All posts by Laura Lopez

Laura’s Writing Theory & Practice Blog 2015-12-10 21:21:00

Wasn’t quite sure if we were to post our thoughts about the project title here or to email to Devon for final class deliberations…..but here goes……

After looking at our project page and with a better understanding of what each of us has contributed, I’m thinking……Beyond Words might be fitting.  Sorry to add a new one into the mix, but I’m still optimistic that once we hear it, we’ll just “know” it’s right…..either that or AfterWords.

Looking forward to hearing all of your thoughts and eating/celebrating together!!!!

The Last Post…..

Reaction Paper:
Made Not Only in Words:  Composition in a New Key, Kathleen Blake Yancey

A remediation of her 2004 multimodal CCCC’s address, Kathleen Yancey’s  Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key, admittedly, reads like a “call to action” directed at the collective composition community.  Yancey optimistically rallies members of the discipline to reflect upon the imminent changes, or tremors as she calls them, headed for the composition studies landscape, and to be instrumental in shaping and guiding these changes.  Specifically, Yancey grapples with defining writing in light of new technologies and probes how this new interpretation may impact the future of college composition.  Too, Yancey warns of the potential negative effects of the growing disparity between what students do in and out of the classroom.  

In “Quartet one” of her talk, Yancey acknowledges that the birth of new genres (resulting from technological advances)has led to the development of a new writing public that mimics the development of the (then) new reading public of Britain in the 1800’s.  Patterns of circulation and new forms of writing are identified as commonalities.  Serial installments of the novel and the reading circles of long ago are paralleled with today’s online platforms and communities, respectively.  Yancey bolsters her argument by stating that like the early reading group, today’s new writers have learned “ write, to think together, to organize, and to act within these forums- largely without instruction….They need neither self-assessment nor our assessment: they have a rhetorical situation, a purpose, a potentially worldwide audience, a choice of technology and medium- and they write.” (301)  

In addition to these observations, here, Yancey paints a harried picture of the current state of English Departments in academia.  She asks: are they being eliminated? Merged?  Redefined?  Nevertheless, she plants the seed to make us wonder:  Are we, too, at risk for seismic change?  Also, shifting views on the importance of higher education in America and the increased link between screen and print literacies are used to emphasizes the importance of having a clearly-defined and accepted view on what it means to write and what it means to be truly literate in today’s world.  

Quartet two juxtaposes the previously-held view of first-year college composition as a gatekeeping moment with the idea of seeing it, instead, as a gateway.  While the numbers she provides supports the fact that college enrollment is up from 50 years ago, they also reveal a dishearteningly low graduation rate, particularly among minority groups.  Yancey propositions us with envisioning a curriculum that prepares students to “negotiate life,” rather than precluding students who have had unsuccessful experiences with traditional writing courses.  A case is made for the notion that we (educators) already rely on digital resources and, therefore, are already- digital, at least in process.   

The next three “tremors” poised to hit the writing studies field are disclosed in the third quartet: developing a new curriculum, revisiting/revising our WAC efforts and developing a major in composition and rhetoric.  Curriculum development is explored in detail, beginning with a brief tracing of the history of  composition studies- from the process movement to cultural studies to the post-process movement.  Yancey notes what students are accustomed to outside of the classroom is in direct contrast to the teacher-writer centric practices seen inside today’s classrooms.  Yancey details five activities students are currently NOT asked to perform and suggests they be infused into a new curriculum model.  Considering the best medium for an intended message and transferring meaning from one medium to the next are just two examples of the kinds of tasks she enlists.  Circulation of composition, canons of rhetoric and deicity of technology are identified as the key expressions of such a model of composition.  

In the final Quartet, Yancey asks composition educators to think about the importance of weaving technology into our pedagogy to minimize the divide between the school and public realm.  To do this, she explains, we must rethink our WAC practices and consider emerging majors in order to secure our relevance in the future.  Thinking of technology as an important component of writing rather than as an afterthought is at the heart of her argument.  

Yancey’s conclusion is unapologetically lofty, touting  her agenda as one with potentially far-reaching and transformative possibilities led by a new writing public with global sensibilities.

Although written in 2004, Composition in a New Key remains relevant on nearly every point.  Not unlike a fine wine, this article may have gotten better with age.  The “moment” Yancey spoke of  more than 10 years ago is now-more than it was, perhaps, back then.   How we think about writing continues to be an area of exploration for our community.

The writing public has surely has grown and evolved into an even more complex entity since 2004-one which continues to require convergence with academia.  Any pedagogical progress made in the last decade related to Yancey’s charge is likely to have been met by just as much advancement in technology, thus negating its effect.  We are, still, poised to facilitate the conversations which can minimize this gap.  The inside/outside classroom dilemma can become blurred with activities that more closely align with real-world experiences.  

As a new member of the composition studies community, I have found myself- on more than a few occasions-contemplating one of Yancey’s recurring questions:  What is writing?  I agree that writing should no longer be considered merely words on a page.  To that end, our pedagogical practices must be revamped to reflect that thinking.  The term “composition studies” connotes a much broader sense of the field as opposed to “writing studies,” in that it conjures up images of musical and visual components.  We need to shift our thinking, first, in that direction.  

We must heed the beeps from Yancey’s Earthquake Early Warning System before a tsunami washes away our community.  Yes, a dramatic analogy, but who know how long we can stay in this “moment.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define writing?  In light of this article, has your thinking changed?  If so, how?  If not, why?
  2. Should students be expected to compose a mix of traditional and “new” genres of writing in a freshman comp course?  Is there anything currently being taught in freshman comp that seems outdated or irrelevant to you?
  3. Do you think changes in composition curriculum like those suggested by Yancey might weaken the discipline?  If so, how?

Reaction Paper:
The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning:  Aurality and Multimodal Composing
Cynthia L. Selfe

Cynthia Selfe, in The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning:  Aurality and Multimodal Composing, urges the composition community to expand our understanding of writing.  She challenges us to think of it more in terms of a “multimodal rhetorical activity” and to revamp our instruction accordingly.   Aurality and other modes of composing, she argues, must be used (and valued) in conjunction with traditional print.  Doing so, Selfe asserts, will positively impact traditionally-marginalized groups who continue to value alternative modes of expression.

To make her case, Selfe goes to painstaking lengths to trace the history of literacy in America, beginning with a look at the early 1800’s, a time when English literacies were still very strongly rooted in oral traditions, through today, a time when these sensibilities have been significantly diminished.  To this end, she cites the work of countless scholar in order to provide evidence for ways in which aurality has persisted in our culture.

Selfe acknowledging that not all focus on aurality has been lost in academia.  She notes how desired traits of the written word are oftentimes based on the characteristics of aurality (tone, voice, rhythm, etc.).  In addition, Selfe highlights a number of scholars over the past 50 years who have kept the writing-speaking connection alive in their literature.  The irony of the metaphor of one’s voice in writing adds to the persistent nature of aurality in composition, she continues.  Pop culture, and teachers who embraced the power of tv, radio and music in the classroom further serve as evidence that aurality has remained alive in spite of its back-burner status.   Next, Selfe recounts a number of classroom practices, including assessment feedback and textual analysis assignments (in addition to lecturing), which utilized oral pedagogical components.

In addition to aurality’s presence (or lack thereof) in academia throughout history, Selfe explores its consistency in marginalized groups.  Through this scholarship, she urges us to consider the disadvantages inherent in today’s college composition classrooms with regard to these communities.  

Today’s highly-digitized world, Selfe says, has shaped our “communication forms, practices, values and patterns.” (636)  In addition, she notes how technology continues to create social inequalities along race, class and gender lines.  New technologies have conjured up some interest in aurality and diverse modes of expression over the printed word alone.  Selfe cites the work of these scholars, along with examples of such new technology in order to demonstrate the need for a new way of envisioning composition: one which infuses multimodal resources to create meaning.

Selfe concludes by stating that a number of factors contribute to the discipline’s reluctance to widely accept, and put into practice, the use of aural and multimodal pedagogy, including political/power and financial factors.  She ends by reiterating her points in no uncertain terms:  we must continue to value writing in its print form in addition to placing value on new ways of composing in today’s digital world.  This will ensure we stay relevant, minimize the achievement gap for students, and foster critical thinking and an increased sense of control over agency.  

As Selfe noted in her introduction, this 30-plus written text (excluding the embedded sound files) arguing the importance of aurality and multimodality feels counterintuitive, as does her persuasion strategy of providing evidence for how aurality has persisted.  A reading of the first two pages of the study left me more convinced of her argument than did the entire article combined.  For me, the numerous citings did not served their intended purpose.  I was convinced of the concept after reading the title alone.  The real irony here may be that after 30-plus pages of written text I was left with a stronger sense that composition needs to include multimodal/aural components.  It makes me wonder if that was Selfe’s intention all along.  

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do you as a teacher, or have you as a student engage in multimodal composing practices in the classroom?  If so, please describe.
  2. In reference to Yancey’s observations concerning the disadvantages inherent in the non-aural classroom, do you think a pedagogical shift away from print-only composing could result in other groups (ones for whom other modes of expression are not commonly utilized) experiencing a similar disadvantage?
  3. Do you think the multimodal composing debate is just a swinging of the pendulum, or do you think this is a trend that will continue to follow technology as it evolves?

Laura’s Writing Theory & Practice Blog 2015-11-30 01:14:00

Why the “Research Paper” Isn’t Working, Barbara Fister

In her brief article, Fister makes a case for “abandoning the traditional research paper,” based primarily on her experience as a college librarian.  The major problem Fister has with the research paper, as it exists today, is its over-emphasis on citing sources which, she claims, stifles the opportunity for students to infuse original thinking into their “research.”  It’s hard to argue with Fister’s reasoning.  Her sentiments can best be summed up with one paragraph from her essay as follows:

“The first year “research paper” has always sent a mixed message. You’re supposed to be original, but must quote someone else to back up every point you make - while in constant fear that you’ll be accused of stealing from them.The obscure rules of citing sources only exacerbates the confusion and focuses attention on mechanics.”

Fister’s solutions to this dilemma include changing the research paper into a brochure or Wikipedia article, engaging students in research based on personal interest, close reading scholarly material as a class and waiting until junior or senior year before expecting students to create a meaningful research report.   While I fully understand her point-of-view and respect her opinion, I’d like to play devil’s advocate and argue the flip side of  this coin.

In fifth grade, two of my four units of writing are research-based units.  The first is the “informational-research report” and the second is the “research-based argument essay.”  I would imagine that the students Fister has encountered were not exposed to this type of writing in 5th and 6th grade.  In fact, I’m not sure how many elementary/middle school students across the country are exposed to such writing instruction.  Considering the recent move to the Common Core standards, I find these unit invaluable to the students. We focus on paraphrasing and create a bibliography as a class during the first paper and students are expected to prepare their own list of sources for paper number two.  They are taught a variety of ways to include direct quotes and “give credit” to their sources.  All of this work with sources will better enable college freshmen to tackle the research paper the way it was intended.  My view then, is not delaying the research paper but, rather, starting it earlier.  Much earlier.  

Perhaps the most convincing part of my experience with teaching these units comes from the lessons themselves.   (I did not make these up, I only teach and modify the curriculum my district has provided.)  The Writer’s Workshop curriculum aims to get students doing the “thinking” that Fister spoke about in her article.   This is an enormous challenge for me.   I am not certain all of my students actually “get” the message, but some do- and do it well.  The others..well, at least they understand that there is more to writing a paper than just finding facts and spitting them back to the teacher with some quotes.  I think college students would benefit from some of these concrete lessons.  I know I would have.

The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need To Resist)
by: Mark Wiley

I was excited to read this article because over the past 9 years I have used many different formulas in my writing instruction.   In fact, the Jane Schaffer method Wiley uses as an example looks eerily similar to the “boxes and bullets” structure I use to teach the literary essay.  

Here’s a beauty I used to teach paragraph structure in third grade…

The first three pages or so of Wiley’s article highlight the positive aspects of Schaffer’s method, while maintaining a subtle yet looming “but...”  I could hardly wait to hear what his negative list would include (other than the obvious students-will-not-be-able-to-write-without-it argument).  I briefly doubted whether or not the arguments would ever come- after hearing things like “the students improved dramatically” and “teachers loved the ease..”

And then they came.

Formulaic writing…..
  • sends the wrong message
  • limits students from developing a repertoire of strategies
  • limits students from learning how to make choices about genre, content, structure, organization, etc.
  • limits students from thinking about their audience
  • stifles ongoing exploration
  • limits students from discovering new insights through the writing process
  • forces premature closure on complicate interpretative issues
  • limits students from exploring their ideas, reactions and interpretations

OK, so Wiley let this particular curriculum “have it.”  However, I tend to think formulaic writing gets a bad rap.  Wiley states, “To be fair, there is nothing in Schaffers curriculum guide to preclude teachers from encouraging exploration.  Yet the teachers who would be attracted to the guide are typically those who don’t know how to encourage such exploration.”  This statement was presumptuous, at the very least.  Possibly offensive.  Teachers are under pressure to increase test scores and it sounds like this strategy will do just that.   Wiley goes on to say, “ By solely using the formulaic approach to writing, the real winners will be the students who always win anyway.”  Here, it sounds as though this approach can’t hurt those students who will eventually move on from the structure.  However, in the paragraph prior, he admits that struggling writers need “a simple format to follow so that they can achieve some immediate success in their academic writing.”  He does not offer any alternate concrete solutions to reaching these “struggling writers.”  Teacher are left with a difficult decision- one that is much more complicated than can be discussed here.  I (like Wiley, perhaps??) advocate for the use of both formulaic writing and THINKING.   Furthermore, in light of our recent discussions surrounding standardized testing and assessments, I’m not entirely confident that a student who veered from the formulaic approach would perform as well as a student who adhered to the formula.  

I don’t think formulaic writing is so much of an all-or-nothing question as Wiley thinks.  I think having it as an option or- at the very least- an exemplar essay is necessary.  Kind of like one of those- you have to know the “rules” to “break the rules” conundrum we explored in our grammar discussions.
Save Formulaic Writing
One last pondering…

Here, writing is looked at as more of an art rather than a science, no?  Something messy and chaotic….  not like the neatness of a science- imagine:  solve this math problem without a formula....Last week I did one of those “wine and design” classes.  I was told exactly what to do step-by-step….each piece we created that night came out amazingly different and expressive.  It made me wonder….were any of us really painting that night??? Is formulaic writing really writing at all??...

Laura’s Writing Theory & Practice Blog 2015-11-23 01:22:00

The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of "Directive" and "Facilitative" Commentary
 Richard Straub (1996)

Straub seeks to analyze-and clearly define- both the types of commentary that teachers employ as well as the “roles” teachers play in the writing classroom.  His aim is to make connections between these comment types and roles in an effort to ensure teachers take charge of their instructional practices.  

Specifically, Straub looks to provide a set of criteria that can be used to easily distinguish between directive and facilitative roles by examining the focus and mode of teacher commentary.  To achieve his goal, Straub analyzes 4 sets of teacher comments (one set made by none other than Peter Elbow).  He finds that all sets of comments had a mix of directive and facilitative strategies.  Straub makes no claims about which commenting styles are better/worse than others or which comments teacher should use more/less frequently.  Rather, he asserts that teachers must become more aware of the choices they make and the potential impact of these choices on students.  

I was interested to hear which set of comments some of our classmates would say they, as students, would prefer to receive and/or which they believe would be most effective/helpful to them as writers.  I also pondered which commenting style I most identified with as a teacher.  

Overall, I felt like the article fell a little flat.  I was hoping for some more concrete findings.  I kept struggling with the notion that everything is relative and it is nearly impossible to analyze teacher comments on a page out of context.  There are so many factors that must be considered when conducting such a study.  While Straub does make mention of this fact, he glazes over the issue and continues on his endeavor.  Much of the conclusion and advice offered to teachers feels intuitive and something that evolves naturally over time for most teacher. I see the value in teachers having a heightened awareness of the words they put on a student’s paper, but question whether teachers can sustain that amount of focus over time.  On the hand, perhaps an increased awareness for even a limited amount of time will create a shift in the long-term commenting process for teachers.  It can’t hurt.  

Looking Back As We Look Forward:  Historicizing Writing Assessment
Kathleen Yancey (1999)

Appropriately named, Yancey’s article explores the three “waves” of writing assessment that have transpired over the past 50 years or so in an effort to gain insight into the assessment of the future.  Yancey does a fantastic job of clearly describing each of these periods in writing assessment history and prompted many ideas for discussion in me.  Such as…
  • can we evaluate writing without looking at some kind of pre-assessment to check for growth rather than ability level?
  • would there be validity in “testing” a student by having them accurately assess a group of sample essay?  Kind of like “well, I might not be able to do it ‘on-demand,’ but I know what constitutes a good paper…
  • what other types of assessments can there be...what about a test that asks not for a complete essay or story, but one that prompts students to produce specific kinds of phrases, sentences or paragraphs only?

Toward the beginning of her essay, Yancey poses a set of her own questions regarding assessments.  As a new member of the composition community, I find it a little uncomfortable that there are so many “unknowns” surrounding such a major aspect of my field.  It seems like an impossible feat to come to a consensus on some of these issues anytime soon, if ever.  Some of these unanswered questions seem like a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum whereby we must first determine what makes writing “good” before we can determine if a test is accurately measuring what it seeks to measure-nevermind what is assessment’s true purpose in the educational setting or can it be measured consistently…..

The talk about the cost, time and effort needed for a truly valid writing assessment truly was both expected and frustrating.  “The reliable test,” as Yancey says really struck a nerve in me due to a recent controversy that I found myself in the middle of recently.  In short, my school pays for a testing service called Linkit to assess students three times a year which, in turn, is a big part of how TEACHERS are evaluated (student growth).  The company release sample quizzes for student use which I discovered to have numerous ERRORS.  After making some noise, I sat with administrators who told me Linkit had “shut down” the quizzes, but they assured me the “top secret” tests they administer 3x’s a year were completely reliable and error-free.  I volunteered to take the test myself by was not allowed to do so.  During this meeting, I was also given a very sales-pitchy-sounding speech about how highly reliable these tests are in predicting a student’s score on the NJ Ask (which no longer exists) and was shown a chart with statistics showing the mathematical and scientific algorithm-looking way in which these tests correlate within a .00005 percentage accuracy….blah, blah, blah...Needless to say the term “reliable test” made me cringe a little.  (By the way, I’m betting the only reason they even met with me is because my husband is on my district’s Board of Ed...otherwise, unfortunately,  I doubt they would have addressed my concerns at all.)  UGGGGGHHH...frustrating!!

I found it interesting- but not entirely surprising- how high the correlation rate of a reading test was to writing ability.   The article also talks about devising a writing assessment that would perform the same tasks as the “objective tests.”  Frankly, last year while exploring some of the released PARCC sample questions, my colleagues and I ran into a LARGE NUMBER of potentially subjective questions.  This is supposed to be “THE” test and I was appalled to find that I (and many others) DISAGREED  with many of their sample answers.  What’s going on in the real PARCC test?  Who are making these questions?  They’re only human and can make mistakes. Their goal seems to be to ensure the questions are aligned with the CCS, rather than to accurately assess the students’ skills/ability/knowledge. (another conversation,perhaps)

Laura’s Writing Theory & Practice Blog 2015-11-18 22:02:00

Dr. Zamora,

I offered to post an update regarding the progress made in class during your absence on Monday. However, it’s difficult for me to return to “business as usual” without first addressing the recent turn of events surrounding our campus (and world).  

It’s ironic that as a member of a course rooted in “words” and “writing,” I find myself, now, at a loss for both.  The twitter comments are a sobering reminder of the world we live in.  This, coupled with the Paris shootings, weighs heavy on my heart.  There are some things- whether they hit close to home or not- that I’m not sure I will ever be able to truly comprehend.  Nor do I think I want to...

Class Business….For the first hour or so of class, we worked in our small groups, offering advice on revising our vignettes.  After that, we took the initiative to agree on using the website as the platform for our project and Devon and Maria (thanks, girls!) took the reigns on designing a new-and-improved site, which we took a look at on the projector.  They even gave us a mini tutorial!  We then shared a username and password with the group so we could start playing around with the capabilities, features, etc.  We agreed that if we felt “ready” to link our drafts to our page/icon, that we would do so over the week.  Finally, we engaged in additional project title discussions and decided that “Writing Matters” was still a strong contender, but that there is the possibility that once all of the pieces were in place that we would somehow “know” what the final name should be.  A very productive session!

Laura’s Writing Theory & Practice Blog 2015-11-15 21:19:00

Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria
John Bean 2001

Bean begins by explaining that the root of the conflict surrounding assessing student writing samples stems from a disagreement as to what constitutes “good writing”- an interesting point.   He then summarizes a study done by Diederich in 1974 which basically found that different teachers value different criteria in writing and, therefore, graded sample papers well, ummm... differently.  As a result of this important study, the composition community has come to realize the importance of using rubrics and “norming sessions” to “reach high levels of agreement on grades.”  

The article continues by making clear the differences between analytic/holistic and generic/task-specific rubrics.  I was familiar with these terms, but it served as a good refresher on the topic.  As a teacher, I definitely rely on analytic over holistic rubrics and prefer task-specific ass compared to generic rubrics.  

Bean makes no apologies for his support of rubrics and, thus, lightly touches on the many conflicting views surrounding rubrics.  These arguments conjured up in me, the image of a movie critic using a rubric to “assess” a film.  Not a pretty sight.  

Although I admitted to aligning myself with analytic as opposed to holistic rubrics, here might be a good point at which to make a confession:  I have read a student’s paper- maybe one that was totally “off the beaten path”- and decided upon the completion of my reading that it “deserves” an A.  Perhaps it moved me in a way unlike the others, or it somehow struck a chord in me-whatever the reason, I decided that it would get a 90% or above at that moment.  In these rare instances, I remember filling in the 90% at the bottom of the grid rubric and proceeding to fill in each of the boxes with the appropriate individual scores in order to ensure the paper totals to an A.  I’m now wondering whether or not the paper would have “earned” a similar score had I not decided to intervene with my usual analytic rubric grading practices.  I think yes, but wonder….This process is reminiscent of Bean’s own personal left/right brain grading procedures.  I found his idea of “negotiating” a grade refreshing and about as close to “fair” and “accurate” as a person can get.  I’m guessing this was a somewhat intuitive process for him, which he refined and evolved over time.  It sounds like he uses the rubric to justify his “gut” reaction to the piece-something I don’t entirely disagree with.  

Here, too, I worry about the abundance of “normalized grading” on standardized testing.  I fear that the trained graders are more concerned about making sure their grade would match that of another “trained grader” than ensuring the paper receives an accurate and fair assessment.  Writers are humans. Graders are human.  Writing is one of the most intimate and personal activities in which we can engage.  I envision robots grading papers and cringe….There needs to be a box on the rubric marked “exception to the rules,” whereby scorers can go with their gut instincts.  

In his discussion of “norming sessions,” Bean notes the discrepancies among teachers and students understanding of what constitutes a “high” grade and a “low” grade.  Is a C a fairly good grade?  I’ve noticed a trend whereby parents and students expect nothing less than a B as a fairly good grade.  Interesting.

Writing Assessment in the Early 21st Century
Kathleen Blake Yancey

A nice companion article to Bean’s, Yancey addresses the inherent conflict surrounding the assessment of student writing, particularly with regard to standardized testing. It gives an overview of the current (and history of) writing assessments.  

She begins by tracing the history of writing assessment, noting how the goal (at least in part) of such practices was to use a “...machine-like efficiency” and to do the “..fairest job of prediction with the least amount of work and the lowest cost…”  Echos of Bean’s article can be heard in the discussion as to “what constitutes good writing” and “what is the best way to assess writing.”  Definitely a frustrating topic for students and teachers alike.  

When looking at the current trend in assessment practices, Yancey brings forth a multitude of highly-charged and controversial issues, including the link between critical thinking skills and writing assessment, social inequalities, ESL learners, digital writing, and self-placement.

Yancey ends by acknowledging that while the future of writing assessment remains to be seen, there is sure to be an interest in outcomes-based assessments, program assessments and on the use of portfolios. Validity and fostering student writing development, she reminds us, will continue to remain at the forefront of these practices.

Harris & Silva and Matsuda

Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options, Muriel Harris and Tony Silva

Teaching my ESL students to write has always been one of my biggest areas of concern, as a writing teacher.  Over the years, I have taught numerous ESL students from every background imaginable, each with varying levels of English-language proficiency.  I have very little formal knowledge (be it through workshops or teacher-preparation classes) on the “best practices” for teaching this population.  About a week ago, a new student from Egypt entered my class.  I hate to admit it, but I am completely lost when it comes to knowing how to best meet her needs.  I want to give this student a large amount of individual attention, but fear that the rest of the class will suffer.  Too, I am overwhelmed by not knowing which aspects of her writing should be the focus of my instruction.  The article helped to clarify some of my concerns, but, unfortunately, I was still left feeling daunted by the undertaking.  L1/L2 transfer, conventions of American discourse, contrastive analysis, cultural preferences, lack of lexical resources, syntactic errors, the list of factors associated with teaching the ESL student to write goes on and on…...

In “Tutoring ESL Students,” Harris and Silva focus on strategies that writing center tutors should utilize when assisting ESL writers.  The authors make the distinction between “global” and “local” errors in writing, as well as “rhetorical” and “linguistic” errors, arguing that each of the former should be the focus of one-on-one instruction.  However, they note that the student’s level of English-language proficiency plays a big role in determining the cause of a student’s pattern of errors.

Teaching Composition in a Multilingual World:
Second Language Writing in Composition Studies, Paul Kei Matsuda

Matsuda begins by bringing to the light the idea that the job of teaching ESL students is no longer limited to second language specialists, but has become the role of all composition educators.  Yes, my sentiments exactly.  But how do we (I) do this???

The article begins with an overview of the history of ESL students in the US and an overview of the surrounding key terms and concepts.  While I was familiar with many of the terms defined, I had not-previously heard the term “generation 1.5” as used to describe “US-educated learners of English,” as opposed to international ESL students.  A noteworthy and interesting distinction.   The article also makes clear the recent push for all writing teachers to become well-versed in research, theory and instruction for this diverse student population.

I agree with Matsuda’s charge that we, as a discipline, need to ensure that writing instruction is appropriate for all students.  One emerging solution is the introduction of alternate first-year writing classes for ESL students.  This reminds me of my my school’s bilingual and transitional bilingual program which begins in Kindergarten and ends in third grade.

After reading both article, I am left feeling even more insecure about my ability to effectively teach all of my ESL students the writing skills they need.  As a composition studies graduate student, have become aware of the impending shift towards “internationalizing” the discipline.