Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about supporting multilingual/ESL writers
How can I best support multilingual/ESL writers in the writing process?
There are many ways that you can help multilingual/ESL students (indeed, all students!) to grow as writers.
- Be very explicit about expectations and grading criteria for assignments. Take time to discuss key terms and disciplinary language that are used in assignment prompts and handouts. Give students time to 'digest' and clarify what you are asking for. Remember that many of your assumptions about students who have grown up in the U.S. may not apply to international or immigrant students. (For example, many multilingual/ESL students do not know what the "five paragraph essay" is. They also may not recognize colloquial [e.g. slang] vs. scholarly language.)
- Encourage multi-stage writing, by requiring that students complete "scaffolding" assignments that build up to the final draft. This may include asking students to submit a thesis, outline, abstract, bibliography, and/or first page for the paper before the draft is due. This also includes encouraging (or requiring) that students get feedback from peers and/or tutors during the writing process.
- Help students prioritize what to work on throughout the process. Thesis formation, overall organization, and use of support are usually the most important aspects of early drafts. Students who become too concerned about stylistic or mechanical issues early in the process often miss the 'big picture.'
- Share your own writing strategies (and struggles). As teachers and scholars, we have a good deal of first-hand knowledge about how difficult writing can be. We also know what our strengths and weaknesses are as writers. By sharing this with students, we not only offer insight into the scholarly world, but also ease some of their anxieties about how challenging writing can be.
- Support long-term language growth, rather than short-term fixes. Research into second language acquisition has found that it may take students up to 10 years of academic work in a language to become fully fluent. Even then, there is usually some degree of spoken and written "accent." For more on how to support students with grammar/language difficulties, please see the section below.
I received an assignment that needs significant work on grammar/language use. How can I help? How can CTLR help as well?
The best way to support multilingual/ESL students with grammar/language concerns is to develop a support model that includes yourself, your peer mentor (if applicable), and other CTLR tutors.
The first step is to talk with the student(s) to learn more about what challenges were faced on the assignment. Did they understand the assignment (and/or the course readings it references)? Did they know what they wanted to say? Did they allocate enough time for completing and reviewing the assignment?
Keep in mind that in many cases, unclear writing results from confusion about content--not just grammar. In addition, rhetorical strategies differ by language, so what appears "off-topic" or "irrelevant" in one context may not be seen as such in another. Citation and use of sources differ by context as well.
Once you and the student have considered the various factors which might have impacted the writing process for this assignment, develop a plan for how this assignment might be revised (if possible), and/or how the student might produce clearer work for the next assignment. You may wish encourage students to make an appointment with one of the CTLR professionals. In addition, all peer mentors/tutors receive training in supporting multilingual/ESL writers, as well as in how to help students with grammar (while still avoiding becoming the de facto 'editors' for student work). Together, we are the "authorized aid" for student writers.
Finally, in assessing student work, consider giving a separate grade for grammar/style/language use within your evaluation rubric. This allows you to acknowledge strengths in content/argument/organization while still recognizing that some students need to continue to work on the clarity of their writing.
If you have any questions, or would like to discuss a particular situation, please feel free to contact Shawna Shapiro, the CTLR's ESL Specialist.
Is there someone available to proofread student work?
CTLR has professional and peer tutors who work with students on improving the clarity of work, but do not do line editing for students. Our aim is not to "fix" or "perfect" student writing, but to help students become better editors of their own work. To accomplish this, we use strategies such as...
- Identifying error patterns in student work
- Pointing out sections of work that are unclear, and explaining what hinders clarity from a reader's perspective
- Sharing organizational strategies and other techniques that help students to clarify their argument
- Directing students toward print or online resources for further grammar instruction
Ultimately, we work as "educators" and not "editors," in that our goal is to facilitate improvement and independence in the long-term.
This page is still under construction.
If you have requests or additions for this page, please contact Shawna Shapiro.