Summer Barge, Augusta University
Writing center scholarship has focused extensively on how to consult with non-native English speakers but often fails to acknowledge the emotional dimensions of consulting with struggling English Language Learners (ELL). Writing center practitioners can more effectively assist ELL writers and support the emotional dimension of their writing experiences by allowing for more discussion of peer tutor techniques that foster a positive view of writing and support foreign language anxiety. Addressing the challenges faced by ELL students can help create more inclusive and comfortable learning spaces. A review of scholarship suggests future writing center scholarship should include more research on the appropriate and manageable peer tutor techniques for combating biases and encouraging ELL students to serve as writing center tutors.
Keywords: English language learners, writing center, emotional states, foreign language anxiety, emotional labor, peer-tutor techniques
Writing centers serve as support systems for ELL students and writing center scholars have extensively researched how to offer this support. However, most of this research has focused on the cognitive and linguistic dimensions of learning English and attending American universities (Cheatle, 2017; Huang & Klinger, 2006; Jabali, 2018; Lin, 2015; Powers, 1993; Sadighi & Dastpak, 2017). For example, Lin (2015) found that ELL writers differ from native English writers in several ways. While ELL students must acquire English grammatical and linguistic skills deliberately and usually because of direct instruction, native English writers acquire these patterns naturally from their own language and culture. Lin also explains that ELL students struggle due to a lack of awareness of genre writing requirements and disciplinary rules. Other scholars believe that the best way for ELL students to learn English is to focus on grammar and lexis (Ghorbani & Ebadi, 2019). In addition to this focus on cognition, most existing research on ELL students’ experiences focuses on Chinese students, with scant scholarship considering students with other linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Missing from the scholarly conversation is discussion of the emotional dimensions of ELL writers’ experiences within American universities.
With a growing population of international students attending U.S. academic institutions (Nan, 2012), it is imperative that writing centers continue to focus on the unique needs of ELL students (Cheatle, 2017). Even though international enrollments declined during the COVID-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions, numbers are likely to rebound and even increase in upcoming years due to the impending enrollment cliff expected to hit by 2025 (Opendoors, n.d.). Recognizing that emotions are intrinsically tied to the process of writing can help writing center tutors in catering to the emotional and academic needs of ELL students during consultations. Peer tutors’ responses in consultations should be flexible and student-centered, particularly for ELL students who are learning a new language, culture, and educational structure. Although writing center strategies tend to focus on positive emotions during consultations, peer-tutor strategies should consider both positive and negative emotions. Writing consultants should apply strategies that facilitate positive emotions while acknowledging the lived experiences and sometimes negative emotions of ELL writers that may be overlooked. ELL students may also perform a lot of emotional labor within academia, which would require peer tutors to establish rapport and create a space for empathic listening. Hochschild (2012) defines emotional labor as suppressing one’s feelings to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others. Emotional labor can stem from a disconnect between ELL students and their peers and/or professors, where mutual understanding and common interests are lacking. Writing centers may serve as the sole form of support for ELL students attempting to combat this disconnect and manage the effects of foreign language anxiety. Therefore, it is important that tutors understand the effects of foreign language anxiety, the emotions tied to past educational experiences, and the techniques to ensure positive emotional outcomes for writers of all backgrounds.
Although minimal, current scholarship that focuses on ELL writers has begun to establish the importance of emotional labor in the writing process. For example, scholars have explained the harmful impact of foreign language anxiety and negative emotions like anxiety and fear on ELL students in English language institutions. Huang and Klinger (2006) state that feelings of frustration, loneliness, and academic anxiety associated with language learners further add to acculturation problems and difficulty adapting to learning environments. Including all emotions, whether positive or negative, in consultations can aid in language development (McBride et al., 2018), and consultants should be prepared to acknowledge emotional experiences and issues faced by multicultural learners. The purpose of this conversation is to bring together research on ELL writers and research on emotionalism as it connects to writing and the teaching of writing to improve support for ELL writers within the context of American writing centers (Munday & Sugerman, 2017).
This shaper brings emotion to the center of conversations about supporting ELL students in writing center consultations. It includes sources that focus on processing the effects of foreign language anxiety, enhancing writing staff’s cultural sensitivity, and highlighting emotional management and regulation. Focusing on these topics will provide information necessary to creating positive writing experiences for ELL students, as well as how to understand the impact of emotional labor during consultations. In addition to drawing from diverse fields to enrich our understanding of this topic, the shaper seeks to include diverse voices. Sources written by ELL authors and other minority groups, such as Iranian and Chinese perspectives, are prioritized. Based on the sources included, it is recommended that writing center scholars conduct further research on how to better help ELL students manage their emotions and immerse themselves in a new culture. This will allow for more conversation on the importance of cultural background in consultations and the difficulty for ELL students in adapting to educational environments that may be vastly different from their previous institutions. Focusing on how writing center tutors can develop multicultural competence tailored to ELL students will bridge communication barriers and impact long-term transfer of knowledge, while also enhancing the mental well-being of ELL students.
Sources on Emotionalism, Writing, and ELL Students
Some of the extant sources that have examined the subject of emotion or emotionalism, writing and English Language Learners include K. Blewett’s “FYC students’ emotional labor in the feedback cycle” (2020), E. C. Camarillo’s “Burn the house down: Deconstructing the writing center as cozy home” (2019), Joseph Cheatle’s “Challenging perceptions: Exploring the relationship between ELL students and writing centers” (2017), L. DiMaio’s “Negotiating difference: A critical discourse analysis of writing center interactions between peer tutors and multilingual tutees” (2020), D. Driscoll and R. Powell’s “States, traits, and dispositions: The impact of emotion on writing development and writing transfer across college courses and beyond” (2016), G. Eckstein’s Ideal versus reality: Student expectations and experiences in multilingual writing center tutorials (2014), R. Garcia’s “Unmaking gringo-centers” (2017), N. Ghorbani and S. Ebadi’s “Exploring learners’ grammatical development in mobile assisted language learning” (2019), L. Greenfield and K. Rowan’s Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (2011), N. Harris’s Supporting emotion work in the writing center: Harnessing shared investments between consultants and therapeutic counselors (2021), and A. R. Hochschild’s The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling (2012). Other significant works in this respect also include J. Huang and D. Klinger’s “Chinese graduate students at North American universities: Learning challenges and coping strategies” (2006), V. F. Kinlock’s “Revisiting the promise of “students’ right to their own language”: Pedagogical strategies” (2005), N. G. Lape’s Internationalizing the writing center: A guide for developing a multilingual writing center (2020), M. S. Lin’s “A study of ELL students’ writing difficulties: A call for culturally, linguistically, and psychologically responsive teaching” (2015), “Responding to the whole person: Using empathic listening and responding in the writing center” by M. McBride et al, (2018), L. Moussu’s “Let’s talk! ESL students’ needs and writing centre philosophy” (2013), R. Munday and R. Sugerman’s “‘What can you possibly know about my experience?’: Toward a practice of self-reflection and multicultural competence” (2017), F. Nan’s “Bridging the gap: Essential issues to address in recurring writing center appointments with Chinese ELL students” (2012), “Affirming our liminality & writing on the walls: How we welcome in our writing center” by G. Nordstrom et al (2019), N. I. Oteir and N. A. Al-Otaibi’s “Foreign language anxiety: A systematic review” (2019), J. Powers’ “Rethinking writing center conferencing strategies for the ESL writer” (1993), J. Reeves’ “Like everyone else”: Equalizing educational opportunity for English language learners” (2012), F. Sadighi and M. Dastpak’s “The sources of foreign language speaking anxiety of Iranian English language learners” (2017), W. Shan and Z. Lin’s “Linguistic Discrimination in U.S. higher education: Power, prejudice, impacts and remedies by G. Clements and M.J.” (2021), M. Suhr-Sytsma and . S. E. Brown’s “Theory in/to practice: Addressing the everyday language of oppression in the writing center” (2011), Terese Thonus’ “Tutors as teachers: Assisting ESL/EFL students in the writing center” (1993), P. Wang and C. Machado’s “Meeting the needs of Chinese English language learners at writing centers in America: A proposed culturally responsive model” (2015), J. Williams’ “Undergraduate second language writers in the writing center” (2002), J. Williams and C. Severino’s “The writing center and second language writers” (2004), and “Exploring the emotions and needs of English language learners: Facilitating pre-service and in-service teachers’ recognition of the tasks facing language learners” by J. Zhang and C. Pelttari (2013).
Further research on how emotions and past academic experiences impact consultations with ELL students is needed to enhance inclusivity and comfortability in writing center spaces. Writing center practitioners aim to avoid using generalized techniques or narrowed guidance only tailored to a certain group. By including more research on the emotions tied to academic learning and institutional experiences for all groups of ELL students, writing center practitioners can enhance the inclusivity of our centers. Given that negative emotions can be detrimental to learning and writing transfer, it is pertinent that tutors create positive and engaging environments for ELL students to not only learn specific writing strategies, but to help immerse themselves in a new culture (Huang & Klinger, 2006). When tutors can recognize their own differences, and similarities, from the clients they consult with, a stronger tutor-tutee bond is created (Valentine, 2017). This also allows for more conversation about the importance of cultural background in consultations and ELL students’ difficulties when adapting to educational environments that may be vastly different than their previous institutions. Generating positive rapport and experiences for ELL writers has been proven to aid learning and writing transfer, and the nuanced role of the tutor continues to evolve and grow (Munday & Sugerman, 2017).
Developing tutors’ multicultural competence is just one of the many first steps to helping struggling ELL students learn English reading and writing more effectively. Next steps include more anti-racist literature focusing on the appropriate and manageable tutor techniques for combatting biases and creating experiences that impact long-term transfer of knowledge. This literature should draw from a variety of perspectives, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional tutors as well as administrators, and ideally it should prioritize ELL voices and authorship. Current literature has begun to address racial and linguistic biases in writing centers, but most of this literature has focused on the Black/White binary and has not addressed the range of emotions that writers experience when navigating English learning (Camarillo, 2019; Garcia, 2017; Greenfield & Rowan, 2011; Suhr-Sytsma & Brown, 2011). Suhr-Sytsma and Brown (2011) present a list of techniques for peer tutors to challenge oppression in writing center spaces, which would be interesting to review and revise to fit today’s cultural and societal landscape, while recognizing shifts from the past decade.
Additionally, writing center and program organizations need to provide clearer guidance for recruiting and retaining writing center multilingual staff. The presence of multilingual staff can bridge communication barriers and further change administrative, faculty, and student perceptions of writing centers. Directors can play a role in implementing this organizational guidance, and peer tutors can enact new policies and undergo training to support the creation of inclusive spaces. Writing center directors and staff can also play a positive role in enacting change by conducting and publishing further research on how a diverse writing center staff is beneficial for ELL students. Ideally, this research should also emphasize the voices of ELL staff and writers.
The more recent scholarship included in this shaper focused on the unique needs and writing difficulties of ELL learners and strategies for offering culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy that supports emotion work in writing centers (Harris, 2021; Huang & Klinger, 2006; Lape, 2020; Moussu, 2013; Wang, 2015; Zhang & Pelttari, 2013). For example, Moussu (2013) found that many factors influence ELL students’ language-learning skills and attitudes toward English writing and writing center consultations, such as affective variables, first language, age, language practice, educational levels, motivation, and sociocultural variables. Moussu (2013) posits that these variables must be acknowledged to provide effective writing center consultations. Huang & Klinger (2006) emphasized the emotional toll and acculturation problems that adjusting to English academic institutions can have on ELL writers. Wang and Machado (2015) further offered that American writing centers may not always meet the needs of ELL students, which calls for supplemental strategies that are grounded in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP). Obstacles and gaps in research can then be addressed by directors of writing centers (Wang & Machado, 2015).
While these findings and recommendations are encouraging for making writing centers more cognizant of the emotional dimensions of consulting with ELL writers, questions remain. These questions include what lived experiences do multicultural learners face that impact their emotions during consultations, how peer and professor influence on ELL writers’ emotions shape the dynamics of consultations, and what strategies exist for consultants to best help ELL writers cope with heavy emotions, such as anxiety, frustration, fear, and confusion. These emotions may have a negative impact in the learning environment and disrupt students’ writing processes (Driscoll & Powell, 2016). While there is research on general techniques that support the inclusion of emotions, there is little on how emotions play a part in consultations with ELL populations, as well as the overall academic and social experience of ELL students in higher education institutions. Social experiences include adjusting to new cultures, environments, and peer situations. To further diversify writing center scholarship, it would be beneficial to research techniques geared toward combating biases against English Language Learners in consultations. Developing cultural competency and humility, as well as understanding techniques that directly combat inherent biases, can aid tutors in providing effective writing center support to adjusting ELL students.
As demonstrated throughout this conversation shaper, existent scholarship emphasizes the cognitive aspects of consultations with English Language Learners while sometimes overlooking the emotional labor and lived experiences that impact multicultural learners and their writing center interactions. Writing center professionals are beginning to acknowledge this need for cultural competencies and more holistic approaches to consulting (Cheatle, 2017; Lape, 2020; Lin, 2015; Munday & Sugerman, 2017; Nan, 2012; Wang & Machado, 2015), but there is still room for growth. This shaper contributes to the field by identifying significant gaps in writing center scholarship, as well as tutor training and staffing practices that could help create more emotionally supportive, inclusive spaces for ELL writers.
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