Creating an inclusive environment that encourages growth in academic writing is one way faculty can be an ally to all U students, particularly if English is not their first language. To learn more about how to foster a supportive writing environment for international students, we talked to Dr. Jay Jordan, Associate Professor of Writing & Rhetoric Studies.
Jordan specializes in second language writing and works with students at the U’s Salt Lake City and Asia Campuses. He is also Faculty Academic Liaison for Utah Global, an international student recruitment and support program on campus.
Here are five things Jordan recommends faculty should consider:
- Recognize that first-year writing can’t teach everything.
English is a notoriously difficult language to learn and, just as in any discipline, there is a limit to how much a student can absorb (and an instructor can teach) in a given semester. In addition, “good” writing can vary a lot by discipline. Don’t expect all of a student’s writing knowledge to come from their writing class. Build in as much low-stakes and ungraded writing as possible into your course so students can practice. Help them write to learn as well as learn to write.
- Investigate your own bias and perspective.
Understanding cultural differences in communication preferences can support the way you present assignments and set expectations. For example, many cultures have some preference for implicitness. If you’re asking a student to deliver argumentative writing, it’s possible that’s a new space for the student and they may not feel immediately comfortable. The American preference for highly explicit communication can even be seen as intellectually insulting in some parts of the world by inferring that the reader can’t come to a conclusion for themselves.
- Model good academic writing.
Showing students what it really looks like to write is very powerful. Don’t just showcase the polished final product. Share your process, show them drafts, talk about writer’s block. Help students understand what it really takes to create a good piece of writing in all its (sometimes messy and frustrating) glory. Pulling back the curtain can make the process less intimidating, normalize healthy struggle, and encourage academic resilience.
- Stress the availability of centers and resources.
We are fortunate to have wonderful writing support available to all students on campus. Sometimes our international students aren’t aware of the full scope of what is available (and that there’s no additional cost for these services). Please make sure they know about The Writing Center, and other student support systems unique to your discipline.
- Seek progress, not perfection. Plus, a note on plagiarism.
Learning to write well in a second language takes courage and vulnerability. Honor the student’s effort by picking your battles and protecting their progress. Don’t overwhelm them (and yourself) by feeling like you have to comment on every error. It’s not uncommon for even advanced English learners to make grammatical mistakes simply because there is no parallel in their home language. Instead, ask and wonder about choices and seek to consistently correct the errors that are most critical to their study at that moment in time.
Finally, a note on plagiarism. The academic code is clear about what constitutes plagiarism—intentionally using another’s work and passing it off as your own. Sometimes, what appears to be plagiarism is an attempt to model academic language that is still out of reach. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss inappropriate borrowing and guide the student to language that doesn’t infringe upon intellectual property rights. Be careful you don’t miss the teaching moment.