University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

Multilingual Writers & Course Placement

With the changing composition of our composition classrooms, we will encounter new avenues of thinking and writing as well as new challenges. We currently place multilingual students in classes based on their standardized testing scores, which usually include TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores. As any testing score offers only a rough estimate of how a student might experience a course, we ask all students to write in response to a prompt during class on the first day. The prompt should ask students to do the kind of work they will be expected to do in a classroom, and many of the best first-day writing prompts directs students to “make something” of a supplied passage or to put something in the passage to use in understanding an experience the student might be able to reframe with the text.

Read student responses carefully to gauge how prepared this student might be for the work of the course in your estimation. If you believe a student might need more time to work with their writing before entering ENGL 1010 or 1011, then please bring a copy of the student’s writing sample (with name and student ID # included) to the FYW office for further review. We will consult with you on the student’s placement and help you make the best recommendation to the student (and we’ll follow up with an email to the student’s advisor).

When you read responses consider the following:

  • Has the student understood what the prompt asks? Does the response demonstrate that the student understood the provided text as well as the prompt’s directions? Does the student appear to understand the text you’ve given them to work with?
  • Did the student develop a line of thought or investigate the topic in any depth (given the time constraints)? What evidence of agency do you see in the writing? On average, how much did students in your class write? Which students are outliers? For the students who wrote very brief responses, what seems to have been the problem? (Please consult with the student on his or her response, too.)
  • If the student had trouble making him or herself understood in writing, what patterns of difficulties do you see? Looking past surface errors, what—and how—has the student communicated? Does the student have difficulty connecting ideas, possibly represented through very simple, short sentences? Does the student lack the vocabulary to develop a line of thought? Does the student have such difficulty with controlling language that the line of thought is very difficult to follow?
    • Some conventional gauges of placement for students writing in another language beyond their first language include these four areas of difficulty:
      • Serious and frequent errors in word order
      • Significant syntactical errors (many more than the usual fragments and run-ons)
      • Lots of lexical errors
      • Multiple morphology problems

Be aware that these are conventional measures, and our approach focuses more on how the student makes meaning in writing. Traditional measures of “fluency” suggest that when a student has difficulty controlling the four areas of language listed above, that student may benefit from spending more time practicing writing in the new language. Presently, students who would like to take more time can be placed in either ENGL 1003 or ENGL 1004. If your 1010 or 1011 student indicates that s/he would benefit from more writing time and more frequent feedback, please bring the student’s first-day essays to the FYW office as soon as possible so that a placement recommendation is made well before the first add/drop deadline.

The Takeaway:

  • Give students a challenging in-class writing on the first day.
  • Read student responses to the prompt carefully.
  • Bring any questions or issues you may have to the FYW office, since the final recommendation for placement will come from FYW.