Developing a 21st century approach to language in writing programs is vital to create equitable, collaborative, and expansive classroom experiences for students. Critical pedagogy can be the key in cultivating linguistic inclusion with the use of code-meshing, community learning models, and compassionate student-teacher engagement fostering excitement and hope within written expression.
This Resource Library offers strategies to embrace and support Multilingual Learners (MLLs) by recognizing global & cultural forms of Englishes. The materials here favor context, challenge socio-linguistic hierarchies, and build awareness of biases to promote active engagement that encourages ownership, creativity, and authentic student voices.
UNDERSTANDING THE MLL COMMUNITY
MLLs have been academically stigmatized in many ways and their writing is often viewed through a lens of deficit (with focus on grammatical issues, unfamiliarity with American culture, etc.). To combat this long-standing discrimination, we instead aim to support students in bringing their individuality to the classroom while we as instructors broaden our own views and practices through conscious inclusion. We want to value students’ diverse linguistic and cultural knowledge and unique perspectives, which make private and class discussions as well as student writing richer.
When instructors encounter MLLs, it is easy to focus on the concrete challenges in writing related to grammar and language interference. This typically does not only come from the instructor but from MLL and English monolingual students as well, who want instructors and/or tutors to correct “errors” in their writing. Grammar and language interference is of course important to address, but this is not the only nor the most important part of teaching this diverse population of learners.
As the CCCC statement on Second Language Writing and Writers explains, MLL writers “include international visa students, refugees, and permanent residents as well as naturalized and native-born citizens of the United States and Canada.” Many of these writers “have grown up speaking languages other than English at home, in their communities, and in schools; others began to acquire English at a very young age and have used it alongside their native languages…Many second language writers are highly literate in their first languages, while others have never learned to write in their mother tongues.” At USC, 23.8% of enrolled students in Fall 2021 alone – approximately 11,700 students – were international students, and this number does not include permanent residents or citizens who would also identify as “second language writers” or MLLs (the term multilingual learner is intentionally chosen to highlight opportunity over deficit).
The USC Writing Program’s MLL Support Committee encourages instructors to think consciously about the values they uphold in the classroom and the steps they take to create an inclusive space and student community. Below are some suggestions put forth by the committee.
COURSE DESIGN & SYLLABUS BEST PRACTICES
Inclusive Course Design speaks to the values infused within your classroom, and the syllabus serves as the tangible agreement between instructors and students that helps set up expectations and create the road map for students engaging in community-oriented mindsets towards one another. There are also many university resources available, and most students, especially freshmen, will greatly benefit from you outlining them explicitly in your syllabus.
Further, your syllabus can provide the initial content for your students to critically and thoughtfully interact with. The handout below provides concrete recommendations as well as blurbs you can use to support MLLs and all student populations.
READING LIST FOR STUDENTS & FACULTY
Historically, readings in classrooms tend to favor the representation of certain voices above others. Instructors have a responsibility and opportunity when it comes to providing students access to a multitude of voices and perspectives. It is also important for instructors to professionally develop by seeking out readings that promote critical pedagogy and challenge conventional readings.
The list below gives some ideas for readings that promote inclusivity and language diversity in the classroom. These readings encourage discussion of language, language diversity, language discrimination/bias, etc. In addition to classroom focused readings, the list also includes texts on pedagogy aimed to broaden our understanding of our diverse classroom population and their needs. If you have other readings you’d like to see added to this list, please contact Dr. Mandy Hobmeier at email@example.com.
When teaching writing, there are different lenses and topics through which we explore arguments and develop critical reasoning and writing skills. Some topics or thematic courses lend themselves more easily to a global or international perspective. However, we’ve found that professors who have been raised and/or educated in the U.S. tend to design assignments that reflect a specifically U.S.-centered understanding of the world. As a result, formal assignments can unintentionally push students in the direction of a U.S. focus.
In our research and practice, we’ve uncovered some common trends in assignment makeup that often unintentionally presume a U.S. bias and perpetuate a notion of a monolithic U.S. culture. The handout and samples below endeavor to expand this view—to provide assignments that openly invite global perspectives rather than isolating or excluding an international point of view.
LESSONS & ACTIVITIES
We can look at student differences in language and culture as an occasion for a thoughtful and productive discussion about the ways in which language and writing conventions influence and are influenced by our ideas around power, authority, knowledge, intertextuality and individualism/originality. Allowing students to lead the conversation and asking them what writing conventions they are familiar with and have practiced ensures that we don’t essentialize languages but also highlights the ways in which writing is contextual and always situated.
Even as students often have flexibility in writing and research focused classes to choose their own topics and issues, there are opportunities for structured activities that encourage students to interrogate linguistic hierarchies and monolingual ideologies in schools and are also adaptable for a variety of topics. Below is a collection of ideas to incorporate such opportunities consciously and strategically.
CODE-MESHING & LANGUAGE ACQUISITION
As language educators, it is our responsibility to teach not only the power of language in writing but also to acknowledge the multiplicity of ways we use language to communicate every day and to create “bridges” through language. Therefore, recognizing communication within MLL populations, first generation English speakers, and adaptations of English as viable modes of written communication is crucial. Further, students often demonstrate an aptitude to combine multiple modes of English in their daily communications. There is a long history of meshed communication. The integration of language differences into our pedagogy as language educators is ripe with possibilities. The handouts here offer some ideas to consider.
CONTEXT AWARENESS & RESEARCH SKILLS
International student populations are frequently labeled “language learners”, as a point of differentiation from “native speakers” or perceived first language speakers. However, when joining any new discourse community, for example, college, and more specifically, college composition as a discipline, all student populations are language learners. Context is key. Even as instructors and researchers, we observe how much rhetorical situations and audience impact language comprehension and subsequent acquisition. Approaches to investigating context make us more savvy in our communication, and especially in writing that uses research methodology.
Researched essay assignments offer writing instructors an important opportunity to make the research process legible to all students—to increase students’ awareness of and engagement with library and Internet resources, to develop students’ digital and media literacy, and to show students the interconnections between the research process and the writing process itself. The handouts below offer approaches and resources to support these aspects of our courses.
PEER REVIEW/RESPONSE APPROACHES
Learning diversity, linguistic diversity, and cultural diversity require instructors to continuously evolve their practices, as well as experiment with their unique student populations in mind. Peer review activities present one such opportunity for evolution by empowering students to be true peers to one another as they develop tools for critical thinking and effective modes of communication through linguistic interaction, knowledge building, and skill enhancement in genres that will serve them academically, professionally, and as they orient themselves as global citizens. Peer review re-envisioned through this lens, therefore, becomes peer response, and a catalyst for global community building and acts of inclusivity.
Feedback and assessment is commonly a source for anxiety on the part of instructors and administrators alike. This uncertainty can be exponential when navigating how to be most effective in working with MLLs.
Instead of focusing on error or deficit, we can look at student differences in language and culture as an occasion for thoughtful and productive discussions. All students should learn that academic writing is based on conventions and audience expectations, and that different audiences expect that writers adhere to differing conventions. Thus, we should frame our feedback accordingly by highlighting audience expectations or academic conventions, and we should not shy away from discussing different cultural attitudes toward writing explicitly with our students. The suggestions below are designed to enhance your feedback strategies with this goal in mind.
CONFERENCING & OFFICE HOURS TIPS
Office hours and writing conferences are important pedagogical tools in creating a supportive learning environment for MLLs. Getting students to even attend office hours is the first step in enhancing respectful communication and improving learning outcomes, so it’s meaningful to explore strategies for improving attendance at office hours. Next, considering approach is key. The handout below explores best practices and suggestions informed by scholarship in the arena of anti-racist pedagogy.