Supporting International Students’ Writing at the Graduate Level

Supporting International Students’ Writing at the Graduate Level

August 22, 2019 1 By Stanley Isaacs


Welcome to the University Writing Center,
Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies joint
effort to bring Tony Silva here to talk about supporting international students’ writing
at the graduate level. I also wanted to say a special thanks to the
Academic Affairs Climate and Diversity Committee for sponsoring this event actually paying
for it, let’s be honest. We’re sponsoring, they’re paying Tony Silva is a professor of English in the
department of English at Purdue University where he directs The Graduate program in second
language studies and teaches graduate courses for PhD and MA students as well as provide
writing support and courses for graduate and undergraduate international students so I
think you can tell just from this that Purdue has a fairly well developed international
students support system that we might be lacking here at Texas A&M. This event is one way that we want to kick
off a new emphasis on supporting international graduate student writing and another element
of doing so is that we have this year hired and I’m looking for her in the audience, Alexis
Smith in the the back here as a an expert for us in the Writing Center on international
student writing so she’s going to be helping us after this kick-off event continue to develop
programs that we hope will be of use so we are always interested in your feedback in
that area. Dr. Silva founded the Journal of Second Language
Writing with Ilona Leki and they co-edited it from 1992 to 2007 and then with Paul Kei
Matsuda he co-founded and hosted the Symposium on Second Language Writing from 1998 to 2013
and he co-edited the essays in the volume on Second Language Writing in 2001 in Landmark
Essays in ESL in 2001 and Second Language Writing Research and Perspectives on the Process
of Knowledge Construction in 2005 and Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing in 2010. So he is somebody whose work I have much admired for his ability to bring linguistics and writing together and I think that you will find his
talk today instructive and useful and I’m going to ask him to step up now and do his
show. Howdy! [audience] Howdy I had to ask how I was supposed to greet you
and that was the way. Good afternoon thanks for taking the time to come over and see me Can you hear ok in the back? Good As Valerie said I’m Tony Silva. I’m a professor in the English department
at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Welcome and Greetings from West Lafayette where I currently direct the Graduate Program
in Second Language Studies, PhD program primarily I also directed the ESL writing program, for
25 years, from 1991 through 2015. and they finally gave me a break and assigned something else The program’s purpose was and is to provide
writing support courses for both undergraduate and graduate international students. Also, I have experience directing international
student dissertation committees. Of the 57 doctoral committees I’ve chaired
or am chairing at Purdue, 38 (or 67%) of the students were or are international students
from a variety countries and I just love reading this list (Argentina, China, Colombia, Germany, Iran, Japan, Korea, Lebanon,
Libya, Macedonia, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine,
and Vietnam). I’m so excited to have the opportunity to work with people from so many countries It’s enriched my life greatly Finally, since 1982, the primary focus of
my research has been second language writing and writers. The focus of my talk today will be international
graduate student writers. To put my talk in context, I’d first like
to talk more generally about international students in the United States. Some facts and figures According to the most recent data available (2016-2017) from the Institute of International
Education, there are a total of more than one million international students in institutions
of higher education in the United States —1,078,822, to be exact. (From here on out, I will round off large
numbers to avoid tedium). Anyway, these international students make
up 5.3% of all students enrolled in US colleges and universities. The states with the largest numbers of international
students are California, New York, and Texas. Most international students in the United
States come from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Their primary sources of funding include personal
or family, current employment, US college/university (typically in the form of research or teaching
assistantships), and foreign government/university. The most popular fields of study for these
students are Engineering, Business & Management, and Math & Computer Science. The foregoing numbers referred to all international
students (graduate and undergraduate). But I’d like to turn now to graduate student
matters. There are 391,000 degree-seeking graduate
students. Of the degree-seeking graduate student population,
61% are master’s students and 32% are doctoral students. 3% are professional students, and 4% are unspecified
graduate students. According to data from the National Science
Foundation international students make up the large majority of full-time students
in many graduate science and engineering related programs, and their numbers have been rising
much faster than the number of domestic students. These data suggest that (1) at many US universities,
many majors and graduate programs could not be maintained without international students
and (2) that the increase in both size and number of graduate programs in science and
engineering at US universities indicates that domestic student enrollment has not been held
down by the lack of available slots at US graduate schools. A couple of illustrations: Between 1995 and
2015, the number of full time domestic students enrolled in graduate computer science programs
increased by 45%, from 9,000 to 13,000 students while the number of full-time international
graduate students increased by about 480%, from 8,000 to 46,000 During the same time frame, in electrical engineering, the number of full time domestic
graduate students decreased by 17%, from 9,000 to 8,000 while the number of international
graduate students increased by 270%, from 9,000 to 33,000. Here is some additional data from the same
report on fields of study whose international graduate student population is larger than
their domestic graduate student population. As you’ll see the percentages range from
81% to 53% on this list. I’ll just go down it here you’ll see the theme
electrical engineering, petroleum engineering, computer science, industrial engineering,
statistics, economics, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, pharmaceutical
sciences, metallurgical/materials engineering, agricultural engineering, agricultural economics Why do fewer domestic undergraduates in science
and engineering go on to graduate school? The conventional wisdom, which seems accurate,
is that domestic undergraduates in these fields can command handsome salaries without graduate
degrees. In Texas
According to data from the Institute of International Education (2017), the total number of international
students in Texas colleges and universities is 85,000 – the third largest international
student population of any state in the United States. As you can see, there are substantial numbers
of international students at UT Dallas; UT Arlington; Texas A&M, College Station, UT
Austin and the Houston Community College System. Most of these students come from India, China,
Mexico, Vietnam, and South Korea. It is estimated that these students contribute
more than 2.1 billion dollars annually to the Texas economy. At Texas A&M
According to International Student Services (2016) at Texas A&M, College Station accounts
for about 8% of international students in Texas. These students come from 127 different countries,
but most come from China, India, Mexico South Korea, and Iran. About 73% of the international students here
are graduate students. Roughly 55% of these graduate students are
in doctoral programs; 45% in master’s programs. The top areas for graduate study are Engineering,
Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Business. It is estimated that these students contribute
approximately 172 million dollars per year to College Station and its surrounding communities. This talks getting a little dry [laughter] all right I’d like to move now to what I call the
international graduate student experience which I think many of you have had. So, I’d like to move now to a description
of international graduate student experience in the United States. Let’s see what I mean, I’d like to note first
that the following account of challenges in second language writing are based on research
I have done that involved analyzing the findings of a large number of empirical studies comparing
first and second language writing; observations from my work with second language writers,
and my own experience writing in a second language. In any case, I offer some caveats: (1) My
claims are tentative. (2) While I offer generalizations, I recognize
that each ESL writer is unique, and (3) I do not see second language writers as deficient
in any way. They are, after all, typically proficient
writers in their native languages. Thus, I see their performance in second language
writing as an additive rather than a subtractive phenomenon. Now, imagine if you will, a time in the future
when, to get a state of the art graduate education, in, say, electrical and computer engineering,
you’ll need to study in a far off country whose language and culture and educational
system are very different from those of your own. You’ve attended excellent schools from K-12
and have at least one degree from at least one university in your home country. You’ve been a top-notch student. You’ve studied the language of this foreign
country for six years in junior and senior high school and for a couple more years in
college and have gotten good grades in these language courses, but you haven’t had many
opportunities to interact with native or highly proficient speakers of the language. You’ve done a fair amount of reading in
the language, but it’s been slow going, and your experience in writing in the language
has been limited to fairly short papers on general topics, typically based on model texts
written by native speakers of the foreign language. You’ve applied to and been accepted by a
large well-regarded research university and off you go—perhaps on your first international
trip, leaving your family and friends behind. Your first week is exciting and full of activity. Even everyday things seem interesting and
new. But soon after settling in, you realize that
you’re in a very different and strange place (psychologically and culturally, as well as
geographically) and in a very intellectually and emotionally challenging situation. During your first semester you find yourself
in three demanding courses in which you are one of a small number of students from your
country, of students who speak your native language On top of that, you’re also working as a
research or teaching assistant. You’re surprised and somewhat dismayed to
find out how little you understand of what your instructors are saying in class—it
was much easier to understand this foreign language in your classes back home. You’re frustrated at how long it takes you
to do and comprehend the required reading for the course and by your difficulty in writing
in this foreign language. Your ideas are there, but you just can’t
find the words to express them clearly. You’ve been getting much lower grades on
your assignments than you used to back home, and you’re having a hard time figuring out
what your teachers want you to do. And all this is only part of what you’re
up against—you’re also trying to figure out how to adapt to living in this new place. You often feel isolated, overwhelmed, and
unsure of yourself. And you’re wondering how (or if) you’re
going to be able to live like this for the next few years. I’d like to talk a little bit about writing
challenges that are faced by second language writers.
More specifically, with regard to writing challenges in English:
You may find that your composing process overall is much more difficult and less effective. You may need to spend more time decoding writing
assignments or prompts and still feel unsure that you’ve understood and addressed them
appropriately You may find it more difficult to set goals
and to plan your writing You might find yourself devoting more time
and attention to generating material than you would when writing in your native language;
in spite of this, you may not be able to generate much useful material or organize it to your
satisfaction. You may find transcribing, that is, getting
words down on paper, more laborious and less productive
You may spend more time referring back to the assignment or prompt or consulting a dictionary
to find the right words to express what you want to say
You might need to pause more often, write more slowly, and yet produce less written
text than you could in your native language You might have more difficulty reviewing and
reflecting on your text You may be more preoccupied with revision,
especially with regard to language issues You may revise more, but less effectively
You may be less able to revise by ear, that is, making changes on the basis of what intuitively
sounds good or right. I’d like to talk a little more about challenges
in terms of written texts In terms written text, your writing may contain
more errors overall and errors of all types—morphological, lexical, and syntactic
You may have difficulty with grammatical elements in English that don’t even exist in your
native language; that is, you will exhibit a written accent
Your texts might seem less complex and less mature Your texts may seem inappropriate in terms of, for example, style, tone, voice, directness,
explicitness, and authoritativeness Your texts may seem lacking in coherence and
cohesion: Coherence has to do with the connection of ideas; cohesion with connection of sentences
Your sentences may seem too short or too long You may have difficulty with sentence processes,
such as coordination, subordination, conjunction, and modification
Your vocabulary may be much more limited and You may have difficulty finding the right
word, the appropriate synonym or idiom or collocation You may feel unable to express yourself in a nuanced manner You may find that writing an argument or telling a story is done quite differently in English
You might also find differences with regard to such matters as paragraphing, transition,
closure, hyperbole, or reader orientation You might find yourself at a clear disadvantage
when writing under time constraints You may find that incorporating material from
other texts—that is, citation and documentation practices may be very different in the foreign
language Other writing related issues
There are also a number of writing related issues of special importance. I would like to talk about three of them here:
Reading, group work, and class participation. Reading may take a lot longer in the foreign
language. What would take one hour reading in your native
language might take 3-4 hours reading in the foreign language. This is mostly due to language proficiency—primarily
a vocabulary issue, but there are also issues with long complex sentences. But it may also be an issue of cultural difference
(specifically, culture bound terminology and assumptions regarding what you might know
about the culture in which the foreign language is embedded). When reading in a second language, you may
understand a text literally, but may not get the subtext or be able to identify such things
as humor and nuance. You may understand the denotation, but not
the connotation. Testimony from a student: When I read my textbooks,
I can read the words but not understand a single thing. It is extremely difficult to understand science textbooks because the writing is much more complicated. It takes much more time to read and understand
the material in our second languages. Just last night when I read my physics textbook
it took me four hours to read and understand 25 pages of material. Group work is another area in which you may
experience difficulty due primarily to cultural or educational background issues and second
language proficiency. You may never have done group work as it’s
done in this new context. You might also have different expectations
about group dynamics. You may have (real or imagined) difficulties
in expressing yourself in speaking and understanding others when listening. Taking classes in the foreign language for
12 years at home may not guarantee adequate speaking and listening ability. Your classes may have been limited to reading,
writing, and grammar study. Additionally, you may not have had any opportunities
to talk to native or highly proficient speakers of the language at home. It may take a while before your latent oral/aural
ability in the foreign language kicks in. Testimony from a student: I had a recitation
class in physics once a week and all the students were asked to sit in a small group. There were five of us and I was the only nonnative
speaker in that group. It was hard for me to catch and understand
what they said, and sometimes I pretended to go to the rest room just to avoid the discussion. I felt very stupid that I couldn’t contribute
anything to the group. Difficulty in participation in class may be
similar to that in group work, only scarier because it involves a larger audience and
a greater possibility of serious embarrassment. Imagine this situation: It takes you so long
to process what people are saying (both literally and in terms of subtext) that, by the time
you formulate a question or a comment, the discussion has moved on to another topic. Testimony from a student: I think the biggest
problem I have is a lack of confidence in speaking English. For example, it’s hard for me to communicate
with my friends in recitation class. It was a small class and most of them were
Americans. I didn’t have a chance to start a topic
or chat or ask them a question. I was afraid they might laugh at me or just
ignore my question. Ok now I would like to interject some personal
experience. This is called
A lesson in humility: A digression on my experience in Spanish 301 At this point, I’d like to add some personal experience to the mix. During my sabbatical last spring, I decided
to take a course. I thought that, since I’ve been a language
educator for the last 30+ years, it might be a good time to take a language class—to
put myself back in language learners’ shoes, so to speak. I decided to take a Spanish course. I wasn’t taking a big risk here because
I have a BA in Spanish; however, I’ve hardly used the language since the late 1970’s. Partly, I wanted to see what latent ability
I might still have in Spanish, but I primarily wanted to immerse myself in the language learning
experience. So, I took the Spanish department’s placement
exam and placed into Spanish 301 (fifth-semester Spanish) and signed up. To make a long story short—it was a very
good though a very humbling experience. I had a great teacher and my classmates—fifteen
young women and 4 young men did not seem phased to have a white bearded senior citizen in
their class. I expected no deference, and I got none. Anyway, this class had a fairly extensive
writing component which included: short written responses in home work (every
day) short written responses in each of our three
major tests four short reviews (250 words) of assigned
Spanish language videos to be done at home three in-class compositions based on short
stories we read; these compositions had to be written in class with pencil and paper
in 45 minutes and had to be at least 300 words long, and
a write up of an eight minute oral presentation on a Spanish or Latin American cultural topic
—I chose to do mine on Salvador Dalí, whose life and work I was already familiar with. I found that, in doing these writing assignments,
I faced virtually all of the writing challenges I’ve previously mentioned—from conceptualization
to punctuation. My most traumatic experience was with the
in-class compositions, where I discovered a new challenge—writing by hand under time
pressure. I was so tense while writing my first in-class
composition that my writing hand actually shook—resulting in nearly illegible handwriting,
much of which I had to erase and do over again—slowing me down considerably and making me even
more nervous. And in addition to that, when I finally did
finish—during the last seconds I had left, I found that I was the last student in the
room—the rest had finished early and left—there was only my instructor waiting patiently for
me finish up and hand in my messy (and, in my mind) vacuous paper. How’s that for a kick in the ego! And to top it all off, because I’d been
clutching my pencil so tightly, the muscles in my right forearm had stiffened up so much
that they were sore for a week. This lesson in humility reminded me that after
all these years studying second language writing and writers, I still feel that it is a minor
miracle that someone who has learned English as a foreign language in school in their home
country can go on to produce academic prose in English suitable for publication. Now I’d like to talk a little about what we
tried to do about graduate student instruction at Purdue What I tried at Purdue As I mentioned before I directed the ESL writing
program for about 25 years. I tried three options Purdue has had a course on written communication
for international graduate students (English 621) on the books
since the late 1980s. It has typically been a three-hour a week
writing course with a maximum enrollment of ten students per section which is graded on
a pass/fail basis (70 percent or better is a pass). I designed the course with the objectives
of making international graduate students become more comfortable with and proficient
in writing in English and preparing them for the writing they would need to do in graduate
school and in the workplace. I was very ambitious
The course was open to all matriculated Purdue international graduate students – from first
year MA students to PhD students working on their dissertations – from any school, college,
department or program. The course was not obligatory – the decision
to enroll in it was a choice made by students in consultation with their advisors. The courses’ instructional focus was strategies
for writing and the generic, rhetorical, and linguistic features of successful written
texts. Course time was roughly evenly split between
class sessions and individual conferences—used to respond to students drafts of the four
major writing projects. These projects were comprised of developing
an academic biography (an account of their academic history),
a CV and a general cover letter—what one might use to apply for a job or grant,
a research report analysis – that is, a written analysis of a published research report
of their choice in their academic area, and a proposal for a conference paper or research
proposal, preferably for an actual conference presentation or research project they hoped
to do Students wrote three drafts of each major
writing project—the first draft review focused on content and organization; the second draft
review focused on language issues; the third and final draft received a grade with specific
feedback on strengths and weaknesses. There were also eight short activity reports
(targeting professional development issues in their academic fields that, ideally, were
related to the four major writing projects), including: a description of their field, employment
issues, promotion and tenure, professional organizations and conferences, research tools,
a description of an influential journal, documentation practices, and research funding. The course was taught by instructors—typically
advanced PhD students in English with experience and expertise in teaching ESL writing, international
experience, and an understanding of what it is like to write in a second language. Option 2, so this was quite ambitious it was
not particularly successful because I had a hard time maintaining the number of students
in class for different reasons, they couldn’t make it, a job, so on and so forth So at some point I felt a need to try something
a bit different, a tutorial option in which each student would meet once a week one on
one with their instructor to work on real writing projects they were doing in their
programs rather than working on assignments created by me for the course. This sounded good in theory, but, in practice,
it turned out that many students who were enrolled told us they were not asked to write
much, if at all, in their programs. Thus, instructors would need to create unauthentic
writing assignments, defeating the main purpose of this option. Consequently, we went back to Option 1. Option 3:
Shortly after the failure of Option 2, a department contacted me about providing customized writing
support for their increasing population of international graduate students. This sounded very promising. I and one of my senior graduate students (who
would teach the course) met with the department chair and some faculty members from the department
to learn more about their students and their writing needs. Based on what we learned, we worked up a syllabus
for the course and worked out the logistics with the department’s scheduling deputy. Ten students were signed up for the next semester. Everything seemed hunky dory. However, during the first week of class, seven
of the ten students dropped the course. I contacted the chair to let her know what
had happened and to asked her to get the students reenrolled. The chair refused to do so saying that the
decision to stay or go was up to the students. This, of course, put me in hot water with
my department head, and the experience pretty much soured my hopes for this type of collaboration. So you might ask what’s the problem? As with all courses, English 621 has had some
problems. They involved time, money, and turf:
Time: International graduate students, with their challenging class, lab, and research
or teaching obligations, tend to have very tight and somewhat unpredictable schedules—this
makes it difficult for those who actually enroll to attend regularly or impossible
for others to enroll at all. Money: A poorly funded unit bankrolling the
course, in this case the College of Liberal Arts via the English department, is understandably
somewhat reluctant to fund small and often under-enrolled graduate courses for students
coming primarily from other well-funded units, in this case science and engineering. Turf: Academic units at Purdue, as at many
research-oriented universities, are very autonomous. This is a built-in obstacle for coordination
or cooperation across units; making cross-unit collaboration work, would require a change
in the academic culture of graduate programs at the university. Specifically, the graduate programs using
English 621 would need to acknowledge their international students’ needs with regard
to writing in English; build some flexibility into their students’ class, teaching, and
lab schedules so that students could take full advantage of this writing support course;
and to communicate to their students the value of enrolling in and attending this course. so How can these challenges be addressed? There are a couple of general ways in which
these challenges could be addressed. One has to do with admissions, particularly
with the use of English proficiency test scores in making admission decisions. There is an inverse relationship between English
proficiency and the amount of language and/or writing support needed. That is, the lower the level of English proficiency
students have, the more support they will need, and vice versa. So raising the TOEFL score needed for admission,
say from 80 (or the 40th percentile) to 100 (the 80th percentile), would very likely lower
the amount of support needed. I, of course, recognize that this could have
negative effects, for example, not being able to admit the number of students required to
meet teaching and/or research needs or not being able to admit otherwise outstanding
student prospects due to assumed low levels of English proficiency. Another general way to address the situation
is make use of university-wide language support resources, such as writing, centers, intensive
English programs, bridge programs (programs in which conditionally-admitted students take
a combination of English language courses and credit-bearing courses in their academic
area), or writing courses or programs designed for matriculated international graduate students. It’s my understanding that the only resource
you currently have is your excellent but overextended Writing Center. So, to make this option work, I think it would
be necessary to convince the powers that be to invest in additional language support resources,
fully realizing how difficult this can be. But even if you had all these resources, which
would no doubt be very helpful, they would not be sufficient. The people working in these contexts can certainly
address rhetorical, linguistic, and strategic writing issues in a general sense, but they
cannot not be expected to provide the discipline specific writing assistance that international
graduate students need. These students need access to people with
deep disciplinary content knowledge and a clear understanding of disciplinary discourse. They need us. so One way academic units can help is by hiring
in-house second language writing specialists to mediate between faculty and international
students in order to provide discipline-specific writing assistance in the form of assessment,
small-group instruction, and one-on-one tutoring. If an academic unit chooses to do this, it
is imperative that these writing specialists be reasonably well paid, be provided with
a benefits package, be offered multi-year contracts, and be treated as valued members
of the unit. And I’m certain there are plenty of people
out there with the necessary credentials, experience and expertise who would be very
interested in such a position. so What can individual faculty members do to
help? Individual faculty members can help alleviate
international student writing challenges in numerous ways:
Think about and write down your expectations for your graduate students’ writing; consider
also what will constitute successful writing both in your program (course assignments,
preliminary exams, prospectuses, dissertations) and in your discipline (publication)
Explicitly share your expectations about writing with your graduate students early on in their
programs; be proactive, don’t wait until problems arise. Offer specific and detailed feedback on your
graduate students’ writing—not just grades and/or general comments Give students the opportunity to produce multiple drafts of papers and provide feedback on each
draft—I suggest looking at first drafts in terms of content and organization and at
subsequent drafts for grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation. Give international students additional time
for completing writing tasks—especially in-class writing tasks. Make clear the expectation that students should
come to see you in your office if they need help; doing this may be counter to their expectations. One-on-one conferences with professors can
be less intimidating than asking questions in class. Provide written handouts/class notes in paper
or electronic form – for students who may not be catching everything in class lectures/discussions
Allow and encourage students who are having difficulty understanding lectures and discussions
to record them so that they can review them as needed. This will help them in the both in the short
and long term Encourage your graduate students to get feedback
from friends on their writing with regard to textual organization and grammar, vocabulary,
and punctuation issues—I am not suggesting that they get their friends to write their
papers for them, but rather to help them with non-content issues Pair up new international students with more experienced students (mentors) in their program
to clue them in on faculty expectations and how things work in their program. These peer mentors, ideally, should not be
from the student’s home country or native language group Encourage students to take advantage of online resources focused on writing issues: relevant
online writing instruction courses and online dictionaries/translators—these have become
very sophisticated and can be excellent learning tools—I’m not suggesting that they write
their assignments, translate them and hand in the translations as is (that would be a
mess), but rather to use these tools to find the right words or grammatical structures
and to back translate their English sentences to their native language to see if what they
wrote in English makes sense. Encourage them to use online sites (like turnitin.com
or ithenticate) to check their own papers for plagiarism, and
Develop orientation sessions for international graduate students on expectations for graduate
student writing and on writing resources available to them. That’s a lot of stuff Challenges for faculty Now if I were you, or some of you, I would
be thinking, some of you may be thinking: Okay, this is all well and good, but what
you’re suggesting would require more work—in some cases, much more work—unrecognized
and unrewarded work. I’m already overwhelmed by what I have to
do for my day job—doing research, presenting it at conferences, and getting it published,
developing and teaching classes, doing departmental and disciplinary service. And it’s not like I have a hell of a lot
of free time. And, besides, this is not what I signed up
for. I was hired to do work in engineering, or
in chemistry, or in management, or in math—I did not spend ten plus years getting degrees
in my area of study to become an ESL teacher. All I can say is I hear you, I hear you, I
hear you, I here you, I hear you. This is not fair, but higher education is
now global. This is the new normal. And I don’t see it changing any time soon. And we have to deal with it. My thinking is that we need to do what we
can for our international graduate students. But that should not entail driving ourselves
crazy. I believe it is our right, our duty to make
it known that we want to be compensated in some way for this extra work—having our
departments hire more faculty so that we can have fewer advisees and spend more time with
them, or hiring more in-house ESL professionals to help out, or course releases, or fewer
departmental committee assignments, or monetary compensation or, at least, public recognition
that we are going the extra mile. So, I believe it is very important that we
work together to create an optimal situation in which we can see working with international
graduate students not as burden, but as a truly broadening and rewarding experience. To conclude, I leave you with the following
thought. nope, not that one oh not that one ok International students are not a problem; they are a blessing. They bring with them important cultural, linguistic,
intellectual, and economic benefits. It is an honor and a privilege to have them
in our colleges and universities. The quality of our institutions of higher
learning would be greatly diminished without their presence. Thank you for your time and attention. And I thank my students Annie Zhang, Ghada
Gherwash, and Keira Park for the translations. I can’t write in Chinese, Korean, or Arabic. I’m not trying to fool anyone I would be more than glad to entertain your
comments and questions. thank you very much [applause] [question/comment] So we had a used to teach
a course called writing for publication which I think address one of your issues where the
student had to have a paper when they came to the course though it wasn’t an issue they
couldn’t just show up without having something to have to write and get the feedback our
students taking that course was very positive but the total volume of students that went
through there was relatively low well just the editing, writing’s expensive Could I ask you which department? Computer Science So I yes I understand it’s a that is a basic
issue what what has happened of course is that American colleges and universities have
taken on very large numbers of international students in many cases people are trying in
other cases there has not been an equivalent amount of support provided so that leaves
it up to that leaves it up to advisors to work with their students but I don’t uh,
what can I say, I don’t think that’s necessarily something that one person needs to do in other
words in other words sometimes the department will specify a person who is going to handle
stuff like that is going to do the work writing workshops in things like that and I think
that’s good and I think that’s a good thing to do but as you said I think it’s it’s not
it wouldn’t be feasible with the larger number of students that we’re talking about so
I would just try to go back to what I was saying that all those possible resources that
the departments could provide I realize sometimes like pulling teeth you know but that’s the
best way I can see at this point to address that issue, does that get at your concern? Well in our case, partly it was just the available
capacity but they’re taking it as a class so it’s an extra class but also you know the
students from India don’t need that I would say in so there’s a spectrum of who’s at
the bottom end and they’re the ones who need it the most. But also the issue that some faculty are more
willing or better at being an editor than others Or sometimes it’s the case where the low
person on the totem pole becomes the editor for those things I don’t know about your situation,
that’s what I have seen at other places in other words by default the person with the
least rank or least experience winds up being the editor of the department but like I said
I don’t know if that’s your situation but that’s sometimes the situation. Thank you, yes? [audience question low volume] The question was about some of those passages
in different languages and suggested that the people could put these into translator
put these into computer translators and get them up. Before I took my spanish class I didn’t have
this view I had I had what can I say I had a prejudice against using language translators. But in my experience it became very valuable. What I didn’t do was just write everything
in English and then translate into the other language what I did was first I use it as
a dictionary to define words and then if I had a sentence that I wrote that I wasn’t
sure made sense I would back translate it to English and so forth I found that these
translators / dictionaries / grammars can be very useful pedagogical tool, it can be
a good pedagogical tool if the person goes back and looks at that translation to make
sure that it works because it doesn’t always work they’re good they become very good last
few years but they’re not perfect and sometimes they make big mistakes so that’s my new
feeling on that these are very useful resources for us teaching writing but I think we need
to talk to the students about how we’d like them to work with them I think explaining
how we could use these things in a pedagogical way as opposed to just the translation program
thanks, Yes? [question] I have a question do you have any
recommendations for a different ways to provide feedback on international student writing
right so when I’m editing my students papers have you found that approaching it from a
different perspective or rephrasing your your comments in a different way help more for
international students? The question is how to go about responding
to students, respond to students’ difficulties and you said something about a perspective– Yeah if you had experience if you’re editing
papers from international students in English, do you find yourself giving feedback in a
different way because it’s for international students because you find that it’s more helpful
to phrase it in a certain way? Not especially the grad students I work with
I’m in the english department and a lot of them are english majors from their own
countries and their english is quite good so I don’t particularly have any different
I don’t particularly respond any different way to them than I do to native speakers of
english but that would be a different situation perhaps in other departments but I have no
no specific I don’t make much distinction basically what I do is I look at it I read
people’s work on PDFs and and use that mark of system them and send them back so there’s
very little difference for me I do I do look at multiple drafts of their work but I would
also look at multiple drafts of my native english speaking students if they asked for that. Yes [question] I wonder if you have sort of a
hierarchy of what’s helpful for students so if I read a paper that has sentence structure
problems as well as grammar problems as well as wording, we use APA style in my department,
that sort of thing, I could spend a very long time giving feedback for every single mistake
and sometimes I give responses on the global discussion topic to be sure and sometimes
I will say for the first two pages I’m going to give you edits for every single thing and
then after that apply it to the bottom because otherwise I’m spending hours, is that appropriate
are there other ways to think about it? I’m a graduate student and I’ve had graduate
students whose English is a second language, I worry about feelings and the trauma of getting
so much feedback so do I start with a little and then slowly increase it? What’s your experience with that? So the question is how to give feedback. I think I have a fairly basic opinion on it. I think that, let’s see, I would also do
I would also do maybe at the end a general global comment about what’s going on in
the paper, what I do is I don’t look at it and say I don’t make corrections as I go along,
what I do is work through the paper and see if I can find some patterns of things that
are going on because I think as you said trying to mark every problem or fix every problem
takes you just too much time so I think what I do and most people in the trade do is to
read through their papers and maybe outline some stuff and I’ll go back and work on things
especially indicating things that cause incomprehensibility and I think I would do if it’s right people
do I get regular writing you can look at you can look at the trends and then focus maybe
on one or two of those things for example things that I think are probably not useful
in terms of time for example things like prepositions and stuff like that which is part of what
I call a written accent and it’s not it’s not going to be a big deal but basically I
would look for patterns of problems and interests what I thought were the most important ones
in terms of how comprehensible the paper was, thank you
Yes? [question] I want to pick up on that question
of comprehensibility are there some specific features that come to your mind that seem
to always cause a comprehensibility issue when you encounter them, are those the ones
we should be looking for? I think the ones I see ok the question is
what factors affect comprehensibility I would say the most serious ones are vocabulary issues
because I just because using the wrong word can really make a big difference. It’s unlikely that a comma splice or a missing
article or something like that is going to cause a problem if you’re writing if someone’s
writing, let’s see, writing very complex sentences this might be an issue because basically
the question for me is can I process this sentence and if I can’t there’s something
that needs to be done, you can send the person back and say could you please unpack that
or could you please decomplexify that a little bit to make your point clearer so those are
a couple of things that I see in graduate student writing that that I found useful for myself ok? thanks! Yes [question] can you talk a little bit about
tolerance and writing with an accent? Tolerance and writing with an accent, when
people speak with an accent like we all do what can I say people people don’t get as
bothered about speaking with an accent as when writing with accent I’m not exactly sure
where well I can see things are more high-stakes and if you’re conversing with somebody you
can always do repair work and figure out what people are doing. But it seems like I think this idea of a written
accent refers to things that are relatively minor patterns of expression that are not
necessarily wrong or confusing but just something that doesn’t look kosher or something that
seems sort of strange Did I get at that? [question] a little more about what constitutes
writing with an accent? What constitutes writing with an accent? Use of prepositions, article use, tense problems,
all of those things and all of those things maybe negligible in terms of getting your
meaning across I think most of them are not things that get in the way of comprehensibility
I can think of I’m trying to think of other things too tenses. Yes? [question] I’m a graduate student I have a question [volume too low to understand] Would I suggest writing in simple sentences? at first yes, I mean what can I say, that’s a reasonable strategy if you want to get your
idea across keep it simple for now you can always get some help, look at them later and
see if you can combine them usefully and make it a little more complex but for me as a graduate
advisor I would certainly like to see, I would prefer simple sentences that I could understand to longer sentences that I could have difficulty understanding. I might go ahead and help that student to
complexify the syntax as we went on In fact I often tell people that. I would say just break this sentence up into
three parts so I can understand what you’re talking about and then we can and we can figure
out how to put it back together again thank you very much thank you very much [applause]