Writing as an academic process is both a complex and multifaceted endeavor. It involves having the writer perform continuous problem-solving and decision-making activities (Manchón, M., Murphy, L., & Larios, J., 2007). For Multilingual Learners (MLL), the ability to write precisely and coherently is a major challenge (Huh, M.H., Jwa, S., Lee, J., 2020). Consequently, there are many drawbacks in students’ academic performance if they have a weak foundation in writing. Writing is not only important in a student’s development of academic performance, but it also contributes to the second language learner’s cultural, social and emotional progress. Moreover, in this competitive world, writing is also one of the skills that is necessary to excel (Nyanamoney, R., Maslawati Mohamad, M., 2019).
However, another major challenge faced by MLLs is teacher perspective. Rather than leveraging the assets of their students, educators have systematically relegated MLLs to a lesser academic status (Gottlieb, M. 2020). When educators refer to MLLs and writing, it is common to hear views and myths based on a deficit model. According to a deficit perspective, MLL students would be at a disadvantage because of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and their lack of ability to communicate in English. Some points of view include:
- MLLs can’t write
- MLLs have writing problems
- MLLs are reluctant writers
- MLLs need to be taught the skills of writing before being asked to write independently
- MLLs were never taught to write in their first language, so how can they write in a second language?
So, how do educators shift their perspectives from a deficit model to an asset model, where students’ knowledge base is viewed in a more positive and productive light?
First, educators need to pay attention to the shifts and trends in education. There must be a realization that for students to succeed, educators must make a full paradigm shift where the deficit mindset is set aside and a more assets-oriented way of thinking is adopted (Gottlieb, 2020).
Next, there needs to be a shift from acquiring the English language for language’s sake. This means changing the learning of English from achieving proficiency on the test, to the learning of English in order to attain the second language literacy and content knowledge needed as an integrated whole. In other words, replace acontextual language learning with the meaningful integration of language and content. And what better way is there to achieve this than to introduce the writing skills and structures students need to be successful in content area classrooms.
So, the question then becomes, how do educators approach writing instruction with their MLL students?
Teachers should begin by looking at research that supports a language acquisition view of writing (Samway, 2006). Research from the past 30 years recognizes several different premises:
- Writing is more cognitive by nature – it focuses on what is going on inside the writer’s head and thinking processes. Therefore, teachers need to begin their writing instruction by pulling from the students’ own funds of knowledge.
- Writing is a meaning making enterprise. Writing is used to access and communicate student experiences, opinions, and content area knowledge.
- Writing is not linear, but rather a recursive process (Hutchinson, 2022) where the writer goes back and forth in the text while composing.
From there, educators begin to develop rich, language-based activities that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge, and their abilities to communicate ideas and understanding of the content. In addition, this assets-based approach improves their students’ outlook and willingness to succeed since they feel valued and validated.
By Marybelle Marrero-Colón, Associate Director of Professional Development, Center for Applied Linguistics
Watch a recording of Marybelle’s recorded webinar, Supporting English Learners through Content Area Writing.
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