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TESOL Connections (January 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/09/2011

• Resisting Institutional Marginalization, by Shawna Shapiro
• Leadership in the Professional Field, by Christel Broady

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    Resisting Institutional Marginalization download to PDF

    at the University of Washington

    by Shawna Shapiro

    University of Washington

    Seattle, Washington, USA

    Is English language instruction “remedial” in nature? I suspect that most of us would answer “no” to this question, as the term “remedial” brings to mind a set of beliefs and practices that are outdated and perhaps even injurious—heavy testing, decontextualized instruction, and a pervasive focus on linguistic error rather than on student growth. As Mike Rose explains, remedial education uses the discourse and logic of the medical field: Students, like patients, are seen as having linguistic “deficiencies” for which language specialists, like doctors, provide a “remedy” (1985). Remedial education is usually an isolationist endeavor, serving as what Rose calls a “scholastic quarantine” for underprepared students (1985, p. 352). This isolation affects not only the students themselves but the programs delivering remedial instruction. Both are subject to institutional marginalization.

    Sarah Benesch is one of a number of TESOL scholars seeking to counteract the perception that ESL/EAP instruction is remedial. To this end, she edited a collection of accounts by practitioners working collaboratively with colleagues in other disciplines, entitled Ending Remediation (1988). Without this sort of collaboration, Benesch argued, ESL/EAP programs (and the students in them) are in danger of “ghettoization.” In the decades since this collection was published, scholarship has continued to document numerous effects of institutional marginalization. National surveys have revealed disturbing trends: Many of our programs have only a loose affiliation with an academic department and rarely communicate with faculty in other disciplines. Our courses are often classified as “non-credit” and may require additional tuition and fees for students. Compensation and working conditions for those teaching in our programs tend to be poorer than for the rest of the institution. These and other factors seem to indicate that our courses are seen and treated more as “remedial” than as “regular.” (See, for example Ignash, 1995; Williams,1995; and Van Meter 1990).

    This has certainly been the case at the University of Washington (UW), where I have been teaching and doing research for the past five years. The Academic English Program's (AEP) students are all non-native speakers matriculated in undergraduate or graduate programs who are required to take AEP courses based on their test scores (usually TOEFL, IELTS, or SAT Verbal). About half of the students in the AEP are international students and the other half are permanent residents. (For more about the AEP, see ). From my very first quarter teaching in our Academic English Program (ESL/EAP for matriculated students), I could see and feel the program’s institutional marginalization: The AEP was administered from an off-campus building and had virtually no interaction with faculty and administrators on campus. The program’s curriculum focused heavily on grammar and vocabulary with few stated objectives for reading, writing, and speaking. The final exam was the sole determiner for pass/fail in each course. (I was told that the heavy emphasis on exams was important because they offered “proof” of language proficiency to the university.) I was warned that students in my classes might seem resentful and unmotivated, in part because they received no credit for the courses and had to pay additional tuition. As can be imagined, students were not the only ones resentful about these conditions. Instructor morale was impacted significantly by a pervasive sense that our program did not have a place of ‘belonging’ within its campus community. Even after I began teaching in another department (due to funding limitations), I was determined to work with the AEP toward greater institutional integration. In this article I describe what we have learned and accomplished thus far at the University of Washington, in the hopes of inspiring colleagues at other institutions whose programs are similarly marginalized. Our reform efforts have revolved around five key strategies, as outlined below:

    Strategy 1. Identify needs and concerns of campus stakeholders

    I worked with the AEP to design and implement a needs assessment project that included surveys of its own students and instructors, as well as faculty and TAs in other departments.1The survey results were complemented by interviews, meeting minutes, and institutional documents. Our goal for this project was to learn more about the experiences and needs of various stakeholders on our campus. Key findings from this project included the following:

    • Information about English language assessment and other policies was decentralized and difficult to navigate. As a result, students and staff often felt frustrated by the administrative process.
    • Many students felt that the AEP’s policies (particularly in terms of placement and grading) were ineffective and/or unfair. This, combined with the additional fees and lack of credit, caused many to see the courses as a burden, rather than a benefit.
    • What students appreciated most about the AEP was the class size (14 students on average), the instructor expertise, and the opportunities to practice writing and speaking. However, the heavy emphasis on grammar and on final exams tended to detract from these positive experiences.
    • Many AEP instructors were dissatisfied with the program’s policies and curriculum, but felt trapped by what they thought was a fixed “mandate” from the UW.
    • A number of faculty and TAs outside the AEP felt that they lacked training, strategies, and resources to support ESL students.2The pedagogical “strategy” reported most frequently was to refer struggling students to a writing center.
    • Writing centers on campus felt that they had not trained their tutors adequately to work effectively with ESL students.

    It was clear from these findings that the AEP needed to communicate more frequently and extensively with non-AEP stakeholders. The campus needed us as much as we needed them. Our first challenge was to find ways to facilitate this interaction.

    Strategy 2. Ask to join cross-campus conversations

    Because the University of Washington is a large and fairly decentralized institution, cross-departmental collaboration does not happen easily. However, a number of interdisciplinary working groups and councils were already in place. We made contact with some of these groups and were pleased to find that in most cases, our presence and expertise was quite welcome. The AEP began to contribute to conversations about advising, admissions, interdisciplinary writing, writing center administration, and TA training. These conversations increased the AEP’s visibility and gave the program a greater sense of purpose and belonging.

    Strategy 3. Designate (and compensate) a liaison to the campus community

    To facilitate long-term collaboration, the AEP devoted a small amount of funding to pay for a Writing Support Specialist who would serve as a part-time liaison to the campus community. This instructor taught fewer courses in exchange for maintaining regular contact with the campus community. Much of this specialist’s time was spent talking with administrators and instructors about what they saw as their most pressing needs. She frequently facilitated workshops for tutors and TAs in response to these needs. In addition, her feedback on these interactions gave the AEP a better sense of what was happening in classrooms and writing centers.

    Strategy 4. Strengthen alliances through pedagogical collaboration

    One of the strongest alliances formed over the past few years was between the AEP and the English Department’s Expository Writing Program. Several individuals from each program began to meet regularly to learn more about each other’s work. This conversation eventually led to the development of two experimental course models: a) a two-credit studio course for students needing additional support in writing-intensive courses and b) an AEP course that was closely linked to first-year composition. Both of these courses were piloted in Winter and Spring quarters of 2009.

    Strategy 5. Use data and dialogue to inform curriculum revision

    Over the past two quarters, the AEP has begun to revise its own curriculum, incorporating insights from the needs analysis project and the interdisciplinary conversations in which it is now engaged. The program has begun to talk less about student remediation and more about student support. As a result, the heavy emphasis on grammar/structure and on final exams is being replaced by a focus on literacy, authenticity, and a variety of assessment measures.

    Long-term vision and challenges

    I am optimistic about the direction the AEP has taken in recent years. Yet there are still a number of marginalizing factors have not been overcome: AEP instructors are not ranked as faculty and therefore lack representation in some key decision-making bodies. The program still lacks a strong alliance with an academic department, although its link to the English Department has grown stronger. Although academic credit for some courses has been approved for the coming year, students still must pay additional tuition. Much of the collaborative work that is occurring between the AEP and other campus stakeholders is done on a voluntary basis.Very little funding exists for collaborative endeavors—particularly as the UW is facing significant budget cuts for the coming year.

    Our vision for a truly integrated AEP includes the following goals:

    • All AEP courses should be credit-bearing and are covered by tuition.
    • The AEP should have a full-time administrator who serves as a liaison to the UW campus.
    • The UW should create a centralized funding pool for collaborative language support, which includes an AEP-administered grant program from which departments might solicit funds for new initiatives.
    • Linguistic diversity should be incorporated into the UW’s mission statements, so that non-native speakers are treated as multilingual rather than linguistically deficient.

    This vision may take a number of years to enact. At its heart is the notion that supporting multilingual students is not a matter of remediation but of mediation: Only through ongoing negotiation and collaboration with the campus community can ESL/EAP programs become more institutionally integrated. Our programs can never be “separate but equal.” In the spirit of collaboration, then, I end with a question: How have you (and/or your colleagues) found ways to become more institutionally integrated?3I look forward to learning from you.

    1We received IRB approval for this project.

    2We chose to use the term ESL students in the surveys, despite our recognition that it is problematic, because we found it to be the most easily recognized by non-TESOL practitioners.

    3I will be working as a professor at another institution—Middlebury College—beginning this fall, but plan to continue my work with the UW to the extent that I am able.

    Benesch, S. (1988).Ending remediation: Linking ESL and content in higher education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

    Ignash, J. M. (1995) Encouraging ESL student persistence: The influence of policy on curricular design.Community College Review, 23(3), 17-34. Retrieved May 22, 2009, from MasterFILE Premier database.

    Rose, M. (1985). The language of exclusion: Writing instruction at the university.College English, 47, 341–59.

    Van Meter, B. (1990). Academic credit for ESL classes?Review of Research in Developmental Education.

    Williams, J. (1995) ESL composition program administration in the United States.Journal of Second Language Writing 4(2), 157-179.

    Shawna Shapirorecently completed her PhD in English Language and Rhetoric at the University of Washington, specializing in academic literacy for multilingual students. She has taught ESOL at middle school, high school, and university levels. She has also facilitated a number of teacher training courses and workshops in the Seattle area. This fall, she will be an Assistant Professor in the Writing Program at Middlebury College.

    This article originally appeared in theHigher Education Interest Section e-newsletter.


    Leadership in the Professional Field:

    The Key Ingredient in Successful Teacher Training

    download to PDF

    by Christel Broady

    Georgetown College
    Georgetown, Kentucky, United States

    Training teachers to successfully teach children with heritage cultures and languages other than U.S.-American is an important profession. As the United States faces rising immigrant numbers, the need for academic and social integration of these new immigrants is vital to the future of the country. However, ESL teachers need to be more than teachers. In many cases, they are the one and only lifeline for a family to a new culture. ESL teachers need to also be leaders in their schools and communities to advocate for their immigrant populations. Therefore, teaching active leadership is a important part of the job responsibility of an ESL teacher trainer.

    Teaching authentic leadership to teacher candidates needs to be rooted in modeling leadership in the professional field in order to impact teacher candidates. Being a good leader in the field of ESL can best be achieved by activities in the TESOL organization, the largest body of professionals dealing with ESL and EFL. Because TESOL is a body of diverse groups, interests, and members it can be difficult to find a leadership niche for TESOL professionals. Also, it is difficult to comprehend the unwritten organizational culture, the networks, and the inside scoop. This is particularly true for those professionals in the USA who are immigrants, like me.

    Fortunately, TESOL offers avenues for new and emerging leaders to find their entrance into the premier professional organization. One of the wonderful opportunities for growth is the leadership mentorship program offered specifically to members of minority populations or immigrants. Annually, three recipients are chosen to receive a year-long mentorship award program. Among other perks, they are paired up with seasoned TESOL leaders. They also receive free tuition to TESOL’s Leadership Development Certificate Program.

    Once I learned about this promising program, I decided to apply for it. I did so in hope of becoming a more effective leader in my profession as a professor in my new country and culture. Once I applied and later received the notification of having been chosen as a recipient of one of the three awards, I began my year-long journey of growth and professional possibilities.

    The workshops offered within the certificate program are extremely useful for emerging leaders. The content is relevant and challenges participants to truly delve into the organizational structure and leadership literature. Additionally, the experience of meeting other participants from all over the world while exchanging vital discussions with them opens many new connections and networking opportunities. In my case, I learned valuable information about the history and governance ofTESOL that I may never have understood without the workshops. I worked up close with a former president of
    TESOL and built a personal relationship with her. I also developed several friendships with other participants in the workshops. I am sure that such friendships will mature in later professional networking opportunities. I am more confident to apply and self-nominate for openings in TESOL committees and boards. I feel prepared to understand the responsibilities and work expectations of TESOL leaders better than before. In addition, I feel more prepared to understand the system of governance in TESOL, which was unfamiliar to me. Last, I can always contact my personal mentor with questions and concerns. She is extremely knowledgeable in all TESOL matters and is a great advisor to me. I am confident that I will ask for and she will freely give guidance well beyond the year of her mentorship responsibility.

    Having experienced this wonderful gift of leadership training resulted in many growth opportunities for me. For the first time, I will attend a convention feeling like an insider instead of a visitor, peeking in from outside. I am ready to assume personal responsibility for the future direction of TESOL. I have been becoming one of the TESOL professionals. At this time, I am a member of the steering committee of the Elementary Education Interest Section. I also serve as an NCATE/TESOL program reviewer. I submitted a workshop proposal to the Electronic Village. I am entertaining my involvement with other committees or even boards as soon as my current commitments have expired.

    Having undergone the year of the leadership mentorship award was a huge growth experience that makes me feel much more prepared to assume leadership in TESOL and to teach leadership and advocacy to my own students, teacher candidates in K–12 classrooms. I will emphasize even more how important it is to view ourselves as leaders and not merely as teachers. I will stress even more how important it is for my teacher candidates to seek out growth opportunities for life-long learning within TESOL and elsewhere. K–12 ESL students and their families deserve our utmost advocacy and leadership.