October 2016
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Interview by Elena Shvidko, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

Graduate Student: Suriati Abas

Where are you from, and what are you studying?

I am from Singapore, where I used to be an English language educator and curriculum developer. As a school leader, I spearheaded key language-related projects with a global initiative. They included developing an interdisciplinary curriculum, overseas learning journeys, and journalistic writing projects. I concurrently served as a research activist where I promoted action research to educators to help them inform their own classroom practices. I also conducted workshops, based on language pedagogy and assessment for the professional development of educators. At present, I am a PhD candidate in literacy, culture and language education at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. My exposure to language education has largely been drawn from sharing innovative lesson ideas with educators and school leaders in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Singapore. These enriching experiences and school visits have, to a certain extent, influenced my pedagogical view of composition writing in the United States.

What is an “a-ha moment” you experienced recently in either teaching or research?

I frequently use the Forum discussion features on Canvas, a learning management system adopted by Indiana University to build a reflective community of writers and readers that transcends the four walls of the classroom. I typically ask my students to respond to several questions online, prior to the face-to face lesson. I must admit that although my students write in the Forum in an informal writing style, there is always an “a-ha” moment. Firstly, I am able to investigate their “private” literacy practices or those that they often practice, and encourage them to develop their writing skills by adding on the necessary academic literacies (e.g., critical thinking, database searching, familiarity with academic conventions such as referencing, use of formal register, and the ability to manipulate a range of academic genres) to their toolbox. Secondly, by reading the postings, I become more cognizant of the types of scaffolds that my multilingual students will need during the upcoming face-to-face in-class sessions. At times, I turn the responses to their peers’ postings into pockets of language learning to develop the lesson further. On the whole, I would say that Forum discussion can be a useful platform for both prewriting and postwriting activities in a composition course.

What in second language (L2) research excites you right now?

As of now, I am exploring how multiple pedagogies can be purposefully utilized to benefit L2 writers. In essence, I have been actively exploring the following questions: (a) What social practices would I have to put in place to acknowledge the literacies my students have acquired prior to attending my class? (b) How should I honor the home literacies of students to improve their L2 writing skills? (d) What would I have to do to expand what it means to be literate in the 21st century? To this end, I am working on fostering inclusivity, diversity, and equity in the teaching of L2 writing, and have conducted workshops based on these themes for associate instructors from different disciplines on campus, for the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.

Graduate Student: Marie-Louise Koelzer

Where are you from, and what are you studying?

I am a second-year master’s student in the Teaching English as a Second Language program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Although I was born in the United States, I grew up in a small village near Munich, Germany. In 2008, I decided to move to my hometown, El Paso, Texas, where I learned English and received my bachelor’s degree in elementary education. However, during my last year of my undergraduate studies, I began to develop a strong desire and interest to teach ESL because I was able to fully relate to students since I encountered similar challenges and frustrations when I had to learn English. At that point, I knew that becoming an ESL instructor would allow me to cultivate my passion for teaching. For this reason, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in teaching ESL.

What is an “a-ha moment” you experienced recently in either teaching or research?

Until graduate school, I had strongly disliked writing because I felt extremely embarrassed of my writing style in English. Compared to a native English speaker, I felt that my writing was not good enough for academic contexts because it was different, simplistic, and monotone. Consequently, writing was very torturous for me, and it became a meaningless literacy skill as I felt I was merely filling a blank sheet of paper with empty words and phrases. However, in my first semester as a graduate student, I began to develop a strong research interest toward digital and multimodal writing practices across technological platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, and iMovie, among others. In my research, I realized that writing can be fun and enjoyable, and it does not have to be a monotone, static, and linear process that primarily engages the learner in filling a blank sheet of paper with words. For this reason, I began to change my attitude toward writing as well as teaching writing, and I perceived it more as a dynamic, creative, and engaging literacy practice.

What in L2 writing research excites you right now?

Currently, I am very interested whether multimodal and digital literacy practices enable ESL students to advance their composition skills in academic contexts. On a daily basis, our students transmit information across technological platforms, such as cell phones and social media, and within these messages, they combine text with symbols, images, video clips, and sounds. Therefore, the act of writing has transformed into a multimodal and digital literacy practice, and it could alter students’ academic writing experiences into a more dynamic, relevant, and enjoyable learning process that may enable them to improve their L2 writing skills. For this reason, as an L2 writing researcher, I am currently investigating whether a multimodal and digital writing approach allows ESL students to advance their composition skills in the classroom, where I particularly focus on ESL students’ development of ideas within expository texts.

Graduate Student: Hussein Meihami

Where are you from, and what are you studying?

I am from Qurveh, Iran. I received my bachelor's degree in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in 2012 at Imam Khomeini International University in Qazvin, Iran. In the same year, I started my master's degree in TEFL at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, where I graduated as a top student in 2014. In 2014, I started my PhD program in TEFL at Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran, and I am currently a second-year PhD candidate. My research interests focus on different aspects of teaching L2 writing to L2 learners, such as types of feedback, students with different ethnicities, and students who are studying English for specific purposes (ESP).

What is an ''a-ha moment'' you experienced recently in either teaching or research?

As a teacher of writing courses for ESP learners at various institutes, I have come to understand that the writing quality of ESP learners varies depending on whether they are writing about general topics or whether they are working with topics that require specific topical knowledge. This realization prompted me to investigate the writing quality of ESP learners in terms of complexity, accuracy, and fluency. To do so, I designed a study to examine the effect of topics on ESP learners’ writing quality. The results showed that ESP learners’ writing was more complex, accurate, and fluent when they wrote on a specific topic that required their topical knowledge, as opposed to the topics that required their general knowledge. These findings suggest that the topical knowledge of ESP learners should not be ignored either when their writing ability is tested or when they are taught writing.

What in L2 writing research excites you right now?

I am very much interested in providing corrective feedback on L2 learners' writing based on the Delphi method. This method, first proposed in the 1960’s, is characterized as a method of structuring group communication, leading joint individuals to be in a group to communicate and deal with complex issues. In the future, I plan to design a study in which I will benefit from the principles of Delphi method to teach L2 writing. More specifically, I plan to examine the effects of this new method of teaching L2 writing on the writing performance and writing quality of both English for general purposes learners and ESP learners.

Elena Shvidko is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Purdue University. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.

Suriati Abas teaches composition courses at Indiana University. She received intensive training in curriculum design, instruction, and assessment from Harvard Graduate School of Education. As a freelance journalist, she has written on a broad range of current issues. Her article, “Food leads to cultural awareness,” is published in the guest column of Herald Times (in March 2014). She also writes articles for several teenage magazines on travel, culture, language, and technology.

Marie-Louise Koelzer is a second-year graduate student in the MA-TESL program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). She has completed an internship position as a writing and grammar instructor in the Intensive English program at UTSA. For her last year of graduate studies, she decided to dedicate her time to research full time. She is currently working on her thesis, examining how a multimodal and digital approach could enhance ESL students’ composition skills in organizing and describing their ideas in academic texts. Her research interests include multimodality and digital literacies in L2 writing.

Hussein Meihami is currently pursuing his PhD in TEFL at Shiraz University, Iran. He has published research in various applied linguistics journals, such as Scientometrics,Cogent Education, and Asian ESP Journal. His research interests include second language writing, language assessment, sociolinguistics, and discourse studies.

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