Two semesters ago, I was interviewed by someone from the Writing Lab here at Purdue University as part of her professionalization project; she needed a second-language learner who could share their experience in writing in English. The interview was focused on my initial writing experience—both positive and negative, my feelings about writing in English, as well as my writing strengths and weaknesses. Our conversation was helpful for me as well, as it gave me a chance to reflect on my own writing practices and articulate the achievements that I have made so far as a nonnative English speaker and the challenges that I still face. Finally, as a writing teacher, the discussion provided me with valuable information on how to help my students.
But even more than that, I was delighted to see that Purdue Writing Lab specialists are striving to develop the professional preparation of tutors by incorporating such projects as part of their training. Overall, I am amazed by the remarkable job that Purdue does in helping L2 learners develop their writing skills and ultimately obtain positive academic experiences at the university. Interviewing L2 students (like myself) can be a wonderful resource to gain first-hand information, and I hope this resource will be more fully utilized in the future. Last year, when I was conducting my small study on perceptions of composition teachers of their own preparation to work with L2 students, some of them mentioned this resource, though in various forms—L2 student panel, focus groups, informal interviews and surveys. So it’s definitely in teachers’ minds, but perhaps not so much in practice. Not yet.
Reading the “CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers” (Conference on College Composition and Communication, 2014) made me feel proud for my university. Many of the guidelines described in this document are being taken into account at Purdue; similarly, many suggestions offered to writing programs in terms of teacher development have already been implemented or are currently being discussed by the university as well as the administration of the Introductory Composition program.
To illustrate, we do:
- “recognize and take responsibility for the regular presence of second language writers”;
- “offer teacher preparation in second language writing theory, research, and instruction”;
- “investigate issues surrounding second language writing and writers” (and the strongest contribution in this particular aspect comes from the SLS program with a variety of course projects that graduate students do as well as pilot studies that they conduct in our local institutional context); and
- “offer graduate courses in second language writing theory, research, and instruction.”
Other successfully implemented guidelines from the Statement include a manageable class size, a self-directed placement option, and a credit-bearing first-year composition course for L2 students.
While I can gladly exclaim, “Bravo, Purdue!” and really mean it, I still think we have some room for improvement, but at the same time I am quite happy to see many areas in which this improvement is being done. For example, the Introductory Composition program is putting much effort into trying to implement, more systematically, L2 writing perspectives into the first-year mentoring program. Also, based on my personal observations, the Purdue Writing Lab tries to hire more tutors that are trained in L2 writing pedagogy, and provides them with ongoing professional development. As the Statement points out: “Writing centers that hire multilingual tutors will have someone who can provide second language writing students with first-hand writing strategies as well as empathy.”
What I can personally do better as a teacher is to probably address the problem of plagiarism more systematically. True, I talk about it, normally at the beginning of the course. True, I make my students aware of the concept of academic writing honesty as well as the consequences that inevitably come if the concept is not taken into consideration. But, as rightly noted in the Statement, second language students may not be able “to philosophically grasp and perfectly execute these practices after a single lesson,” and I think L2 students should be given sufficient instruction on how to avoid plagiarism. Easy to say “You should paraphrase this or that, or you should provide a summary of this or that in your own words.” But it’s certainly not that easy when it comes to practice—for any writer, let alone for those who struggle finding enough linguistic resources to adequately express their thoughts.
In my opinion, the “CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers” is an excellent document and should be read—definitely more than once—by all composition teachers who work with second language learners.
Conference on College Composition and Communication. (2014). CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers [position statement]. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/secondlangwriting