An Updated View on the Ethical Treatment of L2 Writers

Institutions of higher learning in many countries—particularly in the English-dominant centre—are more corporatized, more diverse, and increasingly dependent on international students as “revenue generators” in financially unstable times (Tardy & Whittig, 2017, p. 1).

Those that know me know how religiously I quote Silva’s (1997) article, “On the Ethical Treatment of L2 Writers,” because of how powerfully it speaks to the need to resist the deficit-view of L2 writers and writing. It has become a cornerstone of my professional philosophy. And, something that should, frankly, be required reading for any educator that is going to work with multilingual students. I know that I wish I could force some of my colleagues to read and critically engage with the piece. Now, ten years on, the article is really only showing its age because of how much ground the field of L2 writing has covered. Despite this, it’s still an exceptionally relevant piece.

It is still so crucial that Tardy and Whittig (2017) decided to give it a timely updating for its tenth anniversary. They updated the piece by going into each of Silva’s original four points and speaking of the advances in L2 writing and TESOL that have taken place over the past decade. While we know a lot more now, we still have some way to go as far as the ethical treatment of L2 writers. For example, Tardy and Whittig (2017) point to the need to acknowledge that the distinction between L1 and L2 can create the impression of a monolithic population where none exists; furthermore, we must train both specialist and non-specialist alike to be aware of this fact. The community of writers identified as L2 is, perhaps, even more varied than the L1 population. This variation means that L2 writing specialists must take a very nuanced approach to how we talk about L2 writing issues with our colleagues, being careful not to reinforce an oversimplified view of reality.

Granted, this is very challenging. I was invited to give a talk at a writing pedagogies institute at a university in New York. One of their staffers, a person marginally aligned with TESOL, grilled me during the welcome dinner, asking very probing and highly marginalizing questions about L2 writers. Questions like, “In your professional experience, don’t you find that the Chinese students can’t construct good sentences or paragraphs?” Beyond being insulted and not wanting to offend someone who might someday review my reappointment docket, I politely pointed out that, yes, some have this issue. But, so do some so-called native speakers. And, some first-year Chinese L2 writers are actually particularly adroit at sentence construction. Well once I wouldn’t reaffirm their deficit view of L2 writers, they were done with me and with hearing what I had to say. At least that’s the impression they gave off. And, this happens far too often. When we, as L2 writing specialists, don’t reaffirm racist, deficit views of the population with which we closely work, we begin to lose our street cred. But, to that, I must say resist and persist—for the good of the students.

Another important update that Tardy and Whittig (2017) provided was about the writing courses for English as an additional language (EAL) writers, here L2 writers. L2 writing courses must be more than mere grammar and mechanics courses. Indeed, attention to language and to the linguistic expectations of the academy are important. But, the classes we offer must be more than some remedial reading of the Bluebook of Grammar and Spelling. I, frankly, couldn’t agree more. The so-called problem for L2 writers isn’t one of not enough of something; it’s one of too much. And, like one of the X-men with too much power that accidentally destroys half of the town, our L2 writers have to learn how to wield their multilingual, multirhetorical powers in ways that will provide them access to the dominant discourses of higher education. This means that L2 writing classes should focus on helping students to first understand the expectations for written communication in the academy before moving on to making it clearer to them how they can deploy their multilingual resources to play with and to artfully break those expectations in ways that lead to even more potent meaning making with their chosen audiences. Indulge me as I return to the mutant metaphor from earlier. We as L2 writing specialists need to be more like Professor Xavier and less like Warren Worthington II, the developer of the mutant cure to turn all mutants into ordinary people—just like everyone else. That is, we have to work with our students to show them how to channel their abilities to be more effective communicators.

Perhaps the most crucial update, however, was Tardy and Whittig’s (2017) call to for all L2 writing specialists to be advocates for this student population. To resist, on their behalf, the dominant discourses of the university that continue to marginalize and to silence them. Furthermore, to be ethical advocates, we must also equip these students to, over time, become self-advocates. Note, however, that there are many pathways to advocacy. I don’t think they, or I, would suggest picketing the vice chancellor’s office—but, hey if you think that would work… Instead, this advocacy may take the form of raising the awareness of colleagues and administrators about the challenges and benefits of L2 writers and writing, or holding pedagogy development workshops or pushing for inclusive and ethical campus policies.

TL;DR: Read Silva (1997) and Tardy and Whittig (2017)!

Source material

Silva, T. (1997). On the ethical treatment of ESL writers. TESOL Quarterly, 31(2), 359-363.

Tardy, C.M., & Whittig, E. (2017). On the ethical treatment of EAL writings: An update. TESOL Quarterly, doi: 10.1002/tesq.405

 

Personal PD (cont.): The Case for CALL in a Re-mix/Mash-up World

Kessler, G. (2013). Teaching ESL/EFL in a world of social media, mash-ups, and hyper-collaboration. TESOL Journal, 4(4), 615-632.

Summary

In this invited article, Kessler provides a sustained argument for teachers to set aside their misgivings about the technological revolution in English language teaching. He adroitly points out that our students live in technological spaces that mediate not only their understanding of their ecosocial spaces but also their views towards learning and their language practices. As this is the case, teachers must come to embrace technology mediated language teaching and seek to integrate it into their practice. To help with this, Kessler provides links to many applications that teachers might find useful. He extends this data dump by providing a rationale for each item he included in his listing, weighing both pros and cons. He also provides a four-point list of actions teachers need to take to better integrate technological interventions with their practices.

Response

For me, this was a very energetic piece by a CALL apologist that I’ve known professionally for some time. That being said, there were many useful aspects of this article. The first is the resources that he directs readers towards. To help the reader jump start their own cognition about CALL’s place in their teaching practice, Kessler provides not only a summary of the resource but suggestions for its use in language teaching. This makes Kessler’s piece infinitely more useful than other pieces that tend more towards being a wall of links. Also useful were his guidelines for approaching technology in the classroom. He encouraged educators to do four things: (1) to focus on pedagogy first, (2) to allow classroom practice to mirror real-world use, (3) to no obsess with becoming an expert of the technology, and (4) to ease into using new tech in teaching.

His second and third points are of particular importance. Allowing classroom practice to mirror authentic use allows students to more immediately see the application, the relevance, of what we’re teaching them. It can also be used to highlight how things like register and medium can influence how our interlocutors parse a message. The third part, not being expert, is instrumental. It’s a well-known maxim that our students will almost always know more about the latest tech than we do. Don’t let that hold you back. Rather, let it push you forward. By allowing students to showcase what they know and can do with new technologies in the classroom, you may be helping to actualize student agency over their own learning, a feat that can lead to increased motivation to carry out educational tasks and to buy into lifelong learning, which is what all effective language learners/users seem to understand—learning a language is a lifelong affair. There is no moment of arrival and completion.

Personal PD: TESOL Advanced Practitioner Certificate

So, I’m currently working on obtaining the Advanced ELT Practitioner Certificate from the TESOL International Association. This is a guided certificate program that begins with a PD program and moves through the building of a course to the observation and evaluation of one’s teaching. I’ve decided to focus my PD project for the certificate on CALL environments and blended learning. Something that I’ve always wanted to learn more about, but that my Ph.D. program wasn’t equipped to handle. I’ve decided that over the coming weeks, I’d share the output of my PD project, an annotated bibliography with critical reflection. So, here is the first entry.

Adnan, M. (2017). Perceptions of senior-year ELT students for flipped classrooms: A materials development course. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(3-4), 204-222. DOI:10.1080/09588221.2017.1301958

Summary

In this article, Adnan examines the use of a “flipped” classroom in an ELT Materials development course at a Turkish university. In their study, they examined how students responded to the flipped classroom, a term they use to mean one where students use web-tool to prepare for the class beforehand (e.g., reading articles or watching a lecture) instead of doing those things in class. They wanted to know how students responded to this organizational pattern for the course and whether it had any influence on academic achievement (grades). Their findings suggest that while it was an empowering approach for students, it did not have any measurable impact on students’ academic performance as represented in test, quiz, essay, and portfolio grades

Response

So, this piece presents an interesting take on flipped learning—I hadn’t seen the term defined quite like this before. To be honest, I find the definition insufficient to the task at hand. They define it merely as using technology to have students prepare ahead of class. To me, it’s more than this. It’s about creating an environment that is student-centered and facilitates students taking increased agency over their own learning. Central to Adnan’s (2017) definition of the flipped classroom is the use of technological interventions to help the students prepare beforehand. Based on what I saw in their report of research, there is nothing here that can’t be done without That is, CALL provides no major advantages here. That being said, they do report that the use of CALL to flip the usual flow of instruction did seem to empower students by creating a sense of control over the speed of the flow of instruction. The flow control mentioned previously, however, is something worth considering. This is where a CALL intervention maybe most helpful. For example, having recorded recall lectures to help students remember the main points of a given class day could be very helpful.

Continuing Development

One of the things that sucked me into academia was the promise of life long learning. I enjoy learning new things: asking questions and seeking the best possible answer. It’s exciting because there are so many perspectives out there—and a fruitful exercise is to consider as many of them as you can before judging any single one too harshly. How does one maintain this life time of learning? Certainly, there is (trying) to keep up with the literature in your chosen field/subfield. But, there is also continued professional development. And, good professional development often occurs at conferences and seminars hosted by the slew of professional organizations that you might belong to (e.g., TESOL, AAAL, NCTE, BAAL, IAWE, IATEFL, TIRF, NABE, etc.). However, if you’re looking for more formalized professional development—beyond the choose your adventure of the literature or conventions—then you have to dig a little deeper. Since I’m based in China for much of the year, I’m a fan of programs that can be done online, since it’s easier to fit into my schedule. Since I’m hitting that end-of-contract slump as I wait for reappointment, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I want to develop this year?”

I’m hitting that end-of-contract slump as I wait for reappointment, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I want to develop this year?” This has led to some rather deep searching of the web-based PD opportunities, as well as considering options like taking up piano or actually sticking to a workout regimen. Here are some of the more exciting options that I’ve found. Please note, I have not been asked to promote any of these. Just sharing my findings.

TESOL International Association

I went to the TESOL convention in 2016 because it was in Baltimore, near my U.S. home, and it was during our spring break. As conferences go, it was a little big for my liking. TESOL, however, is great because it has a slew of practitioner-friendly resources to allow us to continue our professional development. This includes a bunch of great online workshops and seminars to help us continue our professional development, and these are often led by some bang-up people in the field. In the past, they’ve done workshops on teaching grammar and on training teachers (see here for a complete list).  One of my new favorite things though is the certification programs.

They currently have five certification programs, of which I have experience with one and with applying for another one. If you’re interested in transitioning to leadership, I would highly encourage you to take a look at their ELT leadership management certificate program. This is offered both at TESOL and affiliate conferences throughout the year and covers issues in management, hiring and HR, and budgeting and costing. It was an educational experience, even with my experience as a leader at the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). Then, there’s the advanced practitioner certificate program, which gives you a chance to work with a mentor to do an advanced study on topics like CALL, business English, etc. To me, this is a good opportunity to advance your current credentials by taking a semi-guided look at a new area of interest. The application process is a bit intense, as they require you to submit an application with a couple of essays/statements of purpose, a CV, and two letters of recommendation, one of which has to come from your current supervisor or someone familiar with your teaching. But, I think it’s worth it. I’m currently waiting to hear back about my application to the program.

National Council of Teachers of English

NCTE is another bang up organization, although I’ve only ever been to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), which is also a huge conference. But, NCTE also offers some great, web-based PD resources. They offer three main options: self-paces investigations, web-based seminars, and facilitated online courses. Of these, the self-paced investigations (SPIs) looks the most attractive.

In an SPI, you carry out a short, but intense, examination of current issues in English education, like college/workplace preparedness. You engage with readings and work through some activities. Many of these investigations are targeting K-12 educators, and look fascinating. Personally, I might do the “Building Academic Langauge” module, as it can transfer to higher ed easily, and it’s the population that I would want to work with if I switch over to K-12.

They also have a series of real-time, web-based seminars that you can sign up for, with topics ranging from culturally responsive inquiry and teaching to building confidence for ELLs. I’d encourage you to take a look if you have a solid internet connection and can find one that fits your PD needs. They also have some on-demand seminars on a range of topics if you’re looking for something that you can do at 11 pm after the kids have fallen asleep/you’ve actually finished all of your work for the day.

The Center for Applied Linguistics

Many years ago (2010 to be precise), I considered applying for an internship with CAL, but I didn’t think I’d be competative, so I didn’t. Now, I see that they offer a couple of workshops targeting K-12 professionals continuing PD needs, and they look brilliant. They have three online courses that you can take on instruction for ELLs, Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) fundamentals, and ELL literacy development. Each class is comprised of multiple modules to give you a good grounding in each of the topics at hand. And, they’re entirely self-paced. So, if you have a stack of 70 essays to grade—or, need to take a mental health week, you can do so, and it won’t interrupt your progress.

What else is out there?

I’m curious as to how other people go about sustaining their professional development long-term. So, if you have ideas, share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Throwing Ideas into the Ether

I’ve been home for a week now, and it’s been a comfortable life. I must admit that one of the most challenging parts of being a migrant academic with a 9-month teaching load is keeping myself disciplined and still working during the summers. It’s so tempting to just take the dog to the park, play Mass Effect Andromeda or watch Star Trek: The Original Series on infinite loop.

Granted, for the first week, I’ve kept myself busy preparing to sit for the Praxis exams in the hopes of getting my Maryland state teaching license (for a possible career move), working on grant applications, and carrying out revisions to hopeful publications. Oh, and reading. Let’s not forget that any academic worth their salt—and this includes applied linguists—must read and read a lot.

And, I must admit that I am heartened to see one of our professional organizations take such a sustained and multi-angle interest in LGBT+ issues in the field. TESOL International has run some LGBT+ focused newsletter articles for their various interest sections lately, and both TESOL Journal and TESOL Quarterly have had some great articles coming out/in-press on the topic. To quote Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.”

I was reading a recent article in the Social Responsibility-IS newsletter that got me to thinking more. In this article (link below), Kelly and Lewis (2016) discuss four avenues for queering the classroom. It’s their final one, “include topics of sexual literacy”, that I think is the most interesting. It’s interesting because it speaks to material creation issues, which I’ve written about in the past (Paiz, 2015, 2016, in press). Kelly and Lewis go one step further, they start recommending materials that the reader might find useful to queering the classroom.

So, this brings me to the idea. We need a—you guessed it—curated, web-based repository of queer teaching materials and lesson plans appropriate for ESL/EFL students. This pool of resources could include summaries of publicly available materials and how educators have used them in their own classes, scaffolds to make the materials linguistically appropriate/accessible to language learners, and (best of all) teacher created materials with a reflection of how the teacher tailored the content to their institutional context. This could be a massively useful resource and allow us to point early service teachers and those that are new to queering the classroom towards a concrete bank of trusted ideas, best practices, and suitable materials. It’s grant writing time!!! Whose going to join me in making this thing come to life?

Source Materials

Kelly, M., & Lewis, A. (2016, June). Creating inclusive classrooms for LGBTQIA ESL students. TESOLers for Social Responsibility. Accessible from: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolsris/issues/2017-06-07/5.html

Paiz, J.M. (2015). Over the monochrome rainbow: Heteronormativity in ESL reading texts and textbooks. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 4(1), 77-101.

Paiz, J.M. (2016, October). A call to queer L2 writing. SLW News. Accessible from: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolslwis/issues/2016-10-14/3.html

Paiz, J.M. (Forthcoming). Queering ESL teaching: Pedagogical and materials creation issues. TESOL Journal.