Tag Archives: multilingual

Advocating for Newcomer Students by Seeing Their Strengths

This post is written by member Mary Amanda “Mandy” Stewart. 

Newcomers represent one of the fastest growing populations in US secondary schools. Coming from other countries, they join us in the ELA classroom with the obvious need to learn English.

English instruction is what they need the most, right?

When I began my career at a newcomer center, that’s exactly what I thought. However, after learning with and from these students for many years, I’ve determined that what they need most is for me to change my view of them. I can become so focused on their need to learn English, and my job to teach it, that I completely overlook their strengths.

How did I change my perspective? I began to understand their lives through their own voices by asking questions, listening, and then listening even more. Now I view the English classroom as an optimal environment where we can name and leverage the many strengths of students learning English for their academic success. I’ve identified five main areas of these hidden strengths that might allow us to be their advocates by seeing them as more than students learning English.

Students in the G.O.A.L. program (Guys and girls Operating As Leaders)

Multiple Languages: Students learning English will already have oral literacy skills in at least one other language. They might also possess reading and writing abilities in their other language(s). Many newcomers engage in language brokering, or translating, for their families, adding to their growing linguistic toolkit. Learn about their multiple language abilities and ask them to use their oral or writing skills in all of their languages for a class project. Choose to see them as multilinguals in all facets of the ELA curriculum.

G.O.A.L students

Desire to Learn & Dream: Sometimes it is a lack of previous opportunity and other times it’s simply a determined spirit, but most newcomers are hungry to learn, particularly English. Yet many of these students do not know how to check books out from their school library. Some assume there is nothing there they can read. Make sure you provide them access to large quantities of engaging and comprehensible literature in English and their first language that they can take home regularly. Ask them about their dreams and help them understand the practical steps they can take to achieve those dreams. You might be surprised by what you hear!

G.O.A.L students


Character: Many of these young people possess remarkable character. In Spanish this can be referred to as educación and manifests itself in the respect they show their teachers, others, and themselves. It is also evident in their work ethic, which extends beyond the classroom. Because their parents are usually working, many of the newcomers I’ve interviewed take care of younger siblings after school, frequently while completing household chores such as cooking dinner. I’m also surprised at how many students maintain part-time and sometimes even full-time jobs. They are eager to earn money to support themselves in the United States and often send some of that money to family in their home countries. We can learn about their lives outside of school, acknowledge their hard work, and look for ways to bring these experiences into our classroom.

G.O.A.L students

Transnationalism: Newcomer students will have lived in at least two countries—sometimes more. They maintain ties to their country in various ways—through actual visits, online social networking, talking to friends via apps, and viewing media from their home country. They regularly cross borders, whether physically, digitally, or culturally, on a daily basis, nurturing skills needed for an interconnected world. Their unique perspectives and international sources of information can greatly enrich your English classes. As you invite their transnational skills into your classroom, it can become a place of global learning for all your students.

G.O.A.L. students

Commitment to a Community: The newcomer students I’ve worked with are usually very committed to others in their various communities—fellow newcomers, friends, or family members. I often observe them helping one another in class, and they are eager to offer something to other students, such as world language tutoring. They regularly sacrifice their own free time to contribute to their family unit or to other students in the class. This can lend itself to excellent collaborative groups in the classroom and will work toward fostering a true literacy learning community. This trait will also go a long way in developing newcomers’ roles as productive citizens in their schools, communities, and society.

 These are the five primary hidden strengths I’ve seen in the lives of newcomer students. Yes, they need to learn English, and it is our job to facilitate that growth, yet our greatest tool could be acknowledging and leveraging the many notable traits and skills they already possess. If you want to be your immigrant students’ advocate in a culture of growing xenophobia, dare to make visible their strengths in the ELA classroom and beyond.

Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart (@drmandystewart) is a faculty member in the Department of Reading at Texas Woman’s University, and her work with newcomers appears in Research in the Teaching of English and English Journal. She loves learning with multilingual/multicultural students and is the author of Understanding Adolescent Immigrants: Moving toward an Extraordinary Discourse for Extraordinary Youth (Lexington Books).

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.


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.


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:


  • 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.

Activating Learning: Teaching for Metacognition

L2WritingLogo2The following post is by Jennifer Eidum Zinchuk, Assistant Professor of English specializing in Composition Studies at Elon University.

Much like global citizenship, “Metacognition” is a common buzzword in conversations about student success in higher education. It is one of the eight “Habits of Mind” outlined in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing. In Composition and Second Language Writing research, metacognition is often cited as a valuable tool to help students succeed as rhetorically and culturally adept global learners. What many researchers and practitioners take for granted, however, is what the concept fully means and how it might be fostered in our students’ learning lives.

In practice, metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is often conflated with reflection, or the conscious exploration of past experiences. Metacognition includes reflection, often called metacognitive awareness, as well as a series of self-directed practices, or metacognitive regulation. In this blog post, I will highlight a number of practical teaching interventions to support students’ metacognitive development.

Integrated reflection

Reflective writing activities are an essential part of college writing pedagogy: free writes, portfolio reflections, and writing diaries are all normal practice. These are more powerful if they become integrated regularly throughout the course. Instead of thinking of reflection as an isolated and individual task, try thinking about it as a social, active, and habitual classroom activity.

Some easy ways to integrate reflection into everyday classroom practice:

  • Use reflective writing and discussion as a pre-reading activity to activate prior knowledge.
  • After introducing a writing assignment, invite students to reflect back on a time when they had a similar writing assignment, how they attempted it, how successful they were, and what they might bring to this new writing event.
  • As an instructor, incorporate your own reflections into the class, modeling reflective practice and building trust: share stories of your literary, writing, or learning history.

Emotional Engagement

Writing is not only an academic activity; it is also an emotional one. Because many students have had a negative relationship with writing, helping students to recognize and overcome learning challenges is important to building a positive relationship with writing, especially in one’s second (or third, or fourth…) language. Celebrating learning successes and as well as analyzing learning failures is invaluable for students’ continued learning.

Some practical ways to encourage emotional engagement in everyday classroom practice:

  • Invite students to examine their emotional relationship with writing by assigning low-stakes writing, responding with encouraging feedback.
  • Open up discussions of “difficulty,” “failure,” and “resistance” by inviting students to remember moments of struggle, share them with a partner, and then create a list with the class. Then, do the same with “ease,” “success,” and “resilience.”
  • Encourage students to “fail forward” to build resilience: have students describe a moment of difficulty and then brainstorm ways they might solve similar problems in the future.
  • Foreground difficulty in course design: scaffold challenging learning activities early in the term so that students have ample opportunity to celebrate success, learn (and rebound) from failure, and continue to practice effective strategies.

Developing Strategies

Most writing courses encourage students to utilize a variety of writing strategies; however, encouraging students to explicitly describe when and why particular strategies are effective, as well as introducing students to new strategies, broadens students’ support network.

Some classroom activities that help students develop strategies for future learning:

  • Introduce students to campus resources through an academically-oriented scavenger hunt.
  • Encourage students to seek help on their writing through visits to writing centers, utilizing office hours, and group conferences, later reflecting on how the visits were useful.
  • Have students write a Revision Plan essay, analyzing “what worked,” strategizing their revision, and planning for future writing.
  • If you use writing portfolios, invite students to assess what they learned about writing and look forward to their next writing-intensive class, articulating specific strategies they plan to use in the future.

Active Learning

Active learning stimulates students’ awareness of their own role in learning. Using classroom practices such as self-assessment and collaborative learning helps students see the tacit learning expectations that surround them. Self-assessment practices help students know how to deploy their writing strategies and when to seek help. Collaborative learning practices encourage students and instructors to recognize, name, and justify their learning choices, often by negotiating those choices across difference.

Some ideas for building self-assessment and collaborative learning practices into a writing curriculum:

  • Early in the term, have students do a “read-around” of peers’ writing: placing two copies of their essay in a stack in front of the class, each student reads their peers’ writing at their own pace, giving positive feedback. This low-stakes self-paced activity allows students to see how others have handled the writing assignment and get positive early feedback on their paper.
  • Introduce writing prompts along with the evaluation rubric. Have students rate and discuss a sample paper according to the rubric before writing their own papers.
  • Use the paper evaluation rubric during peer review in order to create a vocabulary for both formative and evaluative feedback.
  • When students turn in papers, ask them to note two areas that work well and two that require improvement. Read these comments before reviewing their papers, responding directly to their self-evaluations.

Students who have well-developed metacognitive practices are able assess their own writing abilities, confidently gauge their ability to produce what is necessary for the task, and seek help when necessary. For multilingual students, the ability to engage with and reflect upon one’s past writing experiences helps them negotiate the linguistic practices of new contexts, imbuing their learning with confidence and supporting their future language learning. Most importantly, facilitating students’ metacognitive practices positions students as self-sufficient learners, giving them the tools to shape their own academic futures.