Teaching L2 Composition, Purpose, Process, and Practice
By Dana R. Ferris and John S. Hedgcock
By Liza Martinez & Kara Mac Donald
This text is the 4th edition of a newly released publication of Teaching L2 Composition in early 2023. Previous editions have been highly popular among teacher trainers, in-service writing instructors, writing program administrators and L2 writing researchers. The fourth edition maintains the book’s fundamental structure with the first several chapters providing an overview of the fundamentals of L2 writing, followed by chapters addressing instructional practice, with the last several focusing on specific topics on L2 writing. This addition addresses new developments in L2 writing instruction, curriculum design and writing assessment. Additionally, reference lists have been added at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 1: Concepts in Writing and Learning to Write in a Second Language
The chapter begins with a brief discussion on the theoretical foundations of L2 writing and related research, followed by the tenets of written language. The next section of the chapter looks back at the beginning of written language, distinguishing between pictograms or protowriting. Three types of protowriting are described: primary symbolization or semasiography (i.e. images depict meaning), descriptive-representational representation (i.e. showing steps in a process through images) and identifying-mnemonic device (i.e. symbols corresponding to a sound). The authors describe that with the increasing development of the third form of written language, the road was paved for the development of script writing systems
In the next section, the authors move to discuss the orthographic depth hypothesis, in terms of how one script may influence the learning of another. Transparency describes when systems operate in similar ways and opaque describes systems that are dissimilar in how they operate. The authors provide the following example; Spanish and Turkish, which both use the Roman alphabet, are seen as transparent, but Spanish and Modern Greek, which use the Greek alphabet, are seen as less transparent. This section closes with a brief discussion of digital writing practices, which has moved the written system to be more aligned with oral sound and/or use of language (i.e. r u kidding me).
The next section shifts to writing development and L2 writing instruction. Writing ability in one’s first language requires example input, ongoing support and guidance and direct instruction to foster a child’s basic penmanship, spelling and reading abilities, as well as oral language skills. Knowledge of L1 writing has implications for L2 writing instruction, which encompass differences between the learner’s L1 and L2 writing systems and how this impacts macro and micro implications for writing instruction and learning strategies.
The last section examines implications of intercultural rhetoric on L2 writing instruction. Intercultural rhetoric (IR), or contrastive rhetoric (CR), aim to examine and describe the written discourse of individuals or cultural groups. The authors share founding research on CR and the emerging field of contrastive analysis (CA), with some example data on ESL writers’ rhetorical patterns based on their L1. They close this chapter with a discussion on further debates in the field of IR/CR and current research that is shedding new insights and informing L2 writing instruction.
Chapter 2: Understanding Student Populations and Instructional Contexts
Although generally L2 writers are defined as individuals who were raised in a home were the primary language of their parents/caregivers was not the L2 (i.e. English),the authors highlight that there are various subcategorizations of these learners: international visa students, EFL students, resident immigrants, and generation 1.5 learners. For each student group, the authors provide a description of which individuals meet the criteria for the category, statistics for the learner group based on U.S census data, and general characteristics of the learner group with regard to education and the L2.
The next two sections offer an overview of literacy abilities of the different L2 learner populations and their writing challenges, The sections are short but offer valuable information, accompanied by two tables making the content easily accessible. The last section of the chapter describes where different learner groups learn to write in the L2, dividing the discussion into FL context and L2 contexts. For L2 contexts, the discussion is further divided between non-academic settings, intensive language programs, secondary school academic settings, and postsecondary academic settings. The authors provide significant factors that instructors will need to consider to support L2 writing instruction, as well as many of the different types of programs students may experience in the ESL context.
Chapter 3: Pedagogical Approaches in L1 and L2 Composition, History and Recent Trends
The authors share that there are advantages to examining different academic disciplinary practices as the L2 student populations have become more diversified and begin with a brief account of writing instruction and the fields of composition studies and applied linguistics. They describe the origins of composition instruction based on the Harvard model, initiated in the 1800s, that focused on grammar and rhetoric in writings about class works. By the early 1900’s, writing courses began to focus on teaching students to learn how writing is a social act and the need to consider audiences and contexts when writing. The divide between the approaches to writing instruction widened and by the 1960’s prompted the formation of many well-known academic associations and journals today. This was followed by the establishment of two prominent L2 writing specific academic journals.
In the next section, the authors explain the shifts in approaches that have informed L1 and L2 writing instruction. The first is a product-oriented model, where instruction is focused on the text students are to produce, and often writing is based on classical texts, influencing the way instruction is staged. It is highly focused on accurate use of vocabulary and grammar, which was predominantly in use from the 1940s to the 1960s. Another popular approach was the current-traditional rhetoric model, where students would generate a paragraph and connected discourse through writing sentences and putting them together based on a specified format. The notion behind these approaches for L2 writers is that they are unable to create composed texts autonomously and need explicit scaffolding at the beginning and intermediate levels. They then explain that in the 1960 to the 1980s, L1 writing instruction began to see a shift to a process approach, where the intent is to develop understanding and behaviors that writing is a progression through various stages in developing an original piece. A discussion of the Post-Process Era, based on constructivist views that highlighted the link between writing as part of literacy, is socially based, transactional, and is mediated between the writer, reader and the text’s context.
In the next section, the authors examine content-based and discourse-focused models, as well as recent development in writing studies and L2 writing instruction, with one being genre-based instruction and others being an increase in collaborative writing facilitated by online tools and multimodal writing.
Chapter 4: A Socioliterate Approach to L2 Composition Teaching
In the first section, the authors explain why they focus so much on the role of literacy in an L2 writing text, noting that connection between literacy and reading. They describe the changing understanding of the processes entailed in reading, and discuss parallel processes between reading and writing, as well as across languages.
The authors then move in the next section understanding the role of reading in a writing course, as there needs to be equal measure of writing instruction and various forms of literacy activities. Learners need continual practice through repetition and the section offers several tables that outline the sub-skills that are needed for literacy and literacy development. With the reading-writing connection established, the next section provides guidance on how to effectively integrate reading into a writing course through guidelines for creating effective, authentic L2 literacy activities for the writing classroom.
The next section is an introduction to reading and writing in socioliterate(understanding of socioeducation practices and social discourses) communities, followed by a section that specifically focuses on how to develop such communities through genre-based approaches. The authors highlight several primary understandings of genre studies and then define genre itself for their discussion, before moving on to address the practice-based aspects of using genre in building scoioliterate communities.
In the following section, the authors begin by emphasizing that L2 learners need to critically engage with the genres they will be writing about, as both readers and writers. This entails moving beyond form, structure and language mechanics, and requires learners to explore and understand the dynamic and complex realities these genres exist within. This also involves L2 learners being able to effectively participate in digital spaces. Before directly addressing genre analysis for writing instruction, the authors address some criticism around genre-based instruction, sharing it is through the systematic analysis of writing norms and text structures that L2 learners come to fully understand the genre and engage critically with discourse.
The last section in the chapter provides guidance on using genre-based instruction to allow L2 learners to critically engage with discourse, and argues for the need to go beyond traditional genres for instruction. Resources and guidelines for authentic text selection are outlined, as well as criteria for textbooks selection. Criteria and procedures for developing tasks, writing prompts, with learner choice in instructional assignments is discussed.
Chapter 5: Course Design and Instructional Planning for the L2 Writing Course
As the title indicates, this chapter entails course design and instructional planning in an L2 writing course. Ferris and Hedgcock begin this chapter by succinctly defining a curriculum as what students need to know and should be able to do successfully in school settings and the outside world. They then cover the first major section, which is the needs assessment process. Needs assessment is cyclical and falls into two categories: environmental analysis and needs analysis. In environmental analysis, care is taken that “the design, content, delivery, and evaluation of a course or curriculum can be carried out” (Ferris et al., p. 217). For needs analysis, it can be further divided into “target needs (what students need to accomplish in the target setting) and learning needs (what students must do in the learning process).” The data gleaned from these analyses inform student learning outcomes [SLOs]; these SLOs can be found from the level of a lesson plan all the way to the outcome of a course. According to Ferris and Hedgcock (2023), “SLOs should be specific, observable, and measurable” (p. 228).
For the second section, syllabus creation is considered. First, it is a contract between the teacher and student. Second, it is a framework and planning tool. A sample syllabus is presented which is comprised of the following: “1) practical information; 2) SLOs and primary content; 3) reading materials; 4) writing and multimedia assignments; 5) instructional processes and procedures; 6) course requirements and policies; 7) assessment plan; and 8) course plan or timetable” (Ferris et al., p. 232).
In the third section, the authors discuss the practices and procedures of lesson planning throughout the duration of a course. Seven elements are considered in creating lessons for a writing course; these elements are “1) planning for incremental skill development; 2) weaving writing processes into the curriculum (in a cyclical manner); 3) building genre awareness and knowledge; 4) integrating cognitive, metacognitive, and reflective processes; 5) confining content to a narrow range: 6) promoting meaningful collaboration (with classmates); and 7) incorporating digital technology” (Ferris and Hedgcock, 2023, pp. 232-233).
Finally, the actual mechanics of lesson planning are considered. First, a lesson plan can take many forms; the authors provide two user-friendly examples. Second, it is important to review material previously seen. This provides continuity from one class to the next. Next, technology as well as time management are integral to the successful L2 writing class. For example, when it comes to open-ended activities, they usually take longer than teachers predict. The same holds true for activities that have not been done beforehand. The authors recommend writing down the directions as well as stating them aloud. This takes less time than repeating oral directions and possible misunderstandings. Teachers should also have a contingency plan in case they finish a lesson early. Finally, post-observation reflection should not be taken as an afterthought. It is essential. Many teachers use what they have learned about their teaching through the post-learning observation as a bridge for the next day’s lesson.
The authors end this chapter by stating that a lesson plan is experimental and can result in unexpected, but fruitful, returns when it comes to student learning.
Chapter 6: Classroom Assessment of L2 Writing
Chapter 6 focuses on classroom-based assessment or CBA, which draws from Vygotsky’s work on social construction and the Zone of Proximal Development. CBA can be summative or formative. For this chapter, the authors examine the formative stance, which they refer to as assessment for learning. The idea is that assessment is cyclical and serves as a bridge between teaching and learning. CBA provides the teacher with information on how a student is grasping new material, and if the learning strategies a student is using are beneficial. It also provides a teacher with the degree of scaffolding a teacher needs to provide for the student to reach an SLO. As such, a student’s needs are being assessed continually; this may result in changes to the curriculum, in general, and lesson plan, in particular.
The major sections of the chapter deal with different types of assessment for L2 writing. The first involves holistic scores, which involves looking at a writing sample and assigning a single score based on the rater’s overall impression of the writing performance. Holistic scoring may consist of six to nine levels or bands. Each band has a numerical score or grade and a corresponding verbal descriptor. The advantage is that scoring is easy and fast. The disadvantage is that holistic scores can also make it difficult to attain high inter-rater reliability. In analytic scales, numerical weights are given to each assessed category. Like holistic scoring, there are three to six components or constructs, which are then subdivided into verbal descriptors (Ferris et al., p. 291). One can assess one category (primary traits) or various (multiple traits). Providing text-specific comments enhances the assessment. The disadvantage is that trait-based scales are specifically designed for each writing assignment. This can be laborious and time-consuming.
The next section entails automated writing assessment (AWA). AWA is where students can submit their texts to free online platforms and receive instant feedback before turning in their papers to their instructor. The verdict is that it is here to stay. As such, it is important for teachers to know how to incorporate AWAs into their curriculum. Different AWAs are mentioned along with a long list of advantages and disadvantages. AWA can be used with formative and summative assessments and can quickly provide a reliable score. A disadvantage is that it only provides surface-level feedback. Furthermore, it may work better for students with lower proficiency and formulaic writing, such as a 4 or 5-paragraph essay. Finally, there is portfolio assessment. It is a model for “organizing writing processes and products through ongoing reflection, feedback, and evaluation” (As quoted in Ferris and Hedgcock, 2023, p. 303). A portfolio does not require any particular scoring method; there are cases where a portfolio is not scored. The process of assembling and refining a portfolio likewise requires students to think and write about their processes, products, and strategies as readers and writers. The process of assembling and refining a portfolio likewise requires students to think and write about their processes, products, and strategies as readers and writers. The workload can also be a drawback. To prevent this, formative feedback on multiple drafts, as well as writing conferences, is recommended.
The last section involves practical concerns in student assessment. Three categories are provided: managing the workload, assignment ranking and grading procedures, and determining course grades. The authors provide numerous suggestions that the novice and experienced teacher can use. These can be found within and at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 7: Response to Student Writing: Issues and Options for Giving and Facilitating Feedback
Providing student feedback is the most important thing an ESL writing teacher can do. Teacher feedback can make a difference in whether a student is inspired or discouraged in future writing assignments. Chapter 7 addresses concerns that novice and veteran teachers may have about teaching writing. For example, the novice may not know where to start in the L2 writing classroom. On the other hand, experienced L2 writing teachers may want to teach in a more effective and efficient manner. The authors offer a response system that requires feedback in the form of peer review, guided self-evaluation, and teacher feedback. The chapter revolves around three questions when it comes to response: “How? Why? And What next?” (Ferris and Hedgcock, 2023, p. 335).
When it comes to “How?”, it is important for writing teachers to know how to “learn about and apply principles for successful teacher feedback” (Ferris et al., p. 340). One of these is mode, which can involve oral or written feedback. In turn, this can be given synchronously or asynchronously. Both have their advantages. Asynchronously, teacher or student can respond at any time while in face-to-face setting, students can negotiate with a teacher. This can prevent teacher appropriation from taking place. Another principle involves scope. Here, a teacher can choose from selective feedback versus comprehensive feedback. While the latter can be exhausting, the former allows the teacher to focus on a few items in the written text. Next, form or teacher commentary is the most important factor of how. The authors provide suggestions when it comes to teacher commentary; e.g., combining a judicious in-text comment with a summary note; and suggestions for future writings (Ferris et al., p. 440).
In the next section, the authors discuss the different types of feedback available. One is peer review. Research shows positive and negative findings. For example, peer review is cumbersome to teachers, and it has limited effectiveness in improving a student’s writing. Nevertheless, the positive side shows students find peer review enjoyable. Teachers also have to think carefully how they will implement it so it benefits a student’s writing. The authors suggest the following: “1) integrating peer response carefully into course design and coursework; 2) preparing students for peer review through modeling; 3) being strategic in the formation of peer review groups or dyads; and 4) providing a clear structure for peer review activities” (Ferris et al., p. 347).
A final type of feedback is self-evaluation. Its activities help students become better readers and editors of their writing. Furthermore, students are better at self-regulating their learning. Examples of such activities include questionnaires, writing prompts, discussion activities, free-write, responses to peers and teachers, self-editing exercises, final draft memos, and end-of-term writing (Ferris et al., pp. 351-352).
In addressing “What Next?”, the authors stress the importance of following up after feedback: “ i.e., making sure that students understand the feedback they have received, helping them with revision strategies after receiving feedback, and holding students accountable for responding positively to feedback” (Ferris et al., p. 352). These can be done through peer review tasks, such as writing a response to feedback a student has received. Students can also do self-feedback; “for example, a minimum word count or fully addressing particular questions” (Ferris et al., p. 355).
The authors end this chapter by noting that outside sources can also provide students with feedback. These can be in the form of tutors, paid editors and/or online language labs. Rather than discourage their use, teachers need to recognize that they can play a useful role in enhancing students’ L2 writing skills.
Chapter 8: Improving Accuracy in Student Writing: Error Treatment in the Composition Class
In the first major section, Ferris et al. (2023) explore whether error feedback helps L2 writing students. Research indicates that error feedback does help students in the short and long term. Adult learners need to know what their errors are explicitly in order to avoid fossilization and continue to develop their accuracy in writing.
The next section examines the view of selective versus comprehensive feedback. The authors note that selective feedback allows for more serious errors to be prioritized. It facilitates the development of self-editing strategies. Finally, there is the view that in multi-drafts, the instructor should focus on selected forms. As for comprehensive feedback, learners prefer for all of their errors to be identified. Some experts state that when it comes to real-world writing, one needs to learn to edit texts comprehensively. On a final draft, the instructor may wish to mark “all of the remaining errors” (p. 380).
The authors then examine such areas of error feedback as direct versus indirect, labeled or located, and where feedback should be given in the text. The authors think that indirect is preferable because it requires students to “develop their proficiency and metalinguistic knowledge (p. 381). Labeling or not will depend on whether the students are visual learners or auditory learners. Finally, corrections can be placed next to the errors; however, if the teacher wants the student to become a more self-autonomous learner, the teacher can provide less feedback over time.
The next major section involves strategy training for self-editing. When it comes to beginning and intermediate students, however, they may lack the linguistic capacity to self-edit. The majority of L2 students can correct some of their work on their own; nevertheless, they need assistance. Once students can do some self-editing, their instructors can provide them with strategies, which are comprised of three stages. The first involves form. Students are given a diagnostic composing assignment at the start of the semester. The students would then receive comprehensive feedback about the strengths and weaknesses in their writing. In the second phase, actual strategy training is provided. The teacher shares specific SLA strategies for self-editing: “Many L2 literacy texts and resources for teachers provide checklists and examples of strategies that students should consider in editing their texts” (p. 390). In the third phase, students are asked to find and correct their own errors, which are kept in an error log. By doing so, students will note their improvement in self-editing over time. This will also build their confidence as editors.
Since error correction is not the crux of the writing course, how can it be integrated into a course framework and assessment plan? Ferris et al. (2023) offer 6 suggestions for teachers: “1) begin each writing course with a needs assessment; 2) explicitly state the importance of editing and introduce self-editing strategies; 3) give students feedback through the different phases of the writing process; 4) give students time to self-edit texts that have been marked and allow them time to chart their errors; 5) give a series of mini-lessons on grammar and writing style; and 6) move students towards becoming autonomous editors” (p. 394).
Ferris et al. (2023) end this chapter by stating that techniques such as guided writing exercises, identifying errors, and grammar mini-lessons can enhance students’ metalinguistic knowledge and editing skills and lead to increased writing proficiency.
Chapter 9: Developing Language Skills in the Writing Class: Why, What, How, and Who
This chapter begins by noting how few teacher training programs provide future teachers with classes that will enable them to teach L2 writing effectively. The reason has been a focus on higher-order concerns: “cultivating student writers’ critical thinking skills, individual composing processes, agency, identity, and voice (Brannon & Knoblauch, 1982 as quoted in Ferris et al., 2023, p. 408). In contrast, “a focus on surface-level features would do everything from short-circuiting students’ thought processes to marginalizing those students who are already at risk due to deficit models of instruction” (p. 408). With this information in mind, chapter 9 discusses developing language writing skills when it comes to Why? What? How? and Who?.
The first major section explores why language development is useful for the writing class. L2 scholars and teachers have questioned the use of grammar in the writing class. Even when a grammatical feature is taught, it is often not used correctly by students. Ferris et al. (2023) offer 5 suggestions on how grammar should be used effectively in the writing class: “1) don’t make the writing class into a grammar class; 2) grammar and language development should stem from student needs; 3) language lessons should be narrowly focused; 4) language learning should be integrated with ongoing reading and writing activities; and 5) the instructor should consider different modes of instruction: individual, small group, and whole class” (p. 410).
The next major section entails how to select structures and strategies for instruction. One way is by determining students’ needs. This can be through diagnostic writing. A teacher can see the type of grammatical errors and other language issues students make. She can also ask her students what they know and don’t know when it comes to language features. Third, the teacher can assign a writing task: “Teachers may find it useful to discuss those structures with students proactively as they work on and edit a writing assignment” (p. 419). This can be done in the form of a mini-lesson which can be comprised of discovery, presentation, and practice/application. The content can vary, such as analyzing vocabulary or grammar in readings, working with fossilized errors, and teaching basic sentence patterns.
Language self-study is another way to enhance language development. Having a guided self-study component will benefit students in the following ways: “1) it allows for individualized instruction; 2) it avoids using class time on information that some students may not need; and 3) it allows students to choose what they will study’ (Ferris et al., p. 424). The self-study activities should begin with a diagnostic activity. This is followed by a clearly defined assignment, such as vocabulary journal entries or stylistic analyses. Reference materials should also be available. Additionally, there should be checkpoints when assignments are due on a regular basis to avoid procrastination. Finally, students should be given the opportunity to reflect on what they gained from the self-study and what they would like to work on in the future.
In the last section, the authors admit that the ideas presented so far may make teachers uncomfortable. The reason is that they may not have the necessary skills to teach an L2 writing class. Ferris et al. (2023) provide a list of what L2 writing teachers need to know: “1) dimensions of modern English grammar that are particularly problematic for non-native speakers; 2) ability to identify and classify errors in student writing; 3) skill in developing deductive and inductive lessons focusing on grammar points and editing strategies; 4) knowledge of second language acquisition (SLA) principles and composition theory; and 5) familiarity and facility with the language structures needed for diverse types and academic disciplines” (p. 433). The authors state that teachers who are limited in the above areas can turn to workshops, courses, and/or books to fill in the gaps. A list of possible training activities is also presented.
The authors end the chapter by contending that teachers who have enhanced their skills will help their students become competent writers who can write in any academic or professional setting.
Text is very comprehensive and can serve as a course textbook on L2 writing topics for pre-service teachers, but also can serve as a supplementary material where the instructor can select particular chapters for course reading material. Advantages of the text are that each chapter starts with questions for reflection as pre-reading engagement, each chapter has the content recapped in a chapter summary section, post-chapter reading reflections, review questions and various application activities are provided.