Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Developmental Immigrant Students: What Cross-Disciplinary Faculty Should Know

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Developmental Immigrant Students: What Cross-Disciplinary Faculty Should Know

Article excerpt


The purpose of this paper is to suggest ways that cross-disciplinary (non-ESL) faculty can help developmental immigrant students succeed in undergraduate programs. We present five key issues that faculty should consider when teaching these students and when reading their writing. Finally, we offer experience-based, practical suggestions on how to approach each issue.


It is mid-September and the instructor sits down to grade the first set of papers from his introductory psychology class. As usual, a few papers are strong, many are weak, but one catches his eye. It s by Rosa, a smiling, friendly student who always pays attention and participates in class discussions. However, her essay shows little understanding of the reading, and more troublingly, it shows little understanding of the English language. Her writing not only doesn't look like college-level work, it also doesn't match her oral skills. The instructor wonders how Rosa was accepted into college, how she 'll make it through higher education with writing like this, and how he (the instructor) can even begin to grade this paper.

It is precisely because of the above scenario (a true scenario) that we decided to write this article. We are a teaching team who have taught first-generation immigrant and second-generation American students for many years and who have run a successful program for these students with a near 100% retention and graduation rate. Over the past few years, we have received emails and phone calls from non-ESL faculty throughout the country, asking us how they can 'deal with' the developmental immigrant students sitting in their classes. Many faculty see a paper riddled with grammatical errors and conclude that the student "doesn't know anything" and "doesn't belong here." Many "don't know where to start" and are unable to see past the surface errors to the rich background knowledge and skill sets these students possess and the ability they have to succeed. As the emails and calls increased, we knew we needed to address this issue so that faculty across the nation could help these students realize their dream of a higher education.

What is important for faculty to understand is that immigrant and second-generation American students are the most rapidly growing population in the American educational system, including its colleges and universities (Roberge, Kay & Wald, in press). The National Center for Education Statistics reports that "nationally, in 2007-2008, about 23% of all undergraduates were immigrants (10 percent) or second-generation Americans (13 percent). The proportion of these undergraduates varied across the six states examined in the study, ranging from nearly double the national percentage in California (45 percent) to 14 percent in Georgia" (Staklis & Horn, 2012, p. 4). Furthermore, the number of U.S. residents (older than age 5) who speak a language other than English at home increased 47% (from 30 million to 47 million) from 1990 to 2009 (Preissle & Rong, 2009). In other words, immigrant students are in our classrooms today, and their numbers will only continue to increase.

First- and Second-Generation Developmental Students

The majority of non-native English speakers at the undergraduate level are immigrant or second-generation American students who have (or whose families have) come to the United States with the intent of staying in this country. These students have very different backgrounds and needs from 'traditional' students. Immigrant students are bom outside of the United States, arrive here at some point in their pre-school, elementary, middle, or high school years, and graduate from an American high school (Stacklas & Horn, 2012). Many gain citizenship, are first-generation Americans, and view themselves as American. Second-generation American students, like Rosa, are bom in the United States and also graduate from an American high school, but one or both of their parents were bom in another country. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.