Goals for academic writing

Goals for academic writing: ESL students and their instructors. Ed. by Alister Cumming. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2006. Pp. vii, 203. ISBN 9789027219718. $54.

Reviewed by Sedef Uzuner, State University of New York at Albany

This volume documents the results of a meticulous multi-year study designed to investigate the types of writing goals second language (L2) students set for themselves in university settings, how these goals vary from the goals of their instructors, and how these goals change as students move from English as a second language (ESL) support courses to disciplinary subject courses (vii). With its clear and convincing argumentation, this volume offers a window into the complexities of writing instruction both in ESL support programs and in mainstream university courses.

In the introduction, Alister Cumming explains the rationale, purpose, and conceptual foundations of the study. This valuable introduction can serve as a reference for activity theory, goal theory, and various sociolinguistic concepts related to ESL writing. Following the introduction, the book is divided into three sections.

Section 1 consists of three contributions that discuss the methodology and major findings of the study. Here, the focus is on the experiences of the participants throughout their transition from ESL programs to university classes. Particular attention is given to the similarities and differences in the goals of the instruction in both settings.

Section 2 consists of five chapters (Chs. 5–9) that present case studies of particular groups of participants. Ch. 5 deals with Chinese students’ perceptions of their writing improvement from their studies in ESL programs through their courses at a Canadian university. Ch. 6 depicts ESL students’ and instructors’ assessments of the attainment of writing goals. Ch. 7 looks at the kinds of linguistic realizations expressed by ESL students about their intentions for writing improvement. Ch. 8 documents three Asian students’ writing goals as well as their expression of identity in their texts. Finally, Ch. 9 discusses variations in goal formation and achievement in ESL programs versus university courses.

Section 3 consists of a concluding chapter that describes the implications of this study for pedagogy, policy, and research.

In sum, this volume is a commendable addition to the existing literature on L2 writing at the college level. Unlike previous studies that documented the writing experiences of small groups of ESL learners, this study represents a valuable first step for researchers interested in investigating similar issues with a larger student sample. This volume not only provides instructors with insights into the complexities of writing instruction but also makes recommendations that may be useful for future instructional policies attempting to fill the gap between ESL preparatory programs and university writing courses.