Mixing It Up

Stack_Mug_TabFrom Nichole Stack —

This past spring our department was asked to pilot a “mixed” ENC 1101 course for Global UCF’s Global Achievement Academy (GAA), a new program of study for international students, and I had the pleasure of being asked to teach it. I was excited to try out this “mixed” experiment and work with English language learners (ELLs) again. The class was capped at 15 (less is more!), five of whom were enrolled in GAA, and the remaining 10 were from the general UCF student population. The international students—from Russia (3), Brazil (1), and Venezuela (1)— were very close-knit, likely because they made up the entire inaugural cohort of GAA. I was curious to see how these students would interact with the “regulars” and was confident that the pilot would be a success.

From the start, the GAA students were anxious to talk about their previous English writing experiences. I asked them to write all about them in their daily reflections, which served as the basis for our warm-up discussion at the beginning of each class meeting. Many shared that while studying English in their respective home countries, they had been taught that writing is the product of memorizing prescriptive grammar rules, applying them to a chain of ideas, expressing these ideas in correct sentences, and then arranging them all into five tidy paragraphs. And as they had progressed in their schooling, what was labeled as “good” writing differed greatly from teacher to teacher. These experiences resulted in feelings of apathy, anger (yes, anger), or fear toward writing. In our class discussions of these reflections, students discovered that the product-focused writing epidemic is truly global.

Cue WAW. Once the students began reading the WAW text—which, admittedly, I thought would be a significant struggle for the GAA students, but to my delight it was not too much so—changes began to Editors Marcy Galbreath Jennifer “JT” Taylor Jake Stewart Edition Twenty-two 8/2015 unfold. For these students in particular, each threshold concept presented was latched onto, mulled over, fought with, mulled over more, and re-latched onto. I noticed this tendency in the two summer GAA courses I taught as well. It could be attributed to myriad factors, and among them, I think that their multilingual, multicultural backgrounds create a leaning to more easily experience paradigm shifts.

Upon reading this, you may have noted that many of the English writing experiences recounted by the GAA students share some overlap with those of our typical UCF student population. I believe that this is a significant point. If Global UCF continues to grow its GAA program, which it is, then these students will likely be enrolled in many of our 1101 and 1102 courses in the future. Hopefully, we can be encouraged that the mixing of these student populations will bring about a richer learning—and teaching—experience for us all.

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