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.