Tag Archives: International

An Invitation to Dream Big

This post is written by members Christine McCartney and Jacqueline Hesse.

 What is it you are passionate about as an educator? As a person?

Is it social justice? Civic engagement? Making the world a kinder place?

Teachers’ passions are often situated within big ideas that extend far beyond the walls of our classrooms and the confines of curriculum. The challenge we face is to create spaces for our work and our students’ work to transcend those boundaries.

As English teachers at Excelsior Academy, a New York state P-TECH school, our dream was to help our students carve a space for themselves as global citizens, while also considering their own capacity to impact our local community. Over the last three years, our vision has evolved as we invite our students to consider local issues of social justice and equity.

Once a flourishing city on the Hudson River, Newburgh has been experiencing the decades-long effects of deindustrialization. The loss of industry and its impact on the local economy have left our city with an increasing juvenile incarceration rate, entrenched drug and gang issues, and high poverty levels. However, local businesses, community leaders, and organizations in Newburgh have been working diligently to better our city. While we wholeheartedly support the needed revitalization efforts, we worry about gentrification pushing out our students and their families, who may not be able to remain in a city where rents are steadily increasing. We also fear that efforts to improve the city might overlook the interests and voices of the residents who are already here. We need to invite our students to learn about the changes our city is experiencing and find a way to insert their voices in the ongoing conversations about the future of Newburgh.

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To do so, we knew we needed to dream big. We created a global service learning program that provides students with the leadership skills they need in order to act as project managers for local community impact projects in Newburgh. Before implementing their projects, students in Global to Local will travel to a foreign country to study grassroots organizations working to better their communities. This June [2017], our first cohort will travel to Ecuador to volunteer at Casa Victoria, an organization that provides after-school homework help and hot meals to under-served youth in San Roque, a struggling section of Quito. Our students will work with young students, teaching them basic robotics, bringing books for their library, and building an outdoor learning center. When they return to Newburgh, they will research issues and build partnerships to create their own grassroots change in our city. The program, which blends project-based learning and inquiry with volunteer work and occurs both inside and outside of the ELA classroom, is an opportunity for us to re-position ourselves as learners alongside our students, who are already seeing the impact of this work before even stepping foot on a plane:

Brendin: Rather than taking a passive role in our lives, we make an effort to change our community for the better and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Jason: Through any experience in life, we learn new perspectives from others which shift our thinking.

Maribel: As students, we often find that volunteering creates a sense of empowerment because it allows people to influence and motivate others to do something about their issue of interest.

The process of making this dream a reality hasn’t been simple. We have written countless grant applications and waited two years to take our first research trip until we could secure the funding through Fund for Teachers. We cried with a student who was one of the strongest and most dedicated leaders in our program as we faced the fact that she couldn’t come to Ecuador because she was undocumented and therefore unable to obtain a passport. We have struggled, at times, to manage the complicated logistics of fundraising for and planning an overseas trip while teaching full-time. We know we will have to help our students navigate the roadblocks they will encounter as they take on roles as change agents in our city, but we hope that we serve as role models of persistence and optimism.

We have learned that the best ideas are continually evolving, involve inviting students to the table, and require the tenacity to tackle difficult and sometimes controversial issues that affect our students and our city. When we think about the work we have undertaken to make this a reality, we often come back to the amazingly resilient young people with whom we work. They are the reason we have the courage to dream big.

Christine McCartney, NCTE member since 2013, started her teaching career by volunteering to teach writing in an all-male maximum security prison in New York through the Bard Prison Initiative; that experience was the beginning of her journey as a social justice educator. As a high school English teacher for over a decade in Newburgh, a Fulbright alumni, and a codirector of the Hudson Valley Writing Project, Christine is wedded to working to make her community a better place.

 Jacqueline Hesse, NCTE member since 2005, teaches ninth- and tenth-grade ELA at Excelsior Academy, a New York State P-TECH school, in Newburgh. She enjoys volunteering alongside her students and admires their devotion to their community. Jackie is also a teacher consultant with the Hudson Valley Writing Project.

Supporting TAs in Multilingual Classrooms

L2WritingLogoFeb22The following post is by Norah Fahim, who is a Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University.

In light of the recently updated CCCC Statement on Preparing Teachers of College Writing, there is an ever pressing call for action to provide graduate teaching assistants (TAs) with multiple professional development opportunities to aid student learning and success, specifically when “working with diverse populations such as non-native speakers of English (L2 writers), students with special learning needs, non-traditional students, and at risk student populations.” While the increase in international and domestic multilingual student enrollment in US academic institutions is now familiar to many compositionists and Second Language Writing scholar-teachers, one question that unites our responsibilities is

How can First Year Composition programs, specifically those working with TAs specializing in various subfields in English Studies, provide more relevant professional development to help address the needs of an increasingly multilingual student population in mainstream composition courses?

Given recent changes in student demographics, this question is especially pertinent when FYC TAs (like many writing instructors) are encountering a considerable demand on their time, and a heightened sense of uncertainty regarding the extent of their professional responsibilities when giving written feedback and meeting with students during office hours.

As such, this post presents a programmatic initiative taken by the University of Washington‘s (UW) Expository Writing Program (EWP) as a response to these increasing sentiments of professional uncertainty expressed by TAs. Given the scope of this post, I will showcase some the recommended feedback strategies for students’ writing as presented in the “Statement on Supporting Multilingual Language Learners.” This statement aims to “help empower students—multilingual learners and native speakers alike—to become self-editors of their own work and to research their grammar errors as a means to learn through self-correction.” A link is provided for access to the complete policy statement for the interest of other institutions.

Context

The UW, similar to numerous academic institutions across the USA, witnessed a noticeable increase in international student enrollment, amounting to 17.6% of the total number of newly enrolled undergraduates in 2014; Holistically, the total number of international student enrollments, including that of graduate students, had tripled since 2008 (a 245% increase). Other US academic institutions may relate to these changes in demographics and the accompanying concerns expressed by TAs regarding the recommended amount of written feedback: this can especially be the case when TAs have limited experience working with L2 writers.

The creation of the Statement on Supporting Multilingual Language Learners was a direct result of cross-disciplinary collaboration between graduate TAs, Faculty and WPAs with various specializations such as Language & Rhetoric, TESOL and Literature and Culture in the Department of English at the UW. All parties involved were united in their drive to clarify instructor responsibilities while fostering multilingual student success through normalizing students’ needs. A key element in these discussions was asking what kind of feedback best served the needs of not only international L2 students, but also the often less identifiable domestic multilingual L2 students. Thus a considerable number of suggested practices were based in SLW methodology: it is worth noting that all students, regardless of their language background, still require self-editing strategies that help with higher-order concerns of content, as well as lower-order concerns typically described as “grammar” issues.

Expectations

Many instructors, whether novice or experienced, would likely agree that an academic quarter or even semester is not a sufficient amount of time for L2 writers to become their own “self editors,” as also indicated by L2 research. While we all wish we had more time to work with our students, it is more manageable to have a set of suggested strategies. Students can be encouraged to take ownership of “tools that help with using grammar strategically, intentionally, and persuasively in various situations,” while having the time to focus on higher-order concerns.” Similar to “Developing Strategies” in “Activating Learning,” instructors need to introduce students to the range of self-editing strategies and campus resources available to them, as well as offer a consistent form of error feedback to help students take charge of their learning progress.

The following sections offer strategies presented in the Statement on Supporting Multilingual Language Learners:

Rationale

  • L2 writers can become their own self-editors by developing important writing and reading strategies and skills.
  • The support of feedback from composition instructors, writing centers and peers, and access to effective resources (such as handbooks) related to grammar, usage, and style can enhance students’ ability to take ownership of their final redrafting process, and can help with future classes.

On Self Editing

  • Studies have shown that students are able to self-edit their work when instructors circle or mark a check next to “grammar” errors, which has proven to be as effective as when instructors correct.
  • Cueing students to the presence of an error (without fixing the error or marking what type of error it is) and ensuring that they are aware of the available resources is sufficient for self-editing.
  • If errors prove overwhelming to reading comprehension, an instructor should invite the student to have a conversation with him or her or a Multilingual Learner consultant in addition to a range of other resources. While these resources vary across institutions, they are crucial in helping TAs feel supported in their desire to better serve the needs of their students.

Practical Applications

  • First Pathway: Revision Throughout—Fewer Assignments, Multiple Drafts of Each. This pathway allows students the opportunity to work with revision throughout the quarter, producing multiple drafts of each shorter and/or major assignment, with grammar feedback on later drafts. In this approach, instructors focus on higher order concerns in early drafts before prioritizing and selectively marking errors on later drafts, which students then edit during the portfolio sequence. This can be a good option for instructors who have a high percentage of students struggling with sentence structure issues, as it provides students with a head start on revising for their portfolios.
  • Second Pathway: “Higher Order” Feedback-Focused, Defer Grammar Cueing for Portfolio. This pathway allows for reading through error until the portfolio sequence of the course. In this approach, instructors focus mainly on higher order concerns throughout the first two sequences before attending to grammar concerns during the portfolio sequence. As such, this option requires that instructors provide the full two weeks allotted for the portfolio sequence. Note that even if you choose this pathway, you may work on a few shared grammar patterns among your students throughout the quarter, and help individual students target their most pressing issues early on.

While FYC programs learn more about their student populations, listening to the needs of TAs, who are often the backbone of the teaching workforce in FYC courses, can be a promising start for incremental change in department policies. As a continuation of such communication with TAs, we learned that novice TAs who worked with the Statement were finding that feedback practices based in SLW research also offer productive outcomes for all students, regardless of their language and cultural backgrounds. Such genuine conversations between WPAs and TAs can allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration that results in sustainable teaching practices that benefit both our students and instructors.

We just need to remember to listen to each other first.