In her article “The Use and Misuse of Academic Words in Writing,” (2012), Andrea Marie Cons compares the writing of students who are developing their English language skills to those who are not native speakers but who have reached a level of proficiency such that they are no longer grouped with second-language learners. While it is true that language is something learned over a lifetime, as new words are invented and new meanings are given to old words, Cons focuses on so-called “academic words” which serve as more enduring markers of academic achievement. Cons refers to students with less developed skills as “English learners” (EL) and to students who were formerly ELs as “redesignated fluent English-proficient” (RFEP).
I found this article appealing because it deals with English for purposes or academic writing, such as that found in the secondary and tertiary schools. This is the area in which I currently work, and as more RFEP students are working alongside native speakers in the classroom and the workplace, these students will need writing skills similar to those demonstrated by their peers. My choice of article was also informed by my experience as a writing teacher for native-speaking students whose writing did not meet the expectations of their grade level. I anticipate using my TESOL degree to work primarily with students who are learning English in order to have better access to education, because I believe that a high school diploma and at least some college will continue to be expected by many employers in the future, and because I believe that many of the world’s best colleges will continue to provide at least some instruction in English.
This paper will first summarize the reasons for Cons’s research and how that supports or affects my preconceptions of the needs of ELs in the secondary schools. Next, I will summarize and evaluate the results of her research. Thirdly, I will briefly respond to the conclusions reached by Cons as a result of her data analysis. Lastly, I will offer my own opinion on how this research might impact the field of TESOL.
Summary of Rationale
There is much concern in education about the “achievement gap” between students when grouped by ethnicity or by socioeconomic status. Cons cites a study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that identified half of public school students as nonproficient writers (Salahu-Din, Percky, & Miller, 2008). Their analytical writing skills were labeled as “basic” or below. In examining the writing of students in grades 8 and 12, the study also found “large and consistent gaps between the writing performance of English learners (ELs) and native English speakers” (Cons, 2008, p. 611).
My initial questions had to do with the types of errors that mark a “written accent,” giving students a disadvantage as readers may invoke prejudices about the author. Three specific questions posed in the rationale are: “Do ELs have the vocabulary proficiency they...