International Journal of Research in English Education

Scaffolding ESL Tertiary Students’ Challenges with Essay Genre: A Systemic Functional Linguistics Perspective

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Essay genres are often employed to assess learning at higher education. Students are sometimes required to write essay in examinations and assignments. The expectations of assessors in writing essays are students’ ability to present analytical and reasoned arguments and to engage with alternative viewpoints. In fact, in evaluating essays, assessors consider the extent to which a student is able to meet these expectations. However, students may have challenges meeting these expectations and instructors, particularly instructors in the discipline, may not be prepared to provide students with an explicit linguistic description of how these expectations are met. Thus, this study draws from Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to scaffold students’ challenges in meeting the expectations of essay genre. In fact, it uses Dreyfus et al’s (2010) 3 x 3 linguistic toolkit to analyze essays written by postgraduate students in the department of English at one university in India. The 3 x 3 linguistic toolkit is used to zoom in student’s challenges in controlling the resources of SFL’s three metafunctions (ideational, interpersonal, and textual) at the level of whole text, paragraph, and sentence. After the analysis, the findings revealed that students face challenges controlling the resources of the three modes of meaning at all levels. These challenges include difficulties in grammar, lexical choices, punctuation, following expected organization, answering the question, the use of signposts to create a coherent text, and the use of engagement resources to develop a consistent argument. This study has implications for teaching and assessing academic writing.