The 'training wheels' of academic essay writing: Considered, coordinated and collaborative use of writing models for commencing HE students
Given the significant increase in non-traditional students and changing pathways into higher education (HE), the need to scaffold academic literacies development for commencing students has never been greater. Writing models are recognised as useful in this process, particularly in relation to academic essay writing. However, there are reservations and concerns with the use of writing models in teaching and learning in HE. These include that models can oversimplify the writing process, inhibit development of writer identity, limit creativity and expression, and lead to an impression that writing conventions and structures are fixed and unchanging (Macbeth, 2010). A further concern is the perceived impact of writing models on assessment processes, including issues of plagiarism and imitation. These various concerns lead to resistance to more extensive use of writing models in HE curricula, or their use only in limited ways. This paper argues for a more considered and coordinated use of writing models, involving closer collaboration between discipline teachers and Academic Language and Learning (ALL) educators. It advocates for student imitation of writing models to be accepted as a legitimate and necessary stage in some students’ formative development as academic writers, and recommends making the purpose and intended uses of writing models clearer to all, including both students and academic staff. The paper uses the analogy of ‘training wheels’ on a bicycle to explore some of these themes, including why writing models may be valuable, their limitations, and their likely longer term impact on commencing HE students’ development as academic essay writers.