A Postmethod Approach to Second Language Writing Instruction: A Conversation with Dr. Sarah Henderson Lee
*Dr. Sarah Henderson Lee is an Assistant Professor of English (TESL) and Director of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) at Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA. She co-edited a special issue of TESOL Journal (September 2014) titled Critical Perspectives on World Englishes. In recent years, she has facilitated workshops, presented at various regional and international conferences, and been involved in different projects. Her current teaching and research interests include second language writing, intercultural rhetoric, bi(multi)literacy, world Englishes, language socialization, language and identity, critical pedagogy, and TESL teacher education. Below is the interview our NELTA ELT Forum member, Shyam B Pandey, conducted with Dr. Henderson Lee:
Shyam: Dr. Henderson Lee, thank you so much for accepting our invitation to be a guest of the NELTA ELT Forum. Could you please tell us a little bit about your linguistic, academic, and professional background?
Dr. Henderson Lee: I didn’t acquire a second language until my undergraduate studies at the University of Arkansas. I was an International Relations major, which required me to study a second language. I thoroughly enjoyed my German language courses, including those during a study abroad, and became interested in Second Language Acquisition because of them. I enrolled in my first TESOL course and began volunteering at the university’s Intensive English Program thanks to one of my professor’s encouragement. After graduation, I took my first full-time English language teaching position at a teacher’s training college in Poland. This experience really influenced the work I do today. Because I was teaching English language courses to future language teachers, I became especially interested in TESOL teacher education. This led me back to the States to pursue a Master’s degree in TESOL at Missouri State University. To gain more teaching experiences after completing my Master’s degree, I took an ESL teaching position in the K-12 context. During my five years of K-12 teaching, I became especially interested in my students’ second language writing and writing experiences both in and out of the classroom. Eventually, I enrolled in the Composition and TESOL doctoral program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where I was able to deepen my knowledge of second language writing. My work with my mentor, Dr. Gloria Park, especially influenced my current interests in second language literacy, world Englishes, critical pedagogy, and teacher education.
Shyam: In recent years, you have focused on second language writing in your research works, workshop facilitation, and conference presentations. What factors motivated you to be involved in this area?
Dr. Henderson Lee: The experiences of my former (and current) students motivate me. For example, my dissertation grew out of a former student’s frustration with writing across the curriculum of a U.S. high school. Emerging from this case study’s data analysis were several power-influenced themes, including writing instruction and feedback inconsistencies and forced representations of second language writers. To address such themes, I suggest a postmethod approach to second language writing instruction where the agency and voice of the second language learners is prioritized. As a current TESOL teacher educator, I help pre- and in-service teacher construct and reconstruct their knowledge and application of postmethod pedagogy in second language writing.
Shyam: So far as second language literacy development is concerned, writing skills are less prioritized in an EFL context like Nepal because of the insufficient pre-service and in-service teacher trainings, lack of teaching materials, and timely availability of related resources. What suggestions would you give to improve the pedagogical knowledge and skills of English teachers in such a context?
Dr. Henderson Lee: Active and engaging professional development is key. Teachers could participate in a discussion board linked to a common reading, for example. This creates a community of educators who are interested in staying current with related scholarship and, moreover, who want to make useful applications to their own teaching context and learners. I’d also suggest taking advantage of free resources, such as some webinars. I especially recommend two recent webinars – Dana Ferris’ on writing feedback (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwRfLHkIbCk) and Deborah Crusan’s on writing assessment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyh0GLJKDEs&feature=youtu.be).
Shyam: Do you think that current literature sufficiently addresses the teaching of second language literacy in the EFL context? What readings do you recommend for teachers in this context?
Dr. Henderson Lee: I think there is a need for more context-specific second language literacy research. Many EFL contexts are under represented, but I continue to be encouraged by the EFL research interests and ideas of my graduate students. Tony Cimasko and Melinda Reichelt’s (2011) edited collection, Foreign Language Writing Instruction: Principles and Practices, is a great resource for EFL teachers. Additionally, I’d recommend Shizhou Yang’s (2013) Autobiographical Writing and Identity in EFL Education and Jennifer Lynn Craig’s (2012) Integrating Writing Strategies in EFL/ESL University Contexts: A Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Approach.
Shyam: Teachers in Nepal face different challenges in teaching writing such as large class size, insufficient teaching materials, students’ low motivation, and teachers’ unfamiliarity with reflective language teaching. What can teachers do to meet the challenges of teaching writing in such an EFL classroom?
Dr. Henderson Lee: Even in such challenging contexts, there is room to provide students with meaningful and purposeful writing opportunities. Teachers should choose writing topics relevant to their students’ lives when possible. This requires teachers to know their students on a more personal level, which can be difficult for larger class sizes. Here, students could brainstorm their own writing topic based on some clear guidelines instead. Additionally, writing tasks could be designed for small groups where students collaborate through the entire writing process and produce a joint final text. Lastly, I’d encourage EFL teachers to consider the ways writing could be taken beyond the classroom walls. In what ways could students benefit their communities through writing?
Shyam: I know that you have taught a special topics course on world Englishes and have prioritized this area in your research. Why are you interested in this area?
Dr. Henderson Lee: My introduction to world Englishes fully positioned my interest within a postmethod paradigm. World Englishes recognizes the critical, complex, and transformative nature of the English language. It challenges teacher-scholars to empower learners through the language varieties they bring into the classroom and to teach both global and local varieties so that learners can better understand the fluidity of language. World Englishes is an area I have prioritized in my research, but it is also an area that continues to inform my teaching of TESOL Methods and Second Language Literacy at the graduate level and Second Language Composition at the undergraduate level.
Shyam: How do you see your interest areas of second language writing and world Englishes intersecting?
Dr. Henderson Lee: I want to help second language writers understand themselves as knowledgeable and reflective individuals with a heightened sense of how language is contextually situated. This requires the introduction of world Englishes and discourse analysis, as well as the incorporation of critical discussions in the writing classroom. I usually start my Second Language Composition courses with a literacy narrative where students can explore their acquisition of first and second language varieties. This is a document they later reflect on in terms of their knowledge construction and application of world Englishes. Related in-class discussions usually stem from the analyses of sample texts, done both as a whole class and as small groups. Additionally, I encourage students to conduct field research for their final project related to language use. This provides them with a meaningful opportunity to bridge classroom study with the greater campus and community.
Shyam: Regarding the incorporations of world Englishes in the language classroom, what suggestions could you offer new EFL teachers?
Dr. Henderson Lee: I like to introduce new teachers to Matsuda and Matsuda’s (2010) guiding principles for helping second language writers negotiate the dynamic relationship between language standardization and diversification. The principles include: (1) teach the dominant language forms and functions; (2) teach the nondominant language forms and functions; (3) teach the boundary between what works and what does not; (4) teach the principles and strategies of discourse negotiation; and (5) teach the risks involved in using deviational features. To effectively implement these principles and a world Englishes influenced pedagogy, teachers must provide students with opportunities to engage with texts from multiple English language varieties.
Shyam: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?
Dr. Henderson Lee: I encourage all of your readers to consciously and systematically reflect on their English language teaching. They can use such reflective tools as action research, teaching journals, teacher groups, classroom observations, and co-teaching to regularly explore their language teacher identity and inform their current practice.
Shyam: Dr. Henderson Lee, the students at Minnesota State University, Mankato are very lucky to have you. Thank you for this delightful interview and good luck with your projects!
Dr. Henderson Lee: I’m the lucky one. It’s been a pleasure working with so many great students. Thanks for conducting this interview, Shyam, and best of luck with your graduate studies and projects.
(*Dr. Henderson Lee can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.)