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Chapter 5 Interaction “One important controversy currently engaging scholars and teachers of writing involves the role of audience in composition theory and pedagogy. How can we best define the audience of a written discourse? What does it mean to address an audience? To what degree should teachers stress audience in their assignments and discussions ?” (Ede & Lunsford, 1994) “In a number of senses, all writing is social and even shot through with the words and thoughts of others. Nevertheless, writers often fit their words better to outside readers when they put those readers out of mind for a while and write privately to try to make sure their words fit themselves and their own experience of things.” (Elbow, 1999) “Teachers, especially of composition and foreign languages , must do more to inform themselves about the cultural differences between themselves and their students —differences that left unexamined can give rise to charges of ‘plagiarism’ and ‘intellectual dishonesty,’ when the disagreements usually arise from different theories of knowledge, patterns of discourse, and cultural values.” (Dryden, 1999) “Unfortunately, some of the cultural stereotypes associated with ESL students have led to oversimplification in teaching about plagiarism.” (Bloch, 2001) “For all composition teachers, the proliferation of electronic texts has meant both that there are more opportunities for students to conduct research and that there are more opportunities for them to copy texts and pass them off as their own.” (Bloch, 2001) 155 L E A D I N G Q U E S T I O N S • What kinds of interactions take place in L2 writing classes, for example, with texts and with people, and what issues are associated with those interactions, such as audience considerations and peer interaction? • What kinds of real and imagined audiences do we intend L2 writing students to interact with? • What kinds of decisions do teachers need to make about interactive writing practices such as textual borrowing? • What are some of the cultural issues surrounding the Western concept of plagiarism? Introduction to the Issues Interaction is a word we often see associated with studies of second language acquisition, a common belief being that children and adults learn a second language in great part by interacting with other people. Through these interactions, they receive input, negotiate and construct meaning, acquire sociolinguistic competence, and develop strategies for communication even when their language proficiency is low. These kinds of interactions are quite transparent to observers and to learners themselves. In L2 writing, the concept of interaction is somewhat less transparent, if only because it is so common to consider writing a solitary act—a writer alone with only a pen, pencil, or word processor. However, a great deal of research in both first and second language writing has shown the many ways that writing is an interactive social practice (Nystrand, 1989; Thompson, 2001), involving interactions of many kinds. These interactions happen with present and absent others through discussion and reading and with oneself in different guises as well (e.g., planner, reader, critic, autobiographical and historical self). Teachers of L2 writing need to understand the social 156 Controversies in Second Language Writing and interactive aspects of writing in order to make good decisions about how to help their students improve and in order to understand the challenges and problems they face along the way, particularly in a school setting. All literacy practices in school settings involve interactions of some kind: readers with authors, writers with imagined and real audiences, writers with other collaborators and peers, writers with evaluators and critics. Researchers of L2 writing, too, need to factor into their research plans the interactive nature of writing. Not all aspects of a social, interactive view of L2 writing are controversial , of course, so in this chapter I discuss only two areas in which some controversy exists and around which L2 writing teachers face difficult decisions. These areas concern issues of audience and of plagiarism. A major dilemma in classroom writing contexts concerns audience—an interaction between writers and someone who reads what we write. Good writing teachers help their students understand the importance of audience, without a clear vision of which we don’t know how to advise students about their writing. But who is the audience for classroom L2 writing ? It is certainly the teacher—the one who reads everything, marks some or all of students’ drafts, and gives some kind of grade or score, if not on individual pieces of writing, then at the end of a term. Students know this well...


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