Tussle for „Standards‟ in ESL Writing in India A Study of School English Teachers‟ Insistence on „Correctness‟ and „Appropriateness‟

Deepesh Chandrasekharan


Though both writing and speaking are means of producing language, writing isgenerally accorded greater status by teachers because it is recorded and therefore morepermanent. Unlike speech, which is decided based on the actual listener, writing usuallyinvolves taking into account not the actual reader but an imagined reader. In mostacademic contexts however, students write knowing that their teacher is the reader.Therefore, such writing bears the burden of inviting bigger scrutiny by teachers who arevery particular about „correctness‟ and adherence to „standards‟. Several scholars havequestioned this insistence on „appropriateness‟ and „correctness‟ (Fairclough (1992),Clark and Ivanic (1997)) and have pointed out how social judgments about intelligenceand „educatedness‟ are made on the basis of „physical‟ aspects like handwriting,spelling and punctuation or depending on the grammaticality of sentence structures.

Schools are known to uphold the notions of „correctness‟ and „standards‟. In thegrassroots-multilingual Indian context, questions need to be asked about the importanceschool English teachers place on these aspects while assessing their students‟ writingand about how consistent each teacher‟s view of „standard‟ is with that of the others.

The paper reports the findings of a qualitative study involving school Englishteachers‟ perception of „correctness‟ and „standard English‟ and the importance theylaid on spelling, punctuation, handwriting and grammatical correctness. It uses sampleanswers by learners and points out the inconsistencies and subjectivities that are foundin understanding „correctness‟ and „standards‟ and problematizes them. It alsoinvestigates the need for teachers to take into account use-related aspects like context,purpose, identity and social relations and tries to analyze if possibly more importantaspects of writing such as the choice of wording and the style of writing are neglected inthe keenness to be normative.

Key words: Standards, Correctness, Grammar, ESL writing, Indian schools

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