Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Back to teaching first-year writing after a long break

Before this semester, the last time I taught a section of first-year writing was in the summer of 2014 (hmmm... not that long ago...). I'm doing some things this semester that are similar to the projects we did back then, but I've made some changes due to some interesting developments at Northeastern (more on that, perhaps, in another post).

I should mention that I primarily teach multilingual students (mostly international students), so the activities that we do in class are primarily focused on their experiences as multilingual (and possibly international) students. I take some of my rationale for this focus from Ilona Leki's 2007 book, Undergraduates in a Second Language: Challenges and Complexities of Academic Literacy Development (I've written a brief review about this book). Leki argues that L2 writing classes "can be used to make space and time for students to explore the world into which they have stepped by, for example, examining and making a start at responding to the literacy demands across the curriculum" (284). She also recommends that L2 writing teachers give students an opportunity to address the challenges they face as L2 students, such as when their cultures are "essentialized by professors" or when they are "not selected for group work." Leki suggests that
[u]sing their developing L2 literacy skills as tools to work toward analyzing such situations, including their hidden ideological dimensions, and developing possible solutions communally not only honors their intellect and experience but also might make L2 writing classes be remembered for more than only the use of the comma. (285)
So we start off introducing ourselves to each other by writing my old standby, "English and Me," in which they describe experiences that exemplify important aspects of their relationship to English. I should mention that "English and Me" often grows into something more than just "English and Me"--for one thing, students' English learning doesn't take place in a vacuum, so often their discussions of their learning experiences encompass such things as educational cultures; family relationships; politics; first (and second and sometimes third) languages in addition to English; culture shock; and emotions like frustration, loneliness, feelings of accomplishment, and pride. I see this essay as not only a way for me to get to know them, but also as a way for them to reflect on what has ultimately brought them here as part of the flow of "transnational citizens" back and forth across borders.

In the second project, we'll be working on defining the concept "international students," which should be interesting... More on that later.

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