Education of child begins long before she ever steps foot into a classroom. The home life, country of origin, culture, and parenting styles a child is exposed to can greatly impact the way in which she sees the world, and especially the ways she learns new skills and how well she performs in the education system. Everything from the history of her nation’s pedagogy tactics to the expectations of her parents plays a crucial role in performance, goals, and success. For a composition instructor, working in varying scenarios with both L1 and L2 learners, it is of the utmost importance to understand the potential backgrounds students may have and how those factors will directly affect the student’s ability to learn and perform well in the instructor’s classroom. A football coach would never take a player who only had experience in soccer and throw him out on the field unprepared. Instead, that coach would learn the player’s background, find comparisons between soccer and football, and, ultimately, understand and expect the confusion that comes with moving from one sport to another. Educational culture is similar in process, and a teacher must pay attention to a variety of factors in order to make L2 composition pedagogy a seamless process. Before diving into the variances between the two styles and to best understand the academic contexts from which L2 composition pedagogy is analyzed and taught, one must understand the crucial relationship between reading and writing for both levels of learner and then revisit the recent evolution of composition pedagogy for both cultures respectively.
Much like exercise and diet, reading and writing are in a symbiotic relationship and one cannot grow without the other. One can follow the strictest meal plan, but if exercise is neglected, he or she will struggle to be a healthy and well-rounded person. Likewise, if the same person works out all the time but never eats well, it will be a struggle to stay trim and healthy. A relationship with words will act in kind because one can read all the time and study the best writers, but if one never writes to put what was learned into practice, that person will not strengthen his or her composition ability. If, however, said person only writes and never reads, the writing abilities will stagnate. It is the marriage between the two concepts that creates the best opportunity for growth, and the L2 learner is no exception to this rule. John S. Hedgcock and Dana R. Ferris, professors and academic leaders in the field of second language reading and writing, strongly advise in Teaching L2 Composition that there must be a “central role of reading processes in the teaching and learning of L2 writing.” (93). Successful integration of the two is critical because they each directly impact growth in the other discipline and can easily form a cohesive curriculum for instructing both L1 and L2 students. Reading and writing are in an interdependent relationship. Not only does a student not strengthen one skill without the other, an instructor can also not successfully teach one without a proper balance of the other. Most activities should center around both reading and writing whenever possible, and in equal doses. Only by understanding the role of each discipline can L2 students successfully come to terms with the intricacies of a new language. This basic principal of approaching texts “not only increases deep comprehension but informs genre specific, effective, purpose-driven writing” for students who may initially struggle with either reading or writing an L2 language (Taking Advantage of the Reading/Writing Connection). The skills students will acquire, whether consciously or unconsciously, by studying such methods will help them devise tactics to build their reading and writing skills upon. The instructor must ensure the foundations of reading and writing are well-established with all students and that those areas are always being reciprocally encouraged.
Educator and author E. Shelley Reid believes the subject of English composition is one of the most difficult but meaningful academic topics: “I have thus come to view the pedagogy course and the concepts behind it as both impossible and crucial to teach—in part because of who and where the students are when they enter our classes, in part because of where we need them or want them to go as teachers and as scholars.” (Reid 242). The rediscovery of classics and rhetoric in the 1960s, the birth of writer’s voice and societal awareness in terms of composition in the 1970s and 1980s, the acknowledgement of the impact of discourse communities and education in the 1990s to the present—these accomplishments led to the ever-evolving composition pedagogies prevalent in today’s education systems, paving the way for the birth of L2-specific teaching methods applicable to the influx of multicultural classrooms. Studying the theories that fathered the modern English composition education system provides the awareness necessary to both understand and successfully teach L2 learners.
With the English department’s rediscovery of classic literary sources, Hedgcock and Ferris found that teachers in the 1960s spent little time “planning, drafting, sharing, revisi[ng], or editing [the] students’ texts.” (Ferris and Hedgcock 63). Schools introduced the concept of modern rhetoric through great writers of the past, but little thought was given as to how to instruct students to create their own powerful rhetoric or streamlined composition. The error of this teaching method was not realized right away, however, and teachers gave their students vague outlines and the “sandwich effect” was introduced, stipulating that students who followed certain patterns were automatically good writers. Late in the decade, the Dartmouth Conference called for “writing instruction that takes more notice of students’ needs for self-expression as opposed to their adjustment to social demands.” (A Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition). The 1970s and 1980s introduced the process approach which emphasized the writer and encouraged students to express themselves and come up with creative ideas (Ferris and Hedgcock 64). Freewriting was a frequently utilized by many instructors, and it inspired critical thinking and the concept of authors having a voice. Instead of relying solely on the inspiration of other writers and a strict paper framework, pedagogy began to consist of the overall writing process, breaking it down into distinct stages like invention, drafting, revising, editing, etc. This lead to expressivist (a creative process to discover oneself through writing with the discovery being more important than the product) and cognitivist (writing as problem-solving) writing categories that often overlapped (Ferris and Hedgcock 66). The 1990s ushered in the development of rhetorical problems in writing. Teachers began explaining writing as a simultaneous project where steps can be reversed or missed altogether—a far cry from the strict sandwich method a few decades prior. Writers were encouraged to have a voice. According to Professor of English David R. Russell, this was largely due to the fact that “historians began to question the narrative of current-traditional rhetoric as the dark ages of composition.” (33).
Robin Varnum, an instructor of English at the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, postulates that composition pedagogy will continue to develop, and since the “field of composition studies has now moved beyond its infancy, its historians should be exercising the critical self-consciousness that is a mark of any mature field.” (52). Reviewing the difficulties the evolution of writing instruction has undergone makes it clear that L2 teachers are faced with even greater difficulties. On top of navigating the many ways to teach writing and all the crucial areas to focus on, they must also juggle working with multiple skill levels, backgrounds, interests, and intellects. The history of composition instruction reaffirms that fluidity and adaption are vital teaching qualities required to be a successful L2 (or any type, for the matter) composition instructor. L2 composition pedagogy is still a new field, but there are multiple lessons derived from historical L1 composition pedagogy theories that L2 educators can review to hopefully avoid making similar mistakes. Hedgcock and Ferris argue that all composition instructors would do well to remember that “effective writing instruction must take the context of writing into account.” (87). This generation of L2 teachers must be cautious to not lose the purpose of writing instruction by getting caught up in all the fine details. Minutiae are helpful at the right place and time, but every assignment and student should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to conclude the best form of instruction.
Chinese composition has clear fundamental variances from the English language and consequently different pedagogy systems. For example, English is an alphabetical system where the symbols represent sounds without any associated meanings attached. Chinese writing, on the other hand, is a logographical system where each symbol or mark represents a specific meaning. Since Chinese instructors are dealing with specific symbols attached to specific meanings, studies carried out in China have shown that “full literacy [of the language] requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.” (Norman 1). This memorization can be an extensive process where much of the early Chinese pedagogy is devoted strictly to acquiring a vocabulary. Since there are many symbols with distinct differences, the art of calligraphy is also highly developed in China and crucial to composition pedagogy (Norman 1). For Chinese education as a whole, most pedagogy leading up to the 20th century was center on “follow[ing] the traditions and rules…there was no need for the common people to know why.” (History of Education in China). The country’s reform in the late 1970s opened its citizens up to the outside world and simultaneously ushered a new era for the education system. The National People’s Congress propagated the “Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China” in 1986, therefore “placing basic education in the country on a firm legal basis [where] China started a system of 9-year compulsory education.” (History of Education in China). Education requirements increased over the next two decades, eventually placing significant importance on higher education. Money was also poured into the research and development of pedagogical systems, and “between 2005 and 2012, the number of researchers in China increased by 38% and the number of published research articles from higher education institutions in China increased by 54%.” (History of Education in China).
It is clear that the histories of composition in China and America have varied significantly, especially in regard to the fundamental aspects and overall goals of education. Perhaps, however, the greatest differences for composition learners lie not within the classrooms, but in the homes of the two respective countries. Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor, is one of the more recent contributors to this topic in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the phrase “tiger mother” commonly used to refer to a popular parenting style of Chinse parents. Although some may be opposed to the idea of stereotypical parenting styles within cultures, Chua states that Chinese parents devote “approximately ten times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children” as opposed to Western parents (5). This structured schedule which may seem excessive to Euro-American standards finds harmony with the Chinese language itself which is comprised of over 50,000 characters and requires ample time and discipline to master. According to Chua’s interview with Time Magazine, she believes one of the root causes for different styles in parenting, and therefore education, is that “Western parents seem much more concerned about their children’s psyches, their self-esteem, whereas tough immigrant parents assume strength rather than fragility in their children and therefore behave completely differently.” (Luscombe). This intense relationship between parent and child seems to generally propel the child further in the Chinese culture because the child finds her sense of drive from the parent to succeed. In Chua’s case, she makes one daughter, Lulu, “play piano late into the night until she gets the piece exactly right, with no water or bathroom breaks…she never lets her girls have sleepovers or do drama at school or get less than an A on report cards…[the] result: daughter gets to play a piano recital at Carnegie Hall.” (Luscombe).
In comparison to the Chinese style of parenting, it would at first appear that the lenient, Western parenting approach would only make a child soft and set him up for failure in education and beyond. It is quite the opposite, however, for the Western child, too, finds harmony with the parenting style he is born into. The reason for a child’s success in the classroom internationally is based strongly on motivation which is “understood to come from within an individual in Western families,” but “Asian children find strength in parental expectations.” (Parker 1). Western parents spend much of their time cultivating the child and helping him discover his sense of self, hoping that their love and confidence in him will prompt him to want to do his best. The self-discovery process is believed to foster critical and creative thinking that will not come from an authoritarian approach. In contrast, many Chinese parents insist their child dedicate herself to her duties, for “most things are not fun until [one is] good at them and to get good at them, [one] ha[s] to work extremely hard…kids on their own will not want to work hard at something.” (Luscombe). While the American parents tend to encourage independence, Chinese parents stress the need for interdependence. Fu, a doctoral student in psychology and the lead author of the Stanford study, explains that “while European American parents give their children wings to fly on their own, Asian American parents provide a constant wind beneath their children’s wings. (Parker 1). The differences were even evident in the ways that students described the parents. For example, the Chinese students were more apt to discuss the relationship they had with their parents and how they pushed them to succeed, while the American students described their parents as individuals—their parent’s interests, physical appears, memories of outings and activities— (Parker 1). Neither approach is wrong, and both have great benefits for their children when applied from a nurturing and well-intending perspective. Perhaps recent Stanford research sums it up best: “even if Asian and Western parenting styles differ radically, they represent two paths to the same destination.” (Parker 1).
There are strengths and weaknesses to both parenting styles, both cultures, and both education systems. To be an effective teacher in one’s respective homeland to students of the same nationality presents enough challenges of its own. A successful L2 teacher must be willing to go a step further and immerse herself in the background of her students. Not that she must spend years abroad in the other countries, but she should, at the very least, have a solid understanding of the social, familial, and educational norms of the L2 learner’s country. For example, based on the aforementioned data, if a theoretical Chinese student was told by his teacher to write a self-prompted piece with little to no guidelines, he may feel intimidated because not only is he struggling with a new language, he is also culturally used to guidance and structure which is lacking in this exercise; he relies on the factor of interdependence. This student needs an assignment catered to him or at the least some one-on-one time and encouragement from the instructor. Likewise, if an American student studying abroad in China was forced to partake in a far more excessively regimented school structure than she is used to with little to no creative outlet, she would crumble and feel defeated, perhaps even dehumanized. This student needs more breaks and encouragement, or at the least, a variety in lesson plans to keep her attention and give her a sense of diversity and independence. Returning to the analogy of the soccer player, a good coach knows the player’s strengths for football (being able to kick the ball well and far, having a relationship with the teammates, competitive gaming, etc.) as well as his weaknesses (not understanding the game rules, being unfamiliar with plays and positions, having different techniques, etc.) and he praises the strong areas while strengthening the weak ones. This transition would not be possible if the coach was uneducated in sports as a whole or spent little time researching the player’s past. Similarly, an effective instructor will always be aware of her students’ background and needs so she can utilize the best pedagogy methods to ensure success.
“A Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition.” The Bedford Bibliography: History of Rhetoric
and Composition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.macmillan learning.com/catalog/static/bsm/bb/history.html>.
Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. Print.
Ferris, Dana, and John Hedgcock. Teaching L2 Composition: Purpose, Process, and Practice.
Third ed. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014. Print.
“History of Education in China.” History of Education in China – China Education Center. China
Education Center Ltd., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017. <http://www.chinaeducenter.com/en/ chistory.php>.
Luscombe, Belinda. “Chinese vs Western Mothers: Q&A with Amy Chua.” Time. Time, 11 Jan.
- Web. 02 May 2017. <http://healthland.time.com/2011/01/11/chinese-vs-western-mothers-q-a-with-amy-chua/>.
Norman, Jerry. “Chinese Writing.” China Learning Initiatives. Asia Society, n.d. Web. 01 May
Parker, Clifton B. “Tiger moms’ vs. Western-style mothers? Stanford researchers find different
but equally effective styles.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 20 May 2014. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/may/asian-european-moms-052014.html>.
Reid, E. Shelley. “Anxieties of Influencers: Composition Pedagogy in the 21st Century.”
International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature 4.1 (2014): 241-49. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Russell, David R. “Composition’s History” Research on Composition, 1983-2003, Ed. Peter
Smagorinsky. Urbana, IL: NCTE. Teachers College Press, 2006.
“Taking Advantage of the Reading/Writing Connection.” Empowering Writers. Empowering
Writers., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
Varnum, Robin. “The History of Composition: Reclaiming Our Lost Generations.” International
Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature 4.1 (2014): 39-55. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.