Contextual Influences on Teachers' Writing Instruction: Insights from the Diaries of Three ESL/EFL Professionals

Contextual Influences on Teachers' Writing Instruction: Insights from the Diaries of Three ESL/EFL Professionals

Patrick Ng Chin Leong (University of Niigata Prefecture, Japan), Tsui-Chun (Judy) Hu (Zi You Language and Science, Taiwan) and Esther Boucher-Yip (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6619-1.ch002
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Research in ESL/EFL writing has shown there is a need for a framework that explores teaching contexts and decision making within various settings, and the way writing instructors work within a variety of teaching contexts (Pardo, 2006). This chapter intends to fill this gap by examining how ESL/EFL writing teachers negotiate differing teaching practices and professional cultures in their classroom writing instruction. The authors adopted an autoethnography approach (Ellis, 2009) to illuminate the hidden feelings, motivations, and tensions posed by cultural factors in their classroom writing instruction (Canagarajah, 2012). The results of the study show that three contextual factors—school policy, teachers' identities as writers, and the type of students—affect writing instruction in significant ways. There is a need to construct locally appropriate responses to support the preparation and professionalism of ESL/EFL writing instructors due to the changing sociopolitical and socioeconomic contexts in which teachers are positioned.
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In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in teacher education focusing on the specific teaching context that shapes the reality of classroom practice. It is important to understand the sociocultural context of teaching which is critical to articulating the knowledge-base of teachers. As Freeman and Johnson (1998, p. 399) observe:

Learning how to teach is about learning about teaching in one context (the teacher education program), observing and practicing teaching in another (the practicum), and eventually developing effective teaching behaviors in a third context (usually in the first years of teaching).

Research in ESL/EFL writing has revealed a need for a framework that fully explores teaching contexts and decision making within various settings and the ways writing instructors work within a variety of teaching contexts (Pardo, 2006). Some of these contextual factors include teacher identity, policy environment, teaching tools, students, community, colleagues and materials. The specific ways in which ESL/EFL teachers try to explore and exploit the diverse cultural contexts of writing in order to enhance students’ academic writing literacy require further investigation. There is a need to explore the interface between ESL/EFL teachers’ beliefs about writing and the sociocultural context in which the teaching and learning of writing takes place. As Pardo (2006, p.379) suggests, as novice teachers learn the behaviors of their surrounding peer group:

… it seemed crucial to study not only the teaching decisions of these beginning teachers but also the contexts and learning environments within which they were learning to teach.

Our study, therefore, wants to fill this gap by examining how L2 writing teachers actually learn to manage and navigate their own teaching context. As the community of teaching practice we belong to plays an important role in shaping our identity as ESL/EFL writing instructors, we explore the strategies and paths we took to develop as writing instructors in our own teaching context. Thus, the research question for this study is: What role does the local teaching context play in the writing instruction of ESL/EFL teachers? We are three experienced non-native ESL/EFL teachers (Patrick, Esther, Judy) from Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, who have taught writing to EFL students for more than a decade. We examine here how in different English teaching contexts we negotiate the impact of contextual factors on our classroom instructional practices. The reflective teaching movement has helped to legitimatize teachers’ knowledge base by highlighting the importance of reflection on and inquiry into teachers’ experience as mechanisms for change in classroom practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). We use the collective story here as a format to reflect on our learning and teaching of writing in different sociocultural contexts. As beginning teachers are often apprenticed into the school learning community when they are mentored by a more experienced teacher (Lortie, 1975), we hope our stories will add to local, socioculturally-situated knowledge as a contribution to the field of ESL/EFL writing instruction.

The chapter outline is as follows: We first critically and reflexively analyze our autobiographical narratives on learning to write in our own sociocultural contexts. Following this, we discuss how writing is taught in our immediate teaching contexts. We then proceed to discuss the challenges we face in teaching writing in our classrooms. Next we discuss how we motivate our students before examining our narratives to draw out some common contextual factors that influence our writing instruction. In the conclusion, we discuss the implications for teaching writing in the EFL/ESL context.


Our Identity As A Writer In Different Sociocultural Contexts

In this section, we critically and reflexively analyze our autobiographical narratives as writers in different sociocultural contexts. A common thread is that, as non-native speakers of English, our writing experiences are confined to the classroom where teachers approach students’ texts as final products. Evaluations of our writings are mainly based on our teachers’ preconceived and fixed notions about good writing (Gere & Stevens, 1985).

An excerpt from Patrick’s diary:

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