Fostering Writing Development through Task-based Writing

The notion of task, task-based pedagogy and, by extension, task-based writing development is grounded in the Department’s broad literacy orientation that recognizes the central role of oral and written discourse types in language use and language acquisition

Accordingly, departmental teaching staff agreed to the following principles and instituted the following practices:

  • Writing assignments are given in terms of “writing tasks” that are specified on writing task sheets. These characterize the assignment in terms of task appropriateness, content, and language focus. They are internally sequenced within the course and across the curriculum in line with teachers’ experiential knowledge of that curricular progression.
  • Specifically, each writing task targets a genre or text type that students are to produce, including considerations of audience, register, and writing intentions and goals.
  • The content focus of a particular writing event reflects the topic of the unit and its associated genres and text types, including background information.
  • Language focus is described in terms of discourse-level, sentence-level, and lexicogrammatical features.
  • Pedagogical practices as well as the students’ writing practices are guided by elaborated level-specific statements about the language foci that teachers created in order to characterize this instructional level.
  • The documents for Level II and III and Text in Context further specify these features in terms of three categories that indicate a best-estimate weighting of the pedagogical emphases these features should receive. In this fashion the documents hope to capture the dynamic and long-term nature of language learning.

+ Focused treatment by way of explicit teaching of a feature that is critical at this level but which will develop a satisfactory level of accuracy, fluency, complexity, and functional range and flexibility only over a longer period of time – e.g., an entire course;

++ Focused treatment in order to assure accuracy of something that was previously introduced, has been used for quite some time, and now needs to be expanded functionally and in terms of accuracy (e.g., simple past) before patterned errors have a chance of settling in;

<> A feature that may occur at the periphery of instructional attention or students’ likely use at a given curricular level. This may be either prior to formal instruction, where texts and classroom discourse may have included the feature naturally (e.g., da/ wo- compounds), or subsequent to formal instruction where incorporation is highly desirable but not a frequent natural occurrence (e.g., relative clauses with oblique cases or prepositions). These features are often good candidates for emphasis with particular student, depending on their writing performance profile in relation to curricular expectations.

Language Foci and their weighting for Level I; Level II; Level III; Text in Context

  • For each curricular level writing tasks were developed in terms of these categories.
  • In order to gauge progress in writing abilities within a given level and across curricular levels, teachers created a prototypical performance writing task for each level. This writing event affords students the opportunity to use the targeted features of a level and sets up a likelihood that they will in fact do so. It instantiates the kind of writing profile that is deemed to be an appropriate learning goal for the level. This writing task is assigned toward the end of the level.
  • End-of level writing performance profiles

To ascertain progress toward the curricular writing goals, writing performance profiles were developed for each level. These specify the level at which one can reasonably expect the majority of students to perform. Such statements recognize that much overlap exists among levels with regard to the use of certain forms, but accuracy, appropriateness, functional range, and stylistic finesse in that use will and should vary significantly. The performance profile is intended to capture that reality in a way that also highlights the long-term developmental nature of writing. These statements reflect the practitioners’ best judgment about attainable writing performance and assume that students have consistently taken advantage of the diverse writing opportunities and the instructional support that is available to them.

December 7, 2002 (Nov. 15, 2003)

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