think there is much to think about and I am grateful that Leki brought one of these issues to attention.
Leki's article also made me think about one more thing. Each semester I try to convince my students that even though the first year composition course is a required course they will see that this is a useful course. I feel this need because when I ask my students in the beginning of the semester how they feel about writing maybe only 10% of the students say they enjoy writing. I tell them that writing may be enjoyable and if they work hard they will see that. Actually, one of my goals for the course I am teaching is to change that negative attitude most of my students have toward writing. Thinking about this in light of Leki's arguments, I am not sure if I am doing the right thing. For me writing is everything. I cannot breath, think, or live without writing--at least this is how I feel. I never actually tried what would happen if I stop writing ^_^-- and if I had to choose between being able to speak and being able to write, I would choose writing without thinking. Now when I think about it I can see that some people might feel differently. Maybe they will always avoid writing when possible and never be able to enjoy writing and still have wonderful lives. I do not think that would be the end of the world. By trying to change my students' attitude perhaps I am putting them in an impossible position. Maybe I am giving them the impression that everyone should enjoy writing and my students feel deficient in some way for not enjoying writing.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Leki's chapters and I agree with her for the most part. I like articles that make me think and question my assumptions and Leki's chapters definitely do that. They made me think about our arrogance and blindness when it comes to our fields(maybe this all too human) and what my assumptions are about writing and teaching. It was definitely a good read.

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