Prospectus 1st draft

Angela Whyland

Dr. Marlen Harrison

LIT 690

30 October, 2016



Improving Literacy, Competency and Agency for

Multilingual Students in College Writing Centers



The question I began with, which guided my line of inquiry in developing this prospectus, is what is the purpose of writing in my own life? For me, writing is about how we make sense, or meaning, of who we are in the world. I believe that humans are reflective language/narrative based creatures, and that our communication with each other is critical to recovering/expressing our identity in the world. In a sense we write (and rewrite) ourselves into being.  In terms of developing a potential capstone, I want to explore that very broad idea. I also know that I hope to work with students at the collegiate level, and that I lack traditional teaching experience. So, connecting that concern back to my initial thoughts on writing in my own life, I realized that my impetus towards teaching is rooted in helping others to communicate more effectively in the academic environment, and I may have some relevant experience:


In 2 ½ years in the writing studio, what was most meaningful was enabling others to communicate more effectively in the academic genre. However, in retrospect, what was most meaningful was being a small part of the students connecting their own very powerful experiences, stories and ideas, within the academic requirements and to their own emerging academic identities (Whyland, Week 1).


In thinking about this paper, I realize that one way I can relate my lived experience to the academic world is through discussing my auto-ethnographic stories about partnerships with undergraduate students in the college writing studio. What did I learn from those? What problems arose? My research question is what can I learn through combined relevant research and auto ethnographic reflection/connection to the larger culture that will enable me to better help other students to write within the academic arena, and support their own narrative, their individual and identity creation ? The main concern I had, in discussing this proposal with others, and this occurred multiple times, is my fear that I didn’t have a theoretical background in the brave new world into which I venture. I kept coming back to my fear that I really  didn’t do anything in the writing studio. I thought maybe the most valuable thing I did was listen, and what can I make of that? I felt like a fraud[1].

In beginning to research this topic, I am already making new connections. I remember earlier essays I read in SNHU Composition and Rhetoric that discussed the importance of active listening in teacher’s helping students with writing, and work on how we write ourselves into the University. Both Multicultural and Global Literature, emphasized the importance of navigating the hybrid identity, of recovering historio-cultural identities as how all of us create our evolving sense of self. This theme appears in works as diverse as Washington Irving’s “Rip van Winkle”, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, Christina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, and Junot Diaz’s The Brief. Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao . Although I was able to study Native American literature as an undergraduate, and both multi-cultural and global literature as a graduate, there is a lack in writing center philosophy regarding the importance of cultural differences in student learning and the potential strengths that including the lived experiences of multi-lingual students into the academic discourse could provide (Girour 34-5, Moussou 58-60, Collins 67). The connection between the literature listed above, and this inclusion, is in the power of narrative to promote individual identity creation, in a larger society where each of us is displaced in some way. Who could, potentially, speak more powerfully to that postmodern experience than English Language Learning Students, also called the 1.5 generation (NCTE 3), who comprised the vast majority of my partners in writing ?

Already, I’ve discovered that what I was doing intuitively in the Writing Studio is, according McAdams and Mclean (236), supported by research on the impact of conversational work in developing narrative identity, and meaning making through personal story telling. According to the authors, meaning making is most developed through telling stories that describe one’s self (thoughts and experiences) to another (Mclean (2005)). I suggest that developing personal meaning is also directly related to what we know as developing a thesis (of ourselves and the world, and a supporting argument based in personal experience. Also, active listeners (attentive and responsive) create an environment in which students “narrate more personally elaborate stories” (Pasupathi & Hoyt 2010 ). Finally, the relationship between writer and listener is critical in that development of meaning and identity. Reflecting back becomes a powerful tool in students’ development of their academic identity, especially when that comes from someone viewed as important: a friend, colleague or teacher (Mclean and Pasupathi (2011).

This understanding of the importance of being able to develop meaning and identity, and give voice to that effectively, seems critically important to what facilitators hope to enable with ELL students within the Writing Studio. This auto-ethnographic theory focus also has implications for research that is currently being done from multiple approaches with multilingual students to  try to better understand what differentiates the extremely successful second language learner from those who are less successful in gaining utilizing a second language.  Thompson and Vasquez position this success within a student’s ability to re-envision their identity as a successful second language producer, and personal motivation, supported by their encounters with significant successful role models (164).

One of the personal narratives the authors explore is that of Vera, a second generation Italian American student who initially pursued graduate education in Spanish. Vera met a woman who had returned from an immersion year in Spain, and was taken with the idea of herself gaining mastery of Spanish in the same way. On the way to Spain, Vera stopped in Italy and there she stayed for the following three years. Vera tells that it wasn’t the immersion in the cultural that gave her a magical ability to become successful at this new language but rather it was the enormous amount of work that she was inspired to do plus her developing relationships with the Florentine natives. Vera’s self-identified desire revision her identity as a bilingual-ist, as the authors note, is important as a motivating factor, but equally important is why she decided to stay in Italy which was because Vera realized, “Why Spain?” (Thompson & Vasquez 165). Spain had no personal meaning for Vera in her creation of her own narrative identity story but Italy did. I found this to be true of the writers in the studio.

The best work and the best motivation for work, was finding ways to connect what is important to the individual ELL student with their larger goals. Like Alex in Thompson and Vasquez’s study of motivations for language learning (166), for Fatima[2], this goal was work related, to become more verbally adept to better fit in with her colleagues. For Nell, it was to bring the form, substance and language up to the level of the academic culture to better express her unique life experiences and points of view while attaining her dream of being the first person in her family to achieve a college degree. For Shushen it was to fit her experiments and findings into the formal genre of the scientific researcher, so she could attain a nursing degree and take her expertise back home. Sami already had very rich and sophisticated ideas.  Although she self-identified as having a goal similar to Shushen (Sami’s family sent her to the US to get a business degree and return home to run the family business), it was clear that Sami’s desire was to be able to illustrate how to apply the culturally new and exciting ideas of agency and social action to her recognition of the severe experiences of many women back home

This paper will support earlier classwork in Multi-cultural Lit, Global Lit and Comp and Rhetoric. The project is connected to the majority of my past literary criticism which focuses on a postmodern questioning of metanarrative and the writing back of individual identity creation through narrative. The project will also fill a gap in my experience which is research related to teaching, and I believe fill an important gap within existing critical research. Writing studios are entities that are not common everywhere (Harrison), and even in the US where they are more common, their existence is often challenged, as traditional academic institutions become more fiscally challenged. The year after I graduated, the Director position for the studio was eliminated for financial reasons and lack of student utilization. Yet, it was a rare night that I did not see students.

My goal is to suggest ways research in narrative theory and English Language learners can be combined to improve the outcomes in the Writing Studio . Finally, I will be suggesting a paradigm shift in how some colleges conceptualize the Writing Studio itself. I believe the focus on helping students complete homework assignments is useful but short sighted. I believe that the primary goal should be focus on enabling the students’ development of their academic identity through writing, to truly enable their growth and long term success. And it may be beyond the scope of this paper but I also hope the paper itself, much like the modern academic inclusion of Multicultural and Global stories in the Canon, could help myself and others in a classroom that is becoming, increasingly, multicultural.



According to a 1999 NCTE bulletin, “In the past 30 years, the foreign-born population of the U.S. has tripled, more than 14 million immigrants moved to the U.S. during the 1990s, and another 14 million are expected to arrive between 2000 and 2010”. The brief goes on to note that while the need and focus of research for teaching English Language Learners (ELL) is generally recognized at the k-12 grade levels, the increased needs of the ELL students continue at the collegiate level, especially in freshman composition classes (5).  My experience as a mentor in the college writing studio is that the overwhelming percentage of the students who participated in the studio were ELL students, with a predominance taking freshman composition. These students, overwhelming, had  rich ideas and a variety of lived experiences that they wanted to utilize in fulfilling course requirements but also in creating their own emerging, academic identity. As a postmodern theorist, I question if the cookie cutter perception of teaching ELL students in high school, as noted by the NCTE in 2010, doesn’t continue, today, at the collegiate level.  My research question is one in which I was unable to find any recent corresponding paper about Writing Studios, which are important as open to a frequent, one-to-one, personalized environment to support students . Also, as I had no training for assisting these students as a mentor, the paper will, I hope, suggest possibilities for future training of writing studio tutors, and future critical research to better facilitate the success of this growing population of students. Finally, with luck, no paper is an island but has the potential to reach beyond the limits of a capstone project, to reach other environments, and other students and learning professionals


Annotated Bibliography (MLA 8):


McAdams, Dan & Kate McLean. “Narrative Identity.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 3, June 4, 2013, pp.  233-38., doi:  10.1177/0963721413475622.

The “narrative identity is a person’s internalized and evolving life story, integrating the reconstructed past and imagined future  to provide life with some degree of unity and purpose. In recent studies on narrative identity, researchers have paid a great deal of attention to psychological adaptation and (further) development” of personal identity (233). The authors note, in this overview, that researchers into the connection between developed personal narratives and adaptive identity creation find personal meaning in reconstructing their relationship to negative experiences, if they then connect these to individual agency and exploration of future possibilities.  In terms of a useful tool for writing studio mentors, the authors note:

the listener matters. In experimental designs in which listener behavior is manipulated, Pasupathi and colleagues have shown that attentive and responsive listeners cause tellers to narrate more personally elaborated stories compared with distracted listeners (e.g., Pasupathi & Hoyt, 2010). In this sense, attentive listening helps to promote the development of narrative identity (236).


The authors suggest two areas for future researchers. They state that more work needs to be done to better understand which aspects of an individual’s life story positively impact identity re-visioning, and on better understanding the influence of cultural experiences on the development of narrative identity.


Gere, Anne Ruggles and Laura Aull, Hannah Dickinson, Chris Gerben, Tim Green, Stephanie Moody, Melinda McBee Orzulak, Moisés Damian Escudero Perales, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. “English Language Learners: A Policy Research Brief Produced by the National Council of English Teachers.” Policy Brief. 2010, pp. 1-8., accessed 29 October, 2016.

This NCTE brief points to a growing need for instructors at all level of our educational system to receive more training on the complex needs of the ELL student population. According to the brief, ELLs are the fastest growing segment of students at the K-12 level, particularly grades 7-12, I was amazed to learn that this population increased by approximately 70% between 1992 and 2002, and that nationwide, at the time the brief was prepared (2010), they comprised over 10 % of that population nationwide. I had no idea but given these numbers, that seems to support the need for essays like this one hopes to become. Other challenges noted by the brief are that ELLs are in reality a diverse group, so I think that my direction of more general narrative and other theories is a useful approach. In terms of the statistics, 57% are second generation immigrants and 43% are first generation (more about the implications of that in my quotes below.) Another complication is that ELLs have many different levels of language competency, but in general fall far below the national averages for other high school students. This tells me many of those that are able to go to 2 or 4 year colleges likely need extra support in literacy skills, including writing. The article also mentions that only 80% of ELL students graduate high school. As a part of supporting my argument, it would be helpful to find out how many enroll in college. The brief states that instructors need to:

Recognize the difference between ELLs and (other) under-prepared students in higher education. Because first-year composition usually serves as a “gateway” course, it poses challenges for some college ESL students, including some who have attended U.S. high schools. ESL students who are new to the U.S. face the additional challenge of acclimating to a new culture and status at the same time they are learning English. Conditions for their learning, especially in first-year composition, should include no more than 15students per class, and college instructors… need to recognize students’ prior literacy experiences, provide connections to new learning, and give explicit instructions regarding expectations for work (6).


In terms of teacher preparation, which I will be arguing should equally be applied to the Writing Studio, given the statement that many ELL students arrive at college less prepared that the general student population:

Provide research-based professional development for teachers of ELLs. Less than 13 percent of teachers have received professional development on teaching ELLs, and despite the growing numbers of ELLs, only three states have policies that require all teachers to have some expertise in teaching ELLs effectively. As a result, most ELLs find themselves in mainstream classrooms taught by teachers with little or no formal preparation for working with a linguistically diverse student population. Well-meaning teachers with inadequate training can sabotage their own efforts to create positive learning environments through hypercriticism of errors; not seeing native language usage as an appropriate scaffold; ignoring language errors (7-8).


So, even though there is so much that has already been written, it’s clear that my paper could fill a niche that’s still currently being called for at the national level in education. Approaching use of language that doesn’t best support a student’s goals for expression is important but sometimes delicate, in practice, depending on the individual student. I am by nature enthused about the last statement but by experience a little more leery, if that means direct knowledge of the individual’s first language. In my example of only four students, they spoke, respectively, Taiwanese, Shone (old African dialect) and Fatima was multi-lingual in Arabic, etc. All of these are much older languages than English, which is a mongrel child. I speak a little Icelandic (Old Norse) and all of my writing partners were multi-lingual, so I suspect, based on my experience immersed in Iceland for a year, that this note applies more to the process of  second language competency. For me it was translating into German (a daughter language) and then Icelandic. So, I do believe that in this case, “scaffolding” may be linked to this process for the student. The question becomes, for multi-lingual students working with others who lack their multilingual capacity how those others can best enable the students.


Thompson, Amy and Camilla Vasquez. “Exploring Motivational Profiles Through Language Learning.”  The Modern Language Journal, vol. 99, no.1, 2015, pp.159-67., doi: 10.1111/modl.12187/pdf.

I was drawn to the article because it explores the flip side of the coin I am working with, and that is what are the experiences and motivations of individuals who are successful within the English language system, who then chose to immerse themselves in another language experience? I was also intrigued by the theoretical consideration in the essay of exploring the “I” and the “other” as a part of second language studies, and that the article uses language learning narratives. I do want to revisit because I was really intrigued by this statement about gaps in prior research, “These omissions underemphasize the importance of the interaction between the self and the context in forming language learning motivation” (159). I also was also interested in the following about Alex (ought-to L2 self seems to mean the ideal self that we each envision as a part of our potential future narratives (Beach “Forecasting”):


His drive to get good at Chinese is sustained by his understanding of a specific sociopolitical situation in his context (“a strategic weakness”), and is also linked to his ought-to L2 self. In spite of several obstacles described in his narrative (the majority of which have to do with others’ preconceptions and questions about his ability to speak Chinese), Alex is able to sustain his motivation and ultimately realize his goal through a series of concrete, specific, and effective learning strategies (165).


The study looks at the variance between three different English as first language students who study three other languages (German, Italian and Chinese).  It concludes that, “Consistent with recent claims about the types of contributions that language learning biographies/narratives can make to SLA research, this study offers additional insights into how individual differences interact with contextual variables in language learning” (159). I am thinking that for the purposes of this paper, again, that it is important that writing studios focus on the individual and the support this research will offer for that goal is understanding what the students see as their idealized “I”, and their motivation.


Rough Outline:

  1. Introduction
  2. A) NCTE – Needs and Gaps in ELL Learning and Teaching
  3. B) The College Writing Studio and Multilingual students today
  4. Research articles
  5. Interview with current Writing Studio mentors/students at my alma mater?
  6. In the Writing Studio: the Assignment Was… My Stories
  7. A) Fatima – Iran – Improve communication skills for work
  8. B) Nell – HEOP student – Major Undecided
  9. C) Shushen – Taiwan – Nursing Student
  10. D) Shosami (Sami) – Africa – Business Major

III.             Background

  1. A) Lessons from K-12 ELL research
  2. B) Lessons from Adult ELL students, and others
  3. C) Angela’s Reflective Response?
  4. Writing Studio Applications
  5. Conclusions and Directions for Future Research




Other Works Cited


Beach, Lee Roy. “Forecasting.”  The Psychology of Narrative Thought: How the Stories We Tell Shape Our Lives. XLibris, 2010.

Collins, Molly. “Writing Their Own History: Student Learning Outcomes in a Multilingual University Writing Classroom.”  Learning Assistance Review.  vol.14, no. 1, Spring 2009, pp. 55-70. ERIC doi: EJ839150.

Girour, Shannon. “Narratives of Participation, Identity and Positionality: Two Cases of Saudi Learners of English in the United States.” TESOL Quarterly. vol. 48, no.1, March 2014, pp. 34-56., doi: 10.1002/tesq.95.

Moussu, Lucie. “Let’s Talk ESL Students’ Needs and Writing Center Philosophy.” TESL Canada Journal. vol. 30, no. 2, Spring 2013, pp. 55-68., accessed 1 November, 2016,

Pitard, Jayne. “Using Vignettes Within Autoethography to Explore Layers of Cross-Cultural Awareness as a Teacher”. Forum: Qualitative Social Research. Vol. 17 no.1, January 2016, pp. 173-190. EBSCO, doi: 111643973.

[1] I am not alone in recognizing a  sensation of fear in this reflective response which Pitard, an traditionally educated English teacher and researcher, notes in her own  auto-ethnographic reflection on her emotions after early experiences in teaching a group of Timorese vocational students in 2013 (180-81).  Her larger experiences with the Timorese students, and using auto-ethnography to encourage awareness of  “layers of meaning” in the student teacher relationship, developing cultural awareness how we position ourselves, and shift position,  within in this socio-cultural context has become the topic of her current PhD thesis (173,190).

[2] All of the names in this essay have been changed to ensure the privacy of these emerging writers. The college itself was an all girl’s college, one of the few remaining in the US, with a stated overriding goal of enabling young women, through scholarship and social awareness to become women of agency. I envision Sami as possibly the first female president of her country.

[AW1]From Amy course mentor: for as your questioning of theoretical framework(s), you have several that you are already using—narrative autoethnobiography (and identity formation), which leans toward Reader-Response Theory (in my opinion), and the relationship between ESL learning and writing (which includes literature, right?). So, there you go. (Postmodernism also fits in with Reader-Response Theory, btw.) Now, what you need to do, is figure out which aspects of the theoretical frameworks you want to focus on—be specific.

[AW2]From Rachel course mentor: one thing struck me as pretty significant as you continue your research/development. You mention your fear in discussing this potential thesis topic because of a fear that you didn’t really do anything in the writing studio. You then discuss how active listening is actually a very critical component.  My question is this – can you connect that fear with what your ELL students might have felt/experienced in the writing studio?  Meaning, can you connect your experience with theirs?


I might be way off base with this question, but I thought your discussion of your fear was actually a very powerful piece in your prospectus draft.  I think vulnerability is what makes autoethnography so powerful and effective. We are so used to focusing on outside elements – other people, other articles, other thoughts, other words. Autoethnography allows us to look inside and see how we are functioning within those spheres.  When we can understand how/what we (the research subject) are, that’s when autoethnography can really blow minds.

[AW3]From Amy, course mentor: you mentioned Multiethnic identity formation regarding academia: “emerging academic identities” and “academic requirements” (1). So, I would first define what you mean by “academic requirements”; are we talking about literary essays, which would then promote a focus on the relationship between ESL learners and the various literary texts that you mention in your Prospectus (Irving’s “Rip van Winkle,” Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, and Diaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)?

[AW4]From Amy, course mentor. If this is the case, teaching implications regarding teacher preparation and the Writing Studio could be thrown into your Thesis conclusion as secondary considerations, which would be very impactful. Or you could reverse this, basing your entire paper around teacher preparation and the Writing Studio, and then write about the relationship between ESL learners and various literary texts as implications in your conclusion.

[AW5]Rachel: How can you connect a story of your own of being listened to with your experiences then of learning to write yourself into being?


[AW6]Ang comment: In the background section I will define the variety of different students that visit the writing center and the various codings that are applied to their very individual backgrounds like ESL, ELL, 1.5, L2, etc.


[LM7]Point of strength: The fact that you already have cited sources into your prospectus shows the amount of research you have already done that is pertinent to your argument, which simply strengthens the confidence you should have in your thesis in that already in your prospectus you are writing professionally and with logos.

[j8]The students perspective and experience is truly one of the strongest pieces of evidence to make your case. I feel this will bring your paper to life and make people take notice. Nice Job!

[j9]WOW! Your Prospectus has a lot to digest. So l’m not even sure I can suggest anything that will potentially help you, but let me try. As I was reading, I kept shaking my head in agreement. I can point out some of these same gaps at the secondary level, so I started thinking that while your goal is to try and spur efforts to improve the Writing Studio, what about starting at the beginning. Is there a need for this type of help when students are in primary and secondary education settings? Doesn’t it need to start there before we can expect colleges and universities to make changes too? A s a secondary teacher in a rural area, I can tell you we have nothing like the Writing Studio as part of the offerings for our ELL students. Until recently we did not even have a teacher who could fluently teach Spanish to help translate to our students who spoke no English. Instead, we relied on a student who was fluent to translate for her when she was not in class herself. It was truly a disaster and I felt so terrible for the student. I guess my question is will you be looking at when this aid should begin, because I personally feel like we should have trained teachers and staff that can provide the best aid to students like the ones you are describing.

[LM10]The students were overwhelming or the class was overwhelming?

[LM11]While there may not be any academic resources, do you plan on looking at different writing studios from various colleges in the sense of how they operate? You may have mentioned this earlier, and if so,  I apologize.

[LM12]Simply fantastic work, but I am curious how you plan to implement the fictional texts you mentioned earlier in your prospectus. You only mention them once, and there’s no clear mention of them in your outline/wishlist. Perhaps they can be used in a hypothetical lesson plan on writing?

[j13]I also feel like this paper could really be explosive. You are tackling something that is a major deficiency as far as the American Educational system. Have you found any research that indicates the struggle to place teachers in positions that specialize in helping our ELL students?


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