Think about ways you can improve the writing requirements in your course, for your benefit and that of your students! One helpful resource is John Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011). For a precis of the text, see Roger Graves' "Five strategies to improve writing in your courses," in University Affairs (15 Jan 2014). Graves gives a brief outline of these strategies:
1. Identify the genre of the assignment
2. Let students know how you’ll evaluate it
3. Structure in opportunities for revision
4. Assign low-stakes writing
5. Contact the writing centre!
Many international students arrive at Dalhousie having studied English intensively to pass the exams that are required by the university to show English proficiency. Many other students whose first language is not English have finished high school in Canada, but are still clearly not native speakers. Achieving a high enough grade for admission to Dalhousie means that these students have acquired advanced skills and have at least enough English to function in daily life in Canada in all four major skills—reading, writing, listening and speaking. But it does not mean they are comfortable with the challenges that they will face here at the university, such as listening to live lectures where the instructor is moving rapidly through complex material and perhaps with an accent or speaking style that is unfamiliar; dealing with reading highly academic texts in quantities that are a challenge to English native speakers; speaking out in class, especially for students from cultures that discourage students’ participation; and finally the biggest challenge for most is learning to write academic texts in English.
As anyone who has learned a foreign language knows, learning a second or third language is slow and hard. It often involves a major shift of culture as well as of language. It takes time to learn the necessary vocabulary, such as the difference between to ‘get up’, to ‘get up to’; to ‘get to’, to ‘get in’, or to ‘get by’, and time to master some of the irrational rules of English grammar and academic usage, such as the difference between ‘to have experience’ and ‘to have an experience’ or between the uses of ‘in the experiment we are studying’, ‘in the experiment we study’, ‘in the experiment we have studied’, ‘in the experiment we studied’, and ‘in the experiment we will study’. Students from China will typically have difficulty with articles and singular/plural shifts largely because neither of these exists in Chinese. Arabic speaking students will often have difficulty with spelling, largely because in Arabic there is no need to learn spelling—when you hear a word in Arabic you know how it is spelled.
Perhaps, for those of us who take speaking and writing in English for granted, the easiest way to put ourselves in the shoes of an English-as-a-Second-Language student is to imagine ourselves, after studying the Chinese language for a few years, going to do a degree at a university in China and being expected to listen, speak, read and write academic texts in good Mandarin Chinese. Most of us would struggle and would need significant help. The Writing Centre is committed to helping ESL students to continue with their learning of English beyond the levels they arrive with and to helping them to achieve the levels of facility in English that we would expect from a student graduating from this university.
Consider this when providing feedback to your students:
Often ESL students have learned English from printed text; cursive writing therefore looks like an entirely new language to them.
Reducing the Rate of Plagiarism
Linda Macdonald, PhD
"Plagiarism" is derived from the the Latin word "to kidnap." Students do not enter university with the intention of committing the crime of "kidnapping" the ideas of others. Reported rates of plagiarism are, however, increasing. The document linked below offers a variety of techniques to reduce the rate of plagiarism.
Explaining to students why and how they need to improve their writing can be difficult. These documents will help you support students in their efforts to revise their own writing.