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Teaching ESL Students. Dr. Emily Heady Executive Director, University Writing Program Dr. William Wegert Director, International Student Services. OISS Programs. International Student Recruiting & Admissions Graduate Admissions and Advising English Language Institute

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Teaching esl students l.jpg

Teaching ESL Students

Dr. Emily Heady

Executive Director, University Writing Program

Dr. William Wegert

Director, International Student Services


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OISS Programs

  • International Student Recruiting & Admissions

  • Graduate Admissions and Advising

  • English Language Institute

  • ESOL Courses (Modern Language Department)

  • Study Abroad

  • Exchange Visitor Program (proposed)


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Spring 2008 – 783 Students

  • Doctoral--71

  • Graduate--114

  • Institute--73

  • Law--2

  • Undergrad--523


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Top 10 Majors for Grad Students




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Some Background…

  • Things can go VERY wrong when ESL students are confused about any of the following:

    • American ideas about intellectual property (plagiarism, citation)

    • How Americans behave in class

    • How faculty relate to students

    • What faculty’s feedback means

    • How and when to ask for help


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The ESL Challenge for Faculty

  • Interpersonal Issues

    • Confusion that results from differing assumptions

    • Difficulty engaging international students in conversation

  • Writing Issues

    • Overwhelming grammatical errors

    • Plagiarism

  • Self-Confidence Issues

    • Lack of knowledge about how to teach such students

    • Lack of knowledge about the cultures of these students


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The ESL Challenge for Studies

  • Frustration with English language

    • English is a HIGHLY irregular language.

    • People in Lynchburg do not speak English.

  • Lack of familiarity with the American academy

    • Registrar? ILRC? ASIST? Blackboard?

  • Trouble adjusting to life in Lynchburg

    • 501N = 29S

  • Inability to know how/whom to ask for help

  • Worries about disappointing their families


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Bad Ways To Handle This Challenge

  • Focusing primarily on grammar/language issues rather than people (and what they have to say)

  • Attributing students’ failure to cultural differences (“In Korea, it’s an honor to plagiarize…”)

  • Adopting a “two universities” model

  • Pawning the students off on others

  • Forgetting to ask the student what he/she needs, wants, and expects

  • Thinking of international students as problems to solve rather than as family members to get to know


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Good Priorities

  • Humbly acquiring basic cultural knowledge from your international students (and elsewhere)

  • Clearly defining your role vis-à-vis the student

  • Making your expectations clear and explaining procedures step-by-step

  • Focusing on broad concerns when you grade

  • Helping your students with grammar but not fixating on it


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Some Vastly Oversimplified Reminders about Intercultural Difficulties

  • Most cultures are more collective than ours.

    • Definition of roles (age, title, gender, etc.)

    • Shame-based cultures

    • Difficulties with thesis statements, plagiarism, and self-expression

  • Beware of gestures.

    • Right hand/left hand & pointing

    • Gift-giving

    • Eye contact & personal space

  • Proper classroom behavior is anything but self-explanatory.

    • Interrupting the professor

    • Admitting uncertainty or confusion

  • Not everyone thinks or communicates in a linear fashion.


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Define Your Role Difficulties

  • Titles

    • What should students call you?

    • What will you call the students?

  • Tasks

    • What are the tasks associated with this assignment (step by step)?

    • What will you do and not do for the student?

    • What tasks should be undertaken by other people (GSA, GWC, Bruckner, ILRC, etc.)?

    • What tasks should the student do for himself?

  • Contact

    • How should the student reach you?

    • How quickly will you respond?


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Clarify Your Expectations Difficulties

  • Don’t assume students know any of this:

    • What an American paper looks like (thesis-driven, linear, etc.)

    • Why it’s not okay to plagiarize

    • How to sort out and present their own ideas

    • What American exams are like

    • When it’s OK to work with classmates.

  • Be prepared to provide all of these:

    • Examples/conventions of the type of assignment (literature review, research paper, essay test, case study, pop quiz, etc.)

    • Formatting expectations

    • Encouraging e-mail/comments along the way.


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Grading ESL/EFL Papers without Fear of Imminent Death (Yours or Theirs)

  • Ask for write-aheads (e-mail summaries, topics submitted ahead of time, outlines, etc.).

  • Read their papers as quickly as you can. If in doubt, ask them to summarize orally. Record them. Don’t bog down.

  • Keep a running outline of the paper in your head (or on paper) so you can discuss structure.

  • Note what’s interesting, unique, and creative. Praise it loudly.

  • Note what’s redundant, dull, or unnecessary.

  • Pay special attention to and be ready to explain the following:

    • Use of sources

    • Topic sentences

    • Transitions

    • Intro and conclusion


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What To Do with ESL/EFL Grammar or Theirs)

  • Mark a sample paragraph.

  • Mark patterns of error.

  • Celebrate with your students when you understand fully.

  • Be prepared with explanations of the following:

    • Articles

    • Subject-verb agreement

    • Sentence order.

  • A few notes about Korean grammar:

    • It’s English in reverse—the subject and verb come last.

    • Subject/verb agreement is less important in Korean.

    • Expect problems with articles.


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Some Final Notes or Theirs)

  • ESL students are generally VERY willing to learn.

  • ESL students need encouragement; when they do something right, praise them.

  • ESL students are looking for personal connections.

  • ESL students are looking for someone to make the U.S. more comprehensible to them.

  • Do your best to be entirely transparent, consistent, and fair.

  • Don’t hold ESL students to lower standards; give them the help they need to meet the standards you set.


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