Impacts on Second Language Writing Instruction

ASU has been expanding its international student education. We are “selling” ourselves as “the leading choice among international education,” but in the wake of writing instructors moving to a 5/5 load–can we really deliver quality writing instruction to non-native speakers? Read below for some insider insight:

ASU Against 5/5: A Second Language Writing Perspective

In the wake of a recent decision that full-time writing instructors at ASU will now be forced to teach a 5/5 load, and as a PhD candidate who specializes in second language (L2) writing studies and writing program administration (WPA), I feel compelled to write about the absolute necessity of these instructors to the institution and Writing Programs, of course—but specifically regarding the large second language or multilingual student population that many of these teachers support in their first-year composition courses.

The CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers (2009)[1] acknowledges the presence and needs of multilingual students in university-level writing programs. This statement establishes guidelines for teacher preparation, class size, writing assignment design, and feedback to L2 writers, among other issues. The L2 writing teacher population in ASU’s writing programs (i.e., those who teach sections of WAC 107, ENG 107, and ENG 108) has been trained around this statement. This teacher population at ASU is also staffed largely by instructors. L2 writing research suggests that teachers of L2 writers be in classrooms no larger than 15 students; the Writing Programs currently caps L2 sections at 18. Larger class sizes means even more hours of feedback and grading for instructors. Adding an entire class section (x2 per year) without any additional pay raise or compensation is an unacceptable decision for all instructors, but especially those who teach L2 writers, as multilingual students in writing classes benefit from additional, sustained support and feedback not often needed with mainstream students.

In my dissertation research, I am interviewing a group of L2 writing teachers about their work experiences in the institution. Many of these L2 writing teachers are employed at ASU as instructors with 4/4 responsibilities and often an overload schedule (5/5). What stands out far and away in these interviews is the deep conviction that L2 writing instructors have for supporting their populations of multilingual students. They discuss the extra hands-on help and feedback that multilingual students tend to expect from their teachers.[2] Naturally, these teachers not only go through required extra training to be able to work with this student population, but they tailor their writing projects, daily class lessons, readings and teaching style to best accommodate their second language writing students. They are acutely aware of their L2 students’ experiences as newcomers to American school settings and expectations, as well as to the US in general. What is most notable, though, is that these instructors truly care about the education and the well being of every individual multilingual student. They are willing to put in the long extra hours meeting students face-to-face, providing extensive feedback on drafts, and grading. Why? Because they genuinely love what they do—regardless of the amount on their paycheck or how much they are exploited by their employers.

In one interview with an instructor, she shared with me her experiences working with L2 students. She calls her time in the L2 FYC classroom “exciting,” because multilingual students “have a really cool global perspective. It’s made me such a better teacher.” This particular instructor teaches a 5/5 overload and has a 15-month baby at home. For her, the overload was a necessary way to ensure enough funds were coming in every semester. Teaching L2 students, she said, “makes me want to keep teaching,” because of how much she loves the population. Often L2 students are “frustrated, they’re jet-lagged, they’re culture shocked.” This instructor took on the challenge of teaching an overload of L2 students because she (and others) believes in supporting them. Here, she discusses the task of writing in a second language:

The act of writing is already translation. We are translating a thought to the page. So when we’re trying to write in another language than the one that we think in, we’re translating twice. I tell them about my own struggles with this, and just tell [my L2 students], “You’re doing something really brave and scary here, and everything you’re writing in this class is a risk.”

This recollection is just one of many dedicated, intelligent responses from full-time instructors in ASU’s Writing Programs. Raising their workload to a 5/5 schedule may prove to be impossible for instructors to adequately meet the needs of their second language writing students, given the additional workload these students and classes require.

Most L2 undergraduate students at ASU are international students, recruited both for their visible diversity on-campus and their international tuition rate. This number will only continue to rise as ASU transforms itself into the New American University[3], one that “[builds] diverse partnerships” and “[leverages] knowledge, talent, and resources for social change.” This initiative also claims “ASU strengthens communities by contributing to community dialogue and responding to the communities’ needs.” As a scholar of second language writing and writing program administration, I can confidently say that changing instructors’ teaching load to a 5/5 and doing away with any service component silences the Writing Programs teachers’ community dialogue and blatantly ignores that community’s needs.

ASU and its Writing Programs sincerely need its full-time instructors, as this designation of teachers is predominantly responsible for the large and ever-expanding population of multilingual students that pass through first year composition. Everyone seems to lose in this proposed scenario: L2 writing instructors, L2 writing students, the Writing Programs, and Arizona State University as a whole.

[1] See http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/secondlangwriting.

[2] See Ferris (1995) and Hyland & Hyland (2006), among others.

[3] See http://newamericanuniversity.asu.edu.

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