Paul Matsuda, Professor of English and Director of Second Language Writing at Arizona State University and an international leader in the teaching of second language (L2) writing, visited Oregon State on Feb 11, 2016, to host workshops and share strategies for teaching and assessing L2 writing. He conducted workshops for tutors in the OSU Writing Center and for graduate teaching assistants in the Writing program. He also presented a lecture entitled “Writing Assessment in the Linguistically Diverse Classroom.”
Matsuda’s afternoon presentation addressed issues that many WIC instructors encounter when assessing L2 writing and provided concrete strategies to address these issues.
Assessing vs. Evaluating
Matsuda explained the difference between assessment and evaluation of writing. Assessment is “formative,” and includes observing writing performance, monitoring progress, and providing feedback. Evaluation, on the other hand, is “summative,” and includes grading and ranking. Based on this distinction, Matsuda explains that grammar should be “assessed” rather than “evaluated.”
Dealing with Error in L2 Writing
Matsuda observed that faculty are often concerned about errors in L2 writing, but the fact is that L2 writing improves very slowly and only with lots of practice. Rather than focusing on errors, he recommended, teachers might:
- Focus on content, organization, and other elements of writing that L2 writers can address and improve upon
- Focus comments on specific areas for development, not on deficits
- Limit grammar to, say, ten per cent of the total grade
- Add points for language improvement
- Include reflective assignments such as grammar logs, portfolios, and self and peer assessment, all of which research has shown to benefit L2 writers.
Because students frequently misunderstand written feedback, teachers can mitigate this misunderstanding both by paying particular attention the clarity of feedback and by conferencing with L2 and with all students. Not grading grammar or minimally grading it helps encourage students to see writing as something more than a system of grammatical rules. However, in the case where grammar is an extremely important component of an assignment, Matsuda suggests that the percentage grammar is worth be proportional to the grammatical instruction and feedback the teacher provides.
Reflective writing also provides a valuable opportunity for students to examine their writing practices. Students might turn in a letter or process memo with their assignment responding to these questions:
- What did you struggle with in your writing?
- What issues do you want the instructor to address in their feedback?
- What aspects of this assignment are you proud of?
Matsuda recommends that teachers take every opportunity to make the improvement of second language writing a collaborative process.