Since 2010, the Chinese government has specified its national goals foreducation and emphasized the importance of improving educational quality throughthe enactment of a series of important documents, including the “Guidelines of theNational Program for Medium and Long-Term Educational Reform and Development(2010-2020)” and “Opinions on Improving the Quality of China’s HigherEducation.”-In 2015, the General Office of the State Council issued “Opinions on theImplementation of Deepening Education Reform on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Universities and Colleges” with -particular stress laid on training innovative andentrepreneurial talents. These documents will significantly help promote higher education and talent training in China.
In the context of further development of China’s education and deepening of its opening up, foreign language education at colleges and universities becomes even more important and should be set with higher goals. Therefore, - to improve the comprehensive-foreign language skills among college students becomes an urgent demand. While the training of communicative skills is a vital task of foreignlanguage education, writing proficiency remains to be further improved. Future
college students are expected not only to be able to obtain information with English but also to engage themselves in international communication and express their ideas in English. This is both the recent demand on students’ English proficiency in the context of China’s national creative development, and the further requirement oncolleges and universities from the perspective of students’ personal development.
In the new century, with a particular emphasis placed on college English education, China’s Ministry of Education has carried out - effective reforms, including the issuing of “College English Curriculum Requirements” (2004, 2007) and the launching of reform projects. In the new context of medium and long-term educational reform, China’s Ministry of Education organized the writing of-“College English Teaching Guidelines” in 2013-and implemented it-in 2015. The guidelines offer a redefinition of English proficiency (including writing proficiency),a specification of basic objectives, as well as intermediate and developmental goals toaccommodate the growing demand of external exchange.
At Renmin University of China, undergraduate education has always been given first priority. With the development of national education and teaching reform,Renmin University had the “Guidelines for Undergraduate Education Reform”designed to meet the latest national and social demands. The Guidelines rank moral cultivation in the first place, and emphasize-students’ all-round development through the cultivating of awareness to-assume responsibility, explore knowledge, improve skills, and serve society. According to the Guidelines, the overall objective of education at Renmin University is to train graduates to be “model citizens” and “social pillars” of great virtues and competent intercultural communications so as to lead their professions at the forefront of their times.
In terms of intercultural communication training, the Guidelines specify the objective of college English as “improving students’ practical skills of using English in international communication.” As a measure for the realization of the objective,the Guidelines stipulate the issuing of “Renmin University of China—Standards of Writing Proficiency in English” (hereinafter referred to as “SWPE”), which will address the questions of what is English writing proficiency and how to improve English writing skills, so that Renmin University graduates are competent English writers in international communication.
English is the most commonly used language in today’s world and theskill of writing in English is deemed to be most indispensable in international communication. China’s increasing engagement in international communication has made it the top priority for universities to train students’ writing skills through college English courses. In this context, improving students’ writing proficiency in English is of both practical and far-reaching significance in the development of college education.
In terms of students’ development, proficient English writing skills, on the one hand, help build self-confidence, increase qualifications, and enhance all-round development, and on the other hand, facilitates international communication and improves efficiency in their work, which are all crucial in economic, social and individual development.
The SWPE is designed in light of the following principles.
(1) The principle of comprehensive English writing proficiency
In a broad sense, comprehensive English writing proficiency is defined as the overall competence that a student has to collect information, analyze reading, make judgment through reflection, generalize ideas, arrange materials, organize language,write online, and compile texts or books. In a narrow sense, however, it entails some other abilities involved in English writing activities, such as brainstorming, text planning, drafting, polishing and editing; the proper use of English words, phrases,sentences, collocations, punctuations, and citations; and the integrated skills with the combination of writing with listening, reading and speaking in all possible ways.
(2) The principle of communicative English writing proficiency
Communicative English writing proficiency refers to the coping strategies needed to re-enforce communicative effect or compensate for insufficient communication.The coping strategies include judging the acceptability of the expressions by the
target audience or their appropriateness in a specific communicative context,choosing proper styles in different situations, selecting appropriate non-linguistic signs to express what is beyond language, and deciding the effect of age, gender, and identity of parties involved in writing communication.
(3) The principle of cultural awareness
Writing and communication in English inevitably involve the expression of the Chinese culture and the understanding of the English cultures. Therefore, it is a prerequisite for students to master Chinese and English cultures in terms of general knowledge of customs, habits, manners, etc. so as to develop multi-cultural awareness. This helps to build students’ ability to expressthe Chinese culture, their awareness to respect the English cultures, and their cross-cultural communication skills.
(4) The principle of overall assessment
A scientific system of assessment is necessary in checking what level of writing proficiency the students have reached in English. Based on the SWPE, the “Renmin University of China—Test of Writing Proficiency in English” (RUC-TWPE) has been developed with an attempt to check how well they have mastered the skills regulated in SWPE so that teachers may re-adjust the contents and ways of instruction while students may reflect upon the problems or insufficiencies in their writing and accordingly make an appropriate plan to improve their overall writing proficiency.
The SWPE is designed with reference to the three levels of writing proficiency,that is the elementary, intermediate and advanced-levels defined in the “CollegeEnglish Teaching Guidelines” issued by the Ministry of Education in 2015 (specified in Appendix I) and to the consideration of the university requirements on students’ English writing skills and students’ actual situation. With the guidance of communicative language teaching theories, the SWPE stresses that the ultimate purpose of English learning is to use it in social activities. Therefore, the contents of SWPE and the definitions of the writing proficiency are made as practical as possible so that the students will be thus encouraged to use English in their writing.
The proficiency levels and descriptions in SWPE are made in correspondence to those in the “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning,teaching, assessment” (hereinafter referred to as “Common European Framework”, or CEF), a universally acknowledged international framework for language proficiency in the world.
The Common European Framework was developed by the Council of Europe in 2001 to provide a common basis for the elaboration of language syllabus, curriculum guidelines, examinations, etc. across Europe. The Common European Framework
divides language users into three broad levels of users and six levels of proficiency. The three broad levels of users include Basic User (Level A), Independent User (Level B) and Proficient User (Level C). The six proficiency levels are (from lower to higher): A1 and A2 for Basic User, B1 and B2 for Independent User, and C1 and C2 for Proficient User. The descriptions of the six-level scale from A1 to C2 in the Common Reference Levels for Writing and Common Reference Levels for GlobalScale can be found in Appendix II.
From the descriptions of the lowest level A1 as “can write a short, simple postcard and fill in forms, …” to that of the highest level C2 as “can write clear,smoothly flowing text in an appropriate style, … and reviews of professional or literary works”, the Common European Framework provides clear and specific criteria for different levels of writing proficiency so that all member countries could make corresponding learning goals, teaching principles and assessment standards.As has been mentioned above, with a reference to both the College English Teaching Guidelines and the Common European Framework, the SWPE provides specific descriptions of different levels of proficiency for English Writing I, English Writing II and Academic English Writing as the three objectives for undergraduates to attain in English writing. The specific information is as follows.
First, surveys in the form of questionnaires, interviews, and aptitude tests suggest that students have no access to training in writing in secondary school and are therefore at the starting stage in English writing. To lay a foundation for writing, the SWPE designs English Writing I, in which students are required to acquire basic vocabulary, sentence patterns, commonly used types of writing (description,narration, letters, etc.), basic rhetoric, and punctuation. English Writing I is the first and basic stage of English writing teaching.
Second, with the completion of English Writing I comes English Writing II,which is set as the extension to train a higher level of writing proficiency. The SWPE takes English Writing II as its central part, in which students are expected to have a complete mastery of expository and argumentative writing as a preparation for future international communication after they graduate. English Writing II is the second and intermediate stage of English writing teaching.
Third, according to the requirement of training international talents of high levels at Renmin University of China, the SWPE has Academic English Writing designedin addition to English Writing I and English Writing II, with the purpose of training students’ basic skills and strategies of academic English writing.Academic English Writing includes such content as the introduction, definition,and steps of writing academic papers, selection of research topics and arguments,resource finding, formation of research questions, outlining, organization of papers,citations, references, and abstract writing. Academic English Writing is the third and developmental stage of English writing teaching.
The design of English Writing I, English Writing II and Academic EnglishWriting as the constitutional parts of the SWPE follows the theoretical principles,proficiency descriptions and core issues designated in the College EnglishTeaching Guidelines and the Common European Framework and reflect the special requirements from Renmin University of China and the expectations from the students as well. The correlation is shown in Figure 1.1.
As Figure 1.1shows, the three objectives of English Writing I, English Writing II and Academic English Writing in the SWPE are designed on the basis of the national guidelines, university requirements and students’ expectations, all of which are supported by the principles of the Common European Framework and interact in a complementing and correlating relation. First, the three objectives reflect the directions given by the College English Teaching Guidelines about the proficiency that college students should attain in English writing. Second, the objectives are the requirements that Renmin University has on improving students’ English competence. Third, the objectives are derived from the demand and expectations of the students themselves for better communication in the new context of global engagement. In an overall sense, the three objectives of writing proficiency couldonly be realized with the support of the national guidelines, university requirements and individual expectations under the theoretical guidance of the universally accepted principles in the Common European Framework.