A unique approach to teaching academic writing to international students

A unique approach to teaching academic writing to international students

Petra Maier /

Entering a college can be a very exciting yet challenging experience for any student, especially for those who come to Iowa from other countries. At the University of Northern Iowa, freshman students are typically required to enroll in an introductory course to learn essential academic writing and research skills, and international students are no exception to the rule. English 1005: College Writing and Research Section 08 stands out though, as it is specifically designated to international students and other students whose first language is not English. 

This class is unique due to its innovative approach to instruction. Unlike other sections of this course, Section 08 is co-taught by instructors from two different departments. The Department of Languages and Literatures and the Culture and Intensive English Program have collaborated on teaching this course since 2018. This semester, Debra Dimond Young, PhD, (Department of Languages & Literatures) has taken on the role of the main teacher who delivers content information, and Petra Maier (Culture and Intensive English Program) has provided additional English language support. 

Being able to receive help from two different instructors appeals to the students currently enrolled in the course. According to Jacobo Rim Carvajal, a student from Columbia, it is really helpful to have two teachers in the class because “whenever you get the opportunity to get your work reviewed by different people with different knowledge, it helps you improve it a lot more than if it was reviewed by just one person.” For Weikang Zou, a student from China, “It’s really interesting to be in a class with other international students because you get to learn about different cultures and they are all very willing to talk to you.” 

Recognizing the diverse needs of international students, English 1005 Section 08 offers an additional support system beyond the course co-teachers. International students enrolled in this course can receive guidance from the liaison librarian who helps them navigate research resources effectively. Additionally, they can seek help from the academic coaches in the Office of International Engagement (OIE) as well as the staff of the Learning Center @ Rod Library who provide personalized assistance. 

Student writing at black board

This semester witnessed an extension of successful collaboration between the Languages & Literatures department and the OIE beyond the classroom. In November, the Department of Languages & Literatures hosted one of the Coffee Hours organized by the Office of International Engagement every Friday afternoon. This informal setting allowed students to chat with the attendees, exchange ideas and build a sense of community.

The collaboration between the Department of Languages & Literatures, and the OIE/CIEP brings a distinctive perspective to the course, enriching the student learning experience, so we hope it will continue in the future. By tailoring the curriculum to the specific needs of international students, the course not only provides the students with essential academic skills, but it also nurtures a supportive community that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of college writing instruction.