PAUL KEI MATSUDA
My name is Paul Kei Matsuda ah p a u l k e I m a t s u d a. And I ah work at the University of New Hampshire.
Ah I think there are many skills that students need to develop ah in order to be successfully academically. Ah skills and subskills. And it’s really difficult to give a comprehensive overview of all the skills that are involved. But ah of course the ability to construct grammatical sentences and to organize ideas ah so that ideas can be communicated clearly ah is very important for students to develop ah very important for students to have. Um and in addition to the language skill itself and writing skills ah students also need to develop ah the ability to understand the context of writing and the context of communication um and also to understand um decipher the expectations that teachers and peers and readers might have ah about their language performance and their communicative ah actions.
There are many things that institutions can do to encourage cross disciplinary collaboration and cooperation in order to provide the necessary support for students. And one of the ways is to develop committees or to develop programs that draw on faculty um from various disciplinary background. Rather than developing, for instance, ah English for academic purposes program based only on ESL faculty. It may be useful and necessary to invite faculty from other programs such as writing across the curriculum or writing centers to join and give opinions about how those programs can be developed in ways that are, can facilitate um the collaboration across department and program as well as the development of student’s writing and reading abilities.
One of the metaphors that has been popular among writing teachers ah in describing the nature of learning to write in various disciplines is that of writing as a second language. Because native speakers of English don’t have writing as an innate ability um or nature ability like their speech ah sometimes writing teachers try to characterize that experience ah by using the L2 metaphor ah, but this metaphor is sometimes problematic. Especially for ESL students because when writing teachers use this metaphor to describe the experience of first language learners ah it masks the complexity of learning and struggles that second language learners go through as they try to learn the same type of skills and um um proficiencies and competencies in academic discourse while at the same time developing their second language proficiencies which is a very different and also complex set of tasks.
Think one of the things that ah students need ah as they learn to develop their academic skills in second language second language is to have teachers who are understanding of the struggles and uh the processes that the students go through as they try to develop their academic literacy as well as the second language proficiencies. Ah in many situation, faculty across the discipline are not familiar with the kind of experience that students have, that they are not able to provide the kind ah the kind of instruction students need ah when they need it. So it’s very important for faculty to first become aware of who second language learners are and what kind of difficulties and experience they may be having.
Um in terms of the categories of needs um I’m not sure if there are unique needs that second language learners have. Because to to differing very degrees L1 learners also have similar difficulties learning academic literacy. So I would characterize the uniqueness of second language learning to be that of the degree or intensity of difficulties and challenges that students face.
Ah in my his, study of historical division between composition studies and second language studies I identified the metaphor of disciplinary division of labor as a pervasive metaphor in characterizing the relationship between first language writing teachers and second language writing teachers. And this metaphor has kept eh ah profess professionals in first language and second languages studies from collaborating with each other and addressing the needs of students. Um more and more it’s becoming the case that second language learners are in educational institutions from K – 12 to higher education but because of this disciplinary division of labor teachers who see see themselves as first language teachers may not necessarily feel the need to develop their professional competencies in addressing the needs of these students who are rightfully ah, rightfully belong to these classrooms.
Um the cross discussion the discussion of cross cultural um differences in writing conventions um and rhetorical traditions is a tricky business because many of the differences are not necessarily cultural or linguistic. Um there are differences that a come from student’s ah literacy experience as well as the ah some of the differences that come from the student’s developmental stages. Um but there are ah differences in terms of how the same genre might be used in one context of one language and in a context of another because these communities where literacy is practiced have developed differing assumptions that make up their cultural backgrounds and linguistic backgrounds. As well as previous interactions that people in the communities have had.
Um for example um people may talk about the differences ah between newspaper articles in the United States ah States which is openly described as very straight forward um type of writing. As opposed to the genre that usu, ah, this is probably not a good example.
Um in my teaching I have ah tried to engage in the critical reflection of my own teaching practices ah in order to understand students better and in order to understand my teaching better. And some of the things that I’ve found about students is that they are very unique, ah unique individuals. That they come from different cultural backgrounds but within those cultural ah groups they may have individual differences that may be attributed to their upbringing, their family backgrounds, their language and literacy experiences. And many other interest and experiences um that is really difficult to generalize ah who students are. Ah so it’s very important to continue to critically reflect on my practices and interaction with students in order to develop a more complex and situation based understanding of each student. Um and in in relation to my teaching, my critical reflections have helped me understand that my own teaching experience, as well as the teaching experience and expertise of other teachers is very different, ah influenced by many differences ah different backgrounds that the teacher brings to the classroom such as gender, professional training, previous teaching experience, and experience as learners. Um and another thing that I have learned about teaching ah through critical reflection is that ah let me phrase, um(big pause) ah through critical reflections on my own teaching practices as well as my observations of other teacher’s practices is that teachers bring different expertise and experiences ah because of their differing professional preparation, their gender background, their ethnic and linguistic background, as well as their personal interest and family background. Um that may ah influence what we decide to do in the classroom. So we can approach the same teaching context from very different perspectives. And not one of them is necessarily better than the other. Because they all can work ah if the teachers are interested and invested in the particular pedagogy approach. And that approach is based on the teachers critical understanding of the characteristics and needs of students as well as the institutional context and their self awareness of their own teaching practices and perhaps biases.
About second language writers, ah, um things that I have learned um from critical reflection on my teaching practices are not necessarily specific or concrete and sometimes ah even after many ah years or months o of reflections I many not no ca, concretely what those things though that I have learned. Um but in general I find find the practice of critical reflections to be helpful in situating what I have learned in teaching textbooks for instance or what I have heard from other teachers. And to translate them in terms of specific context of each classroom.
Um as sec ah what teachers need to know in order to help students develop as academic writers in second language is first of all who their students are, understanding the characteristics of students and understanding the differences among these student population is ah students is very important. And teachers also need to be familiar with the discourse conventions and practices of various disciplines into which students are moving after perhaps graduating from English for academic purposes courses or separate ESL courses.
Different discipline based writing conventions. Um I think that’s a very ah good ah big question um because these um because academic co ah academic conventions are diverse and they are always changing and it’s really difficult to characterize what specific practices are at any given moment. Because once you say this is what this discipline does in terms of for instance writing an introduction for an article ah that statement is perhaps already outdated because these practices constantly change and as new members of the community enter the discourse community, academic discourse community, and participate in the ongoing dialog to create knowledge in the disciplinary context, these conventions are always negotiated and ah s ah re a change constantly.
Um one of the most critical understanding that the field of second language writing has generated recently is the fact that students are very complex individuals and it’s very difficult to identify ah or characterize a groups of students and to identify the common ah threat that goes though all the student’s lives because they come from very different backgrounds and they have very different experiences. So um this may be um somewhat disheartening teachers who want to have concrete understanding of who he students are and what teachers can do in order to help those students ah develop academically. But the ah the fact is um understanding ESL writers needs and understanding their characteristics and understanding what teachers need to do in the classroom is a constant negotiation and renegotiations of what we conceive to be ah who’s who are students are. Um in light of the each interactions that teachers have with these students class particular classroom context.
I think one of the most important things ah at this point in history ah of teaching second language learners and writers in K to 12 context as well as higher education is to educate teachers from different classroom and disciplinary context to recognize the presence and needs of second language learners. Now I may not be able to say exactly what those needs are because those needs of students differ from individual to individual and from dis from one disciplinary context to another. But um what’s important is to get people to understand and realize that second language learners are there in their classrooms and that we need to constantly reflect on their presence and their practices so that we can better address their needs, identify and address their needs.
Um, I think one thing that I need to stress ah in working with second language learners is to try to strike a balance between coming up with a concrete notion of what academic writing is and who students are and what subskills students need to develop. And to nego, ah , and o that’s(interruption) I think I think um what’s very important at this time ah (interruption)
I think what’s important for second language teachers ah and teachers in general to understand is that ah we need to strike balance between under having concrete understanding of students and teaching practices. One the one hand and ah nego, ah be willing to negotiate and problematize these understanding constantly through critical reflections on the other hand ah because um whenever we think we understand our students we will come a come across an exception that will ah make whatever we do ah not workable or useful in ah when we move from one context, one classroom context to another context. So we need to be constantly aware of what we do and reflect on it rather than try to learn a set of knowledge and to continue to practice that in the same way across different context.
One of the things that’s stressed in many of the writing courses is the notion of thesis. Having a clear and identifiable thesis at the beginning of an essay. Ah but students may have difficulty in understanding what the concept is because they may not have seen one or they may not be aware of how different writers use thesis’ or construct thesis’ in different writing context and writing tasks. So one of the things teachers can do to help students understand these concepts is to give many examples by different writers to show how different writers approach the same task differently and sometimes to not follow what we consider to be the proper rule or guidelines for developing writing. So that students know how to break the rules properly so to speak. And to negotiate the construction of their discourse.
Um as second language writers, students need to develop the ability to construct sentences so that their meaning can be communicated clearly. And this process of development is very difficult and complex and it may take a lifetime for students to master all the the possible sentence constructions um because there are so many different ways in which the same thing can be expressed by using different sentence constructions. And ah recent research findings have been showing that the learning of sentence structures and the development of writing skills go hand in hand, that is we don’t first learn all the rules and apply them in constructing sentences in writing. But rather we may also learn to use different sentence structures through the act of writing. So as teachers what we can do to help students develop these skills um is to constantly get students to practice in authentic context of writing to use the language, to experiment with different structures without being afraid of making errors so that the students can gain ah various experience ah experiences in constructing sentences in different contexts. Um does that make sense?
Um the question of whether ESL students who learn to write perfect a in perfect sentences before they are allowed to take other classes than ESL classes ah always comes up when dealing with or talking with ah faculty from different disciplines. And this is ah a very difficult question to answer and to solve. Because on the one hand there is a tendency for faculty to assume that all students should have certain grammatical competencies before they are allowed to learn um in different disciplines. But on the other hand ah second language writers ah tend to require a lot longer time in order to develop proficiency, language proficiency in order to construct sentences um that make sense or are acceptable o native speakers. So one of the things, of course, teachers need to do, not only ESL teachers but teachers across the disciplines, is to work with ESL students so they can facilitate the development of writing and language ah development of language proficiency. But at the same time we need to work on education teachers across the disciplines and society as a whole to understand the characteristics of L2 writers and to understand that it takes such a long time for them to develop their language proficiency. And to not to have unrealistic expectation that they should be able to write perfect sentences when they complete their ESL courses.
Understanding context of writing is a very important skill that second language learners, and first language learners need to have in order to develop their writing pro ah skills successfully and to communicate with different audiences in different writing contexts. Um but one of the difficulties in teaching students in the classroom context is that because of because students perceive writing tasks, the context of particular writing tasks to be situated within the context of the classroom rather than in a larger ah social space for interaction it’s difficult to get students to recognize what particular con ah context of that writing task might be. So the teachers task ah which is a different ah dis which is a very difficult task um but an important task is to provide as much information about the audience and the context of particular writing tasks so that students can see not only the teacher as the reader of the writing um that they’re producing, but they can begin to consider other possibilities, communicative purposes and the use of language um and that so that students can start making connections between what they are doing in the classroom with particular writing tasks and and the larger social purposes that this writing may serve in the future.
One of the research findings of the difference between Japanese writing and English writing um as articulated by John Hines is that English writing tends to begin with a clear objective and follow through ah in a straightforward manner, where as Japanese writing may sometimes follow a very different kind of construction. Um John Hines mentions one particular tradition, traditional Japanese literally style which is called Keisha do tang ketsu, beginning, development, a twist or turn, and then a conclusion. Ah which ah and when Japanese students write text that follows this patterns perhaps inadvertently ah native ah native speakers of English are often confused because they don’t follow the expectations that the English speakers may have. Now the way in which these Japanese patterns ah of writing manifest in English ah um and the degree to which this manifestation happens is ah still questionable because sometimes students may seem to be doing, using these traditional Japanese literally pattern ah but in fact students may be using ah a different kind of organizational scheme or they may be doing this because they have ah less experience in organizing written discourses in Japanese or in English. Um so it’s very very difficult to generalize and to inappropriate to judge students on the basis of these pre ah conceived notions of how students might be organizing their text. Um but when these differences um are found in students text, one thing teachers can do is to ah talk about how the teacher sees the proper organization should be in the particular context. And to explain that organization not in relation to ah abstract rules that teacher or society may have but in the context of specific writing task and what particular audience may be expecting and why ah certain development in certain part of the text may be important of useful for readers to make sense of the text.