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What can I do to support English Language Learners in my classes?

Connect them to resources.

The CEW works one-on-one with writers to help them to develop their written English proficiency.  We also host a daily English Conversation Corner for practice in spoken English.  Many international students have found that regular, ongoing appointments at the Center are crucial to their success.

Comment strategically, focusing upon writer development rather than “product fixing.”

Make sure that the writer knows that the substantive, content level of their work is the most important thing and that you are identifying strengths and areas to work on on that level, just as you would any of your students.  To help students make progress on the mechanics of English, prioritize your comments.  ELL writers will become overwhelmed trying to address every editing issue at once.  Overwhelm is never a good state of mind for learning.  If grammar and mechanics are interfering with meaning, focus on one specific issue to point out to them in the draft. (For example, verb tenses are probably a lot more interfering than non-standard article choices.)

Develop a tolerance for differences in English proficiency.

If grading is primarily focused on editing skills, then the student will be in a panic to get each paper “fixed” as if the sentence level mechanics are all that matters.   In such cases, they will often come into the Writing Center requesting a line-by-line edit rather than focusing on the larger issues of meaning-making in their writing or actively working on their English proficiency which requires focus, prioritizing and individual effort.  In other words, when it comes to grammar, punctuation and style, we hope you will join us in encouraging progress rather than perfection.  It won’t do the writer any good to just come in to have their paper proofread and fixed for them.

Familiarize yourself with cultural differences that might affect writing and rhetorical styles (as well as classroom behavior!).

For example, the directness favored in the academic writing of U.S. universities might be seen as disrespectful to the reader in some cultures.  International students may need direct cultural information to be able to adapt to the writing conventions of U.S. academia.

Work with us!

The good news is that CEW consultants are trained in research-based methods to help English Language Learners make progress.  Regular one-on-one collaboration not only is the best way to accelerate progress, but it also provides valuable space for international students to make connections, get oriented, and to practice their spoken English with a native speaker.  If faculty can help us by not expecting that writing products will be scrubbed of all inconsistencies after visits, this will contribute to our ability to work meaningfully with English Language Learners.  An expectation of perfect products significantly short-circuits our ability to help writers make lasting progress.   This is why we have our “no line-by-line editing” policy.  Our mission is to focus on writer development.

And finally, prepare to be impressed!

Can you imagine doing college level work in your second (or even third or fourth) language?  Through immersion, instruction, and practice, these students will gradually improve, but their current ability level as well as their motivation and willingness to put in the extra effort that international study entails, continually impresses us here in the CEW!