Paul Kei Matsuda’s article provides a useful overview of the history of ELL research in the field of composition as well as draws attention to a significant topic that is still relevant today: how can composition studies contribute to ELL research, as numerous ELL students are placed in composition courses across the country. Although NDSU has ELL courses, both offered through the Modern Language Department and the English Department, these courses stop at first-year writing. While students undoubtedly learn about many writing conventions and rhetorical practices in their early writing courses, they cannot possibly get enough practice in retaining the skills if they do not have another English course until their upper-division writing courses. Matsuda points out that “even when ESL students are enrolled in special ESL courses before taking required writing courses, the unique difficulties that ESL writers encounter in English composition are not likely to disappear after a semester –or even a few years– of additional language instruction” (789). I would argue that this is definitely true for some, if not all, ELL students.
Working at the Center for Writers, I see ELL students who struggle to understand American rhetorical and citation conventions every single day. Specifically, last semester I worked with a student from China quite frequently who was in his Writing in the Sciences Course. This student struggled with paraphrasing; every time I worked with him, he would bring in pages and pages of copy-and-pasted texts from websites. I had explained to him that in the US, it is considered plagiarism to use other people’s words and tried to help him paraphrase the sentences, but he always said that he did not know how to put them into his own words. He also significantly struggled with creating a thesis and integrating is opinion into his writing. He came to the Center for months, and I struggled to help him make even small improvements.
Some may argue, “Well he should have learned that in his lower-level writing courses,” but how can that be a guarantee? I do not think that this student’s situation is unique; I have worked with numerous other international students who have difficulty adapting to American writing standards even after spending several semesters in ELL writing courses. How can composition instructors better help these students? Matsuda suggests that English departments provide training for composition instructors on how to teach ELL students, which I think is a vital step. However, how much of this is done? This leads me into my concluding questions:
Q1: What accommodations can be made for ELL students in upper-division writing courses who still have not fully grasped American writing standards?
Q2: What are some practical methods that composition instructors can take to assist ELL students in their writing courses?