Spring Conference Features Paul Kei Matsuda
On April 4 and 5, Paul Kei Matsuda, Professor of English and Director of Second Language Writing at Arizona State University, visited campus as part of the Writing Program’s annual spring conference. Professor Matsuda’s keynote address, “Reimagining Student Writers in the Global U.S. Higher Education,” discussed the implications of globalization for U.S. higher education, with a focus on the role of writing instruction for an increasingly diverse and global student population. Professor Matsuda, who describes himself as a “second-language writer and proud of it,” spoke to a room packed with teachers, graduate students, and undergraduates about the complexities of multilingual students and the ways in which writing instruction and assessment can be redesigned to better meet their needs.
In response to the question of whether or not instructors should provide corrective feedback, Professor Matsuda argued that teachers should shift their focus from feedback to formative assessment and should strive for alignment between instruction and intended outcomes. According to Writing Program Administration intern and Composition and Cultural Rhetoric graduate student Tim Dougherty, “His message—that we must teach students the grammar and rhetorical conventions they need to succeed but not punish students for grammar conventions through our assessments—challenged participants to sharpen the alignment between what we actually teach and what we actually assess in our classrooms.”
Professor Matsuda offered teachers in the audience a number of strategies for achieving these goals, including peer review, an activity that is beneficial for both students who give and students who receive feedback. “I think he did an excellent job with explaining how students come to higher learning with very rich, diverse experiences and abilities with languages,” said Director of Undergraduate Studies Tony Scott. “We should build on this experience in pedagogies that give our students the opportunity to engage the world and each other in their writing as they think reflexively about their own literate practices.”
In closing the keynote address, Professor Matsuda reminded instructors that language learning takes a long time to develop and that teachers need to be patient with their students: “Learning to do something cannot be designed; we can't plan to teach something and expect students to learn that today. It's not teaching math facts; it's not like teaching memorization skills. But we can facilitate it by creating an environment where resources are provided, awareness is facilitated and encouragement is provided. And that, I think, is what we need to be aiming for.”
The two-day visit also included a panel discussion with Composition and Cultural Rhetoric graduate students, a mini seminar breakfast, and a workshop for teachers across disciplines. Writing Program Director and Chair Lois Agnew noted that these events provided attendees with useful strategies for working not just with multilingual writers but with all students, and she praised Professor Matsuda’s thoughtful, nuanced presentations and insights about how to creatively engage students.
Professor Matsuda’s visit was the final event of the academic year in the Writing Program’s year-long interdisciplinary Reimagining Student Writers series, which has also included events on Writing Across Contexts, Responding to Student Writing, and Writing Across Genres and Technologies. Agnew was especially pleased by the way in which Professor Matsuda’s visit allowed for meaningful discussions about student writing with colleagues across disciplines: “The Reimagining Student Writers initiative has revealed to us that many faculty members and graduate students on campus share our strong interest in student writing, and the conversations at the breakfast and workshop underscored this fact. We look forward to building on these conversations next year, when we will all benefit from the opportunity to explore further the important insights Professor Matsuda shared with us at the Spring Conference.”
One of the key goals of the Reimagining Student Writers initiative is shifting the conversation from teachers’ anxieties about students to a discussion of the strengths that students bring to the classroom. According to Scott, “In higher education broadly and rhetoric and composition more specifically, we finally seem to be getting serious about coming to an understanding that: our classes are linguistically and culturally diverse and we need to both address that and understand it as a strength rather than a problem; and formalistic, singular notions of ‘academic’ essay writing are now even more obviously out of pace with how language is actually being used in the world.”
This event was sponsored by The Writing Program; Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics; the School of Education and the Kreischer Lecture Fund; Communication and Rhetorical Studies; the Humanities Center; Women's and Gender Studies; SU Abroad; Phi Beta Delta International Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Chapter; and the Slutzker Center for International Services.
—story by Emily Dressing