Course Spotlight: Teaching ESL Writing

Overview of WRD 543

Last quarter, students in Dr. Jason Schneider’s WRD 543: Teaching ESL Writing course learned to better understand the theoretical and practical issues connected to writing studies in an increasingly diverse world.

WRD 543 is a graduate-level course, open to all MA in WRD students, and is offered every other year. It provides concentration credit for students in DePaul’s Teaching Writing and Language concentration of the MA in WRD and counts for Methods credit for those students pursuing the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. Structured around readings and weekly discussion posts, the course helps students to understand the teaching of writing in second-language contexts.

Professor Schneider sees the course as essential not only for students in the TESOL certificate program, but for anyone who wants to teach writing. Says Schneider,

I feel anyone who wants to teach writing needs to have a basis for understanding ESL students. You’re always going to find second-language speakers in your courses and you need to have the knowledge to draw upon to make smart choices for these students.

Prof. Schneider at event
Prof. Jason Schneider with MA in WRD graduate student Emily Power, at a WRD 111 event.

What Students Do in WRD 543

Each week, a different pair of WRD 543 students designed an activity based on that week’s readings and lead the class in an exercise to develop materials for second-language learners. For example, one week students were given sample essays written by ESL students and worked in pairs to assign what they believed to be an appropriate score on a scale of 1-5; after assigning their scores, students were told what scores the students’ instructors had given the essays. Exercises such as this allowed students to hone their assessment process through hands-on practice and collaboration.

Professor Schneider, who last year was awarded a coveted Excellence in Teaching Award, sees this application of theory in practical ways as essential to both students’ learning and his own. Says Schneider, “It’s always interesting to me to let people bring in their own experience as learners. It expands my own understanding of how people go about language learning.”

In this year’s iteration of WRD 543, Professor Schneider added a new assignment to read and discuss books selected based by students according to their particular interests in ESL writing. For example, students interested in genre theory might choose to read Genre and Second Language Writing, by Ken Hyland, and Beyond Convention: Genre Innovation in Academic Writing, by Christine Tardy; students interested in issues of plagiarism or other dilemmas in the classroom might choose Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 Writing, by Joel Bloch, and Controversies in the Second Language Writing, by Christine Casanave.

New Perspectives for Teaching in a Diverse World

Ultimately, WRD 543 encourages students to look at teaching writing from a perspective outside their own, and to recognize the many ways that writing can be impacted by one’s native language or background. It’s also a course that can open students’ eyes to the challenges and possibilities of teaching writing in a diverse city like Chicago. Says Professor Schneider,

A lot of teachers feel they don’t know what do with these students or they’re viewed negatively. I’d like to move away from that viewpoint, and realize students that speak other languages and who are from other cultures can be a positive resource in the classroom.