“I No Longer Feel Like I Am Not Well Prepared”: What We Can Learn From Three L2 Undergraduate Students
Bee Chamcharatsri, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Monica Garcia, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Felipe Rodriguez Romero, , University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Adnan Mohammad, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Teaser: This paper invited three international undergraduate students to reflect on their writing experiences. We want to explore whether asking L2 students to write in creative writing assignment will help them develop their academic writing skills. We found that these students transfer some writing skills from a creative writing assignment into their academic papers.
One might wonder what skills these L2 writers learn from doing this extended project or the creative writing projects. This brings us to this paper. In this paper, we attempt to explore the following questions: What writing skills did L2 writers transfer from working on extended writing projects to other classes? How did they feel after they finished with a composition course? We would like to reflect and describe three undergraduate L2 writers who use English as a second/foreign language who have to take a composition course in an American university in the southwest. Our purpose is to capture our authentic experiences what issues we faced, how we overcame, and what we can help other L2 writers in their writing process. In this paper, I invited three undergraduate students to share their experiences from their perspectives. We describe two major assignments these L2 writers had to accomplish and followed by their narratives reflecting on how they feel while working on these assignments.
Students were assigned to write two major written assignments — a poetry book and a mini-research paper. The students were asked to think of a question they wanted to explore. Many international students wanted to write about their living abroad experiences (David Ian Hanauer, 2012; David I. Hanauer & Liao, 2016; Iida, 2008). The justification of assigning the poetry book project was to help change students’ attitudes about academic writing from being boring and mechanical to be more meaningful to their academic literacy experiences. The students were asked to compose over 20 poems in the format of their choice. Then they were trained to provide feedback on the written poems. Students chose ten poems they wanted to include in their poetry books. After that the students were asked to design the book layout. After they printed their poetry books, they presented the books and recited one poem they chose from their collections.
After the poetry book assignment, students moved on to the research paper assignment. In this paper, students are asked to come up with a researchable question they would like to explore. Contrary to the poetry book assignment, students are asked to read peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and academic books on topics they are exploring. They are introduced to reading authentic academic research papers since their expectation is to familiarize themselves in this genre. It is true that many students find reading these academic texts difficult. I slowly introduce them to read these long texts by asking them to read one paper over a weekend. After that we discussed what is important in the paper. We analyze the structure of the paper. Students are asked to identify thesis statements or research questions in the paper. They are asked to read and notice types of reporting verbs used in the article. They are also introduced to writing strategies experienced writers do when they write. This paper aims to help students gain academic literacy and writing skills they need for other classes in their academic careers. The issue of plagiarism is also discussed at the early stage of writing because many L2 writers are not familiar with this practice.
Through a phenomenological inquiry, we represent these lived experiences as “a creative attempt to somehow capture a certain phenomenon of life in a linguistic description that is both holistic and analytical, evocative and precise, unique and universal, powerful and sensitive” (Van Manen, 1990, p. 39). In this paper, three undergraduate international students were asked to narrate their experiences of writing two written assignments. Instead of using interviews as a data collection method, the phenomenological inquiry was used to capture three unique phenomena relating to their academic writing experiences. To be more specific, these three students were asked to participate in responding to reflective questions regarding their experiences in writing those two assignments after a year of finishing up the writing courses. This method helped these students to see the connections and reflected on how writing skills they gained from writing courses can be helpful in other courses. The questions were provided for the students to provide a frame of reference when they composed their narratives.
Analysis of three narratives of L2 undergraduate writers
Many international students felt anxious when they came to study in another country. These three students were also facing the same feeling of doubting their own language abilities and proficiency when they came to the U.S. for their education. As it is reflected in their narratives, their experiences in learning the English language in schools were not engaging or focused too much on test-driven curriculums. Instead, they learned the language through other means such as movies, music and comic books. Once they came to the U.S. institution, they wondered whether their English proficiency was high enough to compete with their English-speaking peers. This particular section of composition course for international students had become a sanctuary for many students because they felt comforting to see other international students and felt that they were not judged by their accents when speaking up in class. Each narrative offered background information of students, their language learning experiences, and their experiences in a writing course specifically designed for international students. Three narratives were read and categorized into two major themes: Emotional engagements, and transfer of writing skills.
…I was able to write each time more things; my mind was completely into free writing. I was seeing my thoughts flowing freely while writing in English. I was thinking in English! (Monica’s narrative)
By engaging in free writing, I was able to put my thoughts on the paper and not worry about the grammatical mistakes in my sentence. (Felipe’s narrative)
We could observe from the narratives that they all shared the feelings of struggling, doubts, and anxious when they came to our classrooms. Because of the poetry writing task, they felt that it was an impossible to compose in their first language. Soon they realized that poetry writing task aimed to help them feel that they have the control of the English language (Chamcharatsri et. al, 2017). Since the genre required them to be concise and succinct in communicating their thoughts, it became the pillar of language learning as they discussed in their narratives. As Elbow (1998) discussed in his approach to free writing, these students found free writing to be useful in helping them develop fluency in their writing developments.
Expressing emotions through writing can be a very difficult task for many international students because of the barrier in finding appropriate emotive words in English (Chamcharatsri, 2013). The narratives from three students touched on the challenges in expressing their emotions in writing as Student 1 was informed through feedback from her peers that “I realized I reached the point where I could share my feelings in a new language. That moment was rewarding. I felt accomplished and happy.”
Transfer of writing skills.
As a major in science, I have used the skills in most of my classes when a writing assignment is demanded, especially when I am asked to write a research paper. The process of writing feels more familiar. I no longer feel like I am not well prepared to Academic writing and upcoming classes which makes me feel less anxious about my upcoming professional life. (Felipe’s narrative)
Overall, writing poems helped me expand my vocabulary by looking for stronger synonyms in order to express my ideas as accurately as possible, which, in the long run, helped me to write academic papers in my other classes. (Adnan’s narrative)
As discussed by the narratives of three students, they transferred some skills they gained from the writing course to be used in other courses such as peer reviewing, or summarizing and citing research articles. James (2010) conducted a research study and confirmed that the transfer of writing skills occurred in general academic skills such as synthesizing information. Adding to that designing assignments that are meaningful to student success is a craft that many teachers may not possess. As writing teachers, we have to think about skills we want students to acquire beyond our classrooms. Once students learn that assignments in writing are not only ‘busy’ work, they will take the ownership of the tasks and will retain skills for the future. Like these three students, they realized that what they learned in this writing class was useful skills for them in other classes.
As we look back to these three narratives of L2 writers, they feel more confident in their writing skills after they finished the course. Furthermore, they felt that they have equipped useful writing skills they can transfer to use in other classes in their majors. Monica has transferred the peer review skills she received the training from this composition class to help other classmates in other classes. Felipe learned how to read academic papers and transferred the skill to his psychology class. Adnan learned that he is a competent English writer and transferred the read aloud process to help with his future written assignments.
On top of that, students who walk into our composition classes may feel anxious, scared, or even confused when they are asked to work on written assignments. It is our responsibility as teachers of writing to help ease tensions by providing supports to students by teaching them to see benefits of peer feedback. We have to make sure that students are appropriately trained in useful and meaningful writing skills such as peer review, documentation, and synthesizing information. Written assignments can be crucial to investment in student learning process. Some students may not realize the skills we try to teach in assigning different assignments. Teachers of writing should be able to explain the theoretical and/or implications of the written assignments and need to be careful in designing their assignments to help students gain their appropriate writing development they need to fulfill the requirements and beyond. We have to keep in mind that students need the appropriate writing skills for their future goals.
Bee Chamcharatsri, (PhD, Indiana University of Pennsylvania) is Assistant Professor in Department of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies. His research interests include second language writing, creative writing, emotions, and World Englishes.
Monica Garcia is an undergraduate student in the Music Department at the University of New Mexico. Her specialization is in string pedagogy and violin.
Felipe Rodriguez Romero is an undergraduate student in the Psychology Department and the Honors College at the University of New Mexico. His research focus is on mental health issues of immigrant students in the U.S.
Adnan Mohammad is an undergraduate student in the Chemical Engineering at the University of New Mexico. He is interested in how comic books can help students learn English.
Chamcharatsri, B., Garcia, M., Romero, F. R., & Mohamad, A. (2017). Becoming confident in academic writing: Lessons learned from three undergraduate L2 writers. SLW News, (February 2017). Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolslwis/issues/2017-02-22/3.html
Chamcharatsri, P. B. (2013). Emotionality and second language writers: Expressing fear through narrative in Thai and in English. L2 Journal, 5(1), 59-75.
Elbow, P. (1998). Writing wothout teachers (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hanauer, D. I. (2012). Meaningful literacy: Writing poetry in the language classroom. Language Teaching, 45(1), 105-115.
Hanauer, D. I., & Liao, F.-Y. (2016). ESL students’ perceptions of creative and academic writing. In M. Burke, O. Fialho, & S. Zyngier (Eds.), Scientific approaches to literature in learning environments (pp. 213-226). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing.
Iida, A. (2008). Poetry writing as expressive pedagogy in an EFL context: Identifying possible assessment tools for haiku poetry in EFL freshman college writing. Assessing Writing, 13, 171-179.
James, M. A. (2010). An investigation of learning transfer in English-for-general-academic-purposes writing instruction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 19, 183-206.
Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. New York: SUNY.