"Navigating the Cultures of Campus: Academic Writing and the ESL Student"

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a conference concerning ESL issues (I've appropriated the title as the title of this post) sponsored by the University of Utah University Writing Program. Unfortunately due to prior commitments I could not attend the entire day, and will be unable to attend the sessions at all today. Diane Belcher was the keynote speaker, and gave a fine, practical, yet theoretically-based presentation on common ESL issues. Her presentation inspired me to talk to the chair of the English department here at SLCC in perhaps having English or the Writing Program Council invite her to SLCC to carry forward the work we've been doing for that last few years in having our colleagues from across the campus in non-writing fields to understand that we are all, indeed, teachers of language, and we all have a responsibility to respond adequately and fairly to those less-experienced in the English language than native speakers.

I was also very impressed at the conference with the panel of L2 graduate students who spoke about their experiences in American academia as non-native speakers/writers of English. I think I took them off-guard a bit with this question: "What kind of feedback on your writing do you find useful, and what kind do you find useless or even harmful." Their answers were quite revealing. One stated that a lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of an instructor was harmful. Another stated that he found general comments useless, and liked it when someone pointed out a pattern of error, and explained what was going on. Another pointed out that she liked to receive possible options for recasting sentence-level issues. Finally they all agreed that they found comments that caused them to think more to be the most useful.

Overall I was struck by the important point that Belcher and the panel of students made by echoing Bruffee: all students (even if they are non-native speakers) are new to academic uses of language. It is our job to bring them into that language group. I would go further to say that it is our job and it is also important to encourage students to explore and expand that discourse community.

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