ESL writers in the Mainstream Classroom: Cultivating a Culture of Success

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English as second language, Classroom writing, Language acquisition


"English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) programs on U.S. college campuses play a vital role in helping students develop academic English skills to a certain threshold of success, usually defined by a particular score on a language proficiency test such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). However, educators who teach mainstream college classes may expect that threshold of success to be defined as native-like use of English.1 These educators are surprised to find that while some students who completed the ESL program or scored high enough on the TOEFL meet this expectation, others are still developing their English skills. As a result, these students continue to be referred to as “ESL” students even though they are enrolled in mainstream college classes.

College educators often find ESL student writing especially unpredictable. Students who appear native-like in conversation and demeanor can still make “ESL” errors in their writing such as inaccurate mixing of verb tense or incorrect use of articles. At the same time, ESL students who struggle with listening and speaking might also struggle with writing, or they may produce writing at a higher level than expected. Consequently, many college educators who regularly assign writing in their classes find ESL student writing challenging to read and assess.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to offer insight on how college educators can better understand ESL students in their classrooms, particularly from three different perspectives: ESL students’ backgrounds, the texts they produce, and the errors they make. The article then concludes with four suggestions for how educators may use this new understanding to choose teaching practices that will help ESL students succeed in mainstream college classes."


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Journal of Adventist Education





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