A Translingual Approach to Assessment Practices

Paola Bohórquez, PhD Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream

Acting Coordinator of the English Language Learning Program

Paola Bohórquez is the Acting Coordinator of the ELL Program during the 2017-18 academic year and
an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Paola’s current scholarly work focuses on innovative methods for teaching academic English to linguistically diverse students.

In evaluating students’ written academic work, a common concern is how to assess language errors and idiosyncratic writing styles. While traditional perspectives on assessment focus on how to address and correct the actual text’s deviations from a hypothetical standard text (correctness-based approaches), a translingual approach focuses on how to enhance the student’s potential to negotiate and engage critically with the dominant codes of academic writing.

As such, this framework aims at expanding the student writer’s level of control and awareness, as well as their range of choices, in the process of appropriating the writing conventions in specific disciplines and academic genres. While this approach brings pedagogical benefits to all student writers, it is particularly advantageous for basic writers, multilingual students, and speakers of non-privileged varieties of English whose linguistic difference is often stigmatized in academic learning settings.

Think of your feedback as helping the student create a bridge between the draft they have submitted and an improved version. Consider these questions:

  • What is this particular text trying to say?
  • What feedback could help the student “say it better,” more clearly, more precisely, or even eloquently?

Be attentive to how your assumptions about the writer’s sociolinguistic identity may undermine your pedagogical stance by introducing bias in how you approach a student’s assignment.

Assess the student’s work in relation to the specific learning outcomes outlined for each assignment rather than in relation to a hypothetical “ideal” text.

Distinguish between “error” and “difference.” A student’s potential lack of knowledge and experience in reproducing the dominant codes of academic discourse should not outweigh the student’s potential to develop their own voice and style.

Focus most of your attention on the quality of thinking and the development of ideas.

Sentence-level errors are rarely random: Show the student the consistent logic underlining their texts’ stylistic or grammatical deviations and how these might compromise the clear expression of ideas.

Whenever there is opportunity, praise the student’s compelling or thoughtful writing. Encourage the student to reflect on what they have achieved and how, as a way to enhance their metalinguistic awareness and develop their writing voice.

Students’ desire to “sound academic” and to imitate the expected academic writing conventions may lead them to write awkward and convoluted sentences. In these cases, invite the students to clarify by writing shorter sentences or by rephrasing.