Teaching Writing at Hispanic Serving Institutions

This was a handout I developed with colleagues in the Writing Program at UCSC for our 2017 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Roundtable: Teaching Writing in Hispanic Serving Institutions: Naming What We Know

Top 12  Ways to Support Latinx Student Success in Your Writing Class

Yolanda Venegas, Mark Baker, Robin King, Sarah-Hope Parmeter, Ellen Newberry

  • Find ways to legitimize a student’s home language and culture, their ethno-linguistic worlds.  Provide tools that support them in shifting from a deficit mindset about their difference to a mindset whereby their difference is a valuable resource. 
  • Read student writing to gain a sense of how they think, how they engage with ideas and emphasize the potential there instead of focusing feedback on language error and correction.
  • Support students to see course readings as conversations in which they participate.  Help students become active participants in and owners of their education—rather than conceiving of their role as observing from the sidelines.
  • Create an environment where students have opportunities to use the reading, writing, thinking skills they are gaining to reflect on and examine their own educational histories, family histories, background experiences (i.e. what they bring into the classroom).  In other words, find ways to legitimize students’ socio-historical experiences; the idea is that culturally responsive teaching is emancipatory/liberating.  
  • Connect the content of the class (in English it is their reading/writing) to their real world, make the work of the class directly “useful” and relevant to their day to day lived realities
  • Work with students who experience marginalization (at the university, in the larger political climate) to move from a position of silence to a position of voice.  To what extent or in what ways should we interpret or see our classes (the reading, the thinking, the writing) as spaces for students to enact political and social empowerment, especially for those coming from positions of silence? (Note: the idea from Geneva Gay and James Banks that culturally responsive teaching is transformative; Freire & Ira Shor; it is about social change: Guide students to understand the power of literacy and higher education: our Latina/o students are driven and understand the need for social change and if we can get them to see how strong reading and writing skills are powerful tools they need make changes in their communities–then we have buy in—students in my classes know that their writing matters or as Sherman Alexie might say “books save lives”).
  • Create a learning community in the classroom where students feel safe, where there is mutual respect (where each student knows her writing will be taken seriously)..
  • Understand in the writing and other seminar classes the need to pay attention to students’ affective needs—what is going on emotionally and psychologically–as we are trying to teach writing we understand the need to teach students how to use writing as a tool to improve their sense of self-efficacy; reading and writing as tools to increase their confidence in their ability to improve, to succeed.
  • Teach rhetorical metacognition: students should become aware of different rhetorical reading/writing strategies and critical/analytical habits of thought.  Likewise, they should engage in conversations as as to consider how the work of the university differs from that of high school.  We ask them to develop dialogs and conversations with textual materials — we push them to move beyond memorization.
  • Be accessible—teacher accessibility is more an attitude than the number of posted office hours.  Students sense if you really want to meet with them. If possible, respond to at least one set of papers in conference or writing groups, preferably early in the quarter. Make visiting the instructor a comfortable, collaborative experience designed to help students elucidate and present their own ideas.  Alternatives for commuter campuses could include use of Google Hangouts, online chat rooms, Google docs, etc.
  • Understand that family trumps school, always.  Avoid interpreting a student’s absence/tardiness as lack of commitment to class and/or other university obligations.  Because of socio-economic circumstance, family emergencies may occur more often.
  • Develop a variety of writing assignments that speak to learning orientations and that provide students opportunities to critically analyze their educational, family, political, and community histories.

(Sources: Christina Kirklighter, Beatrice Méndez  Newman, Michelle Hall Kells, Dora Ramírez-Dhoore, Rebecca Jones, Teaching Writing with  Latino/a Students: Lessons Learned in Hispanic Serving Institutions;  Michelle Hall Kells, Valerie Balester, Victor Villaseñor, Jaime Mejia, Latino/a Discourses: On Language, Identity and Literacy Education; Michelle Hall Kells & Valerie Balester Attending to the Margins: Writing, Researching, and Teaching on the Front Lines; Gay Geneva, Culturally Responsive Teaching; James Banks Transformative Multicultural Education)