WHY SOME WRITING STRATEGIES OR ACTIVITIES FOR WEAK ESL LEARNERS FAIL?
As all of us know weak ESL writers mostly refuse to write their essays especially in examinations. They either write very little or simply submit a piece of blank paper. In the attempt to assist them, devoted teachers implement certain writing activities or strategies. The implementation of those strategies among weak and reluctant learners sometimes fail. What could be the main reason?
Personally, I believe there are always a number of factors. However, I am positive the main cause is the teachers’ failure to address writing anxieties effectively among weak learners. It is of utmost importance for ESL teachers to know that there are barriers within each weak and reluctant ESL writer. Those barriers are built from their accumulated untreated anxieties in learning English as a second or foreign language. They possess negative mindset, belief or perception that they are poor or failed writers. Based on my observations, weak learners believe constructing sentences in English is such a monumental task for them. Some weak learners admit there is no way for them to write essays especially the 350-word Continuous Writing. Besides, they also label themselves as poor writers due to their limited vocabulary and lack of ideas. Consequently, many of them give up writing. In short, each weak and reluctant ESL writer has a number of barriers; learning anxieties some which have been “fossilized” since they were in primary school.
As ESL teachers, it is our duty to understand learning anxieties very well. Sadiq (2017) highlights that the findings of the previous research on language anxiety have revealed the fact that anxiety can impede foreign language performance and its production. Atay and Kurt (2006) assert that anxiety is an obstacle to language learning. Macayan et. al (2018) state that anxiety has been largely viewed to debilitate various aspects of language learning. In the aspect of writing, Hassan (2001: 12) explains: “…writing apprehension is a problem in writing classes because it has consequences for students’ learning experience, and for the decisions they make about engaging in productive, fulfilling writing projects”. The fear to write makes students suffer from a “distress associated with writing” and they also develop “a profound distaste for the process” (Madigan, Linton, and Johnson, 1996: 295). That is why we can see most weak and reluctant pupils hate writing lessons and definitely abhor any writing tasks.
Therefore, what should and can ESL teachers do to make sure weak learners write essays? How can teachers address anxieties among weak writers? Well, in this write-up, I wish to share how I address my weak learners’ writing anxieties. Personally, I make sure these actions are taken before my weak and reluctant ESL learners are asked to write a complete essay:
I read with my weak learners sample essays which I compose specially for them. While reading, each weak learner is asked to underline any word which they do not understand. Then, they must count the number of underlined words. After doing it for years, I can see that most of the weak learners understand 90% of the words used in the sample essay. This is done to show to them that they do have sufficient English vocabulary to write essays in English. Most importantly, I am able to reduce their anxieties when most of them are already convinced that they actually do have enough English vocabulary to write essays.
Next, I develop my weak learners’ confidence to construct sentences. Of course, I have been loyal to my technique named “KONA”. Weak learners are taught to construct sentences using the limited vocabulary that they possess. When I am able to show them the simple way of expressing themselves in written English, their writing anxiety is gradually reduced. The walls or barriers within them are beginning to collapse bit by bit.After my weak learners are confident to construct sentences, only then I proceed to the next level that is paragraph writing. At this stage, I have been applying my technique called “GORENG”. Weak learners are coached to develop ideas or provide details in a very simple way. Here, they are also trained to write a 70-word paragraph in not more than 10 minutes. Impossible? No. It is possible. I have been doing it for years. Their ability to compose a paragraph which is between 50 to 70 words in about 10 minutes has further enhanced their confidence to write, thus reducing their writing anxieties simultaneously.
Before they are asked to write more and more paragraphs, my weak learners are required to copy a number of sample essays which are personally composed by me. Why? To give them more examples of simple sentence structures using limited vocabulary as well as to provide clear sample paragraphs which apply the “GORENG” technique. They do need these sample essays as copying those sample essays does bloom their confidence and reduce their anxieties more.
When my weak learners are ready or at least partially ready, only then they are asked to write a complete essay. I am not worried if they are only partially ready as I always have essay writing activities in groups first. Weak learners will help each other and surely in this stage essay writing is done with close guidance and much assistance by me. Later, essay writing through pair work is done. Finally it is individual writing task. Beyond doubt, in this stage, their writing anxieties have reduced significantly.
Throughout steps 1 to 5 above, it is crucial for teachers to compliment the weak and reluctant learners. Our compliments are really magic words which will boost and develop their confidence to write. These are some examples of the magic words to be rendered to them: “Congrats! You only underline 5 words. Ahmad, that shows, you know most of the words in this essay. Excellent!”, “Very good. You see Halim. You can always construct a short and simple sentence. Work hard. I know you can”, “Class…attention please. Let us listen to what Siti has written in her paragraph. …well done Siti”, “I am very proud of you Musa. Last week you could only write sentences but today you can write a 60-word paragraph!” and “You have improved a lot Ammar! Congratulations! Your essay is 400 words!”
To conclude, as English teachers we cannot simply assign writing tasks to our weak learners without addressing their writing anxieties first. Our failure to address their anxieties is akin to our incompetence to destroy the barriers which have been existing within our learners for years. It is those barriers that hinder our success in implementing writing strategies or activities. It is also those barriers that make certain strategies to have little or zero impact on our weak learners. Therefore, if we want our implementation of writing strategies to achieve the desired impacts, we have no choice but to deal with each of the writing anxieties that our weak learners have.
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Journal, 39, 1-36.
Macayan, J.V., Otsuka, J.C and Cueto, A.B. (2018). Influence of Language Learning Anxiety
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Madigan, R., Linton, P., and Johnson, S. (1996). The Paradox of Writing Apprehension. In L.
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