International Students and Writing Assignments

My name is Elizabeth St. Clair and I’m one of the reference and instruction librarians here at CityU, and today I’m going to talk to you about International Students and Writing Assignments- Understanding the cultural differences in rhetorical style. To start this presentation, I just wanted to start out with a quick poll. and see how many international students were enrolled at CityU last quarter. Just take a quick guess, you’re gonna throw up a poll there. It’s gonna be one through four. Just one second. All right. So just go ahead and guess how many
international students, you think we had enrolled at CityU last quarter. This does not include students at our partner University but enrolled. I’m gonna give you a few seconds to figure that out. Okay, that looks like everybody responded. So for the two of you, that guessed 300 plus. Ding-ding-ding you are correct. We had 300 plus international students enrolled at City last quarter. And of those 300, 33 different countries
were represented. So as you can tell clearly international students are a really important part of the culture here at CityU. I love being able to walk through the library on any given day of the week and hear half a dozen different languages being spoken. I think it’s part of what makes us CityU. So it’s important that we adapt our teaching styles to fit the unique needs of our international students. Alright, in this next slide I’m gonna go over what we’ll cover. We’ll briefly go over sort of why the librarians became interested in this topic in the first place. Then we’ll cover some basic cultural differences between US rhetorical styles and other traditions found around the world. And finally, I’m going to share some best practices with you for working with international students on writing assignments And before we get started, I do want to note that due to time constraint, differences in rhetorical styles are going to be discussed more broadly. I think it’s important to remember that every culture and every student is unique. And all of the differences that I described today do not apply to every non-western culture or country. And finally for the purpose of this presentation, when I talk about international students, I will largely be talking about non-native speakers. So this is our international students whom English may not be their first language. So how did the library become interested in this topic? First and foremost, librarians are instructors just like you. We often research and seek ways that we can better serve our student population based on common problems we see occur. Secondly, while we do not have the bandwidth to proofread papers in full. The lack of a formal, scalable writing center means that the library fields a lot of editing, style, and format questions from students. So they come to us with questions about their writing quite a bit. And lastly, working with both students and faculty closely, librarians are in a unique position to recognize patterns of frustrations from both sides of the aisle. Instructors often come to us with concerns about expectations for their classes not being met, and students often come to us with confusion about instructor feedback. So all of this combined, kind of led us to start asking ourselves, “Where does this breakdown in communication happen?” And as the librarians began to research
this, and I want to specifically give a special shout out to my fellow librarian, Jenny Bosley for doing the proposal for this presentation and first stumbling upon the topic. She did a lot of the initial research for this presentation. As we started to research, we started
finding a lot of interesting information on differences in rhetorical styles, between the US and other educational systems around the world. So we mapped out some key differences and that gave us some insight into what our international students may be experiencing. And I kind of hope that shedding some light on these differences, will better prepare faculty to deal with our writing from non-native speakers. So let’s go over some common differences. As I mentioned before, I can’t go over all the traditions found around the world in
25 minutes. So I’m going to focus on the main features of the US rhetorical system, or the US rhetorical tradition found in the US educational system. And then I’ll detail where students might experience, international students might
experience difficulties adhering to the tradition. So the main thing as most of us at CityU and those that came out of the US education system know, the US rhetorical style is thesis-driven. The main idea of our papers is stated early on and it’s reinforced with a series of arguments throughout, ending in a conclusion. Other traditions may not have this thesis style of writing, but may require or may rely solely on reporting or recording. Others may not have a thesis, so those might not have a thesis at all. And others might have a thesis, but they might be buried at the end of a paper or in the conclusion. We’ve had students come into the library saying, “my instructor saying I don’t have
a thesis statement”, Where in reality, they do have a thesis statement, it’s just at the end of their paper. And simply by getting them to move that upfront and getting them to stake that early, it’s an easy way to get them to adhere to US writing expectations. Another thing that is important in the US rhetorical style is, we often put an emphasis on synthesis and analysis. It’s really important that sources work with each other, and that the author makes those connections between the sources. Going back to that idea of just simply recording or reporting, some other traditions expect the reader to do that synthesis and analysis. So they may present the information, but they may not synthesize it. In a way, they expect the reader to do the work and come to their own conclusions. Whereas, in the US tradition, the active participation of the author is super important. We don’t want the reader to do
all the work. We want to present our ideas and reinforce our arguments when we do writing. Other cultures may discourage individual scholarship and that voice of the author isn’t that important. Instead, they may value repetition or memorization, repeating some main big thinkers in any area or field of study. And lastly, in the US, attribution is super important. Citations are seen as a sign of strength, and we reinforce this early on in US the education system, and it’s important throughout your years of study. Whereas, culture surrounding authority and attribution around the world and elsewhere varies widely. A lot of cultures view attribution the same way we do. Where other cultures may be less likely to give attribution to universal knowledge. Or it may be seen as an affront to the reader if you cite something that’s supposed to be common knowledge or something from a big thinker. So it’s important to remember that attribution is different across the world, and to make our expectations for attribution and citation very clear. So now that we know some of the common differences, the next thing I want to talk about is, given these differences, where we see some problems arise. First, when we have assumptions about what is and is not common knowledge. To us, things like synthesis and analysis may seem like an obvious part of writing a paper, but using your own voice may be an entirely new concept to some students. Even a seemingly simple prompt like compare and contrast, may be very familiar to students coming out of the US tradition and something you know we’ve done a million times before, but it may not be something that students from other traditions are familiar with. And these assumptions about what is common knowledge, ends up creating different expectations between faculty and students about what is required for any given assignment. So instructions for an assignment mainly about important details, will not be written explicitly enough for non-native speakers. What may seem pretty straightforward to you may not be to a non-native speaker. So answering student inquiries about
assignments with the phrase, “it’s in the instruction”, or “it’s written in the assignment”‘, may lead to issues down the road. We also see this problem with feedback a lot. In the library, we often have students come in asking us, “what does my instructor mean here?”, or “I don’t understand this feedback”. And a lot of times you are like, “you need to talk with your instructor about this a little more in-depth”. And then they feel embarrassed because they don’t want to bother their instructor with something that they’ve already given them to look over. But normally when this happens it’s almost always because feedback is too general, or it lacks enough context for international students. Ummm. For someone coming out of a different educational background, we just have to remember that sometimes we need to give a little extra context to the feedback that we give
students. And finally, like domestic students, international students may have become accustomed to a certain way of writing to appease their instructors I know you know growing up in the U.S. education system, you know, by about middle-school you kind of figured out what instructors are looking for in writing, and you’ve had many many years to hone your writing to meet those expectations. International students are new to this education system and are getting poor feedback for writing that may have gotten them good grades in their own culture, may cause a lot of frustration or even be a little disorienting or confusing. So it’s important to be patient and accommodating with students who are learning new ways to be a student. Alright, so now that we’ve discussed some
common differences and some problems that we may see arise, when it comes to entering the US educational system and international students. I’m gonna talk about some best practices when grading assignments, or grading writing assignments from non-native speakers. In everything I read, you know Jenny did a lot of research for this presentation But I did a lot of research too, and almost everything I read, the first thing they said was, “Read the assignment in full before commenting”, And then when you’re ready to comment, comment mainly on larger issues, such as focus, argument, sources used, development, and structure, before you comment on anything else. Just some things you can ask yourself are things like, Are they actually lacking a thesis statement, or is it buried at the end of the paper? Are they making any sort of argument, or are they simply reporting or recording information? It’s important to not just immediately mark every grammatical or spelling error you see. In the upper-level classes, it’s more important that they understand the material, and are advancing in their ability to analyze, synthesize and find their own scholarly voice. Use probing questions that engage with their thought process, as opposed to simply just marking up every misspelling. Instead I like to say, try to instead of just you know red pinning a whole paper for misspellings and grammatical errors, when you’re reading international student writing. Try to identify recurring issues and address them more broadly at the end of the paper. In your general feedback, you can point out one or two examples, and then provide information on that grammar role or APA role to them so they can fix it in future work It saves you a lot of time, because your time is just as important, and allows you to sort of address more important things within the paper. So before ending this presentation, I did want to talk briefly about non-native speakers and plagiarism. When dealing with plagiarism, it’s important to consider the student’s cultural background, English writing proficiency and experience in the U.S. education system. Is this a broader misunderstanding about attribution? Or is you know is it plagiarism, or is it a broader misunderstanding about that
attribution? Also, keep in mind that paraphrasing is an especially hard thing to learn for non-native speakers, and that signaling verb may also be
absent. So those are things like according to, illustrated by, in the words of. So ask yourself, are they actually plagiarizing?, or simply struggling to smoothly integrate their source material? When I was doing research for this
presentation, I came across a lot of interesting examples that I had never thought of before. And one of them was how common it is for international students or non-native speakers to use dropped quotations. And it’s where they’ve done the research, they found things that are applicable to their topic. But because the paraphrasing and integrating source material can be a bit higher-level, they’ll just drop the quotation in the middle of a paragraph. And it’ll seem sort of odd and out of place when you don’t have that seamless integration that you get out of native English speakers. So if you see things like this, You can give the student resources that can help them integrate sources more clearly, and more smoothly in their writing. If you do think that a student has plagiarized, it’s important to look at the students work side-by-side with their sources to determine the severity of the plagiarism. And to identify more complex issues within the work, so like are they synthesizing and analyzing the material, or they just reporting? Have they actually copied and pasted or is it just a general misunderstanding of U.S. rhetorical tradition. And lastly, it’s important to approach the issue with compassion and empathy, if you do think a student has plagiarized. Plagiarism can be especially scary for students who are here on a student visa. So it’s important to approach students you think may have plagiarized with you know a fair amount of empathy. Because there’s a lot of rumors that go around about plagiarism, getting kicked out of school, losing your visa and all that stuff. So you want to be really compassionate when approaching international students about academic integrity. Some things I wanted to leave you with or some things to remember is that, fluency takes five to ten years to develop and most non-native speakers will not write 100% error-free prose. I’m just so impressed with our students who come to study here from other countries and from different backgrounds. And I speak no second languages, so the fact that we have students like studying in a country that’s not their home country, I just think is incredible, but fluency does take time. And unless you are teaching an English language class, it’s important not to get too hung up on grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, because honestly, that’s not what you’re teaching. Instead ask yourself, if the student has an understanding of the content of the class and the U.S. rhetorical style. And the expectations of writing in the U.S. education system. And you know, just try not to focus too much on those surface-level issues alone. Because in doing so, you may undermine any strengths in the student’s argument or understanding of the material, or any weaknesses. And you may not be able to get them going in that right direction. In the library, we often talk about having an appreciative mindset and going all red pen on a student. You know I say red pen even though we mostly grade online. But you know just marking up all that surface-level stuff can really set a student back, and not kind of get them moving forward in their deeper level thinking. Also, I think it’s important to remember that non-native speakers are not necessarily more apt to plagiarize than domestic students. However, the change in voice and lack of integration may make mistakes and attribution more apparent. So it’s important to be fair and judicious with your level of scrutiny, with all of your students. And finally and most importantly, I think it’s important to give students the resources they need to be successful. I included some here, there’s some links to some writing centers that I like, who provide handouts, some materials for non-native speakers. I was sitting in the WAL presentation before this, and I loved what they said about providing models of good work, and models of what you expect. You can build up a collection of that, of a previous student work, where you scrub the names, you can ask permission from the student. And you can provide examples of what meeting your grading rubric looks like. So setting those expectations early, and giving the students the resources they need to be successful, can save you a lot of headaches down the line. So does anybody have any questions? I rambled for a really long time, looks like we’ve got about five minutes left. So if anybody has any questions, that would be fine. I see some people typing. So Teresa asks, “is there a way to wake up a student who is most likely plagiarizing, and you have already raised the issue and they do not respond or show any change?” Yeah, so it’s important to see when it comes to dealing with plagiarizing from a student, who shows no significant change. I believe there is a way to nominate them for the Writing Center. So we don’t have like a formal writing Center, however, we do have a Writing Center program where students can be nominated If you feel like that would be helpful for them you could nominate students to that program. If you feel like they aren’t making a change, and they’re just taking advantage and continuing to plagiarize, then you would definitely go forward with reporting that to the academic… Is it an academic honesty board?, I’m actually not sure. Scholastic honesty, If they have a question about the Writing Lab contact Anna. So I don’t know if you all heard that, but you should contact Anna if you have a question about the writing lab. And Ginny says, “we have a lot of domestic students who struggle with writing too – from the Bachelor to the Doctoral level. Yes, I want to say that these are all great things to use for any of your students. I love the information in here or when I read in my research about assumptions about common knowledge. That even happens with domestic students
as well. We have a lot of assumptions about what’s effective. And you know, how we’re supposed to write in APA style. Or how we’re supposed to write for
different classes. And that’s why I really like the information that actually WALL gave in their presentation. And about providing models and giving
students information and resources they need to be successful. So give them examples of what your expectations are, and be very clear
in writing your assignment. Any other questions? I think we’re coming down to the end of it So thank you all for sitting here and listening to me ramble. If you have any questions you can always email me as well. Theresa says, “I think it’s so important to explain the assignment.” I think you can really save yourself a lot of time on the back end, by being super explicit in your assignments about what your expectations are, and providing those examples and resources. Thank you, everybody, I think that’s the end of the questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you
have any more information, or if you have any other resources you would like to add. I wanted to show my reference list here at the end because these are all great places to look at best practices. When dealing with International Student work, I have found them very helpful. So I highly recommend looking at these in addition to the Writing Center opportunities I’ve posted. And thank you for listening. Have a great night everybody, in the rest of the conference.

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