Theory and practice of teaching composition in Syrian universities

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 1991
Thesis identifier
  • T6934
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis argues that there is an urgent need to reform current methods of teaching English composition to Syrian university students. It shows how current teaching methods relating to writing skills in English, especially methods seeking to develop strategies for organising information beyond the sentence level, are ineffective. Having identified shortcomings in current approaches to writing skills - and since composition is almost a neglected area in English classes in Syrian universities - this study proposes a set of detailed practical proposals for teaching English composition to Syrian university students. In doing so, it takes its directions from analysis, within the thesis, of writing problems faced by Syrian students of English. Generally, the principle underlying current methods of teaching English as a foreign language in Syria is that of a focus on providing students with knowledge of English grammar. Syrian educationalists believe this by itself is enough to produce students who are competent in writing. To find out how efficient such methods actually are, or whether they produce the results aspired to, an examination of grammatical errors in the performance of a group of Syrian students is carried out. Besides the question of the effectiveness of current methods of grammar teaching, however, this research also explores other issues, especially issues concerning strategies used for organising information at both the sentence and paragraph level. The second objective of the study, then, is to assess whether current teaching methods are successful in producing generally competent writers in English. To meet this second aim, a corpus of data is collected and analysed on the 'basis' of arguments put forward by Kintsch (1974) and Sanford and Garrod (1981). As well as investigating issues of information structure in students' writing, this analysis makes it possible to confirm or disconfirm Kaplan's Contrastive Rhetorical Hypothesis (1966), and so reflects on the broad question of crosscultural difficulties in composition that EFL students routinely face. In the light of the above findings, two types of proposal are made: recommendations regarding directions for future studies in contrastive rhetoric and error analysis, and for the teaching of writing in Syria in particular. It is suggested at the beginning of the thesis that there is an urgent need for a change in emphasis in the writing practices carried out in Syrian university classes. The thesis concludes that, instead of concentrating primarily on the teaching of grammatical rules, the communicative functions of writing need to be given more attention. Since ways of teaching writing depend on appropriate modes of assessing writing, the thesis ends with a proposed new schedule of assessment to suit the change in teaching focus outlined in the thesis. Presentation of this new model of assessment is linked to critical description of the ways in which writing is currently assessed in Syrian university classes; and suggestions for future research in assessment are offered.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 1991
Former identifier
  • 215260