by Marisa Yerace, WIC Intern

Our Anniversary Celebration keynote speaker, Dr. Terry Myers Zawacki, Professor Emerita at George Mason University, gave a talk titled Engaging Conversation(s): Students and Teachers Talk about Expectations for Academic Writing Across Disciplines, Languages, and Cultures. For a limited time, her talk can be viewed by OSU faculty, staff, and students through their OSU login credentials here

We have included reflections as two graduate students working with WIC: Ruth Sylvester, WIC GTA, and Marisa Yerace, WIC Intern. We respond to the Keynote both as students invested in WIC and as junior scholars in the field of composition.

Dr. Terry Myers Zawacki

Ruth: Dr. Zawacki framed the stakes of her talk by reminding us of the myth of transience (from Mike Rose but articulated by David Russell), the myth that students must have been taught to write well in the past, or at least have been made familiar with a robust knowledge and skills base that they could continue to draw from, before they approach writing in high stakes disciplinary contexts. To combat this myth, Dr. Zawacki provided details on the implicit cues for teacher expectations, and, similarly, implicit paradigms of cultural understanding of students coming from outside the sphere of academia in the United States.

Marisa: While I was watching the keynote presentation, I took notes on Dr. Zawacki’s topic–which she is no doubt an expert on–but I also took notes on her presentation style and skill, which were at a level I hope to someday achieve. She centered student voices throughout her presentation, so that, when discussing the difficulties these students have in writing, we were hearing it from them and she was just synthesizing their points. She brought in some of what our faculty said about teaching English learners in the earlier roundtable. She pointed out some “generic terms” that teachers use to describe writing that are too vague to many of our students: “originality,” “voice,” and “clarity and conciseness.” These terms, she pointed out, vary from discipline to discipline and even teacher to teacher.

Dr. Zawacki also brought in a faculty voice about how that teacher perceived student difficulties; she then broke down their quote into small parts and placed them next to those student voices so that they were in conversation.

When we talked to Dr. Zawacki about her research in our staff meeting the next day, it was clear to me that she still remembered the details of every student she had interviewed for this research.

Finally, this outstanding scholar left us with the most important question we should be asking when evaluating student writing: Will my students’ writing serve them well in the range of academic, disciplinary, professional, and linguistic contexts?

By Vicki Tolar Burton, WIC Director

vicki_cropIf you are seeing more and more international and multi-lingual students in your classes and wondering how to adjust your teaching, this issue of Teaching with Writing is for you.  We asked a trio of speakers from our spring lunch on writing pedagogy for multi-lingual writers to transform their talks into brief articles. Literature and Culture graduate student Corey Taylor, in “Assessing Hispanic Student Writing Across the Curriculum,” wants us to consider how to fairly assess the writing of Hispanic students.  Following writing scholar Valerie Balester, Taylor encourages teachers to design multicultural rubrics that can easily be explained to students who may struggle with English.

Andre Habet, a graduate student in Rhetoric and Writing who grew up in Belize, in “Generative Empathy: Internationalizing Writing Across the Curriculum,” urges faculty across the curriculum to use low stakes writing tasks to learn course content and scaffold formal writing assignments.  Further, Habet encourages instructors to examine their own course assignments and activities for aspects that might exclude non-American multi-lingual writers.

In “A Case for Awareness: Hawaii Writers at Oregon State University,” Kristina Lum, graduate student in Rhetoric and Writing, turns her focus on the needs of Hawaii writers at OSU.  This is a diverse group of students, many of whom speak a Hawaii Creole English, also called Pidgin.  Lum is interested in how faculty awareness of students’ linguistic background might improve writing experiences for student writers from Hawaii who are attending OSU.

We are grateful to these three graduate students for sharing their research and their list of sources where faculty might find more information on pedagogy for multi-lingual writers.

Be sure to take note that next year’s WIC Faculty Seminar will be held in the winter 2016 because I will be on a one term sabbatical during fall term.  While I am on sabbatical in the fall,  WIC will be ably directed by Tracy Ann Robinson (MIME), a teacher and scholar who has a long history with the WIC program.  She will be able to assist you with course development and assessment questions while I am away.  Nominations for the winter seminar can be sent to me through the summer and to Tracy Ann during fall term.

June is also the month to say good-bye to my WIC GTA, Jacob Day, who has been truly devoted to the enterprise of improving the teaching of writing in WIC courses at OSU.  Jacob, thank you.  Your clear head and good spirits have made this year a pleasure.  I have also had a terrific support team of interns Jordan Terriere (winter term), Andre Habet (spring term), Kristina Lum (spring term), and finally faculty volunteer August Baunach, who also teaches technical writing. Working with this enthusiastic team is a joy.  Have a great summer, everyone.  I’ll see you in January!

By Kristina Lum (MA 2016, SWLF)
Krisina Lum

As most of us have seen, there is an increasing trend of international student enrollment here at OSU. This increase has prompted discussions on how instructors can address the needs of students who are learning to write in English, a language different from their native one. However, international students are not the only multilingual students. There are students who were born and raised in America but do not speak English as their first language. These students could be the children of immigrants or from a place in which another language is just as common as English.  One such student population is students from Hawaii or, as Morris Young calls them, “Hawaii writers.”

According to OSU’s 2014 fall enrollment summary, Hawaii is the third highest in state residency enrollment, which means that there is a fair number of Hawaii writers attending OSU. Since Hawaii is part of America, these students were educated in the American school system, but they are coming from a linguistic and cultural background that is different from their peers. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hawaii writers is that most grew up hearing and/or speaking a language commonly referred to as “Pidgin” but were educated in a school system that ephasized the use of Standard English (SE).

Although Pidgin closely resembles English, linguists recognize it as a legitimate language with its own unique grammatical structures and lexicon. However, Pidgin has been a topic of controversy because it can easily be mistaken for a form of imperfect or broken English, particularly when it comes to education. In fact, the Hawaii Department of Education attempted to ban the use of Pidgin in all public schools in 1987 because they believed that it interfered with student achievement.

Multiple studies done by scholars such as Mary Lynn Fiore Ohama et al. and Richard Day indicate that the education system in Hawaii perpetuates discrimination towards Pidgin through its preference for SE. As a result, Pidgin-speaking students may be more reluctant to speak up in class because they think that they are speaking a lesser language. Some may even try to hide the fact that they speak Pidgin by opting to switch to SE in professional or academic settings. However, the switching between languages is not always perfect and elements of Pidgin can show up in their English speech or writing. When this happens, Pidgin might be mistaken for “improper” English.

The case of Pidgin-speaking Hawaii writers is an example of how the favoring of SE continues to de-legitimize the use of other languages or linguistic variation in academia. Therefore, it is important for us to recognize the assumptions we have about the linguistic backgrounds of our domestic students and the potentially disenfranchising elements of SE for students like Hawaii writers. This, however, is not an argument against teaching SE; it is an argument for awareness.

Being aware of the backgrounds of our students can help us make sense of the writing that students turn in. For instance, what might appear to be a paper written by a lazy student who wrote her essay one hour before the due date might instead be a paper from a multilingual student who is still struggling to successfully translate her thoughts into SE.

Simple activities such as collecting notecards with information about where the student is from or having students write a short essay about their past writing experiences can provide a better context for our assessment. As a result, we can re-evaluate the ways in which we respond to student writing. This does not necessarily mean that we need to lower our expectations. Instead, such practices call for us to read, teach, and assess with more patience and understanding when student writing does not meet our expectations.

While unique, the situation of OSU Hawaii writers is not the only one of its kind. If we consider the range of dialects, vernaculars, creoles, and accents present in America, we are looking at a large spectrum of linguistic diversity within our domestic student population. Being aware of this diversity is the first step in creating more inclusive pedagogies that will better serve our students.

Reference List:

Day, Richard R. “The Development of Linguistic Attitudes and Preferences.” TESOL Quarterly 14.1 (1980): 27-37. Print.

Ohama, Mary Lynn Fiore, Carolyn C. Gotay, Ian S. Pagano, Larry Boles, and Dorothy D. Craven. “Evaluations of Hawaii Creole English and Standard English.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 19.3 (2000): 357-377. Print.

Young, Morris. “Standard English and Student Bodies: Institutionalizing Race and Literacy in Hawai‘i.” College English 64.4 (2002): 405-431. Print.

Young, Morris. Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy Narratives as a Rhetoric of Citizenship. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

By Corey Taylor (MA 2016, SWLF)Corey Taylor

2013 was the first year in which the percentage of graduating Hispanic students going to a four-year-degree institution surpassed the percentage of white students doing the same, according to Pew Research’s Hispanic Trends Project. Approximately 7% of Oregon State University’s current student population is Hispanic, making it one of the largest non-white ethnic groups at the University. This number is small compared to the dramatic shifts going on in Oregon’s public schools. Currently Hispanic students face two large hurdles among many when it comes to the equitable assessment of their writing: an assessment culture that is increasingly focused on standardization, in addition to the reduction of the Hispanic writer to a simplistic“L2” linguistic identity that does not account for the ethnolinguistic diversity found in Hispanic communities.

One of the largest issues facing minority students today across academia is the push for standardization—a movement that can quickly change from the desire for equitable assessment for everyone, to assessing everyone the same way without accounting for ethnolinguistic and other differences. Throughout writing courses in all disciplines, standardization comes in the form of Rubrics and Grading Guides. Rubrics can often become barriers for minority students because of what scholar Valerie Balester calls “Acculturationalist” and “Accommodationist” rubric types.

Acculturationalist rubrics are those that “aim for ‘standard’ English, posited as a stable and singular entity” with the goal to “eradicate ‘substandard English” (66). In the examples provided below, the Accultrationalist rubric sample is almost confrontational in its prose. Run-ons and comma splices must be absolutely eradicated, and diction must be excellent. For any writer not completely comfortable with their lignustic ability, this barrage is intimdating at best, and stifling at worst.

Accommodationist rubrics, on the other hand,  are those which still focus on the same standards as acculturationalist rubrics, but are written in a way as to seem non-confrontational, so that “students must accommodate school language usually through code-switching” (Balester 67). In the example, the Accomidationist rubric is written on implications. What exactly is a “sophisticated form of expression,” or a “compositional risk?”  For basic readers, this type of rubric is simply hard to translate, and for a basic writer it is confusing.

Balester suggests that writing instructors move to a third model of rubric that she calls “multicultural rubrics.” She defines these rubrics as those that encourage “writerly agency that privileges meaning-making through rhetorically based choices” (72). In other words, rubrics can use terms like “sophisticated forms of expression,” or “compositional risks” but the instructor should, either in front of the class or in the rubric/assignment prompt itself, address the ways in which these terms are defined within the context of the assignment. The example below encourages “editing” and “superior control of grammar” rather than “mechanics” and “eliminating errors,” keeping the expectations relative but specific enough for effective assessment. For instructors of writing in the disciplines, these multicultural rubrics also present the opportunity to explain why certain genres, styles and conventions are privileged/used in their discourse communities. This is not only helpful for minority writers, but novice writers in general.

Another danger in assessing minority students is the tendency to focus solely on their linguistic identities rather than using a multifaceted ethnolinguistic perspective.  This can be problematic for Hispanic students in particular because of how linguistically diverse Hispanic students are. There are over 20 different nations under the “Hispanic” umbrella. Most Hispanic cultures speak Spanish. However, many also speak various creole dialects, as well regional and local Spanish dialects. These dialects are then brought to the United States, and often merge with English. The assumption that Hispanic basic writers must also be ESL learners is prevalent, and as Professor Betriz Mendez-Newman of Texas Pan American University states, “implies the student is relying predictably and consciously on competence in an established first language to achieve competence in a second language” (23). Mendez Newman points out that most multilingual Hispanic writers have “primarily oral confidence” in Spanish and have learned written English in school, describing them as “minimally bilingual” and often more proficient in written English than they are in written Spanish (24).

Low-stakes writing tasks are an easy way for writing instructors to engage with students’ writing before final assessments, providing the instructor with knowledge of the student’s language proficiency, writing history and even some insight into common errors. The added bonus is that short assignments take less time to grade, and can often be done in class with minimal mark-up required.  Writing About Writing activities – such journals where students can write about current or past writing experiences, surveys such as Oregon State’s own Writer’s Personal Profile, or Process Memos–where students write about their drafting process on a paper before turning it in–also allow the instructor to better tailor their assessment and feedback on written work.


Acculturationalist: Mechanics: Sentence structure, grammar, and diction excellent; correct use of punctuation and citation style; minimal to no spelling errors; absolutely no run-on sentences or comma splices.

Accommodationist: When the writer attempts to communicate complex ideas through sophisticated forms of expression, he/she may make minor errors as a result of these compositional risks. These types of errors do not detract from the overall fluency of the composition.

Multicultural: An “A” paper displays evidence of careful editing with superior control of grammar and mechanics appropriate to the assignment.


Balester, Valerie. “How Rubrics Fail: Toward a Multicultural Model.” Race and Writing Assessment. Ed. Asao B. Inoue and Mya Poe. New York: P. Lang, 2012. Print.

Fry, Richard, and Paul Taylor. “Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Kells, Michelle Hall. “Linguistic Contact Zones in the College Writing Classroom: An Examination of Ethnolinguistic Identity and Language Attitudes.” Written Communication 19.1 (2002): 5–43. Print

Mendez Newman, Beatrice. “Teaching at a Hispanic Serving Institution.” Teaching Writing with Latino/a Students: Lessons Learnedat Hispanic- Serving Institutions. Ed. Cristina Kirklighter, Diana Cárdenas, and Susan Wolff Murphy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. Print.