The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 2, September 2001
On Second Language Writing
Tony Silva & Paul Kei Matsuda Eds. (2001)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xxi + 241
Reviewed by Randall
University of Arizona
Second language writing is a field that continues to grow rapidly. With the explosion of the Internet, and the related expansion of business and academic English, L2 composition courses are becoming crucial to the success of ESL students. As the field of L2 writing continues to expand, so does the amount of research being done in the area. In their edited collection, On Second Language Writing, Tony Silva and Paul Kei Matsuda bring together articles that illustrate the diversity of issues important to the field. The fifteen chapters contained in the book cover a variety of topics related to the issue of L2 writing and the authors include many of the prominent names in the field, including Diane Belcher, William Grabe, Liz Hamp-Lyons, Ilona Leki, and Joy Reid, among others.
The first chapter contains an "autobiographical reflection," in which Barbara Kroll examines how her own history of studying, teaching, and researching has shaped her as a scholar and a learner. The next two chapters focus on students in L2 writing. First, in chapter 2, Ilona Leki reviews a number of studies in order to look at how ESL students view ESL writing classes. In chapter 3, Pat Currie shows how common academic policies in U.S. universities may serve to disempower ESL students.
Chapters 4 and 5 examine the issue of second language writing theory from two distinct perspectives. In the former section, William Grabe argues for the eventual creation of a more complete theory of L2 writing, which would, in turn, aid in instruction, assessment, and research in the field. The latter chapter examines the issue of gender in L2 writing theory in relation to research paradigms, discourse style, and cultural sensitivity. Diane Belcher concludes that, in comparison to many other ESL fields, there is reason for optimism.
In chapters 6 and 7, the issues of performing research on L2 writing are explored. The first of these papers consists of Lynn Goldstein's critical analysis of studies that examine teacher feedback to ESL writers. This includes the amount of research done on the topic, the questions asked in those studies, and problems in the research methodology. In Chapter 7, Charlene Polio analyzes studies on L2 writing, with a focus on the factors examined in those works, including overall essay quality, linguistic accuracy, essay complexity, lexical features, content, mechanics, coherence and discourse features, fluency, and revision.
Chapter 8 discusses the history of assessing writing. After an overview of what the first three generations of testing (essay tests, multiple choice, and portfolios), Liz Hamp-Lyons presents what she believes will be the fourth generation, which includes technological, humanistic, political, and ethical elements. In chapter 15, Alister Cumming explores the related issue of standards in L2 writing. Based on two studies he performed previously, the author presents four challenges facing L2 writing: defining the construct, determining what students have learned, making a connection between L2 writing and other subjects, and accounting for variation in language.
Chapters 9, 11, 12, and 14 all loosely relate to the issue of politics in ESL. The first focuses on how to make ESL students and ESL writing an integral part of the university. Trudy Smoke discusses strategies she found successful in her own college, including the use of CBI, interdisciplinary collaboration, obtaining grants for collaboration, and helping students to gain political power. In chapter 11, Sarah Benesch describes the increasing attention to politics in L2 instruction and the backlash from those with "pragmatic views." The author argues that neither viewpoint should be ignored and describes how critical pragmatism would work in L2 composition. In the following chapter, Terry Santos places critical pedagogy into the larger realm of critical applied linguistics. After examining both of these viewpoints and their theoretical backgrounds, she provides pedagogical implications and directions for future research. Chapter 14 examines the author's own role as an instructor, advisor, writing lab director, and liaison. Carol Severino describes how to better prepare ESL students to be their own advocates in the university and what schools can do to better meet these students' needs, including the hiring of more international, immigrant, and bilingual students as teaching assistants.
Chapter 10 focuses on the issue of curriculum design for advanced English for academic purposes (EAP) writers. Joy Reid discusses the need for EAP planners to understand university objectives as a whole and to then design EAP curriculum that connects to that broader curriculum. In chapter 13, Joan Carson studies the connection between L2 writing and second language acquisition (SLA) theories, discussing both how they are similar and different. The author explains a number of key SLA concepts and how they relate to L2 writing.
This collection is not meant to be a textbook for instructors of ESL composition- it contains no exercises or activities for classroom use. Nevertheless, it is a valuable resource for classroom instructors, administrators, and/or researchers in this field. As demonstrated above, the chapters contain information that is pertinent to all of these groups and it is my opinion that it would be a valuable addition to the library of anyone involved in L2 writing.
Over the course of this collection, many of the most important issues facing instructors and researchers in the field of L2 writing are touched upon. While this broad overview is one of the strengths of this work, it may also leave some readers wanting more information on specific areas. In the future, I believe that the main topics covered in this book should be expanded upon so that each one is contained in its own volume. Such a series would be an even more valuable resource for scholars in the field.