Teaching Writing to Multilingual International Students in a Small Liberal Arts Setting

Lynn Ishikawa, Assistant Professor of English and Director of English for Academic Purposes, DePauw University. Contact at: lynnishikawa@depauw.edu

Tamara Stasik, Assistant Professor of English and English for Academic Purposes Specialist, DePauw University. Contact at: tamarastasik@depauw.edu

Alexis Hart, Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing, Allegheny College. Contact at: ahart@allegheny.edu

Jennifer Franz, Learning Specialist/TESOL Instructor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Allegheny College. Contact at: jfranz@allegheny.edu

Carla Reyes, Assistant Director, Learning Center, The College of Wooster. Contact at: creyes@wooster.edu

[Editor’s Note: While the number of international students attending U.S. universities and colleges has dipped slightly in the past two years, more than a million students (1,043,839) were enrolled in 2017-18. About half come from either China (32%) or India (17%). Some large universities (New York University or the University of Southern California, for example) are increasingly cosmopolitan, with more than 13,000 international students on their campuses. And the percentage of foreign students at liberal colleges has increased dramatically as well since 2000. International students make up 28% of Bryn Mawr’s student body, for example, up from 10% in 2000. Nearly a fifth of the students at Grinnell, Smith, and Pomona are international. How one works with multilingual writers who are still developing their English proficiency, then, is not just important, but essential.

The article that follows summarizes the work of a GLCA-supported project which came together to explore the literature on the topic and produce a bibliography to inform the pedagogy of faculty and staff who work with international students. The annotated bibliography, which can be found here, is divided into five categories: Inclusive Classrooms and Student Agency; Instructor and Peer Feedback; Vocabulary Development and Mini Grammar Lessons; Assignment Design and Scaffolding; and Essay Structure and Thesis Development.

In one of the cited articles, “Successful Schooling for ELLs [English Language Learners]: Principles for Building Responsive Learning Environments,” by Coady, et. al., the authors offer nine common practices that complete the statement “ELLs are most successful when…” It’s useful to keep these in mind whatever one’s relation to international students on our campuses:

Principle 1: School leaders, administrators and educators recognize that educating ELLs is the responsibility of the entire school staff.

Principle 2: Educators recognize the heterogeneity of the student population that is collectively labeled as “ELL” and are able to vary their responses to the needs of different learners.

Principle 3: The school climate and general practice reinforce the principle that students’ languages and cultures are resources for further learning.

Principle 4: There are strong and seamless links connecting home, school and community.

Principle 5: ELLs have equitable access to all school resources and programs.

Principle 6: Teachers have high expectations for ELLs.

Principle 7: Teachers are properly prepared and willing to teach ELLs.

Principle 8: Language and literacy are infused through the educational process, including curriculum and instruction.

Principle 9: Assessment is authentic, credible to learners and instructors, and takes into account first-and second-language literacy development.]

[Click here to access the text of the full Annotated Bibliography.]


Colleges and universities across the US admit international students who are still developing their English proficiency. Indeed, internationalization and global diversity are stated strategic initiatives at many GLCA campuses. On these campuses, targeted support may be available for international students in the form of courses, workshops, writing centers, summer programs, language labs, peer tutors, and professional one-on-one consultations with multilingual writing specialists, yet the reality is that even when students take advantage of this support, it represents only a small part of their academic lives. Without faculty development related to best practices for teaching these students, such support only goes halfway toward the goal of creating inclusive classrooms.

One example of this relates to language. When working with multilingual writers, faculty members may focus writing instruction and feedback primarily on sentence-level concerns. While the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) specialist can help develop a student’s awareness of error patterns in order to improve accuracy and introduce strategies for finding and correcting these errors, without changes in faculty expectations about accuracy and correctness, the writing process will likely be somewhat frustrating for both students and faculty. If, on the other hand, faculty have a sense of how a multilingual student’s native language might be used strategically in the writing process, as well as when it makes sense to attend to sentence-level errors and which errors deserve the most concern given the genre and purpose of the writing, students are more likely to feel that their ideas are being valued and that they are making progress in conveying those ideas. An international student’s struggle with writing assignments, in other words, may be partly a result of English proficiency, but it may also be the result of the faculty member’s pedagogical choices related to assignment format and evaluation. Therefore, faculty across the disciplines are likely to benefit from the pedagogical insights about multilingual writing classroom practices contained in this annotated bibliography.

Through our collaborative research and discussions, we came to recognize that meeting the needs of multilingual writers at GLCA institutions that value writing across the curriculum must include faculty development regarding the needs of multilingual international students. As we admit international students to our campuses in greater numbers, we cannot simply rely on multilingual writing specialists and EAP/ESOL faculty to provide support for these students; instead, all faculty must be committed to inclusive pedagogy. The references provided in the full Annotated Bibliography (linked here) are informed by universal design and best practices and are meant to serve as resources for faculty in making all classrooms inclusive spaces for students.

December 10, 2018

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