We are pleased to bring you Volume 37, Issue 1 of MinneTESOL Journal, an excellent collection of pieces focusing on a variety of aspects and contexts of English language teaching and learning. In “Making Language Visible in Content Area Classrooms Using the WIDA ELD Standards,” Ruslana Westerlund and Sharon Besser share the latest update in the WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework. Also from WIDA, Cynthia Lundgren and Lynn Shafer Willner explore how WIDA’s approach to discourse adds more tools to our students’ language development toolboxes in “Putting Discourse First.”
Following his experience with the JET program in Japan, Kyle Undem examines the concept of imagined communities to better understand L2 identities in his article, “Imagined Communities: The Significance of Imagination and Language Learning.” Also related to learner identity, Michael Burri’s “School and Cultural Adjustment Overseas” considers factors that contribute to international students’ school and cultural adjustment through his 12-year-old son’s experience in Japanese schools. Also attending to the topic of student identity, Ann Mabbott, Amna Kiran, and Magdy Rabeaa share a review of Michael Abraham’s book Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools: What Educators Need to Understand.
This issue has a wealth of information about serving ELs at the college level. In her article, “Helping Second Language Students Succeed with Academic Sources: Advice for Faculty across the Disciplines,” Heather Camp presents strategies for faculty to strengthen university-wide academic source use instruction for L2 students. Also at the university level, Samantha Brown addresses pronunciation instruction in “Teaching Suprasegmentals within a Task-Based Framework to Improve Speaking Skills.” In another practice-oriented piece, Saurabh Anand offers an approach for those working with college-level multilingual writers in “L2 Writing Material: How to Cultivate Compare and Contrast Genre Skills Using a Narrative Essay.” Also focusing on writing instruction, Nasiba Norova addresses the knowledge and skills that writing instructors and writing center tutors need to know to accommodate foreign-born resident students in her article, “Support of Resident L2 Students’ Writing: Opinion.” Finally, in her article, “Teacher-led, Spaced Retrieval for Mastery of Content Vocabulary,” Diane M. Jacobson describes her research study focused on how to support ELs with memorization and comprehension of content-specific vocabulary.
Please read, enjoy, and share the research and practice ideas in this issue of MinneTESOL Journal! Stay connected to our MinneTESOL Journal community by following the journal on Facebook and on Twitter (@MnTESOLjournal).
The resources in the WIDA Standards Framework can be used by content area teachers to attend to the discipline-specific ways language works in their content area.
Keywords: WIDA standards, systemic functional linguistics, multilingual learners, content area teaching
In December 2020, WIDA published a revised edition of the English Language Development (ELD) Standards Framework (henceforth, the WIDA Standards Framework). This new edition provides a renewed commitment to teacher collaboration and integration of content and language to support students in accessing rigorous grade-level curriculum. In addition, it adds a laser-like focus on making language visible through a functional approach to language, specifically Systemic Functional Linguistics (e.g., Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). This functional approach views language as a dynamic system of choices as opposed to a random list of grammar rules devoid of context. Looking at language this way empowers teachers to see language as a resource used in our everyday lives, and in everything we do, from posting on Facebook to teaching about global warming. This approach invites all teachers (not just English as a Second Language Teachers) to take responsibility for making language visible to support their students. This article aims to illustrate how the resources in the WIDA Standards Framework can be used by content area teachers to attend to the discipline-specific ways language works in their content area.
In each content area, there are specific ways we use language, for example in Social Studies we explain causes and consequences of historic events and social issues; in Science, we explain the underlying causes of natural phenomena; in English Language Arts, we interpret literary themes; and in Math we describe an approach used to solve a problem (Brisk, 2015; de Oliveira et al., 2018; Fang, 2005; Shin, 2019). The WIDA Standards Framework groups these ways of using language into four Key Language Uses: Narrate, Inform, Explain, and Argue. These represent high leverage disciplinary genre families that appear in content area standards and in common learning tasks that teachers assign to their students. The table below illustrates this relationship.
Each Key Language Use is delineated through a set of Language Expectations specific to that Key Language Use. Language Expectations set goals for content-driven language learning and focus on what language students need to be able to produce (and comprehend) in order to meet content standards. Language Expectations are represented through Language Functions and Language Features which carry out those functions. Functions tell us what the writer or speaker needs to do in order to meet the purpose of the text. Different Key Language Uses are represented through different functions; for example, the Key Language Use of Explain has functions like “describe valid and reliable evidence” and Argue has functions like “support claims and refute counterclaims.” However, naming these functions doesn’t tell us how to use language to carry them out. This is where the features come in. Each function has a set of features that may be used to carry out the function. An example of a feature would be “noun groups” such as “The meaning of the American dream” which carries out the function to “Introduce the claim.” In the WIDA Standards Framework, there are lists of functions and features that are found with each Language Expectation. These lists of features are meant to be examples and not an exhaustive list, as writers and speakers have many choices that will be appropriate and effective in carrying out functions. In addition, the WIDA Standards Framework illustrates functions and features in context through a series of annotated texts. Annotated texts are a valuable resource for teachers to use to deepen their understanding of the language demands in their discipline.
|Sample Learning Tasks or Assignments||Key Language Use|
Represent real or imagined experiences through stories and histories
Communicate factual or generalized information on a topic
Give account for how or why things work
Justify one’s claims using evidence and reasoning
Table 1. Relationship between learning tasks and Key Language Uses
We now turn to an example of an annotated text. This example is from a Grade 10 English Language Arts (ELA) class. Throughout the year the students in the class had been exploring the question “What is the American Dream and who has access to it?” For this learning task, they first read a newspaper article about how underrepresented students in their town do not have equal access to resources for college. Then they wrote an argument which tied the reading to the question. To prepare them for this writing task, the teacher spent several lessons working with students discussing language choices in a mentor text and then jointly constructing one to apprentice students into this genre (For more ideas of activities, see de Oliveira & Westerlund, 2021). See Table 2 below. The student-written text is in the center column. The Functions and Features used in this text from the WIDA Standards Framework are listed on the left and right columns.
|Functions and Features||Grade 10 English Language Arts
The American Dream
|Functions and Features|
|Introduce and develop precise claims through…
Declarative statements to frame the topic, provide background information, state claim
Noun groups to provide details
A variety of verb tenses to present position and/or provide background information
Establish and maintain formal style and objective tone through…
Nouns, adjectives, and adverbs to evaluate the positive/negative qualities of topic, position, or evidence
Third person to maintain neutrality
|The meaning of the American Dream varies widely depending on who’s talking, but the general idea always remains the same: a high education, a well-paying job, a house, and a family. Ideally, everyone in America has the capability and opportunity to create their own American Dream. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Many Americans struggle with going to college, not because they’re not smart enough, but because of variables like race, family income, and poor guidance. Right here in Newton, in spite of the high quality of public schools, students (especially low-income students) don’t feel prepared to deal with the financial aspects of college, even if they are capable academically. Because of this, some students drop out of college before graduating, like Pachia Moua from North High School. Moua felt that while high school prepared her for the academic pressures of college, she didn’t know enough about the financial aspects of college living, and dropped out because she couldn’t pay her bills. And this condition didn’t merely apply to Moua.
According to the Boston Globe’s study, in Moua’s graduating year, only 39 percent of low-income students at North earned a college degree after six years. When considering that 70 percent of other students received a college degree in that time, there are some obvious imbalances in the level of education of students with differing incomes, even when they come from the same high school. And even if these high schools don’t have any income gaps between students, there is still a stark difference in college graduation rates of white and Asian students and those of black and Latino students. This data shows that even though urban schools in Boston get most of the attention (and funding) for improvement, suburban schools are severely underprepared to educate these low-income students on college life and applications.
Since the students from more affluent families don’t have to worry as much about bills, housing, and food, suburban schools don’t place as much emphasis on teaching students these important skills, and the low-income students suffer. Socioeconomic status skews access to the American Dream largely in favor of affluent, white students, even with equal education, because students with different socioeconomic backgrounds need to learn different things in order to succeed in the college environment.
|Support claims and refute counterclaims with valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence through…
a variety of clauses to support claim
Logically organize claims, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence, offer conclusions…
Connectors to maintain logical progression
Summary statement to reiterate a claim
Table 2. Annotated mentor text illustrating language functions and features
Note: Since this example is an argument for Grade 10 ELA, the functions and features we have annotated in the text below come from ELD Standard Statement 2, Language for Language Arts, Key Language Use Argue, 9-12 (WIDA, 2020, pp. 188-189).
In “The American Dream” argument, the first function the author needs for this text is to introduce and develop a precise claim. She does this through declarative statements (an example of a Feature) to set the context and state the claim. She also uses noun groups (another example of a Feature) like “the meaning of the American Dream” to provide details of her claim. The next function she needs for this text is to support her claim. She chooses to do this with a variety of clauses which express cause, concession, and condition. For example, to explain why many Americans struggle with going to college, she uses a causal clause “because of variables like race, family income, and poor guidance.” Some functions need to be carried out throughout the text, like this next one, logically organize claims, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence. The author carries out this function through connectors which maintain logical progression such as “Because of this” and “According to.” She also does this through cohesive devices that refer back to earlier chunks of information such as when she uses the demonstrative “this data.” “This data” refers to both “70 percent of students” and “a stark difference in college graduation rates of white and Asian students and those of Black and Latino students.” Throughout, she uses a variety of verb tenses to develop her claims, a variety that is typical in argument writing. Another function that needs to be carried out is establish and maintain formal style and objective tone. The author does this through adjectives (e.g., “obvious”), adverbs (e.g., “severely”) and verbs (e.g., “skew”) to evaluate the positive/negative qualities of her topic, position, and evidence. The author ends the piece by fulfilling the last function: offer a conclusion.
The process of annotating text answers the question, What ways of using language do students need to use to do the task? For example, in the text above, students need a variety of clauses to support their claims, they need connectors to maintain logical progression, and they need nouns, adjectives, and adverbs to evaluate the positive or negative qualities of their position. Once teachers know that, they can plan lessons that expand students’ resources to carry out the functions that the texts call upon them to do. Next, we describe some considerations and sample activities teachers can use to make language visible with students.
Purpose of the paragraph: To prepare your reader for the issue that you are persuading them about
|The meaning of the American Dream varies widely depending on who’s talking, but the general idea always remains the same: a high education, a well-paying job, a house, and a family.|
Purpose of the paragraph: To state what you believe about this issue
|Ideally, everyone in America has the capability and opportunity to create their own American Dream. Unfortunately, this is not the case.|
Purpose of the paragraph: To support your claim
|According to the Boston Globe’s study, in Moua’s graduating year, only 39 percent of low-income students at North earned a college degree after six years. When considering that 70 percent of other students received a college degree in that time, there are some obvious imbalances in the level of education of students with differing incomes, even when they come from the same high school.|
Purposes of the paragraph: To remind the reader of the main points in your argument
|Socioeconomic status skews access to the American Dream largely in favor of affluent, white students, even with equal education, because students with different socioeconomic backgrounds need to learn different things in order to succeed in the college environment.|
|Unfortunately,||the American Dream||is not||accessible to all.|
This article illustrated how content area teachers can use the resources in the WIDA Standards Framework to deepen their own understanding about how language works in the texts they assign their students to read and write. First, we described Key Language Uses through examples of learning tasks teachers assign. Then we used an Annotated Text to illustrate how Language Features carry out specific functions that vary according to the Key Language Use (Argue, Explain, Narrate, and Inform) of the text. Annotated Texts can make language visible and reveal the language demands of disciplinary genres. We concluded with a list of suggested activities teachers can use to draw their students’ attention to language and understand how our language choices impact meaning. Ultimately, the aim of this article (and the WIDA Standards Framework) was to develop teachers’ knowledge about language in the context of their disciplinary genres.
Brisk, M. (2015). Engaging students in academic literacies: Genre-based pedagogies for K-5 classrooms. Routledge.
de Oliveira, L. C., Sembiante, S., & Ramírez, J. A. (2018). Bilingual academic language development in mathematics for emergent to advanced bilingual students. In S. Crespo, S. Celedón-Pattichis, & M. Civil (Eds.), Access and equity: Promoting high quality mathematics in grades 3-5 (pp. 81-98). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).
de Oliveira, L. C., & Westerlund, R. (2021). A functional approach to language development for dual language learners. Journal of English Learner Education, 12(1). Retrievable from https://stars.library.ucf.edu/jele/vol12/iss1/2
Fang, Z. (2005). Scientific literacy: A systemic functional linguistics perspective. Science Education, 89(2), 335-347. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20050
Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. (2004). An introduction to functional grammar. Routledge.
Shin, H. (2019). A semiotic analysis of linguistic and conceptual development of mathematics for English language learners (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Massachusetts, Amherst. https://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations_2/1554
WIDA. (2020). WIDA English language development standards framework, 2020 edition kindergarten-grade 12. WIDA, University of Wisconsin-Madison https://wida.wisc.edu/teach/standards/eld
Discourse is all about communication. Putting discourse first is a form of scaffolding that can yield more thoughtful discussions about the language choices speakers and writers make and how language awareness can help students advance their communicative purpose most effectively.
Keywords: elementary, middle school, secondary, teacher education
It was a Monday morning meeting in Mr. B’s online kindergarten class. Pang had just shared her story about visiting her grandmother over the weekend.
“Does anyone have a question for Pang about her visit to grandma’s house?” asked Mr. B.
A student asked Pang who else went with her to visit her grandmother and Pang responded. Mr. B. praised the question and added, “Now we know about all the characters in Pang’s story! What is another question we can ask to learn more details about the visit?” There was a question about what they ate at grandma’s house, what they did, and another about where grandma lived. After each response, Mr. B. linked information to one of the story elements, “Great question! Now we know more about what happened during Pang’s visit!”
Sharing stories is an important part of kindergarten, building relationships, practicing listening and speaking skills, and asking focused questions. Mr. B. was also very intentional in building his students’ awareness of story elements and the type of information they could expect in a story genre. Language Expectations for the Key Use Narrate helped Mr. B. focus his feedback and questions during morning meeting to make these discourse patterns more explicit to his kindergarteners.
The 2020 edition of WIDA’s English Language Development (ELD) Standards Framework (WIDA, 2020)1 emphasizes the importance of discourse when teaching and learning English. This more comprehensive focus reminds us that meaning-making moves beyond the word or sentence level, occurring across a conversation or several written paragraphs. A discourse focus strengthens the interface of language and content learning and helps prepare students for the purpose—is it explaining how or why something works, or retelling events in a personal story? This article explores what is meant by discourse and how putting discourse first adds more tools to our students’ language development toolboxes.
Simply put, discourse is language stretched across spoken or written text to accomplish a communicative purpose (Rose & Martin, 2012). Common discourse purposes like sharing personal experiences or stories, providing information about something, how to do something, explaining how or why something works, or justifying one’s position all make use of organizational patterns that build meaning across larger stretches of text, whether spoken, written, or multimodal. These purposes follow predictable patterns and allow members of a shared linguistic community to quickly recognize the reason for communicating (Bernstein, 1990; Hyland, 2007). As shown in Figure 2, all meaning-making occurs within the sociocultural context, with word and sentence choices embedded within the larger discourse purpose, or genre.
Genre is another term describing discourse as a communicative purpose (Martin & Rose, 2008). Literary genres help us recognize different types of narratives such as historical biographies or adventure stories. Arguments and explanations are examples of genres common across content standards with distinctive structures and patterns that help differentiate one purpose from another (Brisk, 2015; de Oliveira et al., 2019; Rose & Martin, 2012).
Drawing from the research on genre-based pedagogy (Brisk, 2015; Derewianka & Jones, 2016; Gibbons, 2009), WIDA has identified four high leverage genre families across the academic content standards. Key Language Uses—Narrate, Inform, Explain, and Argue—exemplify common discourse structures of particular importance in schooling. While each Key Use has distinctive structures and patterns (defined in Table 1), they do intersect, blend, and build on each other. Identifying the Key Language Use at the onset of a lesson immediately helps to identify the range of appropriate language choices, or language possibilities, making the task more manageable for multilingual learners.
|Narrate||Language to convey real or imaginary experiences through stories and histories. Narratives can serve many purposes, including to instruct, entertain, teach, or support persuasion.|
|Inform||Language to provide factual information. As students convey information, they define, describe, compare, contrast, organize, categorize, or classify concepts, ideas, or phenomena.|
|Explain||Language to account for how things work or why things happen. As students explain, they substantiate the inner workings of natural, human made, and social phenomena.|
|Argue||Language to justify claims using evidence and reasoning. Argue can be used to advance or defend an idea or solution, change the audience’s point of view, bring about action, or accept a position or evaluation of an issue.|
Table 1. Definitions of the Key Language Uses
Discourse patterns are determined by the linguistic and cultural community they serve, setting norms for how language is used in a variety of contexts (Bernstein, 1990). Norms inform topics, degree of formality, sentence complexity, and word choices as well as behavioral norms, turn-taking, tone of voice, interrupting protocols, and so on. The sociocultural context determines what type of information is important. For example, when retelling stories, some communities value character actions while others value a character’s introspection. In some communities, embellishing stories is seen as an art, indicative of the storyteller’s skill—in others it is seen as untruthful or boastful behavior. In some communities sharing “how-to” information is verbal; in others, it is observational.
Within the larger society are smaller discourse communities (Derewianka & Jones, 2016), such as groups of friends, families, social clubs, and faith-based organizations, each with their own unique discourse protocols. We generally belong to many such communities and have learned to adjust our language and behavior to fit the context. School is another example of a specialized discourse community.
School discourse, particularly the more formalized aspects of written language, reflects the communication preferences and values of the larger linguistic and cultural group. Standards, standardized assessments, textbooks, and school-based expectations project this preference as it relates to education. Students coming from other cultural and linguistic traditions may be less familiar with American school-based discourse across subject areas and may require more explicit instruction from educators. Being explicit with students about discourse norms and their relationship to context, purpose, and audience helps students meet grade-level expectations and provides students with more tools to present their own messages.
Ms. Froemming, an English Language Learner teacher, found that being explicit about school genres made a huge difference in how her first grade multilingual learners were able to produce text that met the grade-level writing standards.
Ms. Froemming’s first graders were given a prompt to “write all about an animal.” This was intended to be an information report to meet English Language Arts writing standards but students interpreted the prompt as an invitation to just “say stuff.” They didn’t have a solid understanding of the discourse structure. Ms. Froemming decided to spend time deconstructing information reports so students could begin to develop an understanding of how reports were organized. She read examples from several books and with the students started to make lists about the patterns they noticed across the various information texts. They also talked about how diagrams and pictures added information about the animal. The class created a template for presenting key information—i.e., what the animal looked like, what it ate, where it lived. Ms. Froemming and students co-constructed timeless present statements, made substitutions with pronouns, and practiced labeling visuals. By developing a strong awareness of the genre, students were able to produce their own “All about…” information reports (see Figures 4 and 5).
Putting discourse first is a form of scaffolding that can yield more thoughtful discussion about language choices. Narrowing the focus by genre, context, and audience allows for deeper observation about how some language choices advance the purpose better than others.
Mr. Yager has 9th and 10th grade students in his 3rd period class. They’ve been reading an article about employees who were fired after participating in immigration protests and the arguments critiquing the employer’s behavior.
“The school has focused on arguments all year, so kids are pretty familiar with the Claims-Evidence-Reasoning pattern. I start by identifying the audience. Who is this written for? That allowed us to get into deeper conversations about word choice, and the power of a word to create a reaction—does it appeal to your heart or your head? My students like this approach, we can be more creative and combative… I have word rays all over my room—less strong to most strong, more objective to more emotive. And, we play a lot with audience; what if we write this for X group, how do our choices change? For me, this bit of a backward approach helps me focus on grammar and vocabulary that is more relevant, and the connection to what we’re doing is so much clearer.” Figure 6 provides an example of how educators might help students to think about the power of word choice in writing an argument.
The 2020 Edition of the WIDA ELD Standards Framework reflects this shift in focus. Whereas this latest edition continues to organize language in three dimensions (Discourse, Sentence, and Word/Phrase), the Discourse Dimension features more prominently than the others, and encompasses three criteria: organization, cohesion, and density of language. This reflects WIDA’s more functional approach to language development where the purpose of the overall text guides language choices at the sentence and word/phrase levels.
This greater emphasis on discourse helps educators create a tighter alignment between standards, achievement criteria, objectives, activities, and assessment. Figure 7 unpacks the components in the WIDA ELD Standards Framework.
Mrs. Sorenson was co-teaching with the 4th grade teacher on a cyclical explanation. The unit goal was for students to create a poster of an economic cycle with detailed explanations of each stage of the cycle. Mrs. Sorenson realized many students needed a deeper understanding of how a cyclical explanation followed a different organizational structure than an information report. She started with the “big picture” of these two Key Language Uses and a familiar topic from 3rd grade science.
She wrote several informational sentence strips about butterflies and several other sentence strips about a butterfly’s life cycle. Two small groups organized the strips and read them to the whole class, which determined if they made sense. Mrs. Sorenson then mixed up the order of students in each group and had them re-read their sentence strips. She asked the class if the meaning was still clear.
The class determined that informing statements were still clear, but statements that explained the cycle were not. The order of statements in an explanation is very important, but not so, when informing. In the ensuing language discussion, students were able to talk about different purposes for the statements and start to notice clues, such as sequence words, and cause/effect descriptions that helped identify an explanation.
Mrs. Sorenson knew she needed to focus more on how these two genres were different. After all, explanations and informational reports share many language functions and features. Both establish a neutral or objective stance, use timeless verbs to state on-going facts, relating verbs to state attributes, rely on referential devices to create cohesion, make use of abstract nouns… all grammatical resources that are the same. Yet, these two genres are distinctive in their purpose—one describes a topic, one explains a phenomenon.
To help students differentiate between these two purposes, Mrs. Sorenson created a series of activities for students comparing informing statements with those explaining part of how or why something happens.
There is a high value placed on writing in schools. Students are regularly asked to respond to prompts, write reports and comparisons, analyze data, explain relationships, and demonstrate their language proficiency through writing. Writing requires an explicit understanding of cultural and linguistic norms of specific discourse communities. It requires an awareness of valued communicative purposes and how to organize text in a way that enables others to quickly recognize the communicative purpose. As shown in Table 2 below, communicative purpose has been woven into the first criterion (Organization of Language) of the Discourse dimension, and this is also reflected in the grade-level cluster Proficiency Level Descriptors now available with the 2020 WIDA ELD Standards Framework.
Toward the end of each proficiency level, when scaffolded appropriately, multilingual learners will…
|Criteria||End of Level 1||End of Level 2||End of Level 3||End of Level 4||End of Level 5||Level 6|
|Discourse Organization of language||Create coherent texts (spoken, written, multimodal) using…|
|sentences that convey intended purpose with emerging organization (topic sentence, supporting details)||short text that conveys intended purpose using predictable organization (signaled with some paragraph openers: First…
Finally, In 1842, This is how volcanoes form)
|expanding text that conveys intended purpose using generic
specific) organizational patterns (introduction, body, conclusion)
|text that conveys intended purpose using genre-
specific organizational patterns (statement of position, arguments, call to action) with a variety of paragraph openers
|text that conveys intended purpose using genre-
specific organization-al patterns with strategic ways of signaling relationships between paragraphs and throughout text(the first reason, the second reason, the evidence)
|text that conveys intended purpose using genre-
specific organizational patterns with a wide range of ways to signal relation-
out the text
Table 2. Excerpt from Grades 6-8 WIDA Proficiency Level Descriptors for the Expressive Communication Mode (Speaking, Writing, and Representing)
Without framing around communicative purpose, so much of student writing lacks cohesion, purpose, strong word choices, varied sentence structures, and sometimes even comprehensibility. In other words, the Discourse Dimension’s first criterion in the WIDA Proficiency Level Descriptors (Organization of Language) helps set the stage for how the other five criteria are shaped in student writing: Cohesion, Density, Grammatical Complexity, and Precision of Language (shown in Table 3 below).
|Discourse||Organization of language||Organizational patterns characteristic of the genre|
|Cohesion of language||Cohesive devices connect ideas within and across sentences and larger sections of discourse|
|Density of language||How phrases and clauses are expanded to include more detail or precision, or condensed using abstract nouns|
|Sentence||Grammatical complexity of language||Relationships expressed through simple, compound, and complex sentences|
|Word/Phrase||Precision of language||Everyday, cross-disciplinary, and technical language appropriate for topic, audience, purpose|
Table 3. Dimensions of Language in the WIDA Proficiency Level Descriptors
A discourse framing begins to narrow the scope, helping students eliminate language that doesn’t pertain to the task or prompt. Let’s look at a typical middle school prompt used to evaluate students’ writing: “Write a letter to your principal about whether you think your school’s electronics policy should change and why.”
The prompt clearly defines a communication mode (letter), the audience (principal), and the topic (school’s electronic policy). Less obvious is the genre but there are clues identifying opinion (think) and reasons (why). Now the purpose becomes clearer—an opinion statement to change or not the current school policy on the use of electronics, in the form of a letter to the principal. As students continue to plan for their writing, they can think about language implications. Writing a letter implies a specific structure with a greeting and closing—a recognizable structure. Writing to a principal implies greater formality in word choice (disagree vs. hate; because vs. cuz). An opinion requires a position and examples or reasons to be included. The response might include a counter argument, and it will most likely need some type of conclusion. This awareness of genre helps students tailor their writing in consideration of audience, context, topic and purpose to create the most meaningful response they can at any point in their language development.
Language is a social enterprise governed by the communities it serves. The language of schooling reflects the assumption that students can recognize and use salient, predictable patterns that occur within and across disciplines. Building explicit awareness on how genres are organized and the language choices that advance meaning is critical for providing access to the target language—by listening or reading, speaking or writing. When we, as educators, are clear about the purpose of discourse—whether it seeks to tell a story, explain a phenomenon, provide information, or present a claim and evidence—we provide a clear roadmap for students to navigate discourse in school-based language communities.
Bernstein, B. (1990). Class, codes and control. IV. The structuring of pedagogical discourse. Routledge.
Brisk, M. (2015). Engaging students in academic literacies: Genre-based pedagogy for K-5 classrooms. Routledge.
de Oliveira, L. C., Jones, L., & Smith, S. L. (2019). Genre-based pedagogy as an approach to second language writing. In L. Alatriste & C. Crosby (Eds.), Second language writing across PK16 contexts: Intersections of teaching, learning, and development. University of Michigan Press.
Derewianka, B., & Jones, P. (2016). Teaching language in context (2nd ed.). Oxford.
Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners academic literacy and thinking: Learning in the challenge zone. Heinemann.
Hyland, K . (2007) . Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16(3), 148-164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2007.07.005
Martin, J., & Rose, D. (2008). Genre relations: Mapping culture. Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Rose, D., & Martin, J. (2012). Learning to write, reading to learn: Genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney school. Equinox Publishing Ltd.
WIDA. (2020). WIDA English language development standards framework, 2020 edition kindergarten-grade 12. WIDA, University of Wisconsin-Madison https://wida.wisc.edu/teach/standards/eld
We can learn about our second language (L2) learner identities by understanding their imagined communities which they create to imagine their participation and language use. This paper will uncover the diversity of imagined communities, benefits and limitations for L2 learning, as well as offer instructional practices for helping assist L2 identity exploration in the classroom.
Keywords: L2 identity, L2 motivation, ideal L2 self, imagined communities
Discovering and supporting learners’ second language (L2) identity is of significant importance for language educators. An identity construct that is particularly of value to understand and explore for language educators is referred to as the idealized L2 self or the idealized L2 speaking self (Dörnyei, 2005). Research on L2 identity considers language development as a social practice, informed by a variety of interactions with the social world (Bucholtz & Hall, 2008; Norton, 2010). When considering implementing identity-aware pedagogical practices, it is important to note that English Language Learners (ELLs) in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts continue to achieve good grades in English classes, but often lack communicative competence: the grammar translation approach has been the reason for this conundrum in recent years (Yim, 2016). Why is this? Are we too focused on assessment outcomes, high-stakes testing, explicit grammar instruction, and less on learners’ motivation and identities?
The goal of this paper is to suggest answers to these questions, exploring the connection between identity and L2 learning in EFL contexts and elaborating on a specific component that correlates with an ideal L2 identity: Imagined Communities. Imagined communities are communities that language learners might idealize and in which they strive for inclusion. The term was initially coined by Benedict Anderson (2016) as “imagined because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (p. 6). English learning opens up the possibilities for a variety of imagined communities, each with the possibility to be imagined differently depending on the context. These contexts can be in a country such as Hungary where a more omnipresent national identity is desired or at the individual level where advancement in a career may be the reason to seek out and connect with an L2 identity (Pavlenko & Norton, 2007). With there being various imagined communities in our learners, I aim to explain why teachers need to understand who the imagined communities of English learners in an EFL context might be and how this can tie into learner motivation and L2 identity. I attempt to answer why it is important that English language teachers in EFL contexts recognize and also promote imagined communities in their learners while also looking at the benefits and potential negative effects this provides for the learner and the learning environment. The paper concludes with some practical activities to help teachers discover their learners’ imagined communities, as well as resources/ideas to help foster these ideas.
When it comes to language learning, imagined communities have a precise definition and scope. They help teachers uncover how communities of our imagination tie into language learner identities and their correlation with learner motivational systems. Two seminal researchers in the area of identity and second language acquisition, Yasuko Kanno and Bonny Norton (2003), explain that while imagined communities are, in fact, groups of people with whom we communicate, there needs to be something more tangible for the imagined communities to truly make an impact on our lives: engagement. They further define imagined communities as “groups of people, not immediately tangible and accessible with whom we connect through the power of imagination” (Kanno & Norton, 2003, p. 241). Norton (2010) adds that imagined communities are “a community of the imagination—a desired community that offers possibilities for an enhanced range of identity options for the future” (p. 355).
My experience with the imagined community began when I started learning Japanese 10 years ago. I have to credit a lot of my motivation to an imagined community, and specifically the aforementioned identity options and possibilities for the future, such as acceptance into various communities of interest (running, music, language learning) in Japan. At the time I was living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, a city with a small, but accessible and tangible Japanese community. I became friends with a married couple from Japan. Through this friendship I started to gain interest in Japanese culture, which acted as a gateway to the language. Fast forward a couple of months and I found myself in Tokyo struggling to inquire where the washrooms were. However, it was this experience that planted the idea of an entire community of Japanese speakers that I wanted nothing more than to connect with through a language I could barely begin to process. Upon returning to Edmonton, I found myself daydreaming about comfortably ordering coffee in Japanese, singing Japanese karaoke songs without missing a syllable, and asking for and receiving directions to the washroom in Japanese. More importantly, I desired to connect with a community of people that could only be possible, at the time, if I buckled down, learned Japanese, and continued to seek my ideal L2 self. The thoughts of a deeper connection with this community helped me to slowly uncover my ideal Japanese L2 self and inspired me to eventually learn the three writing systems (46 respective hiragana and katakana, as well as basic kanji, which are Chinese characters). I was also able to get my tongue muscles working by fumbling through self-introductions, and to express my love of baseball, high-speed trains, and the well-known author Haruki Murakami.
There is ample literature suggesting the importance of considering identity and the imagined communities of L2 learners. Firstly, it is important for English language educators to recognize that our learners’ ideal L2 self is a kick-starter for promoting imagined communities in the classroom and then understand how this can tie into learners’ motivation. Dörnyei (2005) reiterates a connection between discovering the ideal L2 self and the vast imagined communities in our learners, saying that “our idealized L2-speaking self can be seen as a member of an imagined L2 community whose mental construction is partly based on our real-life experiences of members of the community/communities speaking the particular L2 in question and partly on our imagination” (p. 102).
Ryan (2009) discovered through a study in an EFL setting in Japan that there is a correlation between the ideal L2 self and finding personal satisfaction when using a language with others. Ryan (2009) framed this as integrativeness, suggesting that discovering the ideal L2 self can act as a motivational tool, allowing learners to notice the difference between using the language outside the classroom (i.e. in the community, engaging with other English speakers) and English as an academic subject (only being used in the classroom).
Similarly, Peng (2015) explained that learners envisioning themselves in an English speaking community correlates with the imagined communities construct, which is in line with Dörnyei’s (2005) definition of the ideal L2 self. This may, in turn, enhance one’s motivation to use English. Learners’ images of themselves as communicative members of an imagined community may motivate them to become closer to attaining this ideal L2 self (Ryan, 2009, as cited in Peng, 2015).
Peng’s 2015 study, which examined university learners in an EFL setting in China, found that correlation between positive past L2 learning experiences and an intent to become a part of an imagined community could lead to envisioning proficiency in English. Additionally, Peng (2015) argued that students who imagined themselves as part of the global community and constructed the image of a proficient user in that community had the ability to look beyond tests in a heavily exam-oriented context. Peng (2015) warned that the importance of passing examinations might undercut learners’ desires to connect with their imagined community. The study suggests that effort on the part of teachers and parents could help learners see their true potential in the L2, especially in relation to engaging with English outside of the classroom, which I address below.
Yim (2016) examined 20 primary school students in South Korea in a three year longitudinal study, looking specifically at the correlation between learners’ learning experiences outside of school and their imagined communities. Like Peng (2015), Yim (2016) argued that language learners who imagine proficient use of the L2 have a stronger connection to their ideal L2 self—hence the imagined community. Of the 20 students Yim interviewed, 19 of them recognized English as something they would use in their respective imagined communities, whether that be a high school, college, or a future career where they may work with non-Koreans (Yim, 2016).
There are limitations to applying the construct of imagined communities to L2 teaching. Kanno and Norton (2003) emphasize that while recognizing imagined communities is beneficial to understanding our learners’ respective identities and language goals, the concept does not always lead to positive change. Kanno and Norton (2003) discussed a case of a Japanese teenager who had spent most of his life in English speaking countries, yet identified as a Japanese person throughout. He maintained his Japanese language ability while constructing an imagined community within Japan that would await his return. Upon returning to Japan, his imagined community did not coincide with his expectations, causing him to reject his Japanese identity. This disassociation is a potential drawback of an imagined community, especially if a learner’s perceived identity does not harmonize with the imagined community. However, in the case of this Japanese teenager, Kanno and Norton (2003) argued that his imagination not only gave him a sense of direction while abroad, it allowed him to maintain his ability to interact in Japanese. I address ideas to mitigate this in the classroom below.
Yim (2016) found that even though learners as young as primary schoolers have considered imagined communities, this is not a prerequisite for communicative use of English. According to Yim (2016), “students seem to construct imagined communities mainly based on their learning experiences outside school, in which English is considered to be a crucial school subject and an important exam subject” (p. 62). Furthermore, Yim suggested that this particular imagined community did not necessarily coincide with that of the national curriculum in South Korea, which favored a more communicative approach, and this gap caused lower student engagement at state schools in the country. The students who preferred grammar found it more difficult to connect their learning to an imagined community where communication was, at its core, drawing more on envisioning themselves passing a high-stakes test (Yim, 2016). Yim (2016) suggested that in order to combat this, teachers should take a closer look at learners’ beliefs about English language learning. By developing and understanding related imagined communities, teachers can help guide their learners to see English as a communicative resource rather than just a subject to help prepare for an exam.
Table 1. Quick View Chart For Identity-Focused Activities
|Quick Write||Find out what learners think about English language learning, specifically about why they are learning English.|
|Interests / Values / Abilities||Graphic organizer to find out learners’ interests, values, and abilities.|
|Multimedia Exploration||Provide examples of people, places, and things learners can encounter in their imagined community. YouTube is wonderful for this exploration.|
|K-W-L Chart||Graphic organizer to activate learner’s background knowledge and curiosity on a topic. Also, allows learners to reflect on what they learned.|
There are a number of ways to support our learners’ unique imagined communities in the EFL classroom. The activities described in Table 1 have been developed and adapted from what I have learned in coursework at Hamline University’s MA-TESOL program. I identified these practices for upper elementary learners in Japan who have often struggled to tell me why they are learning English. After reading the literature on imagined communities in language learners, the connection it has to the L2 self, and the risks we take in not connecting an imagined community to language learning, it became apparent that I needed to try a new approach. For example, to find out our learners’ beliefs surrounding English, we can ask them what it is they want to achieve in class, using a quick write activity (adapted from Celce-Murcia et al.’s 2014 textbook, Teaching English as Second or Foreign Language). A quick write allows the learners to write about a topic decided by the teacher without necessarily worrying about proper spelling or syntax. It is meant to be a reflective self-assessment tool and can even be made anonymous. A topic idea for this surrounding imagined communities could be topics such as “Why I am learning English” or “My ideal English speaking community.” The goal of the activity is to find out a little more about our learners, relating learning content to their prior knowledge and their current and future ideal L2 selves.
Additionally, and depending on the level of learner, they could tap into their ideal community by completing a chart of their individual interests, values, and abilities. The chart can be simply constructed with those three headings on a blank sheet of paper (INTERESTS / VALUES / ABILITIES). Once completed, the data can be analyzed (promoting high-order, critical thinking skills) and grouped into different imagined communities they potentially want to take part in. For example, if one learner had an interest in cooking, they could look for a cooking club or class to join, or utilize YouTube to find chefs they enjoy and recipes they want to create. This could offer a wonderful opportunity for connection with this community of interest.
Teachers might also provide learners with world news reports, television programs based on a community/topic of interest, and other multimedia outlets in order to guide their vision of their future selves. This may also situate the learners into an imagined global community, which could in turn spark their willingness to communicate (Peng, 2015). An example of this would be providing a learner who is interested in studying abroad with a promotional video on college life in the United States, for example (a suggestion here is to search YouTube for certain university promotional videos—most universities have these readily available). By providing this type of media in class, teachers are able to open up a discussion around not only studying abroad or higher education, but they can also have a dialogue around what it will take to achieve such a goal. The goal here is to highlight that English is used in the university community. A specific activity prior to watching the promotional video would be a K W-L (What I Know, What I Wonder, What I Learned) chart, where the learners fills out what they already know about the university or university life, what they wonder about the university or university life, and once the lesson is finished, they are able to fill in what they learned about the university or university life.
Additionally, to mitigate potential misalignment of learners’ individual imagined communities, such as the case of the Japanese teenager, I suggest the teacher act as a cultural informant in the classroom, developing awareness of these potential imagined communities by designing lessons based on “If / Then” scenarios to provide situational learning in regards to what may happen in the learners’ target community. An example would be, “If I move to Japan, then I need to be able to understand how to open a bank account.” The learner could create original sentences from this model, allowing for individualized future findings in the target culture. Also, the teacher, if applicable, could share experiences of life in a new community, creating a unit of study around this new life and the joys and challenges that come along with life while abroad.
As the research suggests (Bucholtz & Hall, 2008; Dörnyei, 2005; Norton, 2010; Peng, 2015; Yim, 2016), understanding learners’ imagined communities can help to gain a better understanding of their L2 identity and then draw on this knowledge to promote the communities of which the learner may not have been previously aware. Making connections between our learners’ ideal L2 self and their imagined communities, while attempting to facilitate a variety of communicative skills, is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all model. All learners will have different visions and reasons for learning English. By building upon our learners’ previous knowledge and their individual interests, and by beginning to understand them not only as ELLs, but as people with desires and dreams (i.e., their ideal L2 self), we can start to tap into learner motivation, which will assist them in stepping foot into their imagined community and further guide them to their language learning goals. Like my own language journey, it has to start with an idea, an imagination, and a desire. It is 10 years later and this once imagined community has become my reality.
Anderson, B. R. (2016). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (4th ed.). Verso.
Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2008). Finding identity: Theory and data. Multilingua-journal of Cross-cultural and Interlanguage Communication, 27, 151-163. https://doi.org/10.1515/MULTI.2008.008
Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D., & Snow, M. A. (2014). Teaching English as a second or foreign language. National Geographic Learning.
Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The Psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Routledge.
Kanno, Y., & Norton, B. (2003). Imagined communities and educational possibilities: Introduction. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 2(4), 241-249. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327701JLIE0204_1
Norton, B. (2010) Language and identity. In: N. H. Hornberger, & S. L. McKay (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language education (pp. 349-369). Multilingual Matters.
Pavlenko A., & Norton, B. (2007) Imagined communities, identity, and English language learning. In J. Cummins, & C. Davison (Eds). International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 669-680). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-46301-8_43
Peng, J. (2015). L2 motivational self system, attitudes, and affect as predictors of L2 WTC: An imagined community perspective. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 24(2), 433-443. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40299-014-0195-0
Ryan, S. (2009). Self and identity in L2 motivation in Japan: The ideal L2 self and Japanese learners of English. In Z. Dörnyei, & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 Self (pp. 120-143). Multilingual Matters.
Yim, S. Y. (2016). EFL young learners: Their imagined communities and language learning. ELT Journal, 70(1), 57-66. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccv037
Based on my son’s experience of spending a year in Japan, academic support, social connectedness, and community engagement and activities contribute to international students’ school and cultural adjustment process.
Keywords: study abroad, cultural adjustment, school adjustment, Japan
With study abroad (SA) programs flourishing in countries around the world (that is before the COVID-19 pandemic hit), students studying overseas has received considerable empirical attention in the past twenty years, “particularly as a means of understanding the complexities of SA contexts” (Isabelli-García et al., 2018, p. 447). Recent SA research has focused on a number of topics, “ranging from linguistic performance on a single token such as lexical, morphological, or phonological features to nonlinguistic domains such as fluctuating identity formation that occurs abroad and development of intercultural competency” (Isabelli-García et al., 2018, p. 449). A significant part of this research has been conducted in countries where English is spoken as a first language (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, UK, the US, and Canada), linking this trend to people’s desire for mobility with English being used as the lingua franca around the world. Some of this line of inquiry have suggested that many ESL learners have limited opportunities to use English outside the classroom (Chappell et al., 2018), hindering the acquisition process of the target language as active use is essential in learning a second language (L2). Yet, as Coleman (2015, p. 38) points out, students “are [often] not the same students who return” home, and therefore language development is just one of many issues being researched in SA contexts. Studies exploring ESL learners’ school and cross-cultural adjustment processes, for example, have demonstrated that living in a foreign country with an unfamiliar language can be a stressful experience, often intensified by separation from family (Szabo et al., 2016). Adjusting to a new environment is generally facilitated by staying for a prolonged period of time in the country, establishing interpersonal relationships, and addressing mental health concerns (Wang et al., 2018; Yeh, 2003). As such, learner identity, including individual differences, motivation, and social networks, has been shown to play a crucial role in studying in a foreign environment.
Studies on international students in non-English speaking countries have highlighted the importance of social networks in studying abroad. That is, social activities and out-of-class interaction in the target language can positively influence L2 development (Paradowski et al., 2021), and students forming local relationships and getting involved in local leisure activities (e.g., sport) gradually excel in their integration and enjoyment of their intercultural experience (McManus et al., 2014). “The self-reported amount of social interaction outside of class” (Dewey et al., 2012, p. 130) seems to enhance the development of international students’ Japanese speaking skills in Japan, while stress, loneliness, and lack of progress in learning Japanese hinders the cross-cultural adjustment of international students in Japanese universities. Social support, interpersonal relationships, length of study, and mastery of the Japanese language, on the other hand, facilitate the process, although the extent of students’ adjustment tends to vary depending on their cultural background (Tanaka et al., 1994). One of the few studies examining younger learners, Li et al. (2013) found that self-efficacy, academic disengagement, alienation, and parental support play important roles in Chinese students’ adjustment to life in junior and senior high schools in Japan, while length of residence is positively correlated with language development and cultural adaptation.
With the exception of Li et al.’s study, the majority of the research on international students in Japan appears to focus on university students. Also, all of the aforementioned studies draw on questionnaire data and therefore provide somewhat limited insights into the lived experiences of international students in Japan. Responding to Dewey et al.’s (2012) proposition that “[t]o better understand relationships between identity, attitudes, motivation, social networks, and language acquisition, a more holistic picture of learners’ experiences is critical” (p. 126), the present paper is qualitative in nature and aims to provide a thick description to showcase my son’s experience of spending a year in Japan. The study is guided by the following broad research question: What are my son’s lived experiences while adjusting to life in Japan?
Having been born in Canada to a Japanese mom and a Swiss/American dad, my son has a fascinating and rather complicated identity, and so we decided early on to raise him bilingually (English-Japanese). Prior to spending a year in Japan, he had visited the country on several occasions and attended a Japanese primary school in the greater Osaka area for a few weeks in grades and 1 and 5. These short visits enabled him to make friends with some of the local children, and he was to a certain degree familiar with the school environment, neighborhood, and Japanese culture. At the time this study was conducted, he was 12 years old and his spoken Japanese was at an intermediate level, while his reading and writing proficiency were slightly lower.
Spending a whole year in Japan at some point during our children’s formative schooling years to learn more Japanese and develop an intricate familiarity with the culture was always something my wife and I were hoping to achieve as parents. The idea was not unlike the study abroad experience of international students in English-speaking countries, except that we intended to immerse our kids in the Japanese language and culture. The opportunity arose at the end of 2017. Complications with our Australian permanent residency (PR) application meant that we had to leave Australia and apply for PR from overseas. Although somewhat unexpected, this was the perfect opportunity for us to spend a year in Japan and so my wife and three children left for Osaka in early February 2018. I was fortunate to have a flexible job (and an understanding head of school) that permitted me to teach online and therefore visit my family on several occasions.
As soon as they arrived in Japan, my wife enrolled the children in public primary school with my oldest son joining grade six. Six weeks after moving to Japan, he graduated from primary school, and a month later he commenced junior high school (grade 7). All of the subjects were taught in Japanese and moving to a different school with new teachers provided a significant challenge for him. Complicating this transition was the fact that the majority of students were Japanese and the teachers had limited experience in dealing with students from other countries. Having crossed borders and lived in different countries on multiple occasions myself (Burri, forthcoming), I was interested in my son’s experiences and challenges and I wanted to find out how he was coping with this transition and with being a foreign student at a Japanese junior high school, especially since it became apparent that he was going to receive minimal academic support from the school. Another reason for my interest was in spite of these challenges, he seemed to be genuinely excited about the prospect of attending a junior high school in Japan, and so I set out to look for factors that contributed to his school and cultural adjustment in the hope that some of the insights gained during my inquiry would make a contribution to the SA literature.
Following my son’s transition to the local junior high school—and in the spirit of some of my previous ethnographic work (Burri, 2018)—I began to carefully observe and have deliberate conversations with him about his experiences at the school and in the community. At the end of the year, I had a 30-minute chat with him with the aim of having him reflect on the entire year and to give me an opportunity to ask some questions about issues I had observed or been told about. Two weeks later, I had a similar conversation with my wife to compare her perspective with my son’s experiences and with some of the insights I had gained since his transition to the junior high school. None of these conversations were audio-recorded as they often took place spontaneously in various places (e.g., over dinner, at a café, on the train, or at school events, etc.), but I kept notes on my laptop which were then arranged thematically before writing up this article.
Initially, my son encountered several challenges at the junior high school, but academic and parental support, friendships, and community engagement and activities facilitated his adjustment. Academically, he found the testing and the frequency of the exams in some of the school subjects challenging. He also struggled with learning kanji (Chinese characters), but he was determined to catch up to his classmates. He began to practice and memorize kanji characters at home before and after school, and, somewhat surprisingly, he decided to reduce his swimming training in order to attend cram school and study Japanese language and math. He believed that going to cram school would help him do better on tests because most of the exams were memory-based. Finding the right cram school was important for my son’s academic progress. The wife of the owner and teacher of the institution was from the Philippines and therefore possessed a good understanding of the complexity of the Japanese language and the typical challenges and mistakes foreigners make when using the language. As my son explained, the academic support he received at the cram school began to pay off over the course of a few months: “I gained confidence in studying” to the extent that “the exams [at school] helped me how to study. They showed me that I could do it.”
Peer intimidation was another challenge my son faced at the beginning of the school year. My wife suspected that Japanese students were not used to having a non-Japanese student in class and that the teachers were perhaps unsure about how to address this issue. Consequently, she met with the teachers and, in an attempt to stop the bullying, she suggested that the teachers discussed with the class that each student was unique and different and thus there was no place for peer harassment in society. She viewed this to be a necessary step, given that alienation can lead to emotional stress and academic disengagement among children, especially international students (Li et al., 2013). After that conversation, the situation improved notably. My wife being a native Japanese speaker and therefore having the language proficiency to communicate with the teachers while possessing intricate knowledge of the local school culture proved to be critical in my son’s adjustment process. As he pointed out, “Mom helped me a lot at school. She talked to my teachers a lot.” Yet, he also viewed his homeroom teacher to be influential in helping him settle and catch up academically. He thought his teacher was a unique and positive person that often encouraged him. Interestingly, the teacher told us that having my son in the class gave him a new perspective on how kids learned. He also mentioned that one of the girls in class only sporadically came to school in the first few months of the new school year but then began to attend more frequently, possibly due to my son’s social nature and ability to communicate with his classmates. Given the positive social interaction with his classmates and teachers, the year in Japan was perhaps more profound than we will ever know.
Nonetheless, living in a foreign country was a lonely experience for my son in the first few months: “I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. I had mom but it wasn’t exactly the same.” As time progressed, his lonesomeness began to be mitigated by social connectedness and community engagement. He started to form strong friendships with some of the kids at school and they helped him with his schoolwork: “having friends helped me want to go to school every day. They also helped me if I didn’t know how to read or say something.” As the following statement depicts, making friends also enabled him to participate in community activities:
I can walk to school and play with friends. I can interact with people at the card game shop every Sunday afternoon. I realized that I am good at playing card games. It was fun interacting with new people and playing cards. Also, the Bible camp in August was really fun. I got to meet new people and learned about God and other people’s experiences.
Besides getting more engaged in the community, he also joined the school’s swimming club. Through joining the club he was able to meet and make new friends with children that shared a common interest: swimming. Thus, forming friendships and participating in community and sports activities facilitated my son’s adjustment. Somewhat similar to my own experience of studying abroad (Burri, forthcoming), however, the local context in which he was situated also augmented this adjustment process. He thought that being in the epicenter of an M6.1 earthquake, which resulted in a week-long school closure, and experiencing significant flooding and a serious typhoon were interesting and added to the authenticity of his 1-year stay in Japan. Not surprisingly, therefore, I observed a gradual increase in his cultural competence as his identity began to change and be “reproduced in social interaction” (Darvin & Norton, 2015, p. 37) to the extent that at the end of the year he told me that “I feel that I’m fitting in a lot.” Hence, being immersed in a specific local context while having his own social space in the local community gave my son ample opportunities to improve his Japanese proficiency and adjust his identity, which, in combination with academic and parental support, helped him overcome some of the challenges and subsequently facilitated his school and cultural adjustment in Japan.
My son’s experience in Japan provided evidence that adjusting to a foreign environment is not just limited to studying an additional language. Adjustment is situated in a particular context and facilitated by a number of interconnected factors, including academic support, social interaction and connectedness, and community engagement and activities. Granted, my son’s trans-cultural identity, as well as his prior knowledge of the Japanese language (Hennings & Tanabe, 2018), likely facilitated his adjustment and probably set him apart from the typical international student in an SA program. It would be interesting to hear from more parents or researchers about their experiences with raising multicultural children at home and while studying overseas (see, for example, Kouritzin, 2000, 2016). Having more of those narratives would not only be informative and possibly empower parents/guardians, but ultimately contribute to students’ adjustment and enjoyment of living in a foreign environment. Being an overseas student can be an incredibly enriching experience, often resulting in a new appreciation for diversity; something that I think is desperately needed in these challenging times we are currently facing.
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Wang, Y., Li, T., Noltemeyer, A., Wang, A., Zhang, J., & Shaw, K. (2018). Cross-cultural adaptation of international college students in the United States. Journal of International Students, 8(2), 821-842. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v8i2.116
Yeh, C. J. (2003). Age, acculturation, cultural adjustment, and mental health symptoms of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese immigrant youths. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 9(1), 34-48. https://doi.org/10.1037/1099-9809.9.1.34
This book review summarizes Michael Abraham’s (2020) book, “Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools: What Educators Need to Understand,” and discusses why teachers will find it useful.
Keywords: Muslim students, American schools, teacher education
Teachers who have Muslim students in their classes want them to be comfortable in school and feel welcomed so that they can do as well as possible in their studies. What they may not understand, however, are the sources of their and their parents’ discomfort with American culture, a predominantly Christian learning environment. Those who want to gain a deep enough understanding to support accomplishment and prevent discomfort should read Michael Abraham’s (2020) book, Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools: What Educators Need to Understand. The intended audience for this book is teachers in American K-12 public schools, but it will serve well for teachers in other countries where Islam is not the majority’s religion.
The book starts with a compelling rationale by reminding us that teacher education inevitably requires instruction on race, diversity, and multiculturalism, but that religious diversity and Islam, the most important aspects of identity for Muslim students, are rarely included. The rationale is followed by a concise but informative history of Islam in the United States, which goes back to its beginning through the African slave trade. After that, Abraham explains aspects of Muslim beliefs, organized by the five pillars of Islam. He further explains how common education practices can cause discomfort and misunderstanding for Muslim students within that religious framework.
Abraham continues by explaining how learning, lecture based and teacher centered, takes place in traditional Muslim schools. He does not suggest that teachers in American public schools adopt this style of education, but instead suggests how pedagogical practices from Islamic schools can be modified for public school use. For example, Abraham provides teachers with scaffolds, based on argumentation theory as well as his experience teaching, that will make it easier for language learners to extract meaning from texts.
Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools goes on to include a whole chapter section on what kinds of texts can be offensive for Muslims. Abraham shows how books portraying Islam that are popular among Western readers, such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003) and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (2014), can be offensive to Muslims’ sensibilities. He concludes with a list of texts that portray a positive and objective image of Muslims, which allow students to see themselves authentically in the curriculum, and can be used to promote literacy.
Abraham’s book provides sensitive, well-researched answers to the many questions that teachers have about working with Muslim students, and brings up issues that many teachers do not even realize are there. He draws on Western educational literature as well as Islamic scholarship and religious texts, and the citations are numerous. Here are some of the questions he addresses:
This book is not a quick read, and although it includes some easily implementable tips, such as how to include student-led prayer time efficiently, there are other culture clashes that are more difficult to resolve. Some of the practices Abraham asks teachers to implement will require teachers to take substantial time to communicate with parents and students. Teachers also may view some suggestions as inappropriate in modern Western society or in the American school culture. For example, they may not accept the wisdom of separating males from females. They also may not agree with the suggestion that teachers should report lapses in Islamic dress code to parents just because their parents want to know about them, when those lapses comply with school norms. Teachers may also be hesitant about getting inspiration from Islamic pedagogical practice. However, understanding the reasoning behind the issues will make one a more sensitive, more educated teacher.
The reader should also keep in mind that there are a variety of ways that Islam is practiced in the world today, and thus some Muslim parents and students will feel differently about various cultural guidelines. Some will be inclined to follow Islamic practices more closely than others. However, for teachers who care enough to make their classrooms a welcoming environment for all students, this book provides in-depth explanations and suggestions that they can consider. Reading it will make one a more culturally-relevant, thoughtful, and accommodating teacher. For more information about Michael Abraham’s work, visit his website: https://www.abrahameducation.com/.
Abraham, M. (2020). Engaging Muslim students in public schools: What educators need to understand. Abraham Education.
Ellis, D. (2014). The breadwinner. Oxford University Press.
Hosseini, K. (2003). The kite runner. Riverhead Books.
Correction made on 7 June, 2021: An earlier version of this article mistakenly included Al Mansour’s (2015) The Green Bicycle as another popular book among Western readers which could be offensive to Muslims’ sensibilities. This reference was replaced with Deborah Ellis’ (2014) The Breadwinner.
Second language (L2) students often face linguistic barriers and cultural differences that make reading and writing from academic sources challenging. These students would benefit from instruction across the curriculum in using peer-reviewed sources. The aim of this article is to strengthen university-wide academic source use instruction for L2 students.
Keywords: source use, academic articles, college
In U.S. postsecondary institutions, students read many texts. Course textbooks, nonfiction trade books, literary classics, historical documents: students’ assigned readings are varied and abundant. One particularly challenging genre in college courses is the peer-reviewed academic article. Often presented as the “gold standard” in source quality, the peer-reviewed article is valued by faculty for disseminating research carried out by experts, for being subjected to a rigorous vetting process, and for illuminating the social process of knowledge production.
The central role of the academic journal article in the intellectual life of the university leads many faculty to incorporate this genre into reading, writing, and research assignments in their courses. Beginning in first-year general education classes and continuing through advanced courses in the major, students are expected to do sophisticated work with peer-reviewed articles, including gathering, analyzing, summarizing, synthesizing, and critiquing these texts. Working with peer-reviewed sources is a challenge for any undergraduate student but may pose particular problems for second language (L2) students. Like their domestic student peers, L2 students are disadvantaged by a lack of familiarity with the genre and its broader context. Additionally, they may face linguistic barriers that interfere with reading comprehension (Neumann et al., 2019) and cultural differences that shape source integration norms (Hu & Wang, 2014). The frequent appearance of academic sources in college courses, then, may present an obstacle to L2 students’ academic success.
Given this situation, second language students would benefit from thoughtful academic source use support, spread across all four years of college. Such support, however, may not be the norm. Some faculty may not see a role for themselves in source use instruction and thus do not embed this focus into their courses. Other faculty may want to incorporate this instruction into their courses or are doing so now but struggle to know what teaching strategies would be effective. In both cases, L2 students are left underprepared to work with peer-reviewed materials.
In this piece, I draw from my professional experience as an instructor in an intensive English language program, director of a first-year writing program, and coordinator of my university’s writing across the curriculum requirement to examine L2 students’ source use instructional needs. I begin by providing context, reviewing literature on academic source use in the undergraduate curriculum and the challenges that L2 students face with source representation. I then present four instructional practices that can boost L2 students’ development with source use in any course. Given the growth in the L2 student population on U.S. college campuses due to internationalization efforts, it behooves faculty in every discipline to become skilled at coaching L2 students in academic source work. This article helps faculty succeed at this task so that their students can develop greater confidence and skill in their source work.
L2 students encounter academic articles early in their programs, often as part of a required first-year writing course. Hood’s (2010) survey of writing program administrators, for example, indicated that first-year writing courses required some kind of research paper at 85% of public schools and 50% of private schools. Subsequent courses build on this foundation. In his study of roughly 800 writing assignments from forty-eight institutions, Melzer (2003) identified the “term paper” as the third most common assignment given across the curriculum. Melzer’s examples of this assignment type uniformly require students to gather and synthesize relevant disciplinary literature. Students are likely to encounter term papers in 200- to 400-level courses, including courses with a “writing” designation (e.g. “writing-intensive,” “writing-enriched”), capstone courses in the major, and any course with a strong secondary research and/or presentation component.
While encounters with academic literature are a given, consistent and effective instruction in source use is not. Library Science research has illuminated problems with source use instruction, particularly in studies on information literacy, a term used to describe “the ability to find, access, evaluate and use information” (Saunders, 2012, p. 226). In her research on faculty attitudes and practices toward information literacy, Saunders (2012) found that while faculty highly value information literacy, they lack “systematic ways to integrate it into their curriculum” and tend, instead, to take an “intermittent or ad-hoc approach to information literacy [instruction]” (p. 231). As a result of this patchwork approach, students are likely to experience gaps in support for source use, as Davis (2013) found in her case study of three Chinese graduate students.
Research on L2 students’ use of sources reinforces the need for intentional, ongoing instruction and support in working with academic sources. Source use has been characterized as “one of the most challenging of all academic literacy activities for L2 writers” (Hirvela & Du, 2013, p. 87). The difficulties observed in L2 students’ writing are many; among their findings, scholars have indicated that L2 student writing may display exact copy from original texts or too-close paraphrases, insufficient synthesis of multiple sources, a limited range of rhetorical functions for cited texts, a non-committal reporting stance toward sources, reliance on the same reporting verbs, over-citing, weak attribution of Internet sources, insufficient extraction of important information from the text, and confusion between primary and secondary sources (Davis, 2013; Lee et al., 2018; Merkel, 2020; Wette, 2010, 2018; for a comprehensive review, see Liu et al., 2016).
In light of these challenges, L2 writing scholars have argued for pedagogical interventions to help L2 students develop their source use skills within their content courses. Davis (2013) argues for greater support beyond students’ early writing courses, so that students can “continuously develop their source use” throughout college (p. 134). Likewise, Wette (2017, p. 56), recommends “ongoing attention to writing using sources strategies throughout students’ undergraduate years,” offering a range of teaching strategies to this end. What can be done beyond introductory writing courses to support L2 students’ work with academic articles? Faculty interested in delving into the literature may benefit from consulting research on L2 students’ source use challenges in the discipline (Wette, 2017, 2018). Alternatively, they may want to consult English for Academic Purposes (EAP) oriented pedagogy scholarship, such as Liu et al.’s (2016) nine-step plan for EAP instructors rooted in the core concepts of transparency, knowledge, and engagement. As a preface to more in-depth study, I offer here four principles for enriching source use support across the curriculum. These principles are derived from years of teaching first-year writing, coaching first-year writing instructors, and teaching faculty from across the curriculum. Working from this foundation, university faculty will be better equipped to help L2 students grapple with challenging texts throughout their years of study.
Effective work with academic sources presupposes strong and versatile reading skills. Such skills need deliberate, ongoing nurturing. As faculty, our immersion in the academic norms, genres, and jargon of our disciplines can lead us to underestimate the chasm that lies between the reading background of our students and our own ambitious reading expectations for them—and the important role we play in bridging this gap.
To support our students’ facility with academic texts, we can begin by broadening our identity repertoire to include the role of “reading coach.” Coaching reading is second nature to most English for Academic Purposes instructors, who often teach courses explicitly tied to reading. But for those of us who teach courses that foreground writing or discipline-specific content, assuming responsibility for L2 students’ reading development may require a shift in our instructional planning and practices. Adopting the role of “reading coach” in any course that includes academic scholarship requires us to carefully consider when, what, and how to assign and support reading in our courses.
Asking when involves evaluating reading’s breadth in our courses. Teachers can evaluate the extent to which reading is interwoven throughout their courses and ascertain whether there are overlooked opportunities to use reading to support their learning goals. For example, in my curricular work for Intensive English Program courses and multilingual first-year writing, I have increasingly sought to embed reading into every unit and to foreground the reading-writing connection from the very beginning. Often, I use short readings on the first day of class as an entry point into course content or an introduction to classroom practices, and I build on that foundation in the weeks to come. In similar fashion, faculty across the disciplines can integrate readings early and often to teach key concepts, illustrate disciplinary practices, and/or highlight real-world applications. Frequent reading opportunities support L2 students’ ongoing academic development.
Asking what involves pondering the sequence of and relationships between the texts we assign. We can infuse our instructional planning with a conditioning mindset, thinking carefully about how to build reading stamina and sophistication over the course of many weeks. L2 students’ ability to navigate challenging academic texts grows when assigned readings have been rigorously evaluated, not merely for their contributions to the subject matter but also for their contributions to students’ incremental development as readers.
Asking how involves examining the methods of instruction we adopt to nurture L2 students’ reading skills. Students need guidance in identifying claims, evidence, and reasoning across diverse texts and contexts. They need support to unpack the genre norms and audience expectations of the texts assigned. One Human Performance faculty member modeled this kind of care through teaching specific sections of academic articles. This step-by-step instruction culminated in a full critique of an academic article that asked students to find problems with the study and discuss research solutions. Reading coaches’ approaches are unique and varied; nevertheless, across instructional styles, coaches share a commitment to devoting time to purposeful, guided textual exploration.
“For your final paper, you will pick any topic from the course that interests you, gather ten library sources, and take a stance on the topic, using your research as support.” Writing prompts like this can be found in disciplines across the university. I have seen them in the cross-disciplinary faculty workshops I lead, and variations of this prompt are common in first-year writing. Bean (2011), in the popular writing across the curriculum text Engaging Ideas, calls this assignment design “the traditional method” and warns of its potentially “debilitating” effects. In response to such prompts, Bean argues, students are prone to write “wandering ‘all about’ papers,” “quasi-plagiarized data dumps,” or “resort to outright plagiarism” (p. 91).
Bean attributes students’ weak performance to instructors’ loose guidelines: the assignment instructions fail to help students envision who they are writing to, in what genre, and for what purpose. Equally problematic may be the lack of scrutiny paid to the research, reading, and writing process. Well-intentioned teachers may adopt a generic prompt while envisioning the product they hope to receive while failing to adequately explore the process it takes to get there.
Submitting our assignments under the microscope can help us identify and rectify gaps in instruction. Under such magnification, weaknesses in reading assistance are likely to come into view. Such was the case in our first-year writing program, as I examined the research support provided for L2 and domestic students. Through observing teaching assistants’ classroom instruction, I realized that a missing link existed between the source access skills taught by librarians and the source representation skills taught by first-year writing teachers. Neither party assumed responsibility for teaching source sifting, strategic reading, and content evaluating skills.
To remedy the problem, I worked with teachers to discern the sub-skills needed to succeed on a source-based assignment, an inventory worth any teacher’s time. We could then use this analysis to refine our instruction. For example, among the important skills identified was the ability to gauge a text’s relevance: students needed assistance to move from general source gathering based on keywords to a more refined and selective appraisal of sources. This realization led to in-class activities that incorporated this focus.
A similar inventory led to new instructional recommendations for a Communication Studies’ research assignment as well. Noting that the instructor’s assignment asked students to “come up with three or four claims . . . [and] back them up with supporting evidence (findings from studies),” I relayed that this would be difficult work for students at any level. I then recommended that the instructor model the process of extracting a key point from an article, rephrasing the idea, and embedding it within a larger point within a paragraph. Making these moves visible and in slow motion is the kind of microscopic work that boosts L2 students’ work with academic sources.
In general, we improve our instruction when we apply a critical lens to the research process, breaking down steps that naturally cohere for experienced researchers but that demand isolated attention for students. These efforts can lead us to be more satisfied with the quality of instruction we provide.
In any writing assignment, multiple skills compete for the writer’s attention. Source use skills are learned alongside rhetorical demands, organization expectations, and sentence-level correctness. In this way, the writing student resembles the piano student—learning to coordinate notes, tempo, dynamics, and articulation all at once to achieve a successful performance.
Integrated mastery of multiple writing sub-skills is desirable, and L2 students need to be stretched by assignments that place multiple demands on them. However, taking a scaffolded approach to instruction may yield better results. Scaffolded instruction might involve mapping skills to particular assignments, weighing the relative difficulty of each skill, and moderating the other assignment demands in turn.
The evolution of one research-based assignment for international students illustrates this point well. Initially, the assignment asked students to argue for a position that they felt strongly about. They were to write for an audience and medium of their own choosing, and they needed to integrate 3-5 sources into their piece.
The simplicity of the instructions belied the difficulty of the task. Picking a topic of appropriate scope, envisioning the beliefs and values of an audience, understanding the genre requirements of their chosen medium, and gathering, reading, and using sources well were all expected. The assignment lacked a singular learning emphasis—a skill or tight set of skills at the heart of the assignment. Instead, a range of skills were given equal importance. With insufficient support provided for this broad spectrum of skills, student performance deteriorated.
A revision of this assignment compensated for the assignment’s initial failings. First, the audience for the assignment was preselected: students would address new international students enrolled in the university. This assignment design decision enabled students to write for an audience that they understood well, having recently been a part of this group. In addition to easing audience demands, genre challenges were mitigated. In lieu of being given absolute freedom (and absolute responsibility) for their genre selection, students were asked to compose in a specific, familiar, less formal genre. This assignment adaptation further lightened rhetorical demands and preserved students’ attention for other assignment requirements.
A third way in which some aspects of assignment difficulty were controlled was by providing some sources to students. Students were given topically-aligned articles that were the basis of instruction and discussion in the class. Students then had the option of using these articles in their assignments while supplementing them with additional sources. In this way, students had to worry less about finding sources and could focus more on reading, retrieving key ideas, and representing them effectively. Guided instruction on provided texts further supported this process.
Faculty in the disciplines can learn from this assignment redesign. The takeaway for faculty across-the-disciplines is to selectively prioritize some writing skills while alleviating pressure on others. This approach, paired with deliberate instruction and individualized feedback, produces better outcomes than the “work on everything, all at once” instructional pitfall.
Ultimately, our source use aspirations for L2 students might involve more than impeccable citation and even discipline-appropriate ways of reading and writing. One laudable source use goal to which we all might aspire is to help students find value in academic scholarship, to pave the way for students to have potent experiences with academic literature as they use it for personal and/or professional enrichment. As an academic, I am able to delve into the academic literature to support my professional activities and even to answer personal questions. In times of challenge—after a miscarriage, while watching a child struggle with a physical limitation—I have leaned on academic scholarship to offer personal clarity and direction. College students are more removed from and less savvy with this well-spring of knowledge, and their opportunities to access academic literature throughout their lifetimes may be more limited. Thus, as faculty, we would do well to see academic literature as a fleeting treasure trove that L2 students cannot open themselves. We provide the keys that allow students to unlock its meaning and potential for them.
We can do so, in part, through deliberate assignment design and support. In their cross-institutional study of 700 seniors’ experiences with writing across the curriculum, Eodice, Geller, and Lerner (2017) investigated the factors that led students to identify an assignment as “meaningful.” Summarizing their findings, the researchers claim that “meaningful writing occurs when students are invited to:
Our assignments will yield greater yields in growth and learning if we select texts, develop in-class activities, and design assignment parameters with an eye towards helping students find meaning in academic research. On most days, we are thrilled when students can competently read and accurately represent sources in their writing; on our better days, we aim for higher: for students to be moved, empowered, enlightened, and changed by their interaction with academic texts. To fashion our instruction towards this goal should be an ongoing aim.
For most faculty, assuming responsibility for L2 students’ academic source use development may not initially entice. Competing priorities abound. But the need is great and the rewards plentiful. Adapting the principles I have shared will require curricular ingenuity and strategic thinking—intellectually satisfying acts of mind for any academic. Furthermore, reconceptualizing our instructional role as coach and mentor can be both ennobling and liberating. As we deepen our understanding of the aims of academic source use instruction and envision the important roles we can play, we set the stage for increased instructional effectiveness, greater professional satisfaction, and gains in student learning.
Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2nd ed). Jossey-Bass.
Davis, M. (2013). The development of source use by international postgraduate students. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 12(2), 125-135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2012.11.008
Eodice M., Geller, A., & Lerner, N. (2017). What meaningful writing means for students. Peer Review, 19(1), 25-29.
Hirvela, A., & Du, Q. (2013). “Why am I paraphrasing?”: Undergraduate ESL writers’ engagement with source-based academic writing and reading. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 12(2), 87-98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2012.11.005
Hood, C. L. (2010). Ways of research: The status of the traditional research paper assignment in first-year writing/composition courses. Composition Forum, 22. https://compositionforum.com/issue/22/ways-of-research.php
Hu, G., & Wang, G. (2014). Disciplinary and ethnolinguistic influences on citation in research articles. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 14, 14-28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2013.11.001
Lee, J. J., Hitchcock, C., & Casal, J. E. (2018). Citation practices of L2 university students in first-year writing: Form, function, and stance. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 33(1), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2018.01.001
Liu, G., Lin, V., Kou, X., & Wang, H. (2016) Best practices in L2 English source use pedagogy: A thematic review and synthesis of empirical studies. Educational Research Review, 19, 36-57.
Melzer, D. (2003). Assignments across the curriculum: A survey of college writing. Language and Learning Across the Disciplines, 6(1), 86-110.
Merkel, W. (2020). A case study of undergraduate L2 writers’ concerns with source‐based writing and plagiarism. TESOL Journal, 11(3), e00503. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.503
Neumann, H., Leu, S., & McDonough, K. (2019). L2 writers’ use of outside sources and the related challenges. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 38, 106-120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2019.02.002
Saunders, L. (2012). Faculty perspectives on information literacy as a student learning outcome. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(4), 226-236.
Wette, R. (2010). Evaluating student learning in a university-level EAP unit on writing using sources. Journal of Second Language Writing, 19(3), 158-177. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2010.06.002
Wette, R. (2017). Source text use by undergraduate post-novice L2 writers in disciplinary assignments: Progress and ongoing challenges. Journal of Second Language Writing, 37, 46-58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2017.05.015
Wette, R. (2018). Source-based writing in a health sciences essay: Year 1 students’ perceptions, abilities, and strategies. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 36, 61-75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2018.09.006
Many English language learners (ELLs) and instructors have found that non-native speakers are apt to be understood if their pronunciation is comprehensible even if other aspects of their language use contain errors—highlighting the need to integrate pronunciation instruction into language learning curricula. This article demonstrates a task-based approach to teach suprasegmentals and explains why and how suprasegmentals can greatly aid language learners in their ability to be understood.
Keywords: teacher education, secondary, college student education, adult education
Over the past few decades, research regarding methodologies to improve English language speech production has had a greater focus on understanding the importance of intelligibility over native-like speech. For instance, Meyers (2014) noted that intelligibility in English improved when the instructional focus was on improving fluency rather than the perfect attainment of a native accent because students saw this as a more manageable goal. More specifically, Meyers and others have emphasized the importance of teaching suprasegmental features such as stress, rhythm, and intonation to reach this objective. For example, Derwing et al. (1998) found that learners’ spontaneous production improved when they were taught suprasegmentals compared to learners who only received segmental-based (individual consonant and vowel sounds) instruction. Burns and Claire (2003) also note the importance of suprasegmentals by stating that even if students have excellent grammar and vocabulary when speaking, their ideas are often misunderstood if they produce suprasegmental errors.
Alleviating the fluency challenges noted by Burns and Claire (2003) is not only critical for intelligibility but is also vital for student well-being. Derwing (2003) found that misinterpretation by others often makes English language learners (ELLs) feel the need to avoid speaking in English, which in many contexts can lead to social isolation. The social and emotional well-being of students is not only essential for their mental health but is often an indicator of their linguistic success. As noted by Oroujlou and Vahedi (2011, p. 1), “motivation and attitude provide primary impetus to initiate learning… and later the driving force to sustain the long… learning process.” If students feel motivated and included by their larger peer group, rather than segregated, they are more likely to be successful not only in the classroom, but in all contexts in which they communicate in English.
Additionally, in my experience, students who come to the United States to study for advanced degrees often come with increased fluency in their reading and writing skills compared to their listening and speaking skills. This may be the result of English language curricula in many countries having a heavy focus on rote skills rather than oral communication skills and a lack of opportunity to interact with English speakers (Sawir, 2005). This causes students without strong oral skills to struggle to succeed academically due to the quantity of interactions and assignments that require speaking (e.g., classroom discussions or presentations). Therefore, it is essential that teachers take action to give students the tools they need to clearly express themselves in the academic arena. This includes integrating suprasegmental instruction into oral skills curricula.
The research is clear: suprasegmental features are critical to communicative competence (Derwing et al., 1998). However, the neglect of this important aspect of language in the classroom has continued because there has been a lack of attention given to assist English language instructors in teaching these features (Celce-Murcia, 1987; Dalton & Seidlhofer, 1994). As a result, many instructors feel ill-equipped to teach pronunciation (Foote et al., 2011; Macdonald, 2002).
There are also many linguistic reasons why teaching suprasegmental features can be challenging for instructors. If we examine native Mandarin speakers learning English, for instance, some may not be aware of the differences in rhythmic patterns between the two languages (Liang, 2015). Also, some language learners come from backgrounds that do not have pitch changes to emphasize importance, but instead their language contains individual tones (Liang, 2015). Furthermore, many prosodic features found in English (e.g., assimilation, elision, liaison) are not found in other languages, such as Mandarin (Liang, 2015).
In addition to linguistic reasons, students, instructors, and lecturers have approached me stating several cultural reasons why teaching suprasegmental features can be difficult. For one, the teacher-centered manner in which language classrooms are conducted in some countries around the world do not provide students with many opportunities to practice their speech production. Moreover, students indicated that their English instructors in their home countries may not have had formal language instructional training and therefore did not focus on how to improve oral skills. Finally, many students noted that their instructors’ teaching style in their home countries focused more on memorization than real-life practice. All of these linguistic and cultural barriers can make it difficult for the English language instructor to help students improve their suprasegmentals and therefore improve their students’ overall speech production quality. However, teaching suprasegmental features need not be difficult. I have found that using a task-based framework is an effective way to engage learners with suprasegmental features.
Before examining an activity that aids students in improving their suprasegmentals, it is important to first explore why the activity should be accomplished within a task-based framework, defined by Ellis (2017, p. 110) as a method to “cater to incidental learning… to replicate the natural learning that takes place during first language acquisition.” For one, task-based frameworks allow for more real-life contexts (Nunan, 2006). Secondly, these contexts often motivate students because it is easier for students to recognize the value of authentic materials and the real-life settings where they will be utilizing the language skills they are being taught (Dörnyei, 2001). Finally, the goal of speech-focused, task-based work is to increase intelligibility, not the production of native-like speech (Levis, 2005; Munro & Derwing, 2011, Pica, 1994). This concept is crucial to student success because attaining native-like speech is rather unlikely and will often dissuade students from attempting the pronunciation task(s) if they believe native-like speech is the goal. In my experience, explaining this to students can ease their reservations about trying and performing the activities done in class.
Below I will describe a task-based project I recently facilitated with three classes at different levels in an Intensive English Program (IEP) and a Transitional Program at a university in the Midwest. Each class met for five hours per week. The IEP levels at this university range from 1-5, and I did the project with levels 2-3 over five class periods. The Transitional Program is one step up from our IEP level 5 program, and I used four class periods for them. I modified the project depending on the level of the students’ English and I invite you to do the same.
This section encompasses a warm-up activity to engage students’ interest and help them better understand the importance of suprasegmentals and this task-based project. Below I offer suggestions for teaching three main features of suprasegmentals: word stress, rhythm, and intonation. Each class that did this assignment took one full class period plus a review in the following period to complete the warm-up activities.
Understanding word stress is very important to intelligibility. To begin this warm-up, you can analyze the sentence “I found a dollar in my pocket” with your students. Start by analyzing where each multisyllabic word in this sentence is stressed. Ask the students and/or demonstrate where the stress is in each word and why. For instance, if we examine the word dollar, we find that the primary stress is on the first syllable and is pronounced doll-ar. This is not surprising as many two syllable nouns have the primary stress on the first syllable. The same could be said for the word pock-et. It is also nice to give the students the opportunity to try this out for themselves. For lower level students, you could give example sentences for them to mirror what you just did as a whole class. For more advanced students, you could try asking them to create sentences on their own and then do the activity.
Another aspect of suprasegmentals that can be explored is rhythm. To start, demonstrate to the class how giving the most stress to one word in a sentence versus another word can change the meaning of that sentence. For example, if a speaker says, “I found a dollar in my pocket”, the listener would infer that the focus is the amount found. Another example could be “I found a dollar in my pocket.” Here the focus is the location of the dollar. Like with word stress, you could extend practice by giving lower level students some sentences to work with while asking more advanced students to create their own and try it out.
A final feature you could teach is intonation. Intonation is valuable because it helps the listener better interpret the speaker’s feelings or attitudes about what they are saying. For instance, take again the example sentence “I found a dollar in my pocket”. You could read this sentence first in an excited or happy tone indicating surprise and delight in finding the dollar. Then you could read the sentence in a more monotone voice indicating a lack of enthusiasm upon finding the dollar. You could also ask the students to do the same and have other students interpret the meaning.
Note that the sentence examined can be changed to fit the English language abilities of your students. “I found a dollar in my pocket” is a rather simple sentence that most students would be able to analyze, but a more complex sentence could be appropriate for upper-level students. Also, not all three of the above pronunciation features are necessary to include during the warm-up activity. As the instructor, you can decide to examine just one or two of the features and then only focus on those features during the project, which I will describe below.
The first step of this project is to find a speech for your students to listen to and analyze. I utilized about three minutes of a speech by former President Barack Obama, which suited the low-intermediate to advanced ELLs in my setting. However, about three minutes of any speech that best fits the level or theme of your class is appropriate for the task. I also recommend finding a speech that the students already have background knowledge about or that was given in the last decade because it will be easier for the students to interpret. Finally, before analyzing any suprasegmental features, supply a printed transcript of the speech and pre-teach the gist and vocabulary in the speech to avoid difficulty with the pronunciation activities due to content.
After a speech is found and ideas and vocabulary are reviewed, ask the students to listen to the speech for your lesson’s suprasegmental feature focus area(s). For example, you could work on rhythm by asking the students to highlight which word was stressed the most in each sentence during one minute of the speech and discuss why that word received the most stress. Do this first as a class and then as groups or pairs depending upon the size or language ability of your students.
To practice word stress, choose a minute of the speech and have students mark where the stress occurs in multisyllabic words. As the instructor, you can decide if you want to focus on words with a specific number of syllables or be more specific and focus on a certain part of speech. For instance, you can direct your students to focus on all two-syllable words or perhaps only on compound nouns.
Finally, for intonation, discuss with your class the intent of the speaker for different parts of the speech and talk through how the speech made them feel. When working with lower-level students, analyze the speech in small sections, such as sentence by sentence, and for advanced students, you could ask the students to interpret the intent in larger sections.
Overall, the types of metacognitive tasks above can help students better notice and understand the importance of suprasegmental features when speaking in English and can easily be tailored to fit the level and needs of your students.
The analysis described above can easily be followed up with an in-class or out-of-class assignment. For instance, have students repeat part one of this activity (individually or in small groups) to reinforce what was focused on. However, give each student(s) a new sentence, section, or paragraph to analyze. This can be done either in class or as homework, depending on time and the students’ need for support. My level two students did this mostly in class, but my level three and transitional students were able to complete portions outside of class. After you have given a part to each student or group and they’ve had time to analyze it, ask them to present what they found in a format most appropriate to your class.
After students have had multiple opportunities to explore and analyze the suprasegmental feature(s) chosen for your class, the next step is for the students to give their own presentations while focusing on improving those same suprasegmental feature(s) in their own speech. The length, type, topic, and level of difficulty of the presentation can be formatted to fit the needs of your students and class.
After students have completed their presentations, it is now time for the instructor of the course to give feedback and/or grade their presentations. Corrective feedback can help them better notice their errors, but it should be balanced with some positive remarks so as to not discourage the student(s). Below is a sample rubric (see Table 1) for word stress, but it could easily be altered for any suprasegmental aspect(s).
|Word stress is almost always correct and is based on the speaker’s communicative intent.||Word stress is placed correctly most of the time, but sometimes misplaced.||Word stress is used, but not always correctly.||Word stress is rarely used or is frequently misplaced, leading to miscommunication or confusion.||Word stress is not used to indicate key words in thought groups.|
Table 1. Sample rubric
Teaching suprasegmentals within a task-based framework can be accomplished. The most important variable is finding methods to allow your students to practice them in the most authentic manner possible by providing techniques that further their awareness, understanding, and self-monitoring abilities. In turn, they will obtain sociolinguistically fitting speech patterns which will help them gain confidence in their production outside of class.
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The following teaching artifact aims to guide second language writing teachers to help their college-level multilingual writers understand the compare and contrast genre via a narrative essay. The teaching artifact provides step-by-step scaffoldings and opportunities for multilingual students to establish personal connections while developing an understanding of the target genre. The activity will help students identify specific pieces of the life experiences of characters in the sample literary source, compare and contrast those aspects with their own lives, and guide them to identify the target writing genre.
Keywords: second language writing, multilingual composition, narrative writing
Conventional methods to teach second language (L2) writing and other academic writing genres usually include discussing assignment sheets and sharing examples of previous student papers with current students before they write their essays. However, compare and contrast essays are challenging for our multilingual writers because they often cannot relate to situations reflected in prior student writings or examples mentioned in conventional teaching materials. This challenge can be because of the differences in cultural practices, traditions, and educational contexts. Therefore, if we as knowledge facilitators intentionally and creatively choose teaching materials and texts such as narrative literary essays to teach the compare and contrast genre, we provide our L2 writers an opportunity to establish personal connections while practicing the genre itself. Narrative literary text can help increase student motivation and encourage them to develop their writing skills by connecting and interacting with the characters of the literary text.
This article describes an opportunity I provided to my students in 2019 in the capacity of a graduate teaching assistant, who are usually a combination of international students and second-generation immigrant students, in my English composition classroom for multilingual writing at a Midwestern university. In the class, I approached the academic concept of compare and contrast by first asking students to find similarities and differences between themselves and a character in a narrative essay. This laid the groundwork for later teaching how to write a compare and contrast essay in the academic capacity. It is noteworthy to mention that some students might already know what a compare and contrast essay is. However, this activity will allow students who already know the genre to revisit and also to help their fellow students new to this genre learn about the conventions of a compare and contrast genre, which will also benefit community building (Hyland, 2012). This article maps out the steps I used to form a foundation prior to starting instruction on compare and contrast academic essay structure.
I include the following language scaffolds: a list of response questions, a Venn diagram, and a mini writing activity to support students’ understanding of the target genre. In the following paragraphs, I will explain what this teaching material includes, how it connects to L2 literacy development via writing, and what decisions I made while designing this activity with connections to TESOL/Applied Linguistics scholarship.
Often while teaching different academic essay genres in our L2 classrooms, we find ourselves focusing on teaching a variety of writing styles rather than teaching register variations within each style, perhaps to meet course objectives. Scholars such as Pennycook (2010) and Canagarajah (2013) emphasize that register fluidity within the English language across contexts, especially genre, is one of the determinants of authentic target language use. One of the ways in which teachers can translate this into practice is by making their pedagogy situation adaptive because establishing personal connections to content is critical to students’ overall L2 literacy development, especially when they are in the early stages (Langer, 1984).
The writing-focused activity included here is intended to help L2 writers “understand how written discourse is organized to communicate within genre and task expectations” (Grabe, 2003, p. 256). It is also meant to guide L2 writers, via appropriate scaffolds, to produce their response effectively by processing the meaning from what they read via their writing (Hedgecock & Ferris, 2009).
In order to expose our multilingual writers to a variety of language uses, traditional pedagogy and resources should be supplemented with text types that include real-life nuances in our curricula (Casanave, 2011), such as the sample essay for the activity included in this article. Taking such teaching initiatives, second language writing teachers can help students identify and understand the distinctions between academic and non-academic writings, which will further develop their social interactions within second language discourse. With this background in mind, the next section will explain the teaching artifact I designed to guide my students’ understanding of the compare and contrast genre.
Reading and writing go hand in hand (Grabe, 2009; Hedgcock & Ferris, 2009; Hudson, 2007). Therefore, this activity guides early multilingual writers to connect to what they are reading in the target language and to express their critical interpretation via writing. This activity begins by introducing students to a narrative essay to help them understand the conventions of the target genre via language scaffolds where students compare and/or contrast between the specific pieces of characters’ life experiences in the literary text and their own lives.
Let’s see how this activity as a whole looked in my classroom. First, students read the sample literary text, which included multiple characters to explore. After reading it, each student chose only one character from the literary text to explore further through a series of response questions provided by the instructor. Then, with the help of a Venn diagram, students briefly noted similarities and dissimilarities between themselves and their chosen character. This culminated in a mini writing activity that allowed the students to produce their thoughts in writing. A full description of the steps I took in my classroom and the rationale for each is as follows:
Provide the students with the activity sheet (see Appendix) and the sample literary text. [Teachers will provide the sample essay. The sample essay is a part of an essay collection, which is available at most large libraries in the U.S.]
Step 1 is reading the sample text. I used a short essay called “Five Students” from a collection of short essays titled, The Fire Girl: Essays on India, America, and the In-Between written by Sayantani Dasgupta (2016). I chose this specific piece for the activity because the content of this essay tends to resonate with immigrant students. The author grew up in Delhi, India, a multilingual society. In the early 2000s, she moved to the University of Idaho in the city of Moscow to do her MFA in Creative Writing. Moscow is in rural Idaho and is demographically dominated by White English speakers. In her essay, she writes about her five students (both multilingual and domestic students) whom she taught.
This essay was particularly effective with my student population because the register of the essay is informal and consists of no heavy theoretical content. Moreover, Dasgupta’s essay is personal and anecdotal, so readers connected to the voice of the writer. I believe my students also enjoyed it because they could easily find similarities and differences between the characters in Dasgupta’s essay and themselves.
There are two ways of doing Step 1. The first approach is to ask students to read the sample essay to get a general idea of it without worrying about the activity sheet (see Appendix). Once students develop a general sense of the text, then follow the attached activity sheet’s instructions. The second approach is to ask students to read the questions on the activity sheet before reading the sample essay. This approach helps students locate the answers faster in a sample text. Both ways are reliable and dependent on the proficiency level of the classroom. Teachers can be flexible by allowing multiple opportunities to read the text for this activity, depending on how much time they want their students to spend on the activity.
After reading the essay, answer the following response questions in no more than 1-2 lines.
I would like to remind second language teachers that in using this teaching activity, the students were introduced to the concept of the compare and contrast essay by using a narrative essay. While reading the essay, my students identified one out of the five characters to compare and contrast themselves to. To help students move forward in the activity, I asked them to read all the characters’ portions because I wanted them to make a clear and informed choice of the character to whom they compared and contrasted themselves. The second reason why I asked my students to read the whole sample text was so that they could connect to the author’s experiences, try to see themselves in it, and find echoes of their own experiences, authentic examples, and justifications.
Fill in all the responses from Step 2 in the diagram below. The description of each response should only be in a few words.
Once all of the students considered their chosen character in Step 3, the Venn diagram scaffolded the process by asking them to jot down the possible similarities or dissimilarities between the characters and themselves. At the end of this step, every student had a more precise representation of how they resonated with their chosen character and how they differed.
Based on your information in the Venn diagram, write a short response (not more than 250 words) that compares and contrasts who the character is to who you are.
The activity in Step 4 is the final step where every student wrote about the similarities or dissimilarities between them and their chosen character with guidance from Step 2 (response questions) and Step 3 (Venn diagram). The activity required them to produce 250 words and exposed them to the process of the compare and contrast essay. However, this is not the essay they wrote for grading. This activity was just a way to help them think about the compare and contrast essay in a way that is meaningful to them. With this teaching artifact, my aim was to introduce my students to the target genre. After this introductory lesson, I provided my students with the commonly used structures of academic language to prepare them to write a compare and contrast essay.
Following the above steps will help students hone second language writing skills and provide students the guided support while producing the target language at the early language development stage. Based on the foundation provided here, students are better prepared to adapt to the conventions of academic writing.
This activity introduces students to the compare and contrast genre via a narrative essay and provides practice with essential reading strategies that allow them to better access the content of a text. Since my student population (both international and first or second-generation immigrant students) was new to the purposes of English language academic writing, I developed this activity to provide them with a set of tools including response questions, a Venn diagram, and mini writing, to understand the process of writing in this particular genre. These scaffolds, described above and represented on the activity sheet (see Appendix), help students understand the activity’s expectations, what they need to do while working on it, and how to do it, even if they are new to this type of genre or activity.
As Casanave (2017) puts it, as knowledge facilitators, we often have limited time because of the specified duration and requirements of our courses, and because of this, writing teachers might have to limit themselves in terms of teaching the nuances of a particular kind of genre. Therefore, keeping what Casanave (2017) suggested into consideration, with the help of this artifact, I hope to increase the scope of the target genre by including formal and informal writing and develop a “staged goal-oriented social process” among my students as suggested by Rose and Martin (2012, p. 1) as well. Such teaching initiatives empower students to build better awareness, structural understanding, and working of a specific genre both inside and outside the classroom contexts.
It is crucial for us as teachers to understand that there is no one type of good writing. Instead, there is only contextually appropriate writing. What students (us too at many levels) generally learn in writing class typically has more of an inclination towards the academic nature of language usage because that is what second language writing courses usually demand. Still, we cannot ignore that our classrooms are not the only social space within which our students engage with the second language. Therefore, preparing our students to make relevant shifts within a genre is important because it includes the production of thought, and hence, writing (at least we hope). This kind of teaching approach helps develop L2 students’ overall writing skills, as Ferris (2010) proposed by assisting them in growing as writers by moving across registers but yet within the context. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that second language writing preparation should also invite writers to interact with both academic and non-academic writing.
A crucial decision I made while designing this artifact was to learn from Yang et al. (2015) that students might feel clueless or bogged down when, as teachers, we give them something to write about that they do not know. Agreeing with Yang and others, in my opinion and in my experience, this can increase students’ Affective Filter (Krashen, 1982), broadening the gap between where they are and where they should be in terms of their language skill attainment. Therefore, centering my students’ personal experiences in this activity is one of the best ways to keep their interest in their literacy development. Since they can relate the context of the sample essay with themselves, this task helps them engage in the reading because they will continuously be comparing or contrasting the character who might have had the same (or not same) experiences as them. Frequent activities such as this can validate students’ lived experiences and act as mediation for building further literacy skills. As a result, they develop an interest in writing, which is crucial to their progress as L2 writers.
I specifically chose Dasgupta’s Five Students (2016) as the sample essay because it offers both the immigrant experience to which my students can relate and a narrative tone that teaches them to focus on understanding the craft of the targeted genre, especially when my students are at their early L2 literacy development stages. With this activity, L2 writers learn how to form their voice with the compare and contrast genre, understand the situation anecdotally, and refer to the evidence while comparing and contrasting with the characters in Dasgupta’s essay.
Via this teaching material, I want to reiterate for the reader that our students’ voices and experiences are invaluable assets for their second language development. This artifact attempts to let our students learn about the compare and contrast genre by helping them to analyze a narrative text with adequate support and to relate it to instances from their personal lives. While students are comparing or contrasting their lived experiences with the characters in Dasgupta’s essay, they not only analyze an authentic text but also develop rhetorical stances of the genre. These learnings are crucial to success in U.S. educational and professional scenarios and help students be flexible across different social contexts and become contextually appropriate writers.
Canagarajah, A. S. (Ed.). (2013). Literacy as translingual practice: Between communities and classrooms. Routledge.
Casanave, C. P. (2004). Controversies in second language writing: Dilemmas and decisions in research and instruction. University of Michigan Press.
Casanave, C. P. (2011). Journal writing in second language education. University of Michigan Press.
Casanave, C. P. (2017). Controversies in second language writing: dilemmas and decisions in research and instruction (2nd ed.). University of Michigan Press.
Dasgupta, S. (2016). Five students. In The fire girl: Essays on India, America, and the in-between (pp. 129-140). Two Sylvias Press.
Ferris, D. R. (2010). Second language writing research and written corrective feedback in SLA: Intersections and practical applications. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32(2), 181-201. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263109990490
Grabe, W. (2003). Reading and writing relations: Second language perspectives on research and practice. In B. Kroll (Ed.), Exploring the dynamics of second language writing (pp. 242-262). Cambridge University Press.
Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving from theory to practice. Ernst Klett Sprachen.
Hedgcock, J. S., & Ferris, D. R. (2009). Teaching readers of English: Students, texts, and contexts. Routledge.
Hudson, T. (2007). Teaching second language reading. Oxford University Press.
Hyland, K. (2012). Disciplinary identities: Individuality and community in academic discourse. Ernst Klett Sprachen.
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Pergamon Press Inc.
Langer, J. A. (1984). The effects of available information on responses to school writing tasks. Research in the Teaching of English, 18(1), 27-44. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40170977
Pennycook, A. (2010, August 10). The monolingual myth. Language on the Move. https://www.languageonthemove.com/the-monolingual-myth/
Rose, D., & Martin, J. R. (2012). Learning to write, reading to learn: Genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney School. Equinox.
Yang, W., Lu, X., & Weigle, S. C. (2015). Different topics, different discourse: Relationships among writing topic, measures of syntactic complexity, and judgments of writing quality. Journal of Second Language Writing, 28, 53-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2015.02.002
To reduce “othering” and the monetary burden caused by remedial courses at home universities and colleges, and being equally financially responsible for tuition fees as mainstream students, resident second-language (L2) students need to be provided with certain support and assistance by writing instructors and writing center personnel.
Keywords: generation 1.5, ESL students, writing centers, resident L2 students
The number of non-native/foreign-born residents in the United States reached 44.4 million in 2017, accounting for 13.6% of the total U.S. population (Radford & Noe-Bustamante, 2019). According to the 2017 statistical data of the United States Department of Education, 29% of all bachelor’s degrees were conferred on foreign-born resident students; this is almost double what was attained (16%) by this group of students in 2012 and represents almost one third of the entire U.S. student population that universities and community colleges serve (Arbeit et al., 2017). Unfortunately, these resident students with different linguistic and academic support needs are usually placed in classes with F1 visa holding international students. Students who hold F1 visas plan to visit the United States to pursue undergraduate studies, and usually, this course of study is their first exposure to the U.S. educational system. Though they have distinct backgrounds and needs, both groups are offered similar remedial English classes to prepare them for other content-based classes (Schwartz, 2004). This paper addresses the knowledge and skills that current writing instructors and writing center tutors1 need to know to accommodate foreign-born resident students, sometimes referred to as Generation 1.5 students. This paper focuses on describing how university programs can support the linguistic needs of resident second-language (L2) students in a way that facilitates more rapid participation in mainstream content-based classes without having to take non-credit bearing classes or extra credits that do not count towards graduation. The paper also problematizes the labeling of these students as Generation 1.5 and as English as a second language (ESL) learners; such labels add more non-credit bearing or remedial English for academic purposes (EAP) and/or ESL classes to their study program.
Depending on the age of entrance to the United States, immigrant students are classified in one of these three categories: adult newcomers (Generation 1.25), adolescent newcomers (Generation 1.5), and child newcomers (Generation 1.75) (Arbeit et al., 2017; Rumbaut, 2004). The term Generation 1.5 was first coined by two sociologists, Rumbaut and Ima (1988), originally to refer to students who moved to the United States from Asian countries during their childhood because of different reasons, such as their parents’ study, job, migration, and so forth. Technically, they are referred to as such because they fall between two generations: they neither belong to the first-generation adult immigrants nor belong to the generation of newly born children in the United States. They can be defined as the generation between the immigrant “parents” and the “sibling” generation who are born in the migrated country (Doolan, 2010). In this paper, I specifically focus on the Generation 1.5 population in the U.S. higher education context because these students are generally viewed as having specific characteristics of L2 learners who are particularly different from native speaker (L1) students of English and international F1 visa holding students who travel to the United States with undergraduate degree pursuits (Ferris, 2009; Reid, 1997).
The term Generation 1.5 has been used extensively since its coinage but also became the center of hot debates as the term is “used to emphasize students’ linguistic and academic deficits instead of resources and potential” (Kibler et al., 2011, p. 203). Benesch (2008) argues that the term Generation 1.5 is related to discourses of partiality, such as demographic partiality (deficient identities of first and second generations), linguistic partiality (deficient abilities to speak and write the English language and their native language), and academic partiality (not ready to attend college or do college work). Ortmeier-Hooper (2008) also found the label to be problematic for students as this institutionalized marker makes them feel like a “disadvantaged second language speaker” (p. 394). Sadly enough, non-white representatives of this student group are even associated with discourses of racism and marginalization (Faez, 2012).
The term Generation 1.5 is a label which signifies not only the immigration status of students but a linguistic one too. However, when these students are placed with F1 visa holding students in one class, they are tagged with an additional ESL label which becomes an indicator for college administrations to continue placing these students in remedial EAP/ESL courses. The additional ESL label also represents the resident L2 students as “novice” in language acquisition (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2008) as if they are in need of additional language training even though resident L2 students receive at least secondary education at U.S. schools (Goldschmidt & Miller, 2005; Schwartz, 2004). Due to the associated deficient discursive assertions and views with respect to their linguistic abilities, several scholars initiated using less discriminatory and less label-like notions, such as “US educated language minority students” (Bunch & Kibler, 2015), “long-term resident L2 learners” (di Gennaro, 2016), “bilingual writers” and “resident L2 writers,” (Doolan, 2017) or “resident ESL students” (Matsuda & Matsuda, 2009) to define these students. In this paper, I will refer to this group of students as “resident L2 students.” This term is relatively free from bias and labeling as it does not intend to alienate the group and does not create as much “otherness,” in my opinion. The term indicates that these students are “insiders,” or, to be exact, residents who have lived several years in the United States and not newcomers anymore. This term also indicates that they speak at least one language other than English, and only this language acquisition track makes them different from other monolingual students.
Many if not all colleges and universities administer placement tests to assess student-candidates’ writing abilities. However, timed writing tests which target to evaluate writing essays in academic English take writing fluency as one of the main indicators of writing ability. The fluency and the length of the essay do not indicate if the writer’s academic writing ability is strong or weak. Moreover, making inferences about students’ writing ability based on timed writing tasks is not sufficient to judge students’ writing strengths and weaknesses (di Gennaro, 2008).
In addition, the resident L2 students who are placed in ESL/EAP remedial classes will need to bear the consequences of this placement in terms of a loss of time, money, and degree aspiration. Even though ESL classes might be counted as credit-bearing classes, they may be not counted towards graduation credits; therefore, necessitating to take ESL/EAP writing coursework prevents resident L2 students from finishing their undergraduate degrees in a timely fashion (Bailey et al., 2010; Bergey et al., 2018). Enrolling in additional classes also takes a toll on financial resources for resident L2 students (Bunch et al., 2011). Consequences like monetary burden and time loss arise when resident L2 students are placed in multilingual ESL classes along with the F1 visa holding students despite their prior education in the United States and their linguistic competencies.
Many scholars mention that resident L2 students are equipped with social skills in English; they are highly praised for being able to communicate in a “native-like” manner and often appear in conversation to be native English speakers, yet they are criticized as less skilled in the academic language associated with school achievement, especially in the area of writing (Harklau, 2003; Bergey et. al., 2018). Academic English is also challenging and the main gatekeeper for mainstream students in their success in a new educational context. Yet nobody questions why mainstream students are not placed in remedial EAP/ESL classes for not being familiar with or aware of academic English despite the fact that native speakers of English and non-native speakers of English such as resident L2 students and F1 visa holding students find the academic language equally challenging.
Therefore, this paper suggests some ways for First-Year Composition course instructors and writing center tutors to develop strategies to support students’ linguistic and writing needs and avoid the aforementioned issues resident L2 students encounter.
First-Year Composition writing instructors and writing center tutors can use the following recommendations to assist resident L2 students towards meeting this student group’s linguistic needs. First and foremost, they need to take into account the fact that L2 resident students spend their formative years in U.S. schools, and neither ESL nor EAP remedial English classes are designed to meet this population’s needs. In fact, EAP/ESL classes are designed for international F1 visa holding students and embedded with cultural awareness instructions (Schwartz, 2004). Therefore, universities should design writing courses with tailored support to improve resident L2 students’ linguistic and writing performance (Bergey et al., 2018). Yet, due to the small number of enrollments, the universities may consider placing resident L2 students with mainstream students. In this case, writing center tutors can be great assets when and if the students are in need of writing support.
Though it can impose a financial burden on the university budget, a special section of a composition course dedicated solely to resident L2 students is essential to support them in both language and writing instruction. The resident L2 section of a First-Year Composition seminar course would have features as listed below.
By all means, no one can guarantee that there will be a sufficient number of resident L2 students in one semester to fill in one class. In this case, resident L2 students can be merged with mainstream students where both groups of students can take their First-Year Composition seminar course together. To decrease some anxiety among resident L2 students, course instructors should:
Writing centers can be a great asset to resident L2 students in their success when they are taking a First-Year Composition seminar class with mainstream students. To that end, the writing center tutors should be aware of the resident L2 students’ study weaknesses and strengths, and they should be informed of the following strategies for productive tutoring sessions:
Similar to all students, resident L2 students go to universities to earn degrees, to increase their knowledge, to realize their dreams, their parents’ dreams, and to pursue dream jobs, to name a few reasons. In this journey, their academic success does not only depend on them but also on every interpersonal relationship or link they build up during their academic journey. The link between these students and their composition teachers and the link between these students and writing center tutors can cause change and improvement in their academic writing performance when these support links are knowledgeably equipped to serve them. All suggested practices to First-Year Composition instructors and writing center tutors are learner-directed and relevant to students’ interests, challenges, and needs. As long as the relevance is maintained, the approach to support these students will be influential. Once the approach is influential, a positive growth is surely to occur.
Several implications for this influential approach to foster writing performance of resident L2 students can be drawn from the paper. First and foremost, the terminology that describes the population should avoid labeling and “othering.” The perpetuation of the term Generation 1.5 is deficient and discriminates against this group from other students.
Despite being bilingual or multilingual, resident L2 students have deeper knowledge in the English language (e.g., they have taken content subjects in English; they are familiar with pop culture, slang culture, etc.), yet they have to be given the opportunity to push their academic English with the strategies recommended above, so, students do not need remedial coursework to that end. Apart from writing instructors, the writing center tutors can be a great advantage for them. The one-on-one interactions with writing tutors can be more efficient if the tutors pay close attention to how to write rather than balancing corrective grammar errors, rhetorical style, and genre awareness in a particular assignment (Thonus, 2003). While some studies confirm that writing performance is not the main component of students’ success in college, it certainly assists in developing their critical reading skills, which will be an advantage in other classes too.
In conclusion, this paper intended to provide suggestions for writing instructors and writing tutors on how to approach resident L2 students and how to better serve this group of students. It is time to look at them as residents who should not be “othered” in their home country and who should not be taking remedial ESL/EAP classes to develop their language skills to “deserve” their seats in mixed content-based classes after their completion. With some support from writing instructors and tutors as suggested above, resident L2 students can reach academic success without delay and accomplish as much as all students are expected to.
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