Trends in Second Language Writing: What L2 Writing Folks Are Talking About

This summer, I literally circumnavigated the globe, and in the process, I attended two conferences where scholars were talking about exciting new ideas in second language writing. While I was in Chile last year, I had the opportunity to participate in two other conferences with interesting regional and international writing-related topics. Although I am a regular at the TESOL Convention, I think it’s worth the effort to attend different conferences as well in order to get a sense of the discussions about writing among teachers and scholars from other organizations. This month, I will introduce the conferences and their host organizations and then summarize a few of the writing-related topics I learned about.

The Conferences

Asociación Latinamericana de Estudios de la Escritura en Educación Superior y Contextos Profesionales (Latin American Association of Writing Studies in Higher Education and Professional Contexts; ALES, Santiago, Chile, October 2018): ALES brings together L1 and L2 writing researchers and teachers from Latin America and beyond. Presenters at the conference came from almost every country of South, Central, and North America as well as Europe and Asia, speaking in Spanish, Portuguese, and English about writing and composition in schools and universities.

WorldCALL (Concepción, Chile, November 2018): WorldCALL focuses on computer-assisted language teaching and learning in the global community. Presenters at this year’s conference came from every continent and shared research and teaching ideas on all language skills for every second language (L2) teaching or learning context.

International Society for Language Studies (ISLS; Hong Kong, June 2019): ISLS brings together applied linguistics, education, and literacy scholars who explore critical perspectives on language. This conference offers insights into ways that language is used, taught, and regulated around the globe.

European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW; Göteborg, Sweden, July 2019): EATAW addresses the teaching, tutoring, research, administration, and development of first language (L1) and L2 academic writing in higher education in Europe. Although most sessions at the conference addressed university-level writing, some presenters discussed postgraduate and professional writing as well as institutional support of scholars’ publication processes.

Writing Research and Teaching Trends

Writing Assessment

Assessment was a focal topic at all the conferences, although speakers approached it from different angles. I attended a preconference workshop at ALES given by Bob Broad, who argued for making writing assessment a local practice rather than relying on standards set by publishers or other distant institutions. Using Dynamic Criteria Mapping, Broad illustrated an approach to facilitating writing instructors’ discussion of the criteria they value in student writing in order to create a rubric that truly represents what a particular program believes is important.

Electronic (e) portfolios were a topic at several conferences. At WorldCALL, Peggy Hartwick, Julie Mccarroll, and Allie Davidson discussed work they have done at Carleton University with English for academic purposes (EAP) learners. They argued that ePortfolios offer advantages over paper portfolios in that they are more visible, more easily searched, and more adaptable to multimodal ways of representing learning. They suggested that the ePortfolios gave their students a platform from which to be self-directed learners.

My presentations at ALES, WorldCALL, and ISLS with my Chilean colleagues Katterine Pavez, Andrea Muñoz, and Gabriela Godoy showed different aspects of the ePortfolio they had developed for their English teacher education program at Universidad de Atacama. We presented an initial analysis of students’ reflective writing at ALES, showing how first-year students struggled to write a philosophy of teaching statement when they had not yet had any experiences as instructors. At WorldCALL, we demonstrated the locally created platform that allowed students to share multimedia artifacts and instructors to comment on students’ choices and reflections. Finally, at ISLS, we discussed the implementation of a critical thinking course designed to scaffold students’ ability to reflect in the context of their ePortfolios and beyond.

Paraphrasing and Plagiarism

One reason I chose to write about plagiarism in last month’s blog post was because I kept hearing people talking about it at the conferences I attended. At WorldCALL, Rosin Dewart and Emily Rosales shared the program they had put in place at Université de Québec à Montréal, an institution where international students represent 30% of the student body but 73% of academic infractions for plagiarism. Dewart and Rosales created an online course that explains in simple, accessible language what the university rules are, what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is, and how to get help with academic writing. (Note that the course is in French, the language of instruction at UQAM, but Dewart and Rosales said that their students struggle with academic citation practices in both French and English.)

At ISLS, Ling Shi from the University of British Columbia presented the latest data from her ongoing research into paraphrasing and what counts as plagiarism. In this recent study, she shared various excerpts and students’ explanations for their practice with professors, who did not all agree on which texts were acceptable. Shi concluded that professors focus on students’ explanations of connections between source and paraphrase, not just the wording, suggesting that paraphrasing is a significant citation practice that needs to be done properly.

Peer Response

Scholars around the world are investigating peer response (which I posted about in April) as a means of supporting students to receive more feedback and build community with their fellow writers. At EATAW, Anna Wärnsby and Asko Kauppinen of Malmö University in Sweden reported on research that analyzed the affective language students and instructors used in providing feedback. They suggested that affective language, such as hedges and evaluations, are especially important in online writing classes, where students can only build community through their written comments. Roger Yallop and Djuddah Leijen of Tartu University in Estonia described how doctoral students in small writing groups also valued affective language in receiving feedback. Yallop and Leijen argued that one of the most effective aspects of these peer review sessions, however, was the cover letter that all students wrote specifying exactly what they wanted reviewers to do as they provided feedback.

At ISLS, Xuan Zhao of Southwest University described Chinese undergraduate students’ responses to the implementation of peer review in their EFL writing classes. She found that they appreciated their classmates’ similar thinking, which made it easy to understand feedback, but they felt their peers were not able to provide helpful responses to grammatical and lexical errors. Although teachers were better able to do that, students didn’t have as much opportunity to negotiate the teachers’ responses.

But Wait, There’s More!

I don’t have room in this post to share all the amazing things I learned at the conferences. Among those topics were

  • teaching with technology (including several great presentations on blogs),
  • translanguaging and translingual writing, and
  • novice teachers’ learning to write reflections and to design multimodal writing lessons.

Presenters also raised concerns about research ethics and language ideologies as areas where writing teachers and researchers need to continue discussions.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite for learning more about what teachers and researchers across the globe are exploring with respect to second language writing. I encourage everyone to seek out opportunities for further professional development. Even if you can’t get away from home, there are webinars and other online learning activities going on all the time. What conferences and online venues have you found helpful? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

About Betsy Gilliland

Betsy Gilliland
Betsy Gilliland is an associate professor in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, where she teaches courses on second language writing, teacher research, and qualitative research methods to undergraduate and graduate students. Co-editor of the Journal of Response to Writing, she was chair of the TESOL Second Language Writing Interest Section (2019-2020) and has published in TESOL Journal, Journal of Second Language Writing, and ELT Journal, among others. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad de Atacama (Chile) in 2018.
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