Our Students: Learning to Listen to Multilingual Student Voices

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Our Students: Learning to Listen to Multilingual Student Voices
by Joshua Belknap


Local Context: Monolingual Assumptions, Multilingual Dialogues

“Help me come up w/a plan?” read the email from my department chair, “ESL students are getting short-changed.” Beneath this terse entreaty she had forwarded along a message written by a Music and Art Department professor to his chairperson:

This semester, I have three classes of respectful students who absolutely cannot write.  I have sent most to the Writing Center Or english tutors…..they are telling me that the people at the WCenter are not helpful even though they are well-intentioned. Same with the English tutors. Usually, I have a handful of really good writers who I team up with those who cannot. This semester I am not able to do this.

These students NEED help with English construction, spelling, everything!  Critical thinking does not even play into it at this point. Have a lot of chinese students who are struggling with the English language anyway.  Any advice?


Professor X

I oversee a staff of writing tutors and an ESL (English as a Second Language) language and computer lab under the aegis of the Department of Academic Literacy and Linguistics at Borough of Manhattan Community College, a large urban 2-year college in the CUNY (City University of New York) system. The above email is emblematic of an evermore common kind of referral to our tutoring center. Recently, in my role at BMCC, I have noted an increasing number of referrals similar to the one from Professor X, from many others from across the disciplinary spectrum who include writing in their curricula. Professor X’s classroom is imagined around monolingual Standard American English (SAE) as the medium of instruction and native-speaking English (white?) students as the norm, whereas in fact, he is confronted with the reality of three multilingual classes full of plural nationalities, races, languages and cultures. What further struck me when I read Professor X’s message is the fact that this instructor simultaneously exhibits what might be called “monolinguistic deficit-model” assumptions about the writing of his multilingual students, yet also himself deviates from Standard American English  in the language of his email. Were I to critique Professor X’s writing from a similar deficit-model of idealized SAE, I would note that the message includes sentence fragments, for example, and poor adherence to usage rules of punctuation and capitalization. Of course, writing tasks are situated and context-specific, though; email is informal and often hastily composed, and collegial familiarity might also frame this kind of code-switching in this correspondence as well. More troubling to me, though, is degree of unequivocality of Professor X’s monolinguistic condemnation of his students: three classes full of students who “absolutely cannot write,” and “NEED help with… everything!” Moreover, this is not a small percentage of aberrant students; they are most or all of Professor X’s students.

This professor is very likely a well-intentioned, dedicated educator, and his opinion of the multilingual students in his classroom is not an anomalous one, but rather represents the norm among faculty and tutors across disciplines. Moreover, his assumptions concerning his students almost certainly do not arise from hostility or indifference, but rather from hegemonic cultural and language-oriented notions that pervade both academic and public discourse. As educators, we all need to pause and reflect on the assumptions we bring into our classrooms when encountering multilingual students (including assumptions about the definition and nature of “critical thinking” and “language proficiency,” as well as what we mean when we say a student “cannot write”). These may well be descriptions of our students. However, they may also be illustrative sketches our own reflexive cultural and linguistic misapprehensions, as well as descriptions of our own struggle with rendering or communicating with any degree of efficacy complex pedagogies, within classrooms in which the English language is the norm.

With an ever-increasing number of referrals from instructors in multiple departments at BMCC, I decided to create materials for, and facilitate, professional development workshops for tutors and faculty to investigate multilingual issues in student writing and share pedagogical strategies for working with ELL (English Language Learner) students. A necessary approach to writing instruction and tutoring, particularly with multilingual writers, is collaboration: the idea that teaching and tutoring is a dialogue, not a monologue, and that ELL students need a definite personal stake in the agenda of a tutoring session. To respond to the increasing linguistic diversity of student writers at U.S. colleges, writing tutors partnering with ELL students best serve their needs by being aware of and responding to the kind of pervasive monolinguistic “English Only” (Trimbur and Horner) ideology that Prof. X displays, in which the idyllic model writer is thought to be a monolingual native speaker of an “ideal” prestige brand of Standard (Written) English. Tutor and faculty exposure to (at least some) recent developments in transnational and new literacy scholarship can help facilitate tutor sensitivity to the diverse literacies that multilingual students bring to the classroom and tutoring table from an array of cultures spanning the planet, all of which will encourage and cultivate dialogic relationships between ELL writers and instructors/tutors.


(Trans)National Context: Multilingual Students = Our Students

A steadily growing number of scholars from various disciplines have been examining and publishing work about global/transnational, cross-linguistic and cross-cultural questions resulting from cultural, political and economic spread of globalization. Transnational scholars in my field, rhetoric and composition, contend that since its inception the discipline has been U.S.-centric, exclusively nationalistic in its pedagogical approaches, medium of instruction, and curricula. It is no surprise to anyone working in U.S. higher education that the number of multilingual students—students studying in learning environments in which coursework is not in their native language— has increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Institute of International Education, 819,644 international students, most of whom come from non-English speaking contexts, studied in the US in the 2012-2013 school year (“Fast Facts”). This represents a 40 percent increase from the previous 10 years and a record all-time high. Moreover, in the 2014-2015 academic year, 974,926 international students studied at U.S. colleges and universities, an additional increase of 155,282 international students, or 19%, in the last year alone. Because of this dramatic increase in international enrollment and the growing number of multilingual students who are permanent US residents or US citizens it has become increasingly clear that students’ language needs can no longer be relegated to the “experts” in specialized courses or tutoring centers (Hall). All faculty will teach multilingual students and thus all faculty need to understand their unique linguistic resources and needs. All faculty and tutors will teach and work with multilingual students, yet few faculty or tutors have received specialized training to prepare them to work effectively with the multilingual writers in their classrooms. Even among writing teachers, few have received specialized training to prepare them to work effectively with the multilingual writers in their classrooms (Cox “Closing Doors”). As a result, tutors and faculty can often feel overwhelmed and confused when faced with student writing that does not conform to monolingual expectations. Given this confusion, some may be eager to learn new strategies for negotiating language differences in their classrooms (Ives et al.) and others may need to be persuaded that they have a role to play in improving writing instruction, particularly for multilingual students (Walvoord). These challenges are particularly pressing for multilingual writing (Cox “Felt Need”). In light of all of these factors, it is clear that there is a significant need for professional development for faculty and tutors across the disciplines to work with multilingual writers.

As noted above, the increasing numbers multilingual students in US universities, whether international students or multilingual citizens and permanent residents, have made it clear that students’ language needs can no longer be outsourced to the “experts” in specialized courses or tutoring centers. Increasingly, we as educators must realize that the multilingual student is not one that deviates from the norm, but rather is increasingly becoming the standard student, comprising nearly half of the student population. In short, this is not an unusual or irregular student population; these are simply our students. While there is a need for professional development efforts designed to help faculty more effectively teach multilingual writing, institutional divisions between first language L1 and L2 writing instruction pose challenges for the organization and delivery of such professional development efforts. One way to overcome such challenges is through grassroots forms of collaboration across institutional boundaries. This proposal suggests one such grassroots effort, the creation of a tutor/faculty development workshop designed to help teachers and tutors across the disciplines to work more effectively with multilingual writers. This essay describes ideas for the creation and curriculum of su workshop, and also proposes ongoing adaptation of the workshop for new audiences. I will also consider tutor and faculty responses to the workshop, and reflect on the challenges and rewards of such grassroots collaborative efforts.


Reorienting Monolingual Pedagogy: the Need for Translingual Workshops

One consequence of privileging an “ideal” Standard Written English is that other dialects, other linguistic and cultural resources, are dismissed as unacceptable (or simply ignored) in tutoring sessions or classrooms. Transnational, transcultural and multilingual considerations in the writing classroom and/or tutoring table can profoundly shift thinking about how tutors and instructors implement writing pedagogy, in that multilingual process writing (if one may call it that) is not intended to result in the production of an object to be passively consumed and judged on its grammatical merit by a discerning reader. Instead, writers and readers co-construct meaning in written texts together, and thus conversation becomes “an intellectual movement to see languages not as discrete entities but as situated, dynamic, and negotiated.” (Matsuda)

The BMCC ESL Lab tutors serve the needs of multilingual students registered in remedial ESL writing courses at the college, focusing both on higher order and grammatical or sentence level language issues in student writing, and discussing aspects of and preparing students for a high-stakes writing exam necessary to pass in order to register for credit-bearing mainstream English courses. ESL tutoring sessions at this institution consist of small group or one-on-one consultations between students and tutors, weekly appointments for the entirety of the semester. Certain structural institutional realities at the school, as well as changes in the Academic Literacy and Linguistics department, have motivated me to rethink the interactions between colleagues in various departments to more clearly reflect the dialogical practices used in tutoring sessions with ESL students.

When college administrators began promoting new priorities and a new mission, including streamlining and combining levels of remedial English/ESL courses, encouraging greater collaboration among departments and programs, and increasing faculty research productivity, the presenter decided:

  • To develop multilingual-sensitive faculty/tutor training materials for WAC/WID (Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Discipline)
  • To reach out to colleagues across disciplines to establish grounds for more substantive collaborations, in order to avoid unidirectional monological discourse (such as, for example, merely distributing informational materials about the resources and services ESL Lab/tutoring program offer without actually speaking with faculty from other departments).

At least partially responsible for the increasingly numerous referrals of multilingual students to our lab and tutoring area stemmed from what Paul Kei Matsuda calls the tacit “policy of linguistic containment” that prevails in many universities and colleges, whereby programs and institutions work to contain language differences by sending or outsourcing students to writing centers or specialized courses to work on their language needs (Matsuda “Myth”). While specialized instruction and tutoring can be very helpful for students, who get the benefit of learning from an instructor trained in second language pedagogy, such practices can also have unintended negative consequences. One of these consequences is that linguistic containment contributes to English Only/monolingual ideological assumptions, such as that there is a static “proper” ideal English, and that students’ language issues in writing should be separated, quarantined, and outsourced to ELL/ESL/TESOL specialists.

The implication of monolingual assumptions reinforced by linguistic containment is that faculty who are not ELL specialists or applied linguists are not (and should not be) required to engage with multilingual/ELL issues in student writing. Monolingual notions of static, ideal English classify the linguistic problems of multilingual/ELL students as “abnormal” and situate “out there” somewhere, outside the mainstream classroom, sequestered and separate from disciplinary writing tasks, to be referred to and dealt with by applied linguists and TESOL specialists, like a general practitioner would refer an extraordinary patient to a medical specialist.

    The type of divisions between first language (L1) and second language (L2) writing instruction and tutoring at the college is neither a recent development nor unusual– most higher education institutions maintain some sort of separation between these types of courses, whether by creating separate sections of writing courses within one department or giving responsibility for the two types of courses to different departments. Though the English and Academic Literacy and Linguistics departments have much to offer each other and the college more broadly in terms of our collective expertise on writing and second language development, the institutional division between our departments made any potential contributions more difficult to coordinate. This departmental divide also reflects what several prominent scholars in both composition studies and second language writing have noted: the limitations of the long standing division between L1 and L2 writing research and instruction, and the need for greater interdisciplinary conversation and sustained collaboration (Horner et al., MacDonald, Matsuda “Wild West,” Donahue).


The Tutor Workshops

Workshop 1: Getting our Multilingual Bearings

In the first workshop, tutors, faculty and facilitators will begin by thinking about and sharing our own history and experience(s) with language acquisition and study, to potentially reorient our thinking about the ways our students deploy translingual practices, and navigate and negotiate multiple literacies and fluencies. We will then discuss how multilingual writers’ language abilities can be conceptualized as both a linguistic and cultural topic so as to help tutors and faculty comprehend and appreciate multilingual writers’ specific challenges in academic (and other) writing practice. We will then discuss how tutors and teachers can strive for transparency of expectations, goals, and writing tasks, and how a writing assignment can be designed so that multilingual writers’ L1 knowledge and cultural background can be utilized as a resource (Canagarajah, Horner et al., Lu and Horner). As practice, the faculty and tutor attendees will analyze instructions for a sample writing assignment and discuss their critique of the accessibility of the writing assignment for multilingual student writers. At some point in the workshop, we will share our own strategies for reinforcing the principles such as using graphic organizers, making a connection between the assignment and what students are already familiar with, using a model essay and analyzing it in class using a color-coding scheme, and modeling our own reading practice by thinking aloud. Each of these strategies will be briefly introduced with a sample activity that the attendees can carry out in their own classes.

For the workshops, we will draw on research from both applied linguistics and composition and rhetoric for the workshop, to try to identify the best practices for responding to multilingual student writing (see Appendix). From my perspective as a WPA, writing instructor, and researcher, I  will consider my own pedagogical and tutor training methods and attempt to situate them within research from each field. Knowing that instructors in all fields who assign writing will have to provide students with feedback, I see this as a pedagogical topic that crosses disciplinary divides. Based on experience working with multilingual writers in classrooms and writing centers, I also see this as an area of pedagogy that many tutors and instructors—myself included—struggle with when working with multilingual writers.

As a WPA, I have attended and participated in (somewhat) comparable workshops for faculty and tutors in the past, and thus I will be able to build off of similar existing frameworks in creating this workshop, with the added advantage of knowing how tutors and teachers have responded. Perspectives on feedback from writing center theory and practice will be integrated into the workshop, relying on the work of Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth in finding clear guides for responding to multilingual writing. With this foundation, we will stress feedback as interactive social action, emphasizing the importance of context and clear communication. To do this, the curriculum will model a scaffolded method similar to Ferris and Hedgecock’s (approach, response, follow-up) and will provide students with feedback, separated into 1) contact 2) comment, and 3) follow-up. In the workshop, we will use sample student writing along with samples of tutor/teacher feedback to model our practice alongside the theoretical approaches we will employ.

Workshop 2: Grammar Feedback

In the second workshop, we will present strategies for addressing grammar in multilingual writing (Ferris and Hedgecock, Bruce and Rafoth). While grammar correction is a fraught issue both within L1 and L2 composition, we will acknowledge that multilingual student papers may contain, by the standards of their English-speaking professors, excessive grammatical and lexical inaccuracies. Our goal, therefore, will be to provide a framework for approaching grammar in multilingual writing that is as simple and straightforward for use in the classroom as possible. We will emphasize the importance of limiting focus to errors that seemed frequent, serious and treatable (Ferris and Hedgecock), and second, introduced the distinction between errors and mistakes (Bruce and Rafoth).

However, understanding that tutors and faculty attending the workshops might not be teaching/tutoring language courses and might not be qualified or desire to provide grammar instruction, we will also be careful to remind workshop participants that grammar correction should be integrated into their courses and tutoring sessions and be in line with their overall instructional and pedagogical goals. We will emphasize that if grammar was not a pedagogical goal, and if students’ mistakes did not seriously impede overall comprehension, it might be appropriate to simply “read through” grammar errors rather than correct them. The workshop will be focused on how to use feedback on writing to help students succeed, and we will be concentrating on options for marking errors and mistakes within a student paper. There will be materials in the workshop packet (see appendix) that will address specific feedback questions such as how much and when to correct, differentiating between

Workshop 3: Dialect and Code-Meshing

Another area of multilingual writing that the workshop can help sensitize tutors and faculty to is code-meshing, “a communicative device used for specific rhetorical and ideological purposes in which a multilingual speaker intentionally integrates local and academic discourse as a form of resistance, reappropriation and/or transformation of the academic discourse” (Michel-Luna and Canagarajah) in the interest of “strengthening pedagogies of language difference” (Ray). Code-meshing can also be an approach to communicating (including writing) “not as something have or have access to but as something we do” (Lu and Horner). A consequence of privileging Standard Written English, or any standardized form of a language, in the classroom is other dialects, or strategies such as code-meshing, are dismissed as unacceptable in the classroom and in student writing. Alternately, in the workshop we will propose an approach that “shifts attention to matters of agency—the ways in which individual language users fashion and refashion standardized norms, identity, the world, and their relation to others and the world… writers are seen not in terms of their degree of proximity, mastery, or adjustment to dominant definitions of exigent, feasible, appropriate, and stable “contexts” or “codes,” but as always responding to and shaping these.” (Lu and Horner) As Canagarajah writes,

Students and teachers who are expected to adopt English   only (or monolingual) pedagogies practice bilingual discourse strategies that enable them to develop more relevant classroom interactions, curricular objectives, and learning styles… Literacy practices of codes meshing are also not unusual—students mix codes to negotiate the meaning of English texts and to compose stories or journals in expressive, creative, or reflective writing… Much of this research literature demonstrates that rather than hampering the acquisition of English, the negotiation of codes can indeed facilitate it.

Potential Conclusions

Although it seems difficult to reflect upon the workshop before it has actually occurred, there are some themes and possible outcomes to hope for as we plan for and schedule workshops with tutors and faculty. The first theme is the importance of making use of professional networks to create a platform for the workshops. Faculty and tutor buy-in to these workshops is necessary for any semblance of pedagogical efficacy and cultural change within the institution. Also importantly, the professional connections we established in the course of creating the initial workshops enabled us to pursue further opportunities to conduct similar sets of workshops with faculty from other disciplines in the future, as well as to begin to partner more closely with the WAC/WID coordinators at the college, to incorporate bi-/multilingual/ELL education and awareness into WAC/WID workshop materials and resources in a permanent way.

A related theme is that we expect our experiences in the workshops to speak to the difficulties and rewards of interdisciplinary conversation. As we design the workshops, present them, and perhaps subsequently adapt them for different disciplines, a goal will be to mindfully respect faculty members’ disciplinary expertise and their experiences with multilingual writers, even when, or perhaps especially when, they contradict our own approaches and beliefs. This collaborative and open attitude which we hope to actively cultivate in our conversations with faculty will not only help us to counter resistance and gain faculty investment (Walvoord), but also allow us to learn from faculty ourselves and incorporate these new insights into future versions of the workshops. The interdisciplinary nature of the workshops will also require anticipation of what faculty already know and believe about multilingual writing, and specifically to be mindful of their potential resistance to the strategies and information presented in the workshop. It will involve distilling our disciplinary knowledge in ways that avoids jargon and are not predicated on ideas that are unfamiliar or anathema to those outside of the rhetoric/composition discipline, but that still remain true to the field and professional knowledge of multilingual writers and writing pedagogy. For example, in the workshop we might present terms such as “disciplinary culture” rather than “discourse community” and “text type” rather than “genre,” as these might be more accessible to our participants. In addition, we will likely decide to include in our presentations practices which we have found effective but which we anticipated might be considered radical or even problematic by our participants, such as teaching strategies for student writers to include their L1s in the research and composing processes, and “reading through” grammar mistakes if they do not impede understanding and are not central to the purpose of the assignment.

How effective might these strategies be? One potential problem could be that the content of our presentations, drawn as it is from literature in the rhet/comp and TESOL fields and our own tutoring/teaching experiences, will be too focused on writing in the humanities. As discussed earlier, there is a need for further collaboration across disciplines during the planning and/or execution of such workshops, to better address participants’ concerns with technical and scientific writing. More focused workshops that target specific disciplinary writing might be more appreciated by the faculty. Workshop presenters should also conduct follow-up surveys and/or classroom observations with the participants, to determine how they have transferred the techniques to their tutoring sessions/classrooms.

Overall, the hope is that the workshops will foster rewarding interdisciplinary interactions, which will benefit the tutors and faculty members who participate. As a WPA and tutoring coordinator, I anticipate improving and refining discussions about multilingual writing with faculty from different disciplines, and gain a broader perspective on writing instruction at the university, while providing a service which will empower faculty members and tutors to work more effectively with their multilingual students. These efforts can always continue to be enhanced to be more responsive to the needs of participants, and hopefully, eventually the dialogic power of collaboration will be a means for tutors and faculty to more effectively address the needs of multilingual writers in a more structured, “official” way within the institution. The overarching goal, of course, is that these workshops will reflect a reconceptualization and reassessment of monolingual tutoring and teaching approaches as well as curricula, which is vital to adequately address a rapidly increasing global, translingual student population. This diverse body of students brings multiple writing styles and literacy traditions to the classroom, many of which could be viewed as cultural and linguistic assets/resources rather than linguistic deficits/liabilities merely because they deviate from Standard American English.


Works Cited

Atkinson, Dwight, et al. “Clarifying the Relationship Between L2 Writing and Translingual Writing: An Open Letter to Writing Studies Editors and Organization Leaders.” College English 77 (2015): 383-386.

Bruce, Shanti, and Bennett A. Rafoth. ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook (2004).

Canagarajah, Suresh. “Clarifying the Relationship Between Translingual Practice and L2 Writing: Addressing Learner Identities.” Applied Linguistics Review 6.4 (2015): 415-440.

Canagarajah, Suresh. Critical Academic Writing for Multilingual Students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan (2002).

Canagarajah, Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” College Composition and Communication 57.4 (2006): 586-619.

Cox, Michelle. “WAC: Closing Doors or Opening Doors for Second Language Writers?” Across the Disciplines 8.4. (2011). Available at http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/ell/cox.cfm

“Fast  Facts.” Institute of International Education. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/Fast-Facts Web. Retrieved 12/8/15.

Ferris, Dana R. “The ‘Grammar Correction’ Debate in L2 Writing: Where are We, and Where Do We Go from Here? (And What Do We Do in the Meantime?…) Journal of Second Language Writing 13 (2004): 1-14.

Ferris, Dana R. and John S. Hedgecock. Teaching ESL Composition: Purpose, Process and Practice. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge (2005).

Harris, Muriel, and Tony Silva. “Tutoring ESL students: Issues and options.” College Composition and Communication (1993): 525-537.

Horner, Bruce, and John Trimbur. “English only and US college composition. College Composition and Communication (2002): 594-630.

Horner, Bruce, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline J. Royster, and John Trimbur. “Opinion: Language Difference in Writing-Toward a Translingual Approach.” College English 73.3 (2011): 303-321.

Horner, Bruce, Samantha NeCamp, and Christiane Donahue. “Toward a Multilingual Composition Scholarship: From English Only to a Translingual Norm.” College Composition and Communication (2011): 269-300.

Kaplan, Robert B. “Cultural thought patterns in inter‐cultural education.”Language and Learning 16.1‐2 (1966): 1-20.

Lu, Min-Zhan and Bruce Horner. “Translingual Literacy, Language Difference, and Matters of Agency.” College English 75.6 (2013): 582-607.

MacDonald, Susan Peck. “The Erasure of Language. College Composition and Communication 58.4 (2007): 585-625.

Matsuda, Paul Kei. “Basic Writing and Second Language Writers: Toward an Inclusive Definition.” Journal of Basic Writing 22.2 (2003): 67-89.

Matsuda, Paul Kei. “Composition Studies and ESL Writing: A Disciplinary Division of Labor.” College Composition and Communication 50.4 (1999): 699-721.

Matsuda, Paul Kei. “The Myth of Linguistic Homogeneity in U.S. College Composition.” College English 68.6. (2006): 637-651.

Matsuda, Paul Kei. “It’s the Wild West Out There: A New Linguistic Frontier in U.S. College Composition.” Literacy as Translingual Practice: Between Communities and Classrooms. New York: Routledge, (2013). 128-138.

McLeod, Susan H. and Eric Miraglia. “Writing Across the Curriculum in a Time of Change.” WAC for the New Millennium: Strategies for Continuing Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, (2001). 1-27.

Michel-Luna, S., Canagarajah, A.S. “Multilingual Academic Literacies: Pedagogical Foundations for Code-meshing in Primary and Higher Education.” Journal of Applied Linguistics. 4:1. (2008). 55-77.

NCTE. Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers. Web. Retrieved 12/23/15 from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/secondlangwriting

Phillips, Talinn, Stewart, Candace, & Stewart, Robert D. “Geography Lessons, Bridge-Building, and Second Language Writers.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 30.1 (2006): 83-100.

Ray, B. “A Progymnasmata for Our Time: Adapting Classical Exercises to Teach Translingual Style.” Rhetoric Review. 32:2. 191-209.

Shuck, Gail. “Combating Monolingualism: A Novice Administrator’s Challenge.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 30.1-2 (2006): 59-82.

Truscott, John. “The Case Against Grammar Correction in L2 Writing Classes. Language Learning 46 (1996): 327-269.

Walvoord, Barbara E. “Getting Started.” Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod & Margaret Soven. Newbury Park, California: Sage. (1992): 12-31.


Appendix: Tutor-Faculty Workshop Handout



  1. Have you studied abroad? What challenges did you encounter—academic, social, cultural, language-related?


  1. Have you written extensively in a foreign language? What were your greatest challenges?


  1. Have you tutored a multilingual/non-native speaker of English here at CUNY? If so, did this experience differ significantly from tutoring with native speakers? In what ways?


  1. Have you been tutored or taught by an international scholar? Describe that experience.


  1. What strengths and resources do multilingual (ESL) students tend to bring to CUNY?




WHO ARE MULTILINGUAL STUDENTS? (aka “non-native speakers” or “ESL students”)

Immigrant/Generation 1.5 (most CUNY) Students International (few CUNY) Students


  • Communicative English often stronger than academic English
  • More experience in U.S.
  • High school in U.S.—may have taken ESL courses
  • Experience with academic rhetoric in native language
  • Global context
  • Traditional instruction
  • Academic English
  • Speaking and Listening
  • Cultural knowledge
  • Support systems (family, friends)
  • Alternate literacies (code-shifting, code-meshing, etc.)
  • Responsiveness to instructor/tutor
  • Reading
  • Grammar knowledge
  • Specific goals, motivations
  • Academic skills (in general)
  • Responsiveness to instructor


(linguistic, cultural, academic, personal)

  • Academic vocabulary/rhetorical moves
  • Grammar knowledge
  • College preparedness (critical thinking, metacognition)
  • Confidence in academic skills
  • Fear of asking for help
  • Cultural identity (sense of “between-ness”)
  • Applied grammar
  • Speaking and listening
  • Adjusting to cultural differences
  • Confidence in language proficiency
  • Fear of asking for help
  • Academic culture in the U.S.



One (very general, incomplete) way to think about how languages differ in their conceptions of audience is to consider the range from writer-responsible to reader-responsible within a framework of contrastive or comparative rhetoric (e.g. Hinds, Connor and Kaplan’s Writing Across Languages). 
Writer-responsible languages presume that it is the writer’s job to “connect the dots” for readers, by ensuring that all main points are clearly explained and exemplified, and relevant background information is offered explicitly. Reader-Responsible languages place more importance on the reader’s ability to infer from or “make sense” of information, and assume that readers may not need as much explicitness from writers. This can have many variations, as can be seen below.



english arrow               

  • Five paragraph essay format is more standard
  • Tend toward deductive reasoning, with a prominent thesis statement, generally in the first paragraph. Subsequent paragraphs develop and support the thesis in a linear way, until the conclusion.




asian swirl





  • Approach a topic from a variety of viewpoints in order to examine it indirectly, a process that indicates careful, rhetorically-nuanced thinking.
  • Considered the “polite” way to write. Many view English’s direct approach as rude or abrupt.



romance squiggle





  • More loosely organized; fewer boundaries that connect the sentence’s development with its topic
  • Much greater freedom to digress or to introduce extraneous material
  • More complex sentence structure, longer (in English, run-on) sentences acceptable in academic context, reflecting erudition


arabic zig zag





  • Construct paragraphs based on a complex series of parallel constructions
  • Sensitivity towards politeness, represented by indirectness. Rather than getting to their point 
immediately, native Arabic speakers might open up a topic and talk around the point

Adapted from Robert B. Kaplan, “Cultural Thought Patterns in Intercultural Education.” Language and Learning 16:15.



  • Ask the student a bit about his or her past educational experience 
Review the assignment prompt
  • Ask the student to describe the readings and/or topic he or she is writing about
  • Assume the role of a reader from a U.S. audience, trying to understand what the writer is saying.
  • Try to focus on the content and ignore the grammar at first so you can determine what else needs work.
  • Ask leading questions like, “Why are they saying this?”, or “Why do YOU think….?”, thus giving them permission to 
make inferences. For many students, this sort of interpretation is unfamiliar and even uncomfortable at first.
  • Help the students come up with an outline before writing the first draft. It is frustrating for students to spend a lot 
of time writing a paper just to find out that they need to start over with a narrower thesis, for example. If the 
paper is already written, help students re-organize, using a reverse outline.
  • If only one draft will be seen, put comments about both the grammar and the organization, but don’t just correct 
the grammar. The exceptions are articles, prepositions, and word choice or idiomatic expressions, which need to be corrected because there are few rules or patterns or, as in the case of articles, they are very complex in English.
  • Make sure the student understands the assignment, and use assignment handouts as basis for discussion.
  • If there are some consistent problem areas then correct or provide a rule for that area and ask the student to 
correct that mistake throughout the paper (NOTE: You DON’T have to be a grammar expert! Just point out 
  • Give more direct, instructive and extensive comments, for example, “As a U.S. reader, I would expect a transition 
sentence here…” or “This would be clearer to me if you included more explanation or another example here.”
  • Try to put more marginal comments instead of just end or front comments, so that the writer knows exactly where
  • Make comments or give examples about how to connect personal opinion/viewpoints and other sources. Many 
students have not had a lot of practice with these connections.
  • Consider using templates, analogies, charts, and graphic organizers, etc. (See other handouts and websites.)


GRAMMAR 101/Pick Your Battles: Clarity vs. Correctness & Educating vs. Editing

Most common

grammatical issues

Examples How concerned should you be? What can/should you do?
Verb tense/form (incorrect or shifting) If housing prices expecting to fall, there___ many reasons would cause to raise in stock prices. Is he speak Spanish? Can seriously impede understanding. Ask students to explain what they wish to say orally. It may also help to ask about “who does what” (agent, verb, object).
Word form It is importance to investment money for the retirement. Often inhibits understanding. Offer another word form, telling them which part- of-speech they need (n, v, or adj, in most cases)
Subject/verb agreement Rich people try  to protect their wealth which are deposited in offshore banks Often impedes. Worth pointing out and asking for clarification.
Plurals (count/non-count nouns) They have ordered lab equipments. She fed several gooses and sheeps at the zoo. Sometimes obstructs understanding, but often not; worth pointing out but perhaps not correcting.
Syntax (sentence structure/word order) I asked my teacher what would be the date due for the written second assignment. Sometimes impedes. Worth pointing out and asking for clarification.
General “awkwardness” or incorrect idiomatic expressions “On the third hand…”

I wish that we will have more time to work on this essay.

Seriousness depends on severity. You can start by telling the student whether it’s a content issue (i.e. “I don’t understand this part”) or simply a style issue (i.e. “This just seems strange”). If the latter, you might ignore it. Expect some “written accent.”
“Marked” non-SAE (Standard American English) errors He don’t know…

I’m gonna

What do you think? (depends on course, genre, audience, student goals, etc). Code-mesh/code-switch discussion is possible.
Punctuation [ : . ? ‘ “ ! ] Rarely if ever hinders understanding. Proceed as you would with your other students.
Incorrect/missing article (a, an, the) The individuality is [ ] important aspect of American culture. Almost never impedes understanding. Many tutors correct directly or ignore.
Wrong preposition (to, from, about, by, etc.) The essay from Montaigne is for many important issues. Almost never impedes. Many tutors correct directly or ignore.

The goal of feedback is to make better writers, not just better papers!

It may be helpful to think of writing feedback as a three-step process consisting of

Contact, Comment, and Follow-up.

Contact – Before you comment

  • Let your purpose for the assignment guide your commenting
    • What is important to you? Match your comments to your

instructional purpose

  • Is this draft graded or ungraded? Can your students revise? Are there more papers like this in your class?
  • Do everything you can to get better first drafts
    • Address common problems in class before the paper is due
    • Provide detailed assignment sheets to clarify your expectations
    • Include grading criteria, rubrics, and checklists when you assign writing
    • When possible, provide model texts and help your students analyze what makes them successful
  • Identify possible feedback points
    • Goals of the assignment
    • Grading criteria
    • What has been covered in class
    • Difficulties you have observed in previous writing assignments
  • Share your principles and strategies for commenting with your students
    • Explain to your students why and how you comment
    • Model your commenting process on a sample paper
    • Provide students a paper with comments from a previous class and ask them to make suggestions for how the writer could address the comments

Comment – While you respond

  • Select 2-4 feedback points based on the assignment and the student’s needs
    • Too many comments overwhelms students and you
  • Focus on fewer, high-quality comments
    • Be specific
    • Respond as a reader
    • Explain reasons behind your suggestions
    • Give students choices about how to revise
  • Address both strengths and weaknesses in the paper
  • Avoid jargon-filled and vague comments
  • Avoid making changes for the student

Follow-Up – After you comment

  • Give students opportunities to ask questions about the comments you have made
    • If possible, allow your students to read your comments in class
    • Choose a few of the most common issues from the papers and explain them in class (with good and bad examples)
  • Make students responsible for addressing your comments
    • Require written revision plans or revision reports in which students explain how they have considered and addressed the comments they received or why they chose not to address them
    • Require that students summarize the feedback they received and explain how they might apply it in the future

Dealing with grammar – If, when, and how

  • Focus on problems that are frequent, serious, and treatable
    • Frequent – What errors are most common?
    • Serious – What errors impede your understanding?
    • Treatable – What errors can the student reasonably be expected to improve on?
      • Common “less-treatable” grammar problems include
      • Idiomatic expressions and word pairings (on the other hand not in the other hand; take a test not write a test)
      • Prepositions, especially when used in abstract ways (i.e. difference in meaning between think about, think of, think over, think on, think through)
      • Articles (when to use a, an, the, or nothing before a noun)
  • Expect and accept a written accent – non-idiomatic does not necessarily mean incorrect or inappropriate
  • Decide whether or not to mark grammar
    • Can you understand what the student has written even with grammatical problems?
    • Is correct grammar an important part of your instructional goals for the assignment?
    • When possible, distinguish between errors and mistakes
      • Error – Consistent misuse of particular grammatical     structures,usually the result of a lack of understanding of the linguistic feature, a natural and necessary part of language learning.
      • Mistake – Typo, or the writer not consistently or consciously applying a grammatical pattern that the he/she does understand
  • Addressing Errors
  • Do not try to address every error, as this will overwhelm you and your students
  • Provide short, narrowly focused grammatical explanations and lots of practice noticing and correcting the errors in their own writing
  • Addressing mistakes
    • Be aware of external factors that make it harder for your students to catch their grammar errors
      • Challenging content
      • Unfamiliar genre/writing task
  • Teach self-editing strategies
  • Time limits on writing
    • (reading out loud, reading from the end of the paper to the beginning, thoughtful use of spell-checkers, etc. . .)
    • If you choose to comment on mistakes, do not edit papers for your students – this is work you don’t need, and it reduces your students’ opportunity to learn
  • Provide implicit feedback to help students notice the mistakes and gradually reduce the support you give them – for example:
  • Round 1: Mark and label mistakes. Student edits.
  • Round 2: Mark mistakes but do not label. Student edits.
  • Round 3: Mark lines that contain mistake. Student finds and edits.
  • Make students responsible for using your editing feedback


Web Resources

Purdue OWL ESL https://owl.english.purdue.ed/owl/section/5/

Lingolia – http://english.lingolia.com/en/



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