The Importance of Writing Instruction: A Lithuanian Perspective
By Monique Yoder
M.A. TESOL – English Instructor
LCC International University
LCC International University in Klaipėda, Lithuania has developed significantly since Harbord’s 2010 survey of writing within Central and Eastern European institutions. Today, LCC has about 500 students with an international student population hailing from nearly 25 countries. About 50% of the student body is Lithuanian while the rest comes from Latvia, non-EU nations, and Central Asia. An Intensive English Program (IEP) was established in 2007 to support in-coming freshmen whose academic English proficiency level does not meet admissions standards. By taking one or two semesters of IEP, students are able to gain basic academic communication skills needed in order to function in an English-medium university. At the post-undergraduate level, two graduate programs have also become available: M.A. TESOL in 2008 and a dual M.A. in International Management / M.B.A. in 2014.
Founded by North Americans (from both Canada and the US) in 1991, LCC maintains its identity as a North American-style liberal arts university with a mission to teach through a Christian worldview. The majority of faculty has received higher degrees from North American institutions. Faculty members are mostly from Canada, the US, or Western Europe; however, one-third of faculty members are from Lithuania. Considering its founding purpose to offer a North American-style university, LCC will continue to instruct academic writing within a North American framework.
Since the 2012-13 academic year, Lithuania now requires its undergraduate students to write an undergraduate thesis in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Washback from this national policy has forced LCC to evaluate its composition and content courses across the disciplines in order to equip students with the tools necessary to perform and write up original research.
As a result, first-year composition courses at LCC now require students to write an annotated bibliography on self-selected research topics for their argumentative compositions. In second- and third-year instruction within disciplines, students are taught how to write a literature review within a content course. These literature reviews are specific to the discipline and follow APA or MLA guidelines, depending on the student’s major. In the year before their final year of study, students take a research methods course specific to their discipline. This course not only teaches students research methodology, but also reinforces annotated bibliography, literature review, and research writing learned in previous courses. In students’ final year of study, they take two semesters of Thesis. The first part of Thesis requires students to do preliminary research using peer-reviewed publication sources, accompanied by an annotated bibliography, and draft a research proposal introduced by a literature review. The proposal then undergoes a preliminary defense in front of a faculty panel as a sort of quality control check. Students who receive a satisfactory assessment in the defense then move on to second semester of Thesis and can then execute their research study, analyze data, write their thesis, and then defend before graduation. Students are paired with a faculty mentor throughout this process to help guide students’ research and writing.
EFL writing instruction in Serbia: One perspective on emerging trends
By Brooke Ricker Schreiber
PhD Candidate, Pennsylvania State University
My comments here are based on my experiences both as a foreign instructor teaching EFL writing in Serbia, and as a researcher in the English departments of two universities there. While writing instruction and assessment practices vary, it is clear that writing is a deeply entrenched component of English language education at the university level. As Harbord (2010) points out, writing in Eastern and Central Europe tends to be taught as a means of developing students’ linguistic proficiency in English rather than as a skill in its own right. This is certainly traditionally the case in Serbia, where writing instruction takes place most visibly each semester as part of sets of “practical” courses designed to improve students’ language competence. Writing is thus taught in parallel with translation and grammar courses, and like them is assessed by timed exams, a structure shaped by custom, by university policy, and by participation in the Bologna Process. These courses tend to focus on expanding and improving students’ vocabulary and syntax, and rely on typical five-paragraph essay types, such as compare and contrast and opinion essays. The pedagogical materials used in these courses are almost exclusively North American or British, although instructors selectively adapt these materials for their own purposes, and are beginning to produce their own EFL textbooks for their students. The ultimate focus of these courses is on preparing students for their eventual work as teachers and translators, and improving students’ abilities to both use and talk about the language.
However, within these “practical” courses (and in additional elective courses), the trend seems to be for individual instructors in Serbian universities to find ways to integrate both practical (business) genres and sourced-based writing into their practice. For example, at both universities at which I conducted research, in the fifth semester of the practical writing course, the midterm examination task is for students to write a cover letter for a job application as a timed essay exam. After several weeks of classwork on curriculum vitae and cover letter writing, for the exam, students are given both an invented student resume and a job description, and must write a one-page cover letter which draws on the information provided. This task, while faithfully adhering to the length and time requirement of the exam structure, gives the students a writing task with a clear audience and purpose, one which aims to be as authentic as possible within the given constraints. In another semester, a group of instructors have developed an exam task which incorporates academic citation. Students spend class time reading and discussing a set of academic sources around a chosen topic, and in the final exam must answer a question about that topic relying on the sources for support. There also seems to be a new (or perhaps renewed) interest in the use of technology to facilitate interaction around writing; Serbian writing instructors are increasingly turning to class blogs on which students post their writing and receive teacher and peer feedback as a means of promoting the potential for a community of writers inherent in the practical writing courses.
In the Serbian university, EFL writing pedagogy is arguably an emerging hybrid, one which works to fit audience-driven and source-based writing tasks into both the examination system and the overarching goals of language instruction.
Perspectives on Writing from Romania
By Ligia Mihut
Assistant Professor, PhD
Barry University, Miami Shores, FL
(this section is a brief summary of a more comprehensive article, “Academic Writing: Global Views and Romanian Trends” (2004) written by Sonia Pavlenko, Cristina Bojan, Andrei Kelemen, and Mihaela Aluas, TRANSYLVANIAN REVIEW 23.1, 259-270)
Concerns with academic writing in Europe emerged in the 1990s. Pavlenko et al. introduce Dirk Siepmann’s classification of Anglo-Saxon style (covering both UK and the US), the French intellectual style, and the German style. The distinction between them resides in heightened attention to theory, data analysis, or ornate language.
Since a significant portion of the article is devoted to definitions of academic writing but also to distinctive writing traditions—the Anglo-Saxon, French, and German—it is notable that scholars in this region, in this case Romania, seek to situate their current practices relative to other historical traditions. These intellectual traditions, as noted earlier, involve writing in a different language but they also emphasize a distinct intellectual way expressed through logical processes, data analysis, and purpose—to advance a theory, to engage in dialog, or to display eloquence. Such an orientation towards established writing traditions/ histories may seem necessary since Romania, and many other countries in Southern and Eastern Europe occupy a small territory and their languages are only used by a small number of people. I call this scholarly positioning present in other scholars’ accounts from this region an orientation to dialog, a particular openness to engage other perspectives while simultaneously establishing a particular identity in the field of academic writing.
As Pavlenko et al. explain, Romania has a particular history that shapes writing instruction in higher education institutions. Notable is the censorship of written communication prior to 1989—the year that marks the end of the Communist regime. The suppression of writing was first accomplished through an increase of literature reviews, a writing genre that would increase the visibility of established, state-approve works rather than promote original ideas, and through the removal of research from higher education. According to Pavlenko et al., research activity was redirected to the so-called research institutes where control over this activity could be established more easily. Although Romanian universities underwent significant changes especially since Romania’s integration in the European Union in 2007, many obstacles remain standing. Financial difficulties represent a major impediment, but perhaps the most pervasive is limited training in rhetoric and writing conventions of advisors and faculty. In conclusion, the authors propose that writing instruction in Romania would best develop if academic writing courses would be incorporated in a bachelor degree, and specialized writing centers would serve the needs of graduate students and faculty.
Harbord, J. (2010). Writing in Central and Eastern Europe: Stakeholders and directions in initiating change. Across the Disciplines, 7. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/harbord2010.cfm