Saturday, April 12, 2008

L2 Writers

Christine Maddox

The classroom is becoming a much more diverse place today than it was in the past. Students representing various cultures and speaking numerous languages are entering the American writing classroom intent on learning to successfully write in English. Accordingly, there are countless theories and strategies regarding how to best teach English writing to non-native English speakers. This annotated bibliography seeks to look at the ongoing conversation regarding second language (L2) writers. The research included will be of interest to L2 writing instructors desiring to be successful and efficient teachers. Sources within this bibliography are scholarly in nature and focused upon the challenges of instructing non-native English writers within the English classroom.

Bean, Janet, et al. “Should We Invite Students to Write in Home Languages? Complicating the

Yes/No Debate.” Composition Studies 31.1 (2003): 25-42. The researchers of this

scholarly article aim to redirect the line of thinking regarding whether or not non-native students should write in their native languages in the English classroom. They say that we should not be asking if we should ask the students to write in their native language, but rather “when and under what conditions might it make sense to do so” (original emphasis 26). This article argues that since the writing process is such a social and individualized endeavor, situational contexts and individual writers must be considered when deciding in what language a non-native student should write.

The authors attempt to refocus the conversation regarding home languages by identifying ten variables that should play into a writing instructor’s decision. The variables touch upon aspects such as language verse dialect, the goal of writing, the intended audience, and revision strategies of double language users. While this article is extremely helpful in introducing the various aspects of the home language debate, it does not provide conclusions or answers. Rather, the researchers posit questions and situations for the writing instructor to ponder as he or she decides how to best work with their non-native students.

Carr, Tom. “Varieties of the ‘Other’: Voice and Native American Culture.” Voices on Voice. Ed.

Kathleen Blake Yancey. Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 1994. 191-201. At the time this article was published, Tom Carr was an anthropology graduate student at the University of Colorado. This article signifies his first contribution to a professional publication. While the article is scholarly, it should be remembered that while writing this article Carr did not yet have his degree in the field. Rather, this article represents research he has done throughout his time of studying in graduate school. This may limit the reliability of his claims as he was not yet an expert on this topic.

Carr discusses how the Western world has, throughout history, created an image of the Native American suitable to the needs of Western culture. According to the author, this “’otherization’ of the Native American peoples by Western society” continues to manifest itself today among Native American writers (192). Carr further asserts that Native American student writers can be better assisted and taught if writing instructors understand how Native Americans have become Western ‘others’ (193).

The final portion of the article offers ways in which Native American student writers can best be instructed within the Western classroom. Carr lists five points of interest for writing instructors: 1) We are all ‘others’ in one sense or another. This should be remembered when we function as readers as well as writers. 2) We must consider how, as instructors, we present non-native cultures within the classroom. 3) Many student writers, including Native American writers, have multiple voices with which they express themselves. 4) We must be aware of generalizations and overly-romanticized notions of non-Western peoples. 5) The classroom can benefit greatly from non-Western cultures and voices.

This article is helpful as instructors attempt to understand how best to teach non-native student writers. Carr offers a glimpse into the marginalized past of a non-Western group. The observations regarding Native Americans can be applied to other non-Western students within the classroom as many of their identity and language issues may be very similar.

East, Martin. “Bilingual dictionaries in tests of L2 writing proficiency: do they make a

difference?” Language Testing 24.3 (2007): 331-353. Martin East is a professor in the

School of Language Studies at Unitec New Zealand. Prompted by the recent ban of the use of bilingual dictionaries on L2 writing tests, East set out to do some research of his own. The ban was inspired by a 2002 study which found that bilingual dictionaries on L2 writing tests increased writing scores by an average of 9 percent. After reading the L2 writing experiment, East identified multiple limitations to the study and therefore concluded that the results were restricted in their applicability. Therefore, he conducted a study in which attempted to address bilingual dictionaries within L2 writing classrooms and strengthen the 2002 study’s weaknesses.

East’s study conducted in September of 2003 included a sample size of 47 17-18- year-old students in New Zealand secondary schools studying for the Bursary German examination. The students were not native German speakers but needed to know the language for the exam. Each student was given a 50-item multiple choice placement test (to establish current writing level in German), two timed German essays of 50 minutes (one with and one without a bilingual dictionary), two short questionnaires, and a longer questionnaire. East concluded that bilingual dictionaries did not significantly impact writing scores. Because his study controlled for the limitations of the 2002 study, East’s findings seem to have more validity.

East’s study is applicable to the writing classroom because it included students with a wide range of writing abilities. Furthermore, East allowed the subjects to choose their own dictionaries in the study. This means that the findings of this study are not limited to specific bilingual dictionaries or to a certain level of writer. Because the dictionaries did not impact writing one way or the other, East looked to the questionnaire results for conclusions. He discovered that four out of ten students were equally happy with or without the dictionary, 62% felt more confident with the dictionary, and 66% said it was fairer to be graded without the dictionary (349). Thus, East concluded that the ban on bilingual dictionaries is unfounded and should be revoked.

Hyland, Ken. “Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction.” Journal of

Second Language Writing 16 (2007): 148-164. Hyland is an instructor in the Institute of

Education at the University of London. He proposes genre pedagogies as the best way of teaching L2 writers. Hyland details the two dominant orientations of L2 classrooms: Systemic Function Linguistics (SFL) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). SFL examines how texts are related and how they function while ESP views language as a tool used to achieve a specific purpose. According to Hyland, both SFL and ESP courses can best prepare L2 writers by employing genre-driven teaching approaches.

Hyland critiques process approaches to writing (as opposed to genre-driven approaches) as failing to give language and writing real-world applicability. He says that genre pedagogy, on the other hand, views genres as culture-specific and considers those who may be unfamiliar with the culture’s genres. Thus, genre-driven pedagogy provides L2 students with training needed succeed outside of the classroom. This, according to Hyland, should be the goal of writing instructors. He says that genre-familiar teachers are more effective teachers because the skills they teach the students apply beyond the classroom walls (151).

Hyland outlines many benefits for genre pedagogy within the L2 writing classroom. He writes that genre theory provides reassurance for L2 writers because writers can recognize a “regularity and structure” to the unfamiliar language by familiarizing themselves with the genre conventions (152). Furthermore, genre-based courses encourage collaboration and scaffolding, two aspects of writing instruction that has been shown to encourage the development of strong writing skills (158). Genre pedagogy also provides a clear standard for assessment as outlined by genre rules and practices. This allows for more specific and detailed feedback from the teacher which helps the L2 student more efficiently progress and learn as a writer.

Mlynarczyk, Rebecca Williams. Conversations of the Mind: The Uses of Journal Writing for

Second-Language Learners. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998.

Mlynarczyk, an English professor at a public university, wrote this book after completing a study in 1992 on the effects of journal writing in an advanced ESL classroom. Mlynarczyk was interested in examining varying writing processes among ESL students, how journals would impact the acquisition of English, and whether or not the journals would be used in reflective ways by her students. She looked at two different ESL classrooms and how the students progressed as writers through their use of weekly journals. The students were required to complete in-class freewriting and out-of-class entries about assigned texts five times per week for a total of five pages of journal writing weekly. Mlynarczyk also kept a field log in which she recorded her own conclusions and observations throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, Mlynarczyk interviewed five of her students to gain a deeper understanding of the journals’ effect.

The book spends some time outlining Mlynarczyk’s background research leading up to her study, but focuses mainly upon her own research and its implications. She dedicates one chapter to each of the five interviewed students in an attempt to analyze their journal interactions more in-depth. She reports that, in questionnaires with her students, the most commonly mentioned benefit of journals was “increased fluency – including writing speed, improved vocabulary and grammar, and ability to think in English” (52). Mlynarczyk speculates that the freedom inherent in journal writing led to an increase in fluency because the students did not feel limited by their lack of mastery of the English language.

Not only does Mlynarczyk recommend the use of weekly journals in the ESL classroom, but she also encourages writing instructors to consciously stay away from stereotypes about non-native English speakers. She writes that she noticed by examining her field log that both gender and culture impacted the ways in which she responded to the journals. Mlynarczyk says that writing instructors must be aware of how unconscious expectations and beliefs can interfere with honest and unbiased evaluations. She also says that journals in school should be read and commented upon by the teacher because it promotes a “communicative element” to the writing (169). Mlynarczyk found that her ESL students were motivated to invest time and energy when the writing felt like a social activity.

This book is a beneficial asset to ESL research because it offers an applicable teaching approach for L2 writers. While Mlynarczyk’s single study does not show the flawless success of journal writing among L2 students, it does offer solid teaching suggestions that were successful within her own classroom. However, she does admit that not all of her L2 students gained writing competency during journal writing. This leave room for further research as to why some students benefited while others did not.

Song, Bailin. “Failure in a College ESL Course: Perspectives of Instructors and Students.”

Community College Journal of Research and Practice 30 (2006): 417-431. Song works for Kingsborough Community College in the City University of New York. This study

reported partial data from a longer research project designed to look into how to help failing ESL students. Since this is only a partial representation of the data, the sample size is smaller and so the applicability of the findings is more limited than if the entire study had been presented. Song conducted ESL instructor surveys (n=17) and ESL student interviews (n=22) in hopes of identifying factors which contribute to the failure of ESL college students. The survey asked instructors to comment upon students’ strengths and weaknesses, classroom behavior, attendance, homework record, and attitude. Student interviews focused upon previous education, enculturation to the United States, study habits, family responsibilities, and perceptions about the college’s reading and writing assessment practices.

Song concludes that ESL programs should include individual, regular conferences with students, availability and promotion of outside support programs, helpful handouts explaining assignment and course expectations, and “sincere and constructive comments” on written assignments (427). Overall, teachers said that external factors such as families and jobs were the biggest causes of ESL student failure while students identified internal factors such as lack of effort and/or hard work as main causes of failure.

This article is helpful in that it identifies specific ways in which instructors can help and hinder ESL students. Song identifies research questions for future studies as there is remains much uncertainty regarding why some ESL students succeed while others fail.

Sook Lee, Jin, Laura Hill-Bonnet, and Jesse Gillispie. “Learning in Two Languages:

Interactional Spaces for Becoming Bilingual Speakers.” The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 11.1 (2008): 75-94. The researchers conducted a study of kindergarten students at a dual language immersion school in Southern California in hopes of analyzing the effectiveness of the school’s policies in fostering bilingualism. The two languages at this school are Spanish and English. The kindergarten school, as is common among dual language programs, separates the two languages by teacher and classroom in order to encourage parallel development of each language. Through a series of video recordings within the classroom and on the playground, field notes, and informal interviews of parents, teachers, and students, the researchers discovered that separating languages within the school does not foster bilingualism. Instead, it leads to separation of the languages outside of the classroom.

Furthermore, the researchers concluded that separating languages within the school causes students to be labeled as speakers of one language and not the other. This causes a “thickening of their identities as speakers of either Spanish or English” which “may affect the trajectories of their bilingual language development” (89). Being labeled as a speaker of one language over the other ultimately limits the student’s bilingual development because they will be more often addressed in one language and divisions between English and Spanish students will inevitably occur. The researchers recommend implementing programs which encourage the use of both languages within the same classroom and at the same time in order to provide the most beneficial language development resources to students.

While limited in it applicability because it focuses on kindergarten students, this article is helpful because it offers suggestions for how to best accommodate students learning in two languages. As the article states, most bilingual students favor one language over the other (76). This means that most non-native English speakers will favor their native tongue over English, even though they may know the English language. Writing instructors must be aware of this tendency in bilingual student writers. Instructors must also keep in mind how the separation of languages impacts students and leads to a language separation outside of the classroom. Perhaps it would be most beneficial for non-native English students to be in a classroom that encourages them to speak and write in both English and their native tongue instead of favoring one over the other. This may allow for a more seamless transition to writing in English.

Steinman, Linda. “Literacy Autobiographies in a University ESL Class.” The Canadian Modern

Language Review 63.4 (2007): 563-573. Linda Steinman is an instructor in the

Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University in Canada. While teaching in an undergraduate English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom, Steinman decided to attempt a native literacy autobiography (LA) assignment with her students. The LA seems to function very much like the personal literacy narrative assigned in English courses at the University of Dayton.

As one of the first to employ native language literacy in the college classroom, Steinman had to clearly outline her rationale and goals. Her aims in assigning the LA were to help students focus on the importance of their native language (W1) while gaining expertise in English (W2). She believed that the LA would help students gain greater proficiency in English because research shows that “writers bring skills and beliefs from their L1 writing to L2 writing” (565). Furthermore, Steinman argues that the LA would help students bring L1 and L2 together in a respectful way and aid in L2 learning overall.

Steinman discovered that time constraints prohibited her from fully enacting her LA plan in the classroom. She initially designed the LA to be an ungraded project that continued throughout the semester, allowing the students time to add to and revise their LA as they continued to gain new language knowledge. However, she soon realized that she “had very little time in which to engage in ungraded writing” (569). Ultimately, the LA project turned into a contrastive analysis (CA) project where students compared their L1 to English and presented them orally to the class. Steinman concludes that the CA is an integral part to the LA and she hopes to better combine the two assignments in the future.

This article provides one teacher’s trial and error approach to teaching ESL. It may be helpful to instructors seeking to incorporate L1 into the classroom as they plan specific activities with which to engage their students.

Stevenson, Robert, and Kenneth Mufuka. “A Comparative Study of Performance on a College

Student Newspaper: Foreign Versus American Students.” College Student Journal 39.2 (2005): 316-320. Assistant Professor of Journalism and Director of Student Publications Robert Stevenson and Professor of African History Kenneth Mufuka worked together at Lander University in South Carolina to compare the work of international student writers with those of American student writers. Both Stevenson and Mufuka used the writers who regularly contributed to the college newspaper the Forum. Each student writer was scored on various aspects of journalistic writing and integrity. The assessment revealed significant differences between the two groups of students.

Foreign students were shown to be more aware of libel risks and deadlines. Furthermore, these students exhibited higher grammar proficiency than the American students. This is significant because it stands in contrast to other studies which claim that mastery of the English language impedes the academic performance of foreign students. Clearly, these international students had greater mastery over the structure of English than the American students. The study also found that foreign students were overall more dedicated, mature, and worldly than Americans. It is important to note that the majority of the international students were at Lander University on an athletic or academic scholarship. Therefore, they may not be representative of the average non-native student population.

While this article doesn’t relate directly to teaching writing to non-native English speakers, it is helpful in that it posits some interesting points of thought for the writing instructor. In the writing classroom, it may be important to distinguish who is an international student studying abroad in America and who is a non-native English speaking American student. The international students, as was the case with the current study, probably have a solid base of knowledge of the English language and an interest in further exploring English. This may not be the case for non-native English students who are forced to learn in English simply because they are living in this country. The two students most likely require different teaching approaches to learn to write in English.

Zielinska, Dorota. “Drawing on Technical Writing Scholarship for the Teaching of Writing to

Advanced ESL Students – A Writing Tutorial.” J.Technical Writing and Communication 33.2 (2003): 125-139. This article outlines a technical writing tutorial proved to be successful in helping ESL students learn writing. According to a study conducted on English Philology college students at the Jagiellonian University in Poland, ESL students who participated in the technical writing tutorial performed better on writing tests than those who took part in more traditional writing exercises. According to the author, “This result indicates that technical writing books and journals should be considered as an important source of information for teachers of writing to ESL students” (125).

Zielinska explains that poor writers generally have low overall communication skills, regardless of language. For this reason, educating ESL students on technical writing aspects will help them learn to write in order to communicate “efficiently and effectively for practical purposes” (126). The technical writing tutorial includes teaching students to be aware of purpose and audience, how to do secondary research, how to appropriately organize texts, how to recognizes which sentence type is most appropriate, and to write coherent paragraphs. Zielinska offers suggested activities for ESL writing instructors to use in the classroom.

While this article is helpful in that it offers teaching techniques for ESL students, it is limited in its applicability and validity. The author doesn’t provide specifics regarding the study that motivated this article. Due to her lack of details, it is up to the individual writing instructor to decide whether or not Zielinska’s study was valid and when/how to implement a technical writing tutorial. Furthermore, she doesn’t outline how to locate the exact tutorial she used and found successful. Since all tutorials may not be just as effective, the chance remains that writing instructors may not be able to replicate Zielinska’s success in the classroom

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