TAGS: Responding to Writing

Responding to writing by non-native English speakers can sometimes be challenging. Faculty may feel unprepared to address students’ needs, unsure of how to respond to errors, or uneasy teaching and responding to issues of plagiarism. Below are a number of issues to keep in mind as you read your students’ writing as well as some techniques for responding to student texts.

Students writing in their second language tend to:
  • Focus more on generating vocabulary and text than on overall planning and organization.
  • Spend more time referring to the prompt to generate ideas and vocabulary than native English speaking students.
  • Write with more pauses and more slowly, producing fewer words of written text.
  • Revise more, but focus revisions on grammatical and surface level errors rather than overall content or organizational issues.
  • Use less “revision by ear”, having less intuitive understanding of what “sounds correct”.
  • Are less inhibited by teacher correction and feedback, rather they welcome it.
Texts written by second language writers often:
  • Display different organizational and rhetorical structures than texts typically seen in U.S. academic contexts. They tend to be less direct, with longer introductions. They may include a thesis in the conclusion. They may not display features we expect in particular genres of U.S. academic discourse.
  • Show different ways of incorporating source materials. Often second-language texts use from well-known sources without providing citation, as it is considered a sign of knowledge and respect in some cultures. Citing sources, paraphrasing, and issues of plagiarism are often culturally and educationally foreign to international students.
  • Include a written accent. Just as fluent non-native speech might include variations in pronunciation, so non-native texts might include variations in grammatical structure or vocabulary.
  • Incorporate more errors relating to sentence structure, vocabulary, word structure, and punctuation. 

When teaching and responding to student writing:

  • Focus on content and organization before focusing on language and grammar.
  • Be specific and direct in your responses. Non-native speakers often can’t interpret phrases such as “awkward” or “doesn't’t flow well”. Additionally, feedback with politeness markers or hedging such as “you might try to word this differently” or “have you thought about X?” can be difficult to understand. Instead, give direct and specific suggestions for improvement.
  • Prioritize errors. First, focus on global errors that confuse meaning. Second, focus on patterns of frequent error rather than discrete errors.
  • Teach citation clearly and explicitly. Because non-native speakers are often new to the concept of plagiarism, providing clear, step-by-step explanations of citation conventions as often as possible is encouraged. Explain why citation and referencing is considered important in your discipline. When discussing course readings, highlight examples of synthesized, summarized, or paraphrased text, and discuss how the author references the original sources. Give examples of plagiarized texts as well as paraphrased texts. Model how sources are to be cited in your discipline. Use drafts to discuss specific citation errors with students.
  • Don’t respond to every error. This will lead to student frustration and faculty burnout. Try to encourage gradual improvement in accuracy.
  • Use a rubric when grading written assignments. This will keep you from over-or-under emphasizing the role of grammar in your assessment of students’ writing.