Revolution Lullabye

June 12, 2013

Lawrick, Students in the First-Year ESL Program: Revisiting the Notion of ‘Traditional’ ESL

Lawrick, Elena. “Students in the First-Year ESL Program: Revisiting the Notion of ‘Traditional’ ESL.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 27-58.

Through a study that involved surveying students who were enrolled in Purdue University’s ESL Writing Program, Lawrick argues that there is not a homogeneous profile for ESL students at American universities. Lawrick argues that writing program policies and the pedagogical practices used in the ESL writing classroom need to be updated to account for the variety of language backgrounds, English instruction, and composition instruction of ESL students.

Lawrick’s study, which is based on a nine-item questionnarie given to the students in 13 sections of Purdue University’s ESL first-year writing course, shows that most students enrolled in Purdue’s ESL program are international ESL students and that these students have had previous instruction in both English langauge and in composition in their own first languages. Often, ESL courses are designed as a first introduction to both English and composition, and Lawrick’s study shows that instructors and designers of these courses need to find better ways to account for the experiences and knowledge international ESL students bring to the course.

Lawrick’s survey also shows that many international ESL students are reluctant to take a first-year writing course designed for ESL students in their first semester because of the pressure to keep up their grades and adjust to life in the US.  Lawrick recommends delaying the first-year writing requirements for international ESL students to the second semester so that these students have a chance to adjust to their university studies before taking on the required first-year writing class.

Notable Notes

good literature view/discussion of the rise of the domestic ESL student, patterns and trends in global English

detailed data analysis of the level of English instruction and preparation in writing skills among international ESL students from different countries

Quotable Quotes

“…the ESL Writing Program has to maintain a delicate balance between the need to provide a supportive learning environment and the need to challenge students to develop their writing proficiency to a level allowing for their competent performance in content college courses” (54).

“In addition to ideological adjustments, it is essential to develop pedagogical approaches and assessment practices that provide a challenging yet supportive learning environment for international undergraduate writers by integrating – rather than denying – their previous backgrounds in English and composition” (54).

“In a U.S. FYC course, such students need to be taught how to adjust their linguistic and rhetorical repertoires to Standard American English, rather than to learn them from scratch” (50).

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January 4, 2013

Matsuda, Let’s Face It

Matsuda, Paul. “Let’s Face It: Language Issues and the Writing Program Administrator.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 141-163. Print.

Matsuda argues that writing program administrators need to establish clear policy statements for grammar teaching and grading in light of reseach that shows the complexity of second language acquisition.  Matsuda contends that it is unfair to assume language homogenity in the writing classroom – the idea that all students come to the writing classroom with the same linguistic resources – especially in light of the increasing international student population in American universities. Futhermore, Matsuda uses scholarship from second language writing and linguistics to show that even with written grammar feedback on student writing, improvement in a student’s grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awarenss may not take place or may take place very slowly.  Therefore, using the principle of instructional alignment (where outcomes, instructional methods, and assessment strategies align), Matsuda argues that second language writers should not be marked down for their grammatical errors, since it is often impossible for teachers to teach students grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awareness in just a single semester.

Matsuda points to the field’s turn away from language issues as one of the reasons why writing teachers are so confounded with second language writing issues.  He also suggests the adoption of pedagogical grammar, and encourages WPAs and writing teachers to learn methods of pedagogical grammar (which is grounded in applied linguistics) in order to help raise students’ metalinguistic awareness.

Notable Notes

nice overview of scholarship in comp/rhet that argues for and against attention to grammar and language issues (147-154)

uses the WPA Outcomes Statement to show that although attention to style and grammar is part of first-year writing outcomes, the extent to which students master style or grammar or the weight placed on style and grammar is not specificied in the outcomes. (145)

writing teachers need to provide grammar feedback – it will not guarantee learning, but it will faciliate it (not giving feedback won’t.)

Quotable Quotes

“The key is to focus on the development of linguistic resources rather than to focus on deficits” (156). Punishing students for errors can backfire when students avoid complex constructions on purpose.

“As a rule of thumb, the proportion of grammar grades should not exceed the proportion of grammar instruction provided that can guarantee student learning. If, for some reason, the program or the institution deems it important and necessary to assess students based on the myth of linguistic homogeneity – that is, to demand that all students meet the standards that can be expected only of life-long users of the dominant variety of English – then reasonable provisions need to be made to accomodate those who do not fit the profile, including second language writers and users of non-dominant varieties of English” (157).

“If grammar feedback does not guarantee learning, is it fair to hold students accountable? If we take the principle of instructional alignment seriously, the answer would have to be negative, and we need to stop punishing students for what they do not bring with them” (155).

January 3, 2013

Simpson, The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support

Simpson, Steve. “The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support: Building a Cross-Campus Graduate Writing Initiative.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 95-118. Print.

Simpson explains that graduate writing instruction is a growing area of need in American universities, and he argues that writing programs should take the lead in addressing this need.  Graduate students at American universities, especially those students in the sciences and engineering, are under more pressure to publish before graduation, and there are more and more international graduate students who need better writing support aimed at NNES (non-native English speakers.)

Simpson describes a graduate writing initiative he helped establish in 2010-2011 at New Mexico Tech through, in part, a Title V grant.  The initiative at NMT showcases Simpson’s claim that the “problem” of graduate student writing is systemic and requires a systemic answer – the burden cannot fall solely on individual departments, a writing center, or a writing program.  The writing initiative at NMT involved cross-campus partnerships to create linked writing/communication courses with individual departments, a course specifically designed for NNES, and a week-long dissertation “boot camp.”

Simpson argues that WPAs and writing studies scholars should look at scholarship in higher education, second language writing, and at work done internationally (especially in Australia and Canada) to help develop sustainable solutions to meeting graduate student writing needs.

Notable Notes

systemic solutions don’t have to be huge: Simpson draws on Donella Meadows to explain how through identifying “leverage points” in a system, change can happen through a ripple effect (104).

Graduate student education is different than undergraduate education, and graduate student writing needs are also different: graduate education more heavily relies on mentors (so writing help needs to not compete with that mentor-mentee relationship), graduate education is more solitary (but writing help should encourage graduate students to seek each other out for peer writing and support groups), graduate education is more individualized (so writing help needs to be flexible, available when graduate students want and need it.) (101-102)

the audience for graduate students (especially STEM) is increasingly the field, with the pressure to publish.  Writing is no longer a heuristic for learning – it is the path to publication and a job.  (99)

Graduate student writing education is an institutional problem – one shared by all (103).

Quotable Quotes

nice “hot potato” metaphor: “At many universities, graduate writing support is a hot potato passed between university departments and advisors, writing centers, ESL departments, and writing programs” (97).

“Frankly, any university department or entity – including writing programs and writing centers – would have difficulty shouldering the weight of graduate writing support independently. Thus, this dilemma’s solution lies in cross-campus partnerships involving writing programs, writing centers, and ESL and other university writing departments” (97).

“The problem of graduate writing is a systemic problem in need of a systems-based solution” (104).

“Graduate writing initiatives have the potential both to build our writing programs and to enrich the research in our field considerably” (113).

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