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Brokering practices among EAL international students

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Academic challenges of international students, particularly those with English as an additional language (EAL), have been mostly researched in the classroom context, with little attention paid to students’ informal learning practices. My research looks specifically at the brokering practices of EAL tertiary students in their understanding of academic literacy. Brokering refers to how students seek help from their peers about understanding academic knowledge and skills. I conducted semi-structured interviews and observations to find out who students approached for help, aspects of academic literacy they needed help with, and their perceptions of the experience. The research findings suggest that educators need to pay attention to how students seek peer support in academic learning in order to develop more effective ways of supporting students’ academic literacy needs.

This paper was presented at CLESOL 2016 on Saturday 16 July 2016.

CLESOL 2016 (Website:
Learners in Context: Bridging the Gaps
Ākonga Reo: Aronga Āputa
Thursday 14 – Sunday 17 July 2016
The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
The 15th National Conference for Community Languages and ESOL, brought to you by TESOLANZ (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Aotearoa New Zealand) and CLANZ (Community Languages Association New Zealand).

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Brokering practices among EAL international students

  1. 1. Brokering practices among EAL international students Sherrie Lee PhD Candidate University of Waikato
  2. 2. Singapore ChinaUniversity of Southern California 1 MAT TESOL University of Waikato Temasek Polytechnic
  3. 3. 1 Focus 2
  4. 4. International students in higher education Rapidly increasing enrolments 20% of student population at UoW Many from non-native-English speaking countries EAL international students 3 EAL students English as an Additional Language
  5. 5. EAL international students 4 Research often takes on a deficit perspective (Kumaravadivelu, 2003; Ryan & Louie, 2007) Inadequate English proficiency and differing educational expectations (Johnson, 2008; Lee et al., 2013) Being isolated from the host community (Sawir et al., 2007; Ward & Masgoret, 2004) GAP: Acquiring academic literacy through informal learning practices
  6. 6. 5
  7. 7. 6
  8. 8. Brokering practices among EAL international students at a New Zealand university. 7 Brokering Informal and social but academically-oriented experiences Getting help with academic learning from someone else outside the formal curriculum
  9. 9. Overview 1 Focus 2 Frame/Re-frame 3 Methods 4 Findings 5 Implications 8
  10. 10. 9 2 Frame/Re-frame
  11. 11. Academic literacies 10 Intercultural Communicative Competence (Byram, 1997) Alternative ways of meaning making (Lillis & Scott, 2007) Repertoires of social practices (Lea & Street, 1998) multiple fluid intercultural
  12. 12. Brokering 11 Sociological concept Literacy brokering (Perry, 2009) Knowledge brokering Learning in communities Cultural brokering Language brokering
  13. 13. What Textual and sociocultural aspects of academic literacy (Che, 2013; Montgomery & McDowell, 2009; Nam & Beckett, 2011 / Li & Collins, 2014; Seloni, 2012; Vine, 2003) Who Co-nationals, other international students, “experts” (Che, 2013; Montgomery & McDowell, 2009; Zappa-Hollman & Duff, 2015) How One-way, sometimes reciprocal (Che, 2013; Cocoya & Lee, 2009) 12 Empirical studies
  14. 14. 13 Research questions 1. What aspects of academic literacy are brokered? 2. Who are the brokers? 3. How does brokering look like? What is the nature of brokering among EAL international students?
  15. 15. 3 Methods 14
  16. 16. Sampling 10 first-time international students from social science faculties 15 China (7) Taiwan (1) Malaysia (1) Japan (1) Undergraduate (7) Postgraduate diploma (2) Honours year (1)
  17. 17. Ethnographic approach 16 Observations of interactions Interviews with brokers (3) Interviews with participants (46) Screenshots of text exchanges between participant and broker (33) Copies of participant’s writing with comments from broker (10) Observation of interaction between participant and broker (2)
  18. 18. 4 Findings 17
  19. 19. Findings 18 1. What aspects of academic literacy are brokered? Course materials lectures, textbooks, handouts, tutorial questions Assignments instructions, sources of information, writing Sociocultural aspects relating to instructors, relating to peers
  20. 20. Findings 19 Course materials - Frequent Students couldn’t understand lecturers because of speed, vocabulary, organisation Lecture / textbook content was too dense e.g. use of highly academic vocab or professional terms Tutorial questions were confusing, also related to dense course material Sometimes it was a matter of getting a translation, but often, students sought an explanation in their native language.
  21. 21. Findings 20 Assignments - Frequent Instructions about what to include, how to submit it on learning management system Where to find sources of information, e.g. websites Writing expressing an idea in English organising content sentences structure grammar referencing
  22. 22. Findings 21 Sociocultural aspects – Less frequent Relating to instructors whether it was appropriate to approach tutor/lecturer to ask questions Relating to peers making decisions to work with “foreign” students, or how to interact with them
  23. 23. Findings 22 2. Who are the brokers? Brokers Age/Culture Strengths Classmates Usually similar An unusual example: similar age but distant culture Good grades Prior experience Acquaintances Similar Good grades Prior experience
  24. 24. Findings 23 2. Who are the brokers? Brokers Age/Culture Strengths Friends Similar Common background Learning support staff Distant Academic expertise
  25. 25. Findings 24 3. How does brokering look like? A working typology of brokering relationships Type Spontaneous Opportunistic Developing Established Formal Description Immediate, unplanned Classmates One-way, one- off As and when needed Classmates, Acquaintances One-way, one- off Part of everyday conversation Classmates, Friends Reciprocal, continuing Part of everyday conversation Classmates, Friends Reciprocal, continuing Planned in advance Learning support staff One-way, one-off
  26. 26. Findings 25 Type Spontaneous Opportunistic Developing Established Formal Examples Asking someone in tutorial to explain what the teacher said Looking out for someone who has done the paper before Asking someone about an upcoming assignment during a casual conversation Asking someone about opinions about academic /personal issues Looking for someone to help with a particular aspect of writing A working typology of brokering relationships
  27. 27. Findings 26 Type Spontaneous Opportunistic Developing Established Formal Modeofbrokering Face to face, in the classroom Face to face, outside the classroom Messaging Face to face, outside the classroom Messaging Face to face, outside the classroom Messaging Face to face, outside the classroom A working typology of brokering relationships
  28. 28. 27
  29. 29. 5 Implications 28
  30. 30. Implications 29 What kind of culturally relevant support can tertiary institutions offer? How can students’ learning revolve around more peer interactions? Will a move towards e-learning have an impact on this? Can students’ own reflection of their brokering practices help them in their learning? If so, how can they do it?
  31. 31. 30 Sherrie Lee Twitter@orangecanton
  32. 32. References Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters. Che, J. (2013). How peer social worlds shaped the out-of-class learning experiences of college ESOL students: Examining the impacts of informal peer learning upon their writing and related psychosocial development (Doctoral dissertation). University of Rochester. Retrieved from Coyoca, A. M. A. M., & Lee, J. S. (2009). A typology of language-brokering events in dual- language immersion classrooms. Bilingual Research Journal, 32(3), 260–279. Johnson, E. (2008). An investigation into pedagogical challenges facing international tertiary‐level students in New Zealand. Higher Education Research & Development, 27(3), 231–243. Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Problematizing Cultural Stereotypes in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 37(4), 709–719. Lea, M. R., & Street, B. V. (1998). Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157–172. 31
  33. 33. References Lee, B., Farruggia, S. P., & Brown, G. T. L. L. (2013). Academic difficulties encountered by East Asian international university students in New Zealand. Higher Education Research & Development, 32(6), 915–931. Li, W., & Collins, C. S. (2014). Chinese doctoral student socialization in the United States: A qualitative study. FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education, 1(2), 32–57. Lillis, T., & Scott, M. (2007). Defining academic literacies research: Issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 4–32. Montgomery, C., & McDowell, L. (2009). Social networks and the international student experience: An international community of practice? Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(4), 455–466. Nam, M., & Beckett, G. H. (2011). Use of resources in second language writing socialization. The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language, 15(1), 1–20. Perry, K. H. (2009). Genres, contexts, and literacy practices: Literacy brokering among Sudanese refugee families. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(3), 256–276. Ryan, J., & Louie, K. (2007). False Dichotomy? ‘Western’ and ‘Confucian’ concepts of scholarship and learning. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 39, 404–417. 32
  34. 34. References Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Deumert, A., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2007). Loneliness and international students: An Australian study. Journal of Studies in International Education, 12, 148–180. Seloni, L. (2012). Academic literacy socialization of first year doctoral students in US: A micro-ethnographic perspective. English for Specific Purposes, 31(1), 47–59. Vine, E. W. (2003). “My partner”: A five-year-old Samoan boy learns how to participate in class through interactions with his English-speaking peers. Linguistics and Education, 14(1), 99–121. Ward, C., Masgoret, A.-M., & Gezentsvey, M. (2009). Investigating attitudes toward international students: Program and policy implications for social integration and international education. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 79–102. Zappa-Hollman, S., & Duff, P. A. (2015). Academic English socialization through individual networks of practice. TESOL Quarterly, 49(2), 333–368. 33