Lynn Ishikawa, DePauw University
From its inception in January 2018 until now, the goal of this collaborative project has been to provide faculty with new perspectives, tools, and guidance for working with multilingual students in writing classes. As part of our work, we have surveyed GLCA and Alliance faculty about the aspects of writing pedagogy they most wanted help with, researched these areas to create an annotated bibliography, and conducted a two-day workshop at the College of Wooster for faculty participants from five GLCA schools, featuring a keynote address by second language writing scholar Paul Kei Matsuda. Implementation of the modules presented at the workshop was delayed somewhat by the pandemic, but we are pleased now to be able to share a selection of materials from the modules with a broader audience. In developing the five modules outlined here, collaborators identified readings, research, in-class activities, and best practices to better support this population of students in the following areas: 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.
Understanding the needs of multilingual writers demands a “both/and” perspective. On the one hand, truly inclusive writing classrooms value students’ “own patterns and varieties of language” (Committee on CCCC Language Statement, 1975, pg. 710) and de-center whiteness by critically reflecting on the rules, assumptions, and standards of academic writing. Writing classrooms and other writing contexts are not neutral spaces, as Bawarshi and Pelkowski (1999) have contended:
As recent postmodern and postcolonial considerations of discourse, particularly academic discourses, suggest, we need to question essentialist notions of writing as somehow ideologically innocent or even empowering – a means of translating thought into language. Such considerations ask us to take a closer look at what it means to teach standard academic discourses, and what is at stake when we introduce students to a particular academic style or genre or ritual. As such, they make us aware of the role writing plays in the construction of master narratives, narratives that define students’ values, goals, and epistemologies, and that perpetuate power relationships and subject positions. (p. 46)
Critical rethinking of expectations for writing and the kinds of support offered to students — including multilingual students — is essential if we are to effect systemic change in the way writing is taught. Yet multilingual international students arguably occupy a unique position in writing classrooms, given their identities as both student writers participating in an education system shaped by colonialism and language learners who are often eager to develop their communication and reading skills in English. Reconciling these two realities requires deep reflection on the part of faculty about goals and outcomes related to writing and language. In this context, writing and language development become less about adhering to standards and more about conveying meaning by, for example, learning new vocabulary, recognizing the usefulness of passive voice in certain contexts, or rethinking the order of paragraphs in an essay.
Paul Kei Matsuda’s own experience as a student captures this sense of both/and, as well as the necessity of helping all faculty teach multilingual students better. As an undergraduate, Matsuda wanted to take courses with domestic students and not be “segregated” with other international students, yet at the same time, he hoped to receive feedback on his writing and to improve his language use (Matsuda, 2021, p. 105). Of his experiences in these courses, he observed:
I did learn how to use dashes and semicolons and some basics of academic style, such as avoiding sentence fragments and comma splices. But my instructors were not able to comment on or provide any useful feedback on my language issues, except to tell me that I had problems with articles and prepositions. When I asked for suggestions, I was told to get a dictionary of usage (which did not help because they were not designed with language production in mind) and to go to the writing center. When I went to the writing center, I was told that the tutors were not supposed to work on grammar. (Matsuda, 2021, p. 105)
Many multilingual international students likely still experience this paradoxical catch-22 of the writing classroom: wanting to improve their language, they take writing courses or seek out writing support resources, only to discover that faculty and/or tutors cannot offer help with language — in some cases, the particular help they are hoping to receive. However, respecting students’ writing identities while also helping them to develop in their second (or third, or fourth) language need not be an either/or proposition. It is possible to employ inclusive, equitable pedagogies and also assist students in developing their linguistic repertoire — and to do this in a way that benefits all students. With this in mind, we developed modules on the following topics:
Inclusive Classrooms and Student Agency (Tamara Stasik, DePauw University)
The premise of this module is that teaching multilingual students academic writing in English is not a neutral or apolitical endeavor. Unexamined social, ideological, and linguistic assumptions about academic writing often harm both students and faculty. This creates a deficit view of multilingual writers and a false dilemma that faculty must focus on either teaching standards of academic English or valuing students’ vernacular skills and identities.
Instructor and Peer Feedback (Alexis Hart, Allegheny College)
The premise of this module is that all writers benefit from receiving feedback on their written work at multiple stages and in multiple forms. Instructor feedback (oral and written) is often the most influential and respected feedback for students, particularly for L2 writers. However, peer- and self-review are also effective strategies to improve writing, editing, and reading competencies.
Vocabulary Development and Mini Grammar Lessons (Lynn Ishikawa, DePauw University)
The premise of this module is that different disciplines use grammar and vocabulary in different ways and that students can produce more intentional writing if faculty devote time and attention in class to the words, structures, and usage of their disciplines. Indeed, if faculty grade students on grammatical correctness or expect students to use language in a discipline-appropriate way, it is essential that they help students meet those expectations through class instruction.
Assignment Design and Scaffolding (Carla Reyes and Linda Weaver, The College of Wooster)
The premise of this module is that writing provides an excellent training ground for entering into an academic community of practice, and that it is this business of writing mentorship that is most successful in leading multilingual writers to fulfill the critical thinking expectations professors have for students.
Essay Structure and Thesis Development (Jennifer Franz, Allegheny College)
The premise of this module is that all writers – especially multilingual writers – benefit from explicit instruction in the different types of writing that is expected at a college level. There is a strong link between reading and writing skills – as a reader’s experience and exposure to different types of texts help them better understand the expectations surrounding purpose and appropriate structures or patterns; however, students need guided practice to ‘notice’ specific features of a genre within a discipline.
This project was inspired by three core beliefs: that supporting multilingual international students requires faculty development, that good pedagogy for multilingual international students is good pedagogy for all students, and that faculty across the disciplines — not just the multilingual writing specialist or English for Academic Purposes (EAP) professionals — must be committed to inclusive pedagogy that contributes to a sense of belonging rather than marginalization. In their chapter on “Second Language Writing Pedagogy” in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, Matsuda and Hammill (2014) wrote:
Second language writing pedagogy is ubiquitous. Unlike other types of pedagogies, it is not site-specific; it happens wherever second language (L2) writers are, including basic writing courses, first-year composition courses, advanced composition courses, professional writing courses, writing centers, and courses across the disciplines. Nor is it optional. L2 writing pedagogy is enacted whenever a teacher interacts with an L2 writer …. (p. 266)
In other words, while there may still be classes made up of what Matuda and Hammill call the “monolingual norm,” they are rare. This reality was the theme and the inspiration for this project.
Part of what makes second language writing pedagogy good pedagogy for all students is its attentiveness to learner identities and its recognition that writers are shaped by language and culture in complex ways. Particular themes emerged from our work on these modules, including the role of noticing in learning, the importance of fostering student and faculty awareness of disciplinary language use, and the value of rethinking error as rhetorical and linguistic difference or choice. These themes resonate across different approaches to teaching writing and different disciplines within the liberal arts classroom.
Bawarshi, A., & Pelkowski, S. (1999). Postcolonialism and the idea of a writing center. The Writing Center Journal, 19(2), 41–58.
Committee on CCCC Language Statement. (1975). Students’ Right to Their Own Language. College English, 36(6), 709-726. doi:10.2307/374965
Matsuda, P.K. (2021). Weathering the translingual storm. In T.J. Silva & Z. Wang (Eds.), Reconciling translingualism and second language writing (pp. 103-116). Routledge.
Matsuda, P.K., & Hammill, M.J. (2014). Second language pedagogies. In G. Tate, A. Rupiper Taggart, K. Schick, & H.B. Hessler, A guide to composition pedagogies (pp. 266-282). Oxford University Press.