Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center: Invitational Rhetoric and Politeness Strategies to Accommodate the Needs of Multilingual Writers

Nouf Alshreif

Tutors in writing centers are challenged to work with a linguistically diverse population of writers, working collaboratively with an array of individual and linguistic differences to scaffold and support their learning. The complexity of multilingual writers’ experiences is rooted in affective factors that bring an individualistic perspective to tutoring. For many multilingual writers, learning to write is associated with their culture, education, linguistic capabilities, literacy, social backgrounds, identities, sense of world, feelings, learning experiences, and the ways through which they perceive their writing and themselves as writers. Due to their awareness of their linguistic differences from L1 speakers, multilingual writers might possess feelings of insecurity for fears of being perceived or judged as weak students (Bruce, 2009). Specifically, they might fear not being respected for their intellectual capabilities because of their position as non-native speakers whose writing might have a trace of their accents, and thus might perceive themselves as “inferior goods waiting for opportunities to upgrade” (Liu, 2010, p. 218). These feelings of inferiority are associated with multiple factors, increasing the difficulty of multilingual writers’ experiences as writers.

Multilingual writers’ struggle with writing can be linked to the limited perception of English as second language (ESL) learners, who might be labeled as different and with specific needs. In fact, this limited perception is evident in writing center literature, which reflects arguments that ESL students have frequently been viewed “as all of a piece,” assuming they are similar in terms of their needs and ways of thinking (Leki, 2009, p. 1). Rafoth (2016) discussed the complexity that multilingual writers carry with them, explaining that it is a result of “their experiences with learning English, and a history of when, how, and why they learn [English],” and a tale of “struggles and rewards” (p. 6) through which they construct their identities as writers. In other words, for multilingual writers, writing is a reflection of their linguistic and educational histories with learning English, and thus is emotional. Rafoth (2015) explained that learning to write for multilingual writers is far more than merely an ambition. For many multilingual writers, learning to write symbolizes family expectations and embodies sacrifices to “attain social mobility, cultural and personal enrichment” and to attend a “path out of poverty, isolation, and tedious labor” (Rafoth, 2015, p. 43). In a similar vein, Hutchinson and Gillespie (2016) reported that “Sometimes those students are from countries far away from here, and their families have given up everything to enable them to come to America to study” (p. 137). Therefore, writing can be emotional for many multilingual writers because it embodies a desire to excel academically and to function as “the intellectual elite of their countries” (Leki, 2009, p. 7). For multilingual writers, writing conveys their “interest in the life of the mind” (Leki, 2009, p. 7), and their ability to contribute to the creation of knowledge.

However, tutors are not always aware of the invisible emotional and individualistic dimensions that multilingual writers bring to the table. Tutoring multilingual writers can be challenging as these factors might be invisible to tutors, who might be inclined to assimilate these student writers’ writing to ensure their academic success. A fundamental issue arises: what are tutoring strategies that help writing centers’ tutors decrease assimilation and increase sensitivity to emotions and individuality while tutoring multilingual writers? Writing center research needs to extend current investigations to address the existing gap in tutoring strategies for purposes of decreasing the conflict between accommodating the affective needs of multilingual writers and assimilating multilingual writers’ writing. As a matter of fact, regardless of the recognized needs of multilingual writers in writing center scholarship (Hutchinson & Gillespie, 2016; Leki, 2009; Rafoth, 2015; Rafoth, 2016), the question of how to strengthen the voices of multilingual writers and celebrate their differences needs further exploration, especially in terms of specific verbal expressions that tutors can utilize while tutoring multilingual writers. Thus, I argue that invitational rhetoric and positive and negative politeness strategies can be adopted by tutors of multilingual writers. Such strategies validate their unique voices and the individuality of their experiences. These experiences are multidimensional and emergent in the sense of being affiliated with factors of affective, social, and cultural components. This manuscript calls for enacting tutoring experiences that respect diversity and appreciate individuality and emotions.

Definitions of Invitational Rhetoric and Politeness Strategies

This section introduces the major concepts used to demonstrate my argument of the efficiency of using invitational rhetoric and politeness strategies to decrease feelings of insecurity and assimilating multilingual writers’ texts. The conceptualization of these constructs is drawn from Foss and Griffin (1995) and Brown and Levinson (1987). Linking invitational rhetoric to feminist theories, Foss and Griffin (1995) defined invitational rhetoric as an “invitation to understanding as a means to create a relationship rooted in equality, immanent value, and self-determination” (p. 5). These values are essential to create a safe environment for multilingual writers to rediscover themselves as writers, overcoming feelings of inferiority and insecurity.

Reflecting Brown and Levinson’s (1987) definition of positive politeness, this type of politeness “anoints the face of the addressee by indicating that in some respects, S [speaker] wants H’s [hearer’s] wants (e.g. by treating him as a member of an in-group, a friend, a person whose wants and personality traits are known and liked)” (p. 70). According to Brown and Levinson (1987), the conversations initiated by positive politeness establish a common ground of understanding, in which the hearer and speaker share similar ideas and work collaboratively to create meaning. Brown and Levinson (1987) specified three strategies of positive politeness, including showing optimism, expressing empathy and understanding, and using statements of praise and encouragement. Furthermore, Brown and Levinson (1987) argue that negative politeness is a “redressive action addressed to the addressee’s negative face: his want to have his freedom of action unhindered and his attention unimpeded” (p. 129). While politeness strategies were discussed in the writing center literature, research is still needed to examine invitational rhetoric in writing centers contexts. A review of the literature shows its emphasis on decreasing assimilation and domination of tutoring sessions.

Tutoring Strategies to Accommodate the Needs of Multilingual Writers

Writing center literature explores tutoring multilingual writers in terms of tutoring strategies and the role of tutors during tutoring sessions (Condon and Olson, 2016; Cox, 2016; Severino, 2009). As Staben and Nordhaus (2009) demonstrated, tutoring sessions are as individualistic as fingerprints. Extending the work of Staben and Nordhaus (2009) addressing individuality, Condon and Olson (2016) explained the importance of humanizing tutoring practices. They discussed negotiating roles and goals to decentralize authority and encourage collaborative dialogues. While many multilingual writers’ goals are to assimilate their L2 writing to match native English, they are also sensitive in regards to their errors. In light of this sensitivity, Severino (2009) maintained that a tutor’s role should be “collaborator, coach, and consultant rather than more teacherly, controlling, and directive roles of informant, editor, and evaluator” (p. 54). This role helps multilingual writers to recognize the intellectual dimension of writing center conversations and the tutors’ roles as intellectual collaborators, rather than teachers. As Cox (2016) explained, a tutor’s role as collaborator is a “role that shifts the dynamic of the session from the unilateral provision of knowledge from the tutor to the tutee to the bilateral exchange of ideas and knowledge” (p. 65). The collaborative act of tutoring can be transformative if combined with a deeper understanding of multilingual writers’ experiences learning the language. Leki (2009) explained that “[one of] the most effective way[s] for writing center tutors . . . to take advantage of the visits of these multilingual, multicultural individuals [is] to . . . show interest in their home language, country, or culture by engaging them in the kind of small talk that usually accompanies tutoring sessions” (p. 13). In other words, tutoring is transformative if perceived from the perspective of being affective.

Writing center research concerned with increasing rapport and solidarity between tutors and students has focused on L1-L1 English language speakers primarily (Mackiewicz & Thompson, 2013). However, few studies considered analyzing negative and positive politeness strategies used during L1-L2 writing center sessions (Bell & Youmans, 2006). Bell and Youmans (2006) studied L1–L2 tutoring sessions and argued that a positive politeness strategy can generate miscommunication and confusion if used while tutoring multilingual writers. Likewise, Mackiewicz and Thompson (2013) argued that it is a challenge to account for cross-cultural differences while using politeness strategies to tutor multilingual writers. Therefore, they decided to limit their study to analyzing L1-L1 interactions while using politeness strategies.

However, I argue that the tools of invitational rhetoric and positive and negative politeness strategy can be effective to tutor multilingual writers. In specific terms, the purpose of this paper is to articulate specific tutoring strategies to approach multilingual writers. This manuscript describes with accuracy specific verbal behaviors that increase rapport and solidarity and accommodate the affective needs of multilingual writers.

The use of tutoring strategies that build upon invitational rhetoric and politeness strategies can be beneficial because they extend the affective side of tutoring multilingual writers. Furthermore, the proposed strategies can help to create rapport with multilingual writers, and thus demonstrate respect and appreciation for multilingual writers’ individuality as well as elevate trust. These factors might also support multilingual writers’ feelings of insecurity. Accordingly, the integration of invitational rhetoric and politeness strategies to tutoring multilingual writers is a call to adopt and develop tutoring strategies that draw upon affective elements of personal relationships.

Connecting Invitational Rhetoric to Writing Center Pedagogy

Invitational rhetoric as a construct is manifested within feminist theory. As proposed by Foss and Griffin (1995), invitational rhetoric is constructed upon values of equality and respect. Theorizing invitational rhetoric as an “invitation to understanding as a means to create a relationship rooted in equality, immanent value, and self-determination,” Foss and Griffin (1995) argued that it can be used to implement values of feminist pedagogy (p. 5). This form of feminist rhetoric establishes openness, respect, and validation of others’ personal experiences and differences. Similarly, tutors might consider invitational rhetoric as a pathway to create a relationship rooted in equality and respect. While tutoring multilingual writers, invitational rhetoric is helpful in creating a framework for interactions that are “nonhierarchical, nonjudgmental, and nonadversarial” (Foss & Griffin, 1995, p. 5). In invitational rhetoric, a tutor might offer their perspective, but does not aim to persuade students to accept that perspective. It empowers multilingual writers because it reduces corrections that destroy signs of students’ identities and linguistic choices. Foss and Foss (2012) illustrated invitational rhetoric within a framework of eight components:

  1. Understanding is the purpose of communication in invitational rhetoric
  2. Participants in invitational rhetoric listen with openness
  3. In invitational rhetoric, speaker and audience are viewed as equals
  4. Invitational rhetoric involves power-with instead of power-over
  5. Participants change only when they choose in invitational rhetoric
  6. Participants enter invitational rhetoric willing to be changed
  7. Invitational rhetoric creates a world of appreciation for differences
  8. Invitational rhetoric is one of many options in your rhetorical tool box (p. 10)

Invitational rhetoric as an approach to tutoring emphasizes the role of tutors as learners and promotes the conception of collaboration, in which the dynamic of learning is a bilateral interaction. Through these interactions, a tutor and tutee exchange their ideas and knowledge (Cox, 2016) and negotiate the goals of the session.

Offering perspectives can be used as a strategy to enact invitational rhetoric. In this type of invitational rhetoric, the tutor seeks to engage multilingual writers through offering, which is “the giving of expression to a perspective without advocating its support or seeking its acceptance” (Foss & Griffin, 1995, p. 7). The tutoring strategy of “offering perspective” limits assimilation and enhances the value of equality. For example, a tutor might say: “I tried this solution when that happened to me; I thought it worked well,” or, “What would happen if we introduced the idea of ____ into this problem?” (Foss & Griffin, 1995, p. 8). Introducing invitational rhetoric to writing center pedagogy helps reduce the conflict between assimilation and empowering student writers’ voices. In this sense, the goal of the interaction is to extend each other’s ideas and establish a relationship through understanding and discovery of one another (see Table 1).

Table 1
Use of Invitational Rhetoric to Tutor Multilingual Writers
Tutoring Strategy Example
Invitational Rhetoric “I tried this solution when that happened to me; I thought it worked well”

“What would happen if we introduced the idea of ____ into this problem?”

As shown in the example, invitational rhetoric as a strategy might help establish trust and emphasize confidence, reducing multilingual writers’ feelings of insecurity. As Fallon (2010) explained, “relationships in the writing center are also tied to the ways that tutors establish trust, goodwill, and confidence in their interactions with writers and to some extent with other tutors” (p. 195). Similarly, invitational rhetoric creates a sense of safety (Foss & Griffin, 1995). Accordingly, this safe environment allows multilingual writers to celebrate the uniqueness of their personal experiences, knowing that tutors will respond with respect and care.

Another strategy that can be used to enact this type of invitational rhetoric is listening in the sense of not interrupting when tutees are sharing their experiences. Matsuda and Cox (2009) described listening to multilingual writers as a key factor of effective communication during tutoring sessions. Such a strategy not only enhances the notion of safety, but also helps multilingual writers to discover, explore, and expand their own perspectives. Listening also involves recognizing the distinctive features of multilingual writers’ texts, appreciating the uniqueness of these texts, and hearing the distinctive meanings and perspectives that they convey. As Foss and Griffin (1995) explained, “because of the nonhierarchical, nonjudgmental, nonadversarial framework established for the interaction, an understanding of the participants occurs, an understanding that engenders appreciation, value, and a sense of equality” (p. 5). The use of tutoring strategies that build upon invitational rhetoric might be beneficial because it helps to create rapport with multilingual writers, and thus helps to appreciate their individuality, along with demonstrating respect and elevating trust. Accordingly, the integration of invitational rhetoric to tutoring multilingual writers is a call to adopt and develop tutoring strategies that draw upon affective elements of personal relationships.

In my personal experience as a writing center tutor, I (like many other tutors) perceive myself as a learner rather than a “fountainhead of truth,” and students are active participants who are responsible for their own learning (Webb, Allen, & Walker, 2002, p. 68). For me, listening is a learning process; it conveys willingness and openness because it is an opportunity “to attend to the other as other, the different as different, [and] is also to understand the different as possible” (Tracy as cited in Foss & Griffin, 1995, p. 7). In this sense, one of my goals is to assist in supporting multilingual writers’ confidence by strengthening their voices, and decreasing their feelings of insecurity through encouraging them to demonstrate their unique, multidimensional ideas and perspectives. I assume that multilingual writers are capable of making decisions in regards to their writing because they are intellectually competent to decide the ways through which they want to represent themselves through writing.

As I build relationships of equality with my tutees, I try to explain to student writers that they have their own ways of meaning-making that are unique to who they are as multilingual writers. I also explain that assimilation is not always wise because it violates multilingual writers’ rights to be envisioned in specific ways and their rights to be respected for their own meaning-making, unique voices, and distinctive views. I had a tutoring session with a student who brought a poem that she wrote about her home country. As I was reading her beautiful poem, she pointed out that she wanted to integrate a word from her native language, but could not find an English synonym. I was listening to all of the details she tried to provide while illustrating the meaning of the word, but she could not articulate her indicated meaning accurately because it was very culturally sensitive. My suggestion was to integrate the word into the poem using the characters of her language. I wanted to increase her ownership of the piece and emphasized that the use of these characters gave an authentic touch to her poem. This multilingual student-writer came to the understanding that demonstrating her unique meaning-making is powerful. Using invitational rhetoric, I tried to emphasize the values of shared relationships and understanding as power to demonstrate equality and elimination of dominance. These values are effective in tutoring multilingual writers because they support the perception of difference as an opportunity, rather than “difference-as-deficit” (Canagarajah, 2002), and thus underscore the values of respect and privileging personal experiences, which increases empathy with multilingual writers and decreases feelings of insecurity.

Connecting Positive and Negative Politeness Strategies to Writing Center Pedagogy

As tools to enforce respecting diversity, personal experiences, and cultural differences, positive and negative politeness strategies can be beneficial in tutoring multilingual writers. This section explores the two concepts of positive and negative politeness strategies and how they connect to tutoring multilingual writers. Brown and Levinson (1987) defined positive politeness as “it ‘anoints’ the face of the addressee by indicating that in some respects, S [speaker] wants H’s [hearer’s] wants (e.g. by treating him as a member of an in-group, a friend, a person whose wants and personality traits are known and liked)” (p. 70). Brown and Levinson (1987) further explained that positive-politeness utterances imply intimate communication and behavior as the speaker establishes common ground by virtue of having something in common with the hearer.

Among Brown and Levinson’s (1987) articulated positive politeness strategies are expressing sympathy and empathy, offering praise, and showing optimism. In accordance to Brown and Levinson (1987), positive politeness strategies can be building rapport and indicating respect by offering understanding and sympathy. Exaggerated intonation, stress, and intensifying modifiers are helpful to indicate sympathy and empathy with a hearer, “how ábsolutely márvellous!” Brown and Levinson (1987) exemplified (p. 103). A tutor might express feelings that convey empathy through trying to perceive things from the tutees’ perspectives. For example, a tutor might say, “I understand that must be difficult. I know teachers can sometimes be hard to please. I strongly hear all the arguments you are trying to make; I am sure you can do this” (see Table 2). In addition, the use of the pronoun “we” can be influential when working with multilingual writers because it conveys empathy and a way for tutors to show that they care for the tutee’s feelings and concerns (Mackiewicz & Thompson, 2013). As indicated by Brown and Levinson (1987), the use of the pronoun “we” indirectly promotes cooperation between a speaker and hearer. Extending the notion of cooperation in the context of writing centers, the use of the pronoun “we” shows that a tutor is as eager as a tutee to have the action performed. Furthermore, it might convey that multilingual writers are supported and not working alone. For example, a tutor might say: “We can easily make this argument work if we extend the ideas a little further. We can discuss what you are trying to say here” (see Table 2).

Table 2
Use of Positive Politeness Strategies to Tutor Multilingual Writers
Tutoring Strategy Example
Positive Politeness Strategies:

Expressing empathy and understanding.

“I understand that must be difficult. I know teachers can sometimes be hard to please. I strongly hear all the arguments you are trying to make; I am sure you can do this.”

Using of the pronoun “we”:

“We can easily make this argument work if we extend the ideas a little further. We can discuss what you are trying to say here.”

Praise: by using of statements of encouragement “As you are a multilingual writer, I can see how you deeply reflect on this topic. This is one of your strengths; I really like how you developed your ideas. Nice work.”

“I know you got this, you did it before, and you will be able to make it happen this time.”

Showing of optimism That might sound challenging. I understand it might take a lot of work, but I think that you will rise to the challenge because you are capable of doing this.

As a positive politeness strategy, praise might indicate “gift-giving,” which can be embodied within “human-relations wants … the wants to be liked, admired, cared about, understood, listened to, and so on” (Brown & Levinson, 1987, p. 128). In this sense, praise can be perceived as a gift-giving action that fulfills individuals’ needs to be liked and admired. For example, a tutor might demonstrate statements of encouragement saying, “As you are a multilingual writer, I can see how you deeply reflect on this topic. This is one of your strengths; I really like how you developed your ideas. Nice work” (see Table 2). A tutor can also say: “I know you got this, you did it before, and you will be able to make it happen this time” (see Table 2).

A third kind of positive politeness can be an effort to convey optimistic meanings (Brown & Levinson, 1987). Being optimistic involves using optimistic expressions that indirectly imply that the cooperation between two people can be taken for granted. Brown and Levinson (1987) exemplified the use of such strategy, explaining that expressions such as “You’ll lend me your lawnmower for the weekend, won’t you” implies that there is a mutual shared interest for them to commit to cooperation (p. 126). In a writing center context, the use of optimistic expression can be attained to emphasize that the tutor is cooperatively involved to pursue a mutual goal. For example, a tutor might say: “That might sound challenging. I understand it might take a lot of work, but I think that you will rise to the challenge because you are capable of doing this” (see Table 2).

Negative politeness is “redressive action addressed to the addressee’s negative face: his want to have his freedom of action unhindered and his attention unimpeded (Brown & Levinson, 1987, p. 129). In other words, negative politeness is oriented toward recognizing and respecting the hearer’s wants, interfering minimally to alter addressee’s freedom of action. Negative politeness strategies involve acknowledging writers’ independence and freedom of control (Mackiewicz & Thompson, 2013). Similarly, negative politeness strategies can also be helpful as a tutoring strategy to promote multilingual writers’ sense of self as independent and capable. For example, a tutor can ask the question: “Do you think we should connect these two ideas by providing an example?” A tutor can also say: “I would support my argument with evidence,” “I would provide further details to this idea,” or “I would further extend this thought” (see Table 3). Employing negative politeness strategies creates a “student-centered” atmosphere (Nordhaus, 2009, p. 78) that empowers multilingual writers and builds upon their strengths, personal decision-making and ideas.

Table 3
Use of Negative Politeness Strategies to Tutor Multilingual Writers
Tutoring Strategy Example
Negative politeness strategies “Do you think we should connect these two ideas by providing an example?”

“I would support my argument with evidence,”

“I would provide further details to this idea,” or “I would further extend this thought.”

As a multilingual writer and writing center tutor, my goal is to scaffold student writers’ growth into independent writers. I am aware that their development can be related to the kind of support they receive from writing center tutors and their feelings towards the session and the tutor. In order to decrease students’ insecurity, I try to connect my experience as writer to their experiences, showing optimism while explaining that I had similar difficulties learning to write and expressing that these difficulties are part of the learning process. While showing interest in their proposed ideas, I focus on discussing how outstanding their thinking is and how unique their perspectives are. Using praise, I emphasize the importance of multilingual writers’ voices, the uniqueness of their experiences, and the individuality of their perspectives. From my experience, using this strategy redirects multilingual student writer’s thinking to focus on their strengths, learning processes, and development as writers.

Conclusion

The underlying scheme upon which the conceptualization of the proposed argument functions is the importance of considering the affective factors while tutoring multilingual writers. Accordingly, I proposed tutoring strategies that are based upon invitational rhetoric and politeness strategies. In contrast with previous research, which argued that positive politeness strategies can be ineffective while tutoring multilingual writers (Bell & Youmans, 2006), I argue that positive and negative politeness strategies as well as invitational rhetoric can be effective in tutoring multilingual writers because they enact a tutoring experience that enforce values of respecting diversity and personal experiences, respecting multilingual writers’ decisions, and appreciating their cultural uniqueness and the social circumstances that surrounded their learning experiences. These tutoring strategies help to create rapport and solidarity with multilingual writers. In addition, they help tutors to appreciate multilingual writers’ individuality, along with demonstrating respect and elevating trust, thus supporting multilingual writers’ feelings of insecurity. The articulated tutoring strategies using invitational rhetoric and positive and negative politeness strategies help to reduce assimilation and the conflict that a tutor might encounter of whether to assimilate a text to institutional rules or to implement values that appreciate the individual voice and value the uniqueness of students’ experiences and individual perspectives.

Future research might consider conducting further empirical studies to observe the effect of using politeness strategies and invitational rhetoric on building rapport and solidarity with multilingual writers. In addition, future empirical studies might consider how using these tutoring strategies can be effective in reducing multilingual writers’ feelings of insecurity, thus increasing their confidence and abilities to express their unique perspectives and sense of the world. Previous studies demonstrated the effectiveness of using politeness strategies while tutoring L1 learners (Mackiewicz and Thompson, 2013), but empirical studies that examine negative and positive politeness strategies while tutoring multilingual writers are limited. It is important for researchers to consider using quantitative and qualitative methodologies to answer such research questions in regards to tutoring strategies.


About the Author

Nouf Fahad Alshreif is a Ph.D. Candidate in English, Composition and TESOL, at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). She is a writing tutor at Kathleen Jones White Writing Center at IUP. She has published in The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching and Arab World English Journal. She has presented her research at numerous conferences including Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association and Pennsylvania College English Association and will present at the International Writing Center Association (2017). Her research interests include writing centers, writing transfer, multilingual writers, and second language learning and teaching. She serves as review editor for Working Papers in Composition and TESOL.

Appendix

Summary of Tutoring Strategies Using Invitational Rhetoric & Politeness Strategies
Operationalization of Feminist Principle Example
Invitational Rhetoric “I tried this solution when that happened to me; I thought it worked well”

“What would happen if we introduced the idea of ____ into this problem?”

Positive Politeness Strategies:

  1. Expressing empathy and understanding.
“I understand that must be difficult. I know teachers can sometimes be hard to please. I strongly hear all the arguments you are trying to make; I am sure you can do this.”

Using of the pronoun “we”:

“We can easily make this argument work if we extend the ideas a little further. We can discuss what you are trying to say here.”

  1. Praise: by using of statements of encouragement
“As you are a multilingual writer, I can see how you deeply reflect on this topic. This is one of your strengths; I really like how you developed your ideas. Nice work.”

“I know you got this, you did it before, and you will be able to make it happen this time.”

  1. Showing of optimism
That might sound challenging. I understand it might take a lot of work, but I think that you will rise to the challenge because you are capable of doing this.
Negative politeness strategies “Do you think we should connect these two ideas by providing an example?”

“I would support my argument with evidence,”

“I would provide further details to this idea,” or “I would further extend this thought.”

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