Friday, February 20, 2009

Teaching ESL Students to Write

After my last post about writing, I received a message from Zuzana Tomas, a graduate student and instructor in Linguistics. She suggested that I share with you some information about the ESL Writing Initiative. According to their website, "The ESL Writing Initiative exists to provide accessible information to faculty members and instructors about how to teach, assign, and respond to the writing of students of English as a second language ("ESL students") across the U."

Although most of us support efforts to increase diversity in the classroom, we may not always be sufficiently prepared to adapt our teaching to the diverse set of abilities and needs that our students bring with them. In Fall 2008, 7% (or nearly 2000 U of U students) were identified as International Students, many of whom speak English as a second language. Furthermore, because of the diversity within the US, we would be naive to assume that all of our domestic students are native English speakers. Neverthless, the majority of our classes our conducted entirely in English.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to try to master a subject at the college level in a language with which you are not entirely familiar? This is the position many of our students are in, so we as instructors need to find ways to help them strive towards the same high standards to which we hold other students. Perhaps not surprisingly, you'll find that many of the techniques used to help support the learning of ESL students can also help native English speakers as well.

Do you provide both written and oral instructions when giving an assignment? Do you ask a colleague to review your assignment to make sure the instructions are clear? Do you provide models, perhaps through the use of student examples?

These are just some of the tips provided by the ESL Writing Initiative. What else have you done in your class to support ESL students in their writing?

Did you know?

Students appreciate having examples of past student work. These examples are most effective if you've included your comments and grading along with the example. Just be sure to ask for permission before using a student's paper as an example, and to create written assignments that discourage copying the example (e.g., require students to analyze a different case than in the original paper, or incorporate real-life experiences).

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