October 2017
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Interview by Elena Shvidko, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA

Graduate Student: Joseph Wilson, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

Where are you from, and what are you studying?

An Illinois native, I am a master’s student in the Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I originally moved to Tennessee to pursue a BA in English literature and a BS in ESL education at Johnson University. This allowed me to study immigrant and refugee narratives alongside contemporary research in second language (L2) studies. After teaching English to resident L2 learners in Tennessee and to university students in China, I decided to further my education at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in order to research theory, ethics, and practices germane to second language learners. While pursuing my MA, I have constructed an identity specifically as an L2 writing teacher/researcher through coursework and research on L2 writing issues and after attending the Symposium on Second Language Writing in 2016. I am particularly interested in scholarship at the interface of the field of L2 writing and writing program administration, and I currently serve as the assistant director of ESL [English as a second language] at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and as a teaching assistant in the composition program.

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

During the symposium, I attended a panel in which Dr. Chris Casanave pressed a room of L2 writing specialists to propose a definition of the term bilingual writer. I struggled myself to come up with a solid definition, particularly one that does not fossilize the imagined native versus nonnative speaker binary that often circumscribes multilingual writers of all proficiency levels. I also began to consider how my own teaching practices reinforce nativeness as an (elusive) goal. Although I haven’t yet found a replacement for the term bilingual or even the term multilingual, I have reshaped my teaching practices. Recently, I have been developing a genre-based cross-cultural composition course that encourages L1 and L2 students to gain awareness and knowledge of new writing genres collaboratively, and I hope that this class will work toward bridging the L1 and L2 divide common in first-year composition settings.

What in L2 writing research excites you right now?

I am particularly excited about research and theory related to L2 writing teacher identity, genre studies, and ESL writing program administration. As specialists have often noted (Matsuda, 2013, 2017), the field of L2 writing is incredibly dynamic because its specialists are situated in a variety of disciplines such as TESOL, rhetoric and composition, education, and applied linguistics. I am currently interested in the ways that L2 writing specialists construct their identities in relation to our field.

At the interface of L2 writing and writing program administration, I am also working with my advisor, Dr. Tanita Saenkhum, in a research assistantship to consider how placement procedures for incoming L2 writers can be assessed on a continual basis. Of particular interest is research that considers multilingual student perceptions of placement procedures in addition to test scores and retention rates.

Could you share one way L2 writing research informs your teaching?

At a foundational level, L2 writing research has allowed me to cultivate a greater sensitivity toward the needs of multilingual writers, as well as myriad tools for adapting my teaching practices to meet those needs. My current project on assessing university placement procedures, for example, has illuminated the ways that an institution’s placement options for multilingual writers inform the curriculum of its composition courses and communicate a program’s values to all relevant stakeholders. I have found that these insights translate well into the classroom itself, and I have worked to design syllabi and rubrics that enhance student agency, explicitly delineate my expectations, and abstain from allowing mechanical errors to dominate my written and spoken feedback on students’ writing. I have also found that student perceptions are critical to assessing placement, and I have worked to create opportunities for constructive dialogue with my students both inside and outside of the classroom.


Matsuda, P. K. (2013). Response: What is second language writing—and why does it matter? Journal of Second Language Writing, 12(2), 51–179.

Matsuda, P. K. (2017). Second language writing teacher identity. In G. Barkhuizen (Ed.), Reflections on teacher identity research (pp. 215–222). New York, NY: Routledge.

Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor in ESL at the Department of Languages, Philosophy, and Communication Studies at Utah State University. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, and interpersonal aspects of teaching.

Joseph Wilson is an MA student at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, specializing in L2 writing. His research areas include writing program administration for multilingual writers, genre and discourse studies, and teacher identity. He currently serves as the assistant director of the English Department's ESL Writing Program and teaches first-year composition.

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