Some Concrete Tips for Working with Multilingual Writers

· Think carefully about unspoken assumptions about successful writing in your course and try to make your expectations as explicit as possible.

 

· Incorporate models into your curriculum. For example, if you're assigning a thesis-driven paper, supply your students with models of thesis-driven essays from your course or discipline. If you're assigning a lab report, make sure students have seen what a successful lab report looks like before they sit down to try to write one. Models may be articles that you've already built into the syllabus or anonymous samples of student-writing obtained from students who've given you permission to use their essays as teaching materials. Spend time in class discussing and critiquing features of the models, and be sure to remind your students that, when using models, they are to emulate conventions and form-not the specific content.

 

· Teach students that when they use others' words or ideas in their own writing, they must credit their source according to the conventions of the field in which they are writing. See the section on plagiarism in this Sourcebook for more advice on teaching responsible use of sources and preventing and dealing with plagiarism.

 

· It's important to know that, no matter how experienced second-language writers are, it's common for them to have continuing difficulty with idioms, articles ("a," "the"), and certain verb-form endings.

 

· We recommend that you try to focus first-in your reading, in your comments, in your conversations with student writers, and in your grading-on content and global concerns (whether the paper responds to the assignment, whether it contains a clear main argument, whether it's effectively organized). (See page on global vs. local concerns in writing.)

 

· If your course focuses on the content of your discipline, rather than being a writing or communication course per se, and if the problems with grammar and word choice are minor and don't interfere with communicating the meaning of a sentence, you might appropriately choose not to comment on or teach about these language issues, or certainly not on all of them.

 

· If, on the other hand, there are many problems with grammar and word choice and they interfere with students' communicating their meaning or ideas, you might want to choose a selected portion of the paper to comment on language issues. Within that section, remember that not all errors are created equal.

 

·Rather than commenting on all of the problems, you should try to identify a few of the most common kinds of problems that make it difficult for you to understand a sentence-sentence-boundary problems, for example, or verb problems-rather than minor slips with articles.

 

·When commenting on papers by ESL writers, it's crucial to differentiate between errors that do not interfere with meaning and those that do. Examples of errors that do not interfere with meaning include:

--minor article-usage errors, e.g. "We must protect the nature" (Leki, 1992, p. 114);

--misused prepositions, e.g. "to mention about" or "to discuss about" (Leki, p. 119); or

--incorrect verb forms, e.g. "By stop the destruction of the Amazon Valley…," (Leki, p. 116).

 

·An ESL writing tutor at George Mason University recommends: "for errors that don't interfere with meaning,"
--"Don't fix all of the errors. It takes a lot of your time and doesn't help your students if you fix each error for them.
--Make the error stand out by either underlining or numbering the error. Limit the types of errors that you highlight, perhaps to no more than 3 kinds of errors in the same paper.
--Correct the error the first time and briefly explain the error. With subsequent similar errors, put the same number next to the error in the margin. <
--Underline errors that interfere with meaning:
--In the margin next to the error, explain what you as a reader don't understand and ask questions that will help the student understand your confusion.
--If a paper has more errors than you can tolerate, don't be afraid to stop reading. Draw a line. Tell the student you stopped reading at the line and explain why, highlighting some of the errors you noted. Ask the student to revise the paper before you read it again." (Sonja Knecht-Hoshi, "Handling Errors in ESL Students' Papers," Writing at the Center [WAC Newsletter from George Mason University], 5.1 (2001): 1,4. Available: http://wac.gmu.edu/program/Newsletter/newsletter_fall2001.pdf).

 

· If you're concerned that a student needs more instruction in English as a second language, consult with UW's ESL staff, at 263-3780 or www.wisc.edu/english/esl/. Avoid discovering this too late in the semester-when students cannot add ESL courses or when they might be penalized for dropping your course-by having students write something for you early in the term.

 

Pick your battles, and focus on the big stuff.