In any academic discipline, a key task of the writing process in undergraduate courses is acculturating students to the ways of communicating in their discipline. While foundational writing skills courses aim to develop general academic writing skills, as students move into their chosen undergraduate programs, they must further refine their skills to meet the conventions of their discipline. Although this is the task of all students, non-native English speakers often experience additional challenges in their adjustment to academic writing. While lower order concerns such as word choice and sentence structure may be problematic, the most significant difficulties often arise as students work to achieve appropriate discourse structure and organization in their writing. One approach, which can be effective for EAL writers and native-speakers alike, is designing structured learning activities where students analyze the features of successful writing, and think critically about how they would adopt these features in their own writing.
Beliefs About EAL Writing Development
The following key principles guide my work with EAL writers, and shape the ways in which I develop workshops:
1. Learning to write well in undergraduate programs requires both the development of foundational skills and discipline-specific skills. All students (not just EAL writers), are involved in the task of "learning the language" of their chosen discipline. Therefore, explicit instruction on writing within specific disciplines provides an important support for students.
2. Learning to write well in as a non-native speaker of a language involves mastery of both sentence level grammar and higher level discourse. As different languages tend towards preferred styles of organizing ideas and arguments, students who are encountering the conventions of Canadian academic writing benefit from explicit support in identifying the preferred discourse patterns of Canadian academic writing more generally, and writing within their disciplines.
3. When possible, discipline and/or course-specific writing support is preferable to general writing skills development workshops. Student engagement in discipline-specific academic programming is higher, as the relevance of the skills presented to their current academic work is clear.
4. Engaging with examples of well-written texts supports the learning process. Analyzing model texts should not be confused with plagiarism or patchwriting.