International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Jayshree Palit  
The paper aims to critically examine the standard-driven approach to teaching and learning English,  
especially written communication. It questions the notion of standards and seeks to challenge the  
achievement standards given the proficiency level of students in classroom. The paper is an analysis  
of an initiative by the researcher in an undergraduate college affiliated to SNDTWU, Mumbai.  
The research questions were identified. The group of learners selected was FYBA English Medium  
Total strength 132), and a sample size of 60 was taken. A questionnaire ‘Self Assessment of English  
Writing Skills and Use of Writing Strategies’ was administered and analyzed. A WhatsApp group was  
formed in which students participated in writing micro paragraphs in response to different stimuli,  
like topics suggested, pictures, debatable issues etc. The aim was to focus on paragraph writing  
using technology easily available to students and liberating them from classroom control. The students  
were gradually led to write multi paragraph essays of 1 ½ pages in response to topics that challenged  
them to think and express definite points of view. A rubric of expected standards had been prepared  
prior to the implementation of the project. Students were made familiar with the expected outcomes.  
The aim of the paper was to co-relate the findings of the diagnostic study, of the students self awareness  
and use of strategies and the standards set by the researchers with the actual performance of the  
Key Words : Standards - Written communication - Multi paragraph writing.  
At the outset it is important to understand what we mean by ‘ standards’ and interrogate how far the  
standard driven approach to teaching and learning English, especially written communication can  
succeed in our classrooms. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘standard’ as a level of quality and  
achievement that is considered acceptable or desirable; something set up and established by authority  
as a rule for the measure of value or quality; something that is very good and that is used to make  
judgments about the quality of other things.  
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines language proficiency or linguistic proficiency as great skill,  
ability and experience in language or the study of the language .High stakes and standardized testing  
have been followed for years. Students have been subjected to ‘on demand’ writing exams and  
standardized tests of one type or another. Waves of new standards, test-centered curriculum and more  
exams have not really helped. Many educators think that this situation is actually evidence that we  
need more standards, more accountability and more testing.  
However, ‘one size fits all’ curriculum and standardized exams do not fit the changing, decidedly non-  
standardized demographics of contemporary student populations. As a group our students are more  
ethnically, linguistically and socially diverse than ever before. We must understand that one size does  
not fit all when it comes to the teaching of writing skills. Students need to explore their strengths and  
improve areas of weakness, with guidance from teachers, in ways that inspire rather than democratize  
and promote success rather than failure.  
Keeping this in mind, standardization would mean Individual Education Plan (IEP) rather than setting  
an equal standard for all. “Good writing skills” should not fit a narrow, standardized and sanitized  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
definition. Teaching writing skills should be a process, acknowledging the value of students’ personal  
experiences and stories and promoting students’ choice in determining topics for writing. Further, with  
the recent spectacular revolution in digital media, online interactivity, personal communication  
technology and networking, people spend more time on communication on a daily basis. By  
constructively channeling students’ interest in gadgets, media and social networks, we help create  
sophisticated and agile communicators, comfortable with and skilled in a variety of both new and  
conventional ‘literacies’. This situation needs to be explored and studied to help the teacher face the  
challenge of teaching writing skills. Writing skills is best taught as a social and collaborative act.  
It is important to understand the ‘how’ to improve language proficiency as it is the foundation of writing  
skills. One of the ways is to widen the range of readings materials. This helps to improve English  
vocabulary and language comprehension. Students can be given a wide variety of reading material in  
the form of articles drawn from newspapers and magazines. Students should be encouraged to speak  
the language as much as possible. Listening to English programmes, discussing songs, movies etc  
also goes a long way in improving language ability.  
The challenge is to analyse the expected standards in juxtaposition with what is happening in our  
language teaching classrooms. It is a fact that most students do not write as well as we think they  
should. David Smith has proved that most of us have very little basis other than our expectation for  
deciding how well our students write. The interesting question is where we restrict our norms or standards  
which help us to determine what students should accomplish in writing. David Smith is of the view that  
there seems to be a lack of common standard for what we mean, when we claim that our students do  
not write well. This contradicts the argument put forth in this paper. It is illogical to think that we can  
have a common standard given the heterogeneity of both teacher and taught.  
A study of the standards for writing: core standards and required range and contexts show that to be  
college and career- ready, very specific requirements have been stated. There is also, as in the case of  
the Colorado Academic standards in reading, writing and communicating, emphasis on content i.e.  
what do students need to know at FYBA level? How do we know that a student can do it? The paper  
argues for a new paradigm whenever the ELT Teacher determines his/her own learning outcome  
standards this gives autonomy to the teacher and leads to greater effectiveness.  
The standards for good paragraph writing that students can be expected to achieve are as follows.  
The paragraph has a topic sentence which states what the paragraph will be all about. It gives the  
topic of the paragraph and it also restricts the topic to one or two main ideas which can be explained  
fully in the space of one paragraph. Supporting sentences are used to develop the topic sentence  
specifically they discuss the topic sentence by explaining the main ideas more fully using reasons,  
examples, facts, results, statistics or anything that proves the ideas are true. The paragraph must have  
a concluding sentence to signal the end of the paragraph. It can be a paraphrase of the topic sentence.  
By the end of their course students are expected to be able to write paragraphs that have unity and  
coherence i.e. the information is organized logically and there is only one main topic in the paragraph.  
Students should also be able to show the relationship between the ideas through transition signals eg  
first of all, for instance, result of this, another advantage etc.  
In the actual practice of writing the important observation made by David Smith is that, students do not  
write well because they are not taught how to write and do not get sufficient practice in writing. So the  
obvious thing to do, appears to be, to give students opportunities to write, But we are all familiar with  
the typical scene in the classroom. A topic is given by the teacher. Students reluctantly take out their  
writing books and gaze intently at the blank page. Thus “what to write”, “ I can’t think of anything to  
write” are the words that rent the air. It seems as if the students are unable to do what is needed and  
they feel helpless and hopeless.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
The question that inevitably arises is what are the factors that limit the students. Do they lack ideas,  
imagination, articulation, vocabulary, knowledge, grammar. In his article ‘The Real Reasons Students  
Can’t Write’, Laurence Musgrove offers three reasons for errors in writing: they don’t care, they don’t  
know or they didn’t see it. His solution is that students would improve their writing skills if the rules of  
writing were made clear to them, consistently enforced and the consequences of poor writing skills  
made clear. He feels that teachers need not despair and can try out different methods of improving  
writing skills.  
David Gaugin has written on the paragraph- based approach to overcome this problem. He argues  
that there is greater anxiety when students are asked to do writing because there is greater emphasis  
on accuracy and they do not get the “breathing space” which is given to them when speaking, where  
fluency, rather than accuracy is preferred. Gaugin also points out that it is more productive to view not  
the sentence or the essay but rather the paragraph as the basic unit of discourse. The usual approach  
is to first master the sentence, then the paragraph and only then the essay. Gaugin suggests that by  
starting with the paragraph the teacher and student can move back to the sentence and forward to the  
essay as appropriate. A paragraph- based approach thus assumes an organization before grammar  
philosophy. A well organized paragraph (or essay) can then be understood by the reader, even if the  
sentence level grammar is not mistake free.  
David Gaugin’s view seems very practical and the use of the paragraph as the basic unit of discourse  
is what motivated the researcher to try out the approach given in this paper.  
At SNDTWU, paragraph writing is part of the FYBA (English) syllabus. The students usually have one  
lecture per week for writing coupled with one tutorial. The textbook prescribed is an in- house publication  
of the University. - Writing With a Purpose by Dr. Ayesha Banatwala.  
Paul Limone is of the view that students should learn through imitation and discovery. The inexperienced  
writer confuses good writing with a decorative, flowery and ornamental style which disregards structure.  
Concrete goals and behavioral objectives are the cornerstones of an effective writing program, as they  
will provide the teacher with valid evaluative and diagnostic leads and permit the student to achieve  
success. Some pre-writing exercises help students to warm up and take away their fear. Free writing  
exercises are very useful. Students feel liberated from the pressure of writing on fixed topics and for a  
fixed time.  
The next step is to provide a structure. The textbook prescribed for the FYBA is an excellent step- by-  
step method of learning how to write a paragraph, to help students understand that a paragraph must  
have one central idea which should be developed. This central idea controls the paragraph and gives  
it unity. There should not be any unnecessary sentences in the paragraph because they break the  
unity of the paragraph. The central idea is given in one single sentence and is called the topic sentence.  
The next objective is to understand the characteristics of a good topic sentence; reflecting a topic  
sentence; need to develop a paragraph fully. The third step is practice of unity and complete  
development of a topic sentence and choosing a topic sentence and developing a given topic sentence.  
The paper argues for a new paradigm wherein the teacher and student determine their own learning  
outcome standards. The rubric given to students was that they should be able to write short paragraphs  
of about five sentences following the standards set in the textbook.  
The aim was to encourage students to be proactive in improving their writing skills. A supportive  
environment is needed to encourage students to step out and put their ideas on paper or as in this  
case in the WhatsApp group.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
As a diagnostic study, the researchers carried out an assessment of English writing skills. 50% of the  
students felt they could not write a good academic paragraph. But 52% felt that they could write a  
clean topic sentence and 44% said they could organize ideas. 40% said they could logically support  
and develop the main matter. 44% felt they could write appropriate vocabulary. The ratings were high  
for summary (52%) low for writing accurate questions (32%). 44% students felt they could write a good  
introduction for an English essay. They felt they could write a topic sentence (40%) and various patterns  
of organization (48%). 40% of the students could use internet.  
To help overcome their fears about writing and to create a community feeling it was decided to set up  
a Whats App group “Common English” .Teachers also participated as writers to convey a message  
that writing is important, valued and rewarding. The use of Whats App was a means of making the  
process of writing easy and enjoyable. A brief summary of the major inputs well help to give an idea of  
the exercise. The spelling and grammatical errors made by the students were discussed in the  
:36pm, Feb10- +91 7387844412 created group “English group”  
:23pm, Feb10- Request you to write 5sentence on your favorite food  
:35pm, Feb10- +91 7208313325:  
) My favorite food is shahi paneer with chapatti  
) its is delicious in taste  
) paneer is healthy for our body.  
) Most of the people like to eat this food.  
) and wheat flour chapatti is very good for health.  
:37pm, Feb 10- +91 7208313325: This is jasween kaur, roll no 61  
:39pm, Feb 10- wow gd job jasween  
:58pm, Feb10- +91 7738976639: maam can we write on what you like the most  
:58pm, Feb10- +91 7738976639: my favourite food is chicken tikka and chicken roll.  
It is very tasty n crispy  
Most of the people like chicken items.  
Maam nw brain is nt working now only 3 sentence today.  
0:01pm, Feb 10- +91 9167761517: 1) My favorite dish is puran poli also know as (vedmi).  
) It is a special Guajarati dish.  
) It is made up of whole wheat bread filled with sweet moong daal.  
) It is specially made on occasions like holi  
) It is very tasty as well as healthy. Name- Hemal pathak. Roll no-50.  
1:01pm, Feb 10- : Yes any topic idea is to share by writing English  
0:52am, Feb 11- Mitalee: Girls, will u pl post 5lines on a memorable experience? Pl do this within the  
next three days.  
:08pm, Feb 15- +919987806221: 1) The most memorable moment I have come across in my life was  
when I bought my pet Milo  
) He was a 5months old puppy at that time.  
) He was very active who played with my sleepers.  
) I always go back to my childhood as he plays with me.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
) His eyes filled with pure innocence make me cuddle with him as he sees me after long time. This is  
surbhi Sharma roll no.57  
:18pm, Feb 10: Wow Surbhi how lucky. Send a pic of milo I remember the movie The Mask I think you  
meant slippers. really good.  
My most memorable moment is on my birthday..My hole family surprised me at 12:00night..The  
decoration of my room.My hole house was so pretty. N every 2hours passed I reaserved a gift from my  
each family members…N at the time of cake cutting my dad gave me a hug…kiss and my favorite  
mobile…I was feeling soo special…I can’t even express it…  
:20pm, Feb 15- +91 7387844412: Aayushi khakkhar roll no.24.  
It was valentine day n I was in 8 and I started crying m alone everyone gets chocolates , teddy n all so  
m dat day till now my dad be my valentine we celebrated al days n on 14 feb we go out n hve fun…he  
gve me rose, teddy, chocolate, hug, kiss n den candle light dinner love u dad. Beautiful memory  
:21pm, Feb15- : Thanks jasween n god bless you just take care of a few spellings, whole, received.  
By the way, when is your birthday?  
:20pm, Feb 15- +91 7738976639: My most memorable is when my younger brother was born. He is  
now 3yrs old he is the one whom I love the most. Whenever I see him I remember my childhood days.  
He is very naughty and cute whenever I am sad he makes me smile by kissing me on cheeks and keep  
on asking what hd happened to you. I wish everyone should have brother like him. Frm shirin plasterwala.  
0:07pm, Feb 15- Mitalee: very good, shirin. Keep it up  
:42pm Feb 16- Girls here is a new topic to write about. Share your views on how to improve the  
personality contest.  
:23pm Feb 16- +91 7738976639: According to me in personality contest there should be no known  
teacher. And there should be no partiality. If you are judging someone then judge them clearly. In  
personality contest there should be more creative activity like there should not be only dance there  
should be various types of activities which others can also do.  
:24pm Feb 16- +91 73878844412: right point shirin  
:24pm Feb 16- +91 7738976639: even I have noticed partiality in puppet show. The teacher was itself  
a judge of that college.  
:18pm, Feb 17- Let me know what you think about chetan bhagat’s views do you agree?  
:35pm, Feb 17- +91 9987806221: yes I agree with shirin I think freedom of speech should be there  
but in a limit most importantly when you are a public figure, you are a role model to someone or other  
in your life… must not say anything that hurt people, say out of limit.  
:18pm, Feb 23- Girls today is the last day of the 3day Literary festival at SNDT pp please write 5  
Sentence or more about your favorite writer.  
:15pm, Mar 2 A picture is posted by Mitalee  
:27pm, Mar 3- +91 7208323325: looking to this pictures it feels very good that some people is following  
Swatch Bharat Abhyan’… we should also help them. We should also clean things around us. Clean  
city will help us in many ways less infection, no dirty smell, less illness, fever, allergy n many more  
things will face less…it will help us in such a way… jasween kaur.  
:50pm, Mar 14- Girls last micro topic write on your experience about exams. Sad, happy, funny etc.  
0:24pm, Mar 14- +91 9987806221: 3 years before I used to take exams as burden but then I took  
admission here in my college. I was new to Mumbai and the change in my board. I was really anxious  
if I could not do well in exams but then exams approached and I worked hard for them. Out of my  
expectation, I got 1 rank in 11 and 12 which was not I was used to but the moment was very special  
to me. I was very happy and started enjoying exams. Surbhi Sharma roll no.57  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
0:34pm, Mar 14- Wow a very positive and fresh response  
0:35pm, Mar 14- +91 9987806221: thank you mam…though studies are difficult now.  
0:38pm, Mar 14- Exam experiences when we listen this word most of the people get tensed, 90  
percent of the people don’t like exam experience. Only few like it. I like the exam experience because  
during this time only our learned material is checked that how much we know. Because of exams only  
we revise our syllabus. It’s actually fun to study because we grasp new knowledge. We come to know  
various facts. Some of the people don’t like it because they want their life to be easy n comfortable. No  
exams, nothing. But because of studies only we shape our personality and exams also we do well. In  
order to get rid of fear we should take exams positively than negatively. Automatically things will be  
The next stage of the initiative was to test its effectiveness. The students were asked to write on any  
one of the following:  
Do you think young adult are influenced more by their friends or by their family. Which view do  
you support? Use specific reasons to explain your answer.  
Do you prefer to study alone or as part of a group of students. Why? Use specific examples and  
reasons to explain your answer.  
Two scripts words are analyzed for the purpose of showing that the students, the majority of them,  
were able to write an introduction that stated their point of view and developed their ideas.  
Student One:  
I would prefer to study alone without friends. As usually one cannot study in a group as some might  
want to study but there are some disorganized people who tend to disturb others”.  
Student Two:  
In today’s youth young adults don’t give importance to their family they just want to be the way their  
friends are. They “Act in a way, dress in a way”. Which they influence from their friends. Yes! Parent be  
the young adults are been influenced by the friends as they get to have fun, friends help them in bad  
way or good way. The friends which he/she belongs should belong to good group or he/she will act in  
that way to whom they are influenced”.  
The findings of this initative can be summarized as follows. The questionnaire analysis helped to  
establish whether the students were able to assess their English writing skills and the writing strategies  
they used. What’s app group initiative served to show that given the right technology and environment,  
most of the students were happy to participate. The first response came at 9:35 pm and then came the  
interesting question at 9:58 pm “maam can we write on what we like the most. Some were blank:  
maam nw brain is nt working now only 3 sentences today”.  
The momentum of the group involvement also brought to light some of the limitations of this kind of  
initative. The students were using the sms language. This, together with other errors like grammar and  
spellings, was discussed in the classroom. But no great change could be observed. The initative  
turned out to be more of a “learn and fun” exercise. The researcher was encouraging and did not want  
to curb the natural enthusiasm and involvement of the students. it was good to discover other aspects  
of the student’s personality. Many of the topics generated some debate eg. Personality contest, freedom  
of speech and examination. The project started on February 10 2015 and continued till March 23 2015.  
Students posted jokes, stories, poems and pictures. The group Common English is still being used.  
The entire transcript is available with the researchers as documentation.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
However, in the classroom exercises and answer scripts, most of the students were able to generate  
enough language, though with errors, and to express their view point with clarity. The thrust of the  
initiative was on writing paragraphs as per the standard outlined in the paper. Qualitative analysis of  
the scripts shows that most of the the students were able to achieve these standards. It is true that  
quantative analysis of the improvement made by the students would substantiate the claim made by  
the researcher that the college initiative helped to improve make the paragraphs writing skills of students.  
In conclusion the researcher would like to reiterate the view that standards cannot be narrow and have  
to take into account the heterogeneity of the English classroom. The initative taken can be further  
extended into a more serious exercise in facilitating students to write flawlessly. This initative is the first  
step in using technology available to students, together with a supportive and collaborative environment,  
to write naturally and spontaneously while having their errors corrected in the classroom. It was an  
enjoyable and effective experience for both teachers and students.  
Works Cited :  
Gugin David: A Paragraph- First Approach to the Teaching of Academic Writing in English Teaching  
Forum Volume 52 Number 3 2014 print.  
Limone Paul: Effective Methods for Teaching Paragraph Development Retrieved on 6 March 2015  
Laurence Musgrove: The real reasons students can’t write – inside higher ed- Retrieved on 30 April  
Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Maniben Nanavati Women’s College, Vile Parle (W), Mumbai  
400 056. Email : [email protected]