Teaching academic writing in a South African context : an evaluation of the drafting-responding process used to develop the academic writing of students in a first year media course at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
The provision of written lecturer feedback at the draft stage of a draft-response-redraft process is an extensively used tool in the process genre approach to teaching academic writing. It is also regarded as an important vehicle for mediating access to the academic discourse community for students. This study has as its foundation the view that knowledge and learning is socially constructed and therefore, it is believed that the process of learning academic writing is closely related to a process of acculturation into the world of academic discourse (Quinn, 2000). There is a need to be aware that while students need these skills to succeed in the academic context, we need to be critical of the process of apprenticeship that takes place. Research has shown that although the process genre approach is widely used, the effectiveness of the intervention and the precise impact of this on the students and their essay writing skills have yet to be fully explored. This study uses a case study methodology, including an analysis of usable feedback points (Hyland, 1998) to evaluate the effectiveness of the draft-response-redraft process in facilitating the acquisition of academic writing skills and mediating access to the academic discourse community. The effectiveness of written lecturer feedback on student essays at the draft stage for twelve students doing a first year level tertiary Media Course (with the teaching of academic writing skills as a stated outcome) is explored. A survey of the responses of ninety students doing the course and a focus group discussion with nine students provide a context for a more detailed case study of the essays and responses of twelve students. These students were selected in order to obtain a range of age, gender, mother tongue, schooling background and marking lecturer in the data. The findings show that written feedback is perceived by the students to be valuable and most feel positive about participating in a draft-feedback-response process. However, the relationship between feedback points and improvement is not clear. Individual student factors and the dynamic interaction that takes place make every case unique. The evidence in this study supports the theory that re-writing facilitates improvement (Fathman and Whalley, 1990; Polio et al 1998 and Robb et al 1998) and shows that even brief or sketchy feedback does stimulate revision and can result in writing improvement, although whether this process assists in the long-term development of academic writing skills is the subject for another study. This study supports research which indicates that the dynamic interaction between lecturer and student in the draft-response-redraft process can facilitate the acquisition of academic literacy and mediate access to the academic discourse community. The data did, however, highlight aspects of the process that need to be implemented in order for the positive potential of the learning experience to be fully realised.