Author Interview: 'Digital Writing for English-Language Learners'
Rusul Alrubail agreed to answer a few questions about her new book Digital Writing For English Language Learners.
Rusul Alrubail is the Executive Director of the Writing Project. She is also an author, speaker, educator, and social justice activist. You can connect with her on Twitter @RusulAlrubail and read her work on her Heart of a Teacher blog.
LF: You write about the concept of "communicative pedagogy." Can you elaborate on it here and share some specific examples of what it might look like in the classroom?
Communicative pedagogy is the practice in the classroom that centers the importance of interaction as one of the goals to help students with language acquisition. Most English-language learners who are also newcomers worry about day-to-day interactions, and communicative pedagogy allows them to practice scenarios in the classroom that would help to advance their conversational skills. For example, communicative pedagogy would create lesson plans and activities that focus on helping students interact in a supermarket, or at a job interview, or even helping them to purchase a movie ticket. Communicative pedagogy can be practiced orally or through writing.
LF: You also write about "cultural responsive teaching." Can you do the same—explain what you mean by that term and what it can look like in schools?
Cultural responsive teaching focuses on understanding, fostering, and more importantly, being responsive in creating a safe learning environment for students to excel and succeed, while taking their cultures, ethnicity, and race into account. For example, some English-language learners in the classroom might be newcomer refugees. A culturally responsive teacher would help to understand their backgrounds and lived experience. She would probably need to be very sensitive when discussing the refugee crisis with in class, and take into account some of the trauma they may have or still might be experiencing.
LF: Can you share a bit about your personal background as a refugee and how it might inform your writing and work today?
When I arrived to Canada at the age of 11, I spoke no word of English at all. It was one of the hardest things I had to go through in life, even harder than fleeing my home country, Iraq. The reason for that is because language barrier disconnects us from our surroundings and can create such a strong sense of isolation. As a result of this feeling, I want to help other English-language learners, who are going through similar experiences as I did, to recognize that their voices and stories matter.
LF: What are two or three of the most important suggestions you can make to teachers who might want to explore using digital writing with English Language Learners or, in fact, any students?
My first suggestion is to explore and do some research. Ask yourself, what do you hope your students to be able to gain from the experience of digital writing?
My other suggestion is to provide choice for students. This will help in giving them the space to write about topics they're interested in. One of the things I discovered is that often times, when you give students all the choice in the world, because they're not used to it, they have a hard time choosing something to write about. And even when they do, they still need a bit of guidance. That's okay. Guide them through the process, and still encourage them to keep going and write down their own reflections and ideas. The more they do this, the easier it'll be for them to 'free-write' next time around.
LF: What do you see as the one or two key potential challenges facing educators who want to use digital writing and how can they be overcome?
Tech sometimes can be an issue. Lack of digital access can definitely hinder teachers from introducing digital writing in the classroom. In this case, many teachers work to book a computer lab or a class in the library to write. It is not ideal, but manageable.
Another challenge is the idea that digital writing destroys traditional writing. This concept, or rather, is not backed or supported by research. In fact, research does indicate that the more students write digitally, the more teachers are able to see improvement in critical thinking and writing structure. We need to see the practice of digital writing in the classroom as the development of future communication.
LF: Is there anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share?
Digital writing is for everyone. And for English language-learners, digital writing can truly motivate and engage them in learning the language. It's important to engage this student population in developing their language to equip them with the necessary tools to express and communicate their thoughts and ideas, in the hopes of being able to positively impact their generation.
LF: Thanks, Rusul!