The Reading Matrix
Vol. 4, No. 3, November 2004
Academic Writing Programs.
Leki, Ilona (Ed.) (2001).
Alexandria, VA ( USA): Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Case Studies in TESOL Practice Series. Jill Burton, Series Editor.
Reviewed by Gail Shuck
Boise State University
Long before Harklau, Losey, and Seigal (1999) popularized the term “Generation 1.5,” second-language composition specialists had begun to conduct research and devise curricula to address the vastly diverse needs, abilities, and language learning processes of college-level writers of English as a second (third, nth) language (see Kroll, 1990, Silva, 1993, and Silva and Matsuda, 2001, for reviews of the research). Harklau, Losey, and Seigal’s collection broke important new ground by recognizing the internal variation in what we are often tempted to think of as a single population, helping us especially to see the differences between nonnative English-speaking college students in the United States who graduated from U.S. high schools and those who were primarily educated abroad. Other scholars such as Benesch (2001), Canagarajah (1999), Fox (1994), Horner and Lu (1999), Hyland (2003), Kutz, Groden, and Zamel (1993), Matsuda and Silva (1999), Raimes (1985), and Swales (1990) have offered pedagogies and research frameworks that implicitly or explicitly take this diversity into account. However, few individual collections allow us to examine a wide variety of pedagogical approaches to teaching writing in English as a second or foreign language (ESL/EFL) in a wide variety of regional and institutional contexts.
With the publication of Academic Writing Programs, widely respected scholar, teacher, and co-editor of the Journal of Second Language Writing Ilona Leki relays great pedagogical insights and innovations in one surprisingly slim collection describing twelve L2 (second language) academic writing programs around the globe. Novices and veterans alike can turn to this book for descriptions of wide-ranging programs and courses. Whether we actively adapt these approaches to our own institutional contexts or not, we are bound to be challenged to reflect on our own teaching as we encounter—in helpful, contextually situated detail—others’ responses to L2 writing issues. This book will appeal particularly strongly to program administrators and others involved in the development of college curricula that help to integrate L2 (and L1) writers into the larger academic community.
The sheer variety of institutional contexts represented in this collection is one of its most immediately evident strengths. As an administrator of a developing program with a growing but still small number of nonnative English speakers, I paid attention to phrases like “a large research university,” “a writing center,” “resident L2 writers,” and “postgraduate writing” in the chapter and section headings in order to guide my initial selection of which chapters to read first. Indeed, I had planned to go directly to the chapters that seemed to have more in common with my own university. However, it soon became clear that I was drawn not to the particulars of the institutional contexts but rather to keywords that reflected the kinds of programs I would like to develop: “learning community,” “task-based,” “linking,” “collaborations,” etc. It is thus not only the variety of institutional structures represented that makes this volume so useful, but also the surprising degree of overlap in theoretical principles that underlie these approaches. As Leki writes in the introduction, “Most noteworthy about the courses and programs described in this volume…are not the differences but certain similarities of basic assumptions underlying the many local solutions to the question of how best to teach L2 writing” (p. 1). All of the contributions, for example, emphasize examining and/or producing language in authentic contexts, and all demonstrate how we might link students’ reading and writing directly to the world outside the classroom. Thus, those of us who work with “Generation 1.5” in the U.S. or other English-dominant countries can learn from teachers in EFL programs in Japan and Oman, and vice versa.
The book is divided into three parts following a brief, but useful overview/introduction by Leki. Within each part, each chapter describes the institutional context in which a particular program was developed, describes the program in considerable detail, and summarizes its distinguishing features. Part One, “Exploring L2 Writing Program Innovations in EFL Settings,” includes three chapters, the first of which describes a writing assistance program in Hong Kong, similar but not identical to the kinds of writing centers familiar in U.S. colleges and universities (Kennedy Xiao). The second chapter, situated in an English-for-Specific Purposes program in Oman, outlines a content-based reading and writing curriculum that relies on a database of authentic language used in science texts (Flowerdew). The third chapter in this EFL section describes an English writing course in Japan that has students engaging in journal writing as well as consciousness-raising and strategy-building activities, all of which are usually absent in Japanese college-level English classes (Hirose).
Part Two, “Connecting L2 Writers to Communities,” and Part Three, “Using L2 Academic Writing to Explore and Learn,” overlap considerably both in the pedagogical goals of the contributors and in one main feature of their many local contexts: the programs and courses described in those two parts were all developed in countries in which English is a dominant language. Some of the chapters in these two sections deal with nonnative English-speaking graduate students, usually those on student visas at large research universities, while others deal with L2 (and L1.5) undergraduate writers new to academic life. All of them, however, are united in their emphasis on the relationships between the L2 classroom and a sense of community. Several describe learning communities, such as the Intensive English Program at Kingsborough Community College in New York City, which has forged extensive collaborations between the ESL curriculum and credit-bearing courses such as sociology and history (Babbit). Similar collaborations take place at Hunter College, also in New York, between a Classics course and the ESL writing program (Smoke, Green, and Isenstead), and even more extensively at Adelaide University, between those who teach international postgraduate students and departments across the university (Cargill, Cadman, and McGowan). While such linked courses are not entirely new (Brinton, Snow, and Wesche, 1989; Smoke, 1998), the details of how they were developed and implemented can offer much-needed guidance, particularly to novice program administrators. The programs are also different enough that we can imagine adapting elements of more than one of them to our own contexts. At my own institution, the small number of nonnative English-speaking students makes it difficult to design an entire program that would require students to take a number of courses together. However, the authors have negotiated the workings of various institutions, teamed up with concerned faculty from other disciplines, and come up with highly innovative courses, inspiring me to devise new administrative strategies for addressing the needs of our comparatively small ESL population.
In all of the courses in Parts Two and Three, the language “lessons” are authentic. That is, the students are using English, particularly writing and reading, to learn something else. The linguistic structures students will encounter emerge directly from course content—about sociology, communication, Greek and Latin, etc. Students thus have the opportunity for repeated exposure to similar terms, grammatical structures, and generic conventions, enabling them greater opportunities for acquisition of these structures in a meaningful context. The need to create such opportunities is critical, particularly for “Generation 1.5,” whose educational careers may have been interrupted or slowed by emigration and war, and whose L1 literacy backgrounds may be less well developed than those of more prototypical international students. The linked courses and learning communities discussed in these two parts provide important language as well as content-area support in order to enrich L2 students’ academic lives.
Different readers will find that different forces guide their reading of this book, perhaps by noting the kinds of pedagogical affinities that I did or even by seeking programs and courses that differ dramatically from their own. This means that any L2 writing teacher who works with adults in academic settings, and certainly in other settings and with other students as well, can find something of value. Perhaps more important than the details of specific programs, however, is the implicit argument throughout the book that helping L2 student writers in academic settings depends at least in part on collaborations between ESL and content-area specialists, on the use and production of authentic texts, and on attention to the social contexts for learning.
Benesch, S. (2001). Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, politics, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Brinton, D., Snow, M., and Wesche, M. (1989). Content-based second language instruction. New York: Newbury House.
Canagarajah, S. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fox, H. (1994). Listening to the world: Cultural issues in academic writing. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Harklau, L., Losey, K., and Siegal, M. (Eds.) (1999). Generation 1.5 meets college composition: Issues in the teaching of writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Horner, B., and Lu, M. Z. (1999). Representing the “Other”: Basic writers and the teaching of basic writing. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Hyland, K. (2003). Genre-based pedagogies: A social response to process. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12, 17-29.
Kroll, B. (Ed.) (1990). Second language writing: Research insights for the classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kutz, E., Groden, S., and Zamel, V. (1993). The discovery of competence: Teaching and learning with diverse student writers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Matsuda, P. K., and Silva, T. (1999). Cross-cultural composition: Mediated integration of U.S. and international students. Composition Studies, 27, 15-30.
Raimes, A. (1985). What unskilled ESL students do as they write: A classroom study of composing. TESOL Quarterly, 19, 229-258.
Silva, T. (1993). Toward an understanding of the distinct nature of L2 writing: the ESL research and its implications. TESOL Quarterly, 27, 657-77.
Silva, T., and Matsuda, P. K. (Eds.) (2001). Landmark essays on ESL writing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Smoke, T. (1998). Adult ESL : Politics, pedagogy, and participation in classroom and community programs. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Gail Shuck is Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of English Language Support Programs at Boise State University. Her current pedagogical and research interests include second language writing, language ideologies, critical discourse analysis, and institutional strategies for providing English language support across the curriculum. Email: