This practical need for the learning process to be centered on the students rather than on the teachers at the graduate level is reflected in the classroom. Most ESL composition programs offer a variety of the second language (L2) composition courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate-level ESL composition courses are very challenging to teach because students are from different disciplines and have different needs, both in terms of their individual language skills and in terms of the different professional needs put on upon their language skills. Frodesen, an experienced L2 writing instructor, pointed out long before that graduate students in an L2 writing class should be positioned as participants in their larger academic community rather than as merely “ESL students”, etc. (1995). Casanave, another well-known L2 writing expert, commented on the importance of linking the general L2 writing courses at the graduate level to students’ work in their own discipline (2003). In other words, graduate students lose motivation in class if the course design only has tangential relation to their disciplinary practices. At the same time, L2 writing instructors are not all-knowing, meaning they have expertise in L2 writing but not in students’ specific disciplines. What this book promotes, therefore, is student agency in learning, namely, your control and participation in learning the writing conventions of your disciplines. Student agency highlights students’ self-initiation for learning. For example, you have to find out the specific formatting styles used for citations in your program and analyze their usage in your disciplinary writing. Your instructor is a facilitator who provides guidance and resources to expand your ability in learning.
To give an example, a literature review is a typical final assignment for a graduate-level L2 writing class. Here, literature refers to the cumulative knowledge about a topic in your field, and the literature review is a sampling of that knowledge, sometimes exhaustive, so that the rest of a written work is accurately presented with the larger context of the discipline. Although some amount of literature review is required for every student, what you want to focus on, the length of the review, as well as the choice of documentation style will be left to you to decide based on the needs of what you are writing. Throughout this text, you will be given a series of small assignments to help build up your knowledge about the literature in your own field so that you are more able to write a literature review. Notably, though your instructor may request to evaluate your work, none of the assignments are exclusively for this course, that is, all of the assignments are things almost every graduate student must learn to do at some point in their career anyway–a writing course should be simply a guided head-start to help maximize your potential. Additionally, they will never be “ESL assignments”, but rather something more related to your discipline rather than a generic language exercise. Whether you are just starting graduate education or already have publications, these assignments can help focus your talent and overcome some of the obstacles you may have communicating through written language in a professional academic context. The goal is that you have assignments for your writing course, but that most of them are things which you already need to do as a graduate student, and that therefore this course is a genuine aid to your education rather than extra work.