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Writing-related Attitudes of L1 and L2 Students Who Receive Help from Writing Fellows

Abstract: This study examines the writing-related attitudes of L1 and L2 students who receive individual discipline-based writing help from Writing Fellows. It investigates changes in the students' attitudes toward writing through a survey administered at the beginning and end of the semester in which the students worked with their Writing Fellows. Four-hundred-ninety-six (496) students in 23 writing-intensive classes completed the survey at the beginning of the semester, and a smaller subset of these students (363) completed the survey at the end of the semester. In comparison to L1 and monolingual English writers, L2 English and multilingual writers started the semester with more positive writing-related attitudes and were more likely to engage in constructive writing behaviors. In addition, while students from all language groups showed improvement in their writing-related attitudes over the semester, L2 and multilingual writers had significantly greater gains, even after controlling for their more efficacious start. These results suggest that, while Writing Fellows may benefit all students, the program may be particularly effective for L2 and multilingual writers.[1]


A recent special issue of Across the Disciplines on "WAC and Second Language Writing: Cross-Field Research, Theory, and Program Development" drew attention to a lack of conversation about second language (L2) writers in the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) community (Cox & Zawacki, 2011). In their introduction to the special issue, Zawacki and Cox (2011) point out that WAC and ESL programs on most college campuses operate as separate units and do not normally consult each other about L2 issues. They state that there is a "pressing need for WAC to engage with second language writing scholarship" and for WAC and L2 writing specialists to work together to support L2 student writers in their courses across the curriculum.

WAC and ESL programs have traditionally had different focuses—while ESL programs mainly see their job as preparing ESL students to enter first-year composition programs, WAC programs have been concerned with the teaching of disciplinary language, thinking, conventions, and content knowledge through the medium of writing (Johns, 2005; McLeod & Maimon, 2000), using a write-to-learn and/or writing-in-the-discipline agenda. WAC programs prioritize a higher order focus on language use, including rhetorical strategies (e.g., argumentation based on claim-making and evidence) that are familiar to the particular discipline (Johnson & Krase, 2012). Considering this bigger picture perspective, WAC has tended to view L2-specific language concerns as the responsibility of ESL programs (Matsuda, 1999; Zawacki & Cox, 2011). In contrast, ESL programs have typically focused more on general academic English skills (Johns, 2005). For any college student, L1 or L2, the move from first year composition to WAC is challenging, with well-documented issues in terms of writing-related knowledge transfer (Clark & Hernandez, 2011; Johnson & Krase, 2012; Wolfe, Olson, & Wilder, 2014). The transition is even more fraught for L2 students enrolled in ESL programs without a strong focus on advancing the research approaches, rhetorical strategies, and/or habits of self-regulation (e.g., planning, outlining, revision, managing task-related frustrations and anxiety, etc.) demanded by WAC. All too often, L2 students are not well-prepared for WAC programs and their needs are not adequately addressed.

Importantly, both Geller (2011) and Hall (2009) point out that there is a widespread monolingual bias in how WAC is conceptualized and practiced. WAC asks students not only to write, a complex task itself, but also to learn, process, and demonstrate knowledge of disciplinary information through their writing. We expect L2 students to do this in the same way as monolinguals, even though, as Hall reminds us, we do not know with any certainty if "students who continue to function in more than one language learn differently—learn content differently, learning writing differently [than monolinguals]" (p. 37). In other words, we still do not understand how multilingual student writers navigate learning and writing in their multiple languages. We assume they are the same as monolinguals and, when evidence suggests they are not, like when they demonstrate less than native-like command of English, we tend to label this as an "ESL problem" (Zamel, 1995, p. 507) and focus overly on sentence-level errors (Wolfe-Quintero & Segade, 1999; Cole, 2014). There is clearly a lack of knowledge about L2 writers, which in turn limits our abilities to recognize and support their needs. It is no wonder, then, that L2 students are at a higher risk for academic underachievement (de Kleine & Lawton, 2015) and feel inadequate and disempowered in the WAC classroom (Zamel, 1995).

Cox (2011), one of the contributors and co-editors of the Across the Disciplines special issue, stresses the need for advocacy on behalf of L2 writers in the field of WAC. Specifically, she encourages WAC researchers and practitioners to conduct research on L2 writers on their campuses. She emphasizes the importance of differentiating between L1 and L2 writers of English when collecting data as a way to gain a more accurate understanding of the diverse experiences of L1 and L2 writers. L2 writing has been shown to be different in important ways from L1 writing, and conducting research on L2 writers in WAC programs can advance L2 theories of writing by making them "more inclusive, more sensitive, and ultimately, more valid" (Silva, 1993, p. 201).

The current study is a direct response to Cox's (2011) call for L2 writer advocacy through research. Specifically, we investigate the writing attitudes of L1 and L2 writers participating in a curriculum-based peer support program, Writing Fellows, in two higher education institutions, an upper-division regional higher education center and a community college in the Washington, DC metro area. We examine changes in the students' attitudes toward writing through a survey administered at the beginning and end of the semester in which they worked with their Writing Fellows. A total of 746 students interacted with Writing Fellows over five semesters (from Fall 2011 to Fall 2013). Of these students, beginning-of-the-semester survey data were gathered on 496 participants. A smaller subset of these participants, 363, also completed the end-of-the-semester survey.

At the regional center participating in this study, all undergraduate students matriculate as transfer students during their junior year after completing an Associate's degree or an equivalent number of credits at another university or community college. Most students (about 80%) transfer from the community college included in the study. During Fall 2011 and Spring 2012, data were collected at both the regional center and community college. In Fall 2012, Spring 2013, and Fall 2013, data were collected only at the regional center. In the five semesters studied, the Writing Fellows program was offered in 23 different writing-intensive classes in five academic disciplines: psychology, social work, history, criminal justice, and business. Courses identified for the Writing Fellows program were typically taken during students' final year at the community college or their first year at the regional center. All courses identified were upper-division and major-specific. Thus, all associated writing assignments represented WAC, with most reflecting a writing-to-learn versus writing-in-the-discipline agenda. This study is based on a subset of data from a larger research effort and draws from two relatively separate bodies of research: (1) writing self-efficacy, especially in L2 populations; and (2) the potential of Writing Fellows to improve student writing and learning. We turn to a discussion of the relevant literature in these areas below.

The advantages of positive writing attitudes

Strong positive attitudes toward writing lead students to have strong writing self-efficacy, defined as the belief in one's ability to overcome obstacles and succeed (Martinez, Kock, & Cass, 2011). Self-efficacy contributes to students' motivation, aspiration, and academic achievement—the higher the self-efficacy, the more effort the student is likely to put forth, which contributes to better performance (Bandura, 1993). Students with high self-efficacy believe that success is possible for them, that the effort they put into a task is worthwhile because it can and will lead to fruitful results.

Compared to students with low self-efficacy, students with high self-efficacy are willing to do more writing, feel in more control of their writing, are more conscious of language mechanics, invest more time at various stages of the process, and are more open to the evaluation of their writing (Martinez et al., 2011; Rechtien & Dizinno, 1998; Woodrow, 2011). Moreover, writing self-efficacy has also been shown to correlate with self-regulation behaviors important to successful writing experiences, which include process-oriented activities like pre-writing and brainstorming, goal-setting, feedback-seeking, and self-assessment and revision (Ekholm, Zumbrunn, & Conklin, 2015). Generally, efficacious students will invest the necessary time and practice at various stages of the writing process and will be open to feedback on their writing. Because feedback and practice are some of the best tools for improving writing, considerable research has shown that boosts in self-efficacy lead to corresponding gains in task outcomes and performance (Ekholm et al., 2015; Jalaluddin, Paramasivan, Husain, & Abu Bakar, 2015; Prat-Sala & Redford, 2012).

Furthermore, self-efficacy influences other affective characteristics that also determine writing success, including management of emotions (Ekholm, Zumbrunn, & Conklin, 2015). For example, there is an inverse relationship between writing self-efficacy and anxiety. Students with writing anxiety experience stress arising from negative expectations, lack of confidence in their writing ability, and worries over other people's perceptions of their writing (Cheng, 2004). As anxiety increases, students' self-confidence plummets (Klassen, 2002; Martinez et al., 2011). Many students end up avoiding writing (Martinez et al., 2011), even selecting classes that they perceive will not require much writing (Cheng, 2002). They are also likely to speed through or skip important stages in the writing process (e.g., brainstorming, revising, editing) (Selfe, 1984). Unfortunately, these avoidance behaviors commonly result in poor writing overall and even higher levels of anxiety over time (Rechtien & Dizinno, 1998; Selfe, 1984).

Few studies specifically investigate the self-efficacy of L2 writers, but the growth of multilingualism in higher education has resulted in more attention paid to the identity and experiences of L2 students in the writing-intensive college classroom. Across the board, research on this subject emphasizes the extreme complexity of the L2 identity, which often begins with the problematized labels that categorize L2 students. As Ortmeier-Hooper (2008) explains, "the term "ESL" is not only a descriptor, it is also an institutional marker, pointing to a need for additional services and also to the status of someone still marked as a novice in the English language" (p. 390). Labels for L2 writers inspire a multitude of connotations for these students, sometimes positive but more often negative (Costino & Hyon, 2007; Cox, 2010; Zawacki & Habib, 2010). L2 writers describe experiences of feeling singled out, neglected, isolated or like an outsider (Cox, 2010; Ortmeier-Hooper, 2008). These students also share that they have been misperceived as "not… as intelligent [as native speakers]" (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2008, p. 408) or having "deficits" (Costino & Hyon, 2007, p. 70). This speaks to a great potential for L2 students to internalize reductive stigma and feel marginalized and misunderstood within WAC environments in a way that will grievously impact their relationship with writing and their writing self-efficacy.

As these findings prove, L2 students will undoubtedly face barriers and obstacles during their academic journey. Many will struggle more than their native counterparts to complete language-reliant communication tasks, and they may face different attitudes—including, potentially, lower expectations or more negativity—about their linguistic competence from their peers and instructors. They will need to know how to respond to these added challenges without becoming detrimentally anxious or frustrated, all while continuing to value their effort and any feedback they receive. Unfortunately, the reductive labeling and stigma often associated with multilingualism encourages some L2 students to avoid being revealed as a language learner and, additionally, to avoid services like writing centers that may be quite valuable to their language development (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2008). These results point to the need for writing programs to find ways to boost writing self-efficacy in L2 populations. The development of higher self-efficacy, including strong self-confidence and self-regulation behaviors, is crucial to ensuring L2 students persist and graduate.

The role of Writing Fellows in improving writing attitudes

Research on Writing Fellows—a type of curriculum-based peer tutors—has explored the important role that Writing Fellows play in advancing the goals of WAC. Writing Fellows programs employ undergraduate students who are specially selected and trained to help other students with writing in various disciplines (Hughes & Hall, 2008). Built on principles of collaborative learning and process-based writing, Writing Fellows programs build in cycles of drafting, conferencing, and revising in content courses where such a process may not otherwise be available (Hall & Hughes, 2011). Writing Fellows create learning opportunities for students and faculty alike by making classroom and writing procedures explicit and articulating them for both groups (Mullin, Schorn, Turner, Hertz, Davidson, & Baca, 2008). As "dual citizens" who occupy an intermediary role between a teacher and a peer (Severino & Knight, 2007), Writing Fellows serve as "agents of change within a college's culture of writing" (Gladstein, 2008). Because Writing Fellows have taken the same class and written similar assignments as the students they are helping, they can be sympathetic to their experiences and perspectives. In addition, Writing Fellows boast added experience and undergo thoughtful and extensive training to be able to provide constructive feedback on the particular assignment in question. The primary advantage of Writing Fellows, thus, is that they can relate to students like peers, but simultaneously serve as a much more sophisticated source of feedback than peers usually can.

Although their "dual citizen" role positions Writing Fellows to have a great deal of potential to benefit WAC programs, relatively few studies have empirically investigated their effect on students' attitudes toward writing and writing self-efficacy. In a case study of writing tutors placed in a 300-level economics class, Marr and Misser (2008) found that students generally felt more confident about writing a literature review and an introduction to a research proposal after receiving help from their writing tutors. In another case study that examined the impact of peer tutors in an introductory psychology course, Levine (1990) found that fewer students submitted their papers late in a class with peer tutors than in a class without. Although there was no significant difference between student grades in the two classes, students who worked with peer tutors believed that they had improved their ability to express themselves in writing. In addition, Song and Richter (1997) found that students who received writing support from both the writing center and a writing tutor connected to the class scored higher on writing assessments than students who received writing center support alone.

In one of the few available empirical studies on the effect of Writing Fellows on student writers, Regaignon and Bromley (2011) found that students who worked with a Writing Fellow multiple times over the course of a semester demonstrated measurable improvement in their writing. In addition, results from a student survey included in the same study showed that students in the section with Writing Fellows learned about the importance of writing as a process, while students in the section without Writing Fellows did not. Perhaps most importantly, students who worked with Writing Fellows exhibited more confidence in their ability to evaluate and improve their own writing—i.e., they reported higher self-efficacy. Some of the responses that Regaignon and Bromley (2011) received from students who worked with Writing Fellows included: "I have a more clear idea of where I need improvement"; "getting feedback … has improved my writing by making me more aware of what I need to work on"; "I learned to plan my writing." (p. 49).

These results, though based on a limited number of studies, suggest that Writing Fellows can have a positive effect on students' attitudes toward writing and increase self-efficacy. What we do not know, however, is how L2 writers fare on these attitudinal measures, as none of the studies distinguish between L1 and L2 writers of English. While it is commonly assumed that ESL writers write with more difficulty than their native English-speaking peers, research in this area is limited and inconclusive (Harris & Silva, 1993). Other research shows that whereas ESL students tend to make only surface-level changes to their writing, the changes they make as a result of peer and teacher feedback are more often meaning-level changes than those revisions they make on their own (Paulus, 1999). Therefore, given adequate support from teachers and peers, L2 writers seem to be able to improve their writing in substantive ways. Nevertheless, as we mentioned earlier, there is a need to conduct research focusing on L2 within WAC. The questions for the current study are then:

  1. Are there differences in writing-related attitudes and behaviors of L1 and L2 writers?
  2. To what extent does working with a Writing Fellow influence these writing-related attitudes and behaviors of L1 and L2 writers?


In this study, Writing Fellows were all undergraduate students selected based on professor recommendations. Generally, Writing Fellows are undergraduate seniors within the same academic program. The program under study, thus, has a discipline-specific rather than generalist agenda. In other words, Writing Fellows work within their discipline. Psychology students serve as Writing Fellows for psychology classes, and social work students for social work classes. Within the upper-division curriculum of these programs, Writing Fellows have mostly been attached to required courses that all students in the major take. For these reasons, Writing Fellows are best able to function in the peer component of their "dual citizen" role since the vast majority took the same class and had the same assignment. They can relate to the students they work with because they also experienced what the students are going through.

Writing Fellows became more advanced feedback-givers, the other component of their "dual citizen" role, through their preparation and training. All Writing Fellows participated in a seven-hour training program designed to familiarize them with the philosophies of the Writing Fellows program, the basic structure of a writing consultation, and techniques for providing feedback on student writing. Writing Fellows also observed a model session, participated in role plays, and carried out two full-length mock sessions with their supervisor and/or an experienced Writing Fellow. Additionally, through team meetings with the Writing Fellows supervisor, the course instructor, and any teaching assistants for the course, they were specifically prepared to provide feedback on each of the papers. Writing Fellows could also elect to receive more extensive training by taking a credit course designed specifically for Writing Fellows. Across social work and psychology, the two largest Writing Fellows programs, roughly half of Writing Fellows take the course, depending on the flexibility of their major (more flexibility in the psychology program allows about 75% or more of their Writing Fellows to take this course, but only about 25-35% of social work Writing Fellows are able to fit in the credits between field placements and the structured curriculum).

Because the regional center under study has a diverse, highly multilingual student population, many Writing Fellows are L2 speakers themselves, aligning them even better with L2 peers. For example, three out of four Writing Fellows assigned to a psychology class in Fall 2012 were multilingual. At least one or two multilinguals are part of any Writing Fellows team (each course typically has a team of three to five Writing Fellows, depending on enrollment and Writing Fellow flexibility/availability). Since L2 speakers are so prevalent at the regional center and community college under study, the training included a segment on non-native English speaking writers. Although not all L2 speakers were paired with an L2 Writing Fellow, the training and strong presence of L2 Writing Fellows helped to ensure that L2 perspectives and experiences were considered.

Each semester-long Writing Fellows program involved two paper consultations between Writing Fellows and students. These consultations happened outside of class time. Writing Fellows were not asked to provide any other form of support to the class (e.g., workshops, content tutoring, in-class feedback or review, etc.), apart from a brief introduction to the program given at the beginning of the semester. Before each of the two consultation cycles, the Writing Fellows met with the course instructor and any teaching assistant(s) to discuss expectations for the paper and challenges the instructors have previously observed. This meeting was facilitated by the Writing Fellows program supervisor. Soon after this meeting, students submitted the first draft of their paper and met with their Writing Fellows in person to discuss it. Students revised their drafts based on the feedback given by their Writing Fellow and submitted their second drafts to the instructor. A second and final consultation cycle happened later in the semester and proceeded exactly like the first, including the course instructor meeting, student meetings, revision, and resubmission.

A student survey, designed by the team that supervises the Writing Fellows program at the regional center (see Appendix), was administered twice—once at the beginning of the semester and once at the end of the semester. The design of the survey was informed by various instruments, with the Emig-King Attitude Scale for Students (also known as the Emig Writing Attitude Scale) as the primary source. Developed in 1979, this scale was originally designed for high school juniors and seniors and consists of 40 items divided into three subscales (perception, process, and preferences; Emig & King, 1979). In order to adapt the Emig-King Attitude Scale for college students, additional surveys were researched, including the Daly-Miller Writing Apprehension Test (Daly & Miller, 1975), Bandura's (2006) guide to constructing self-efficacy scales, and a study by Saddler and Graham (2007) on the relationship between writing knowledge and performance. Altogether, these surveys and studies informed the multi-dimensional design of the survey, the dimensions included, and the questions asked.

The final version of the survey used in this study comprised 13 Likert scale items and 6 open-ended questions on students' writing-related attitudes and behaviors. The scale measured three dimensions: (1) confidence, (2) process, and (3) purpose. The 'confidence' dimension included seven items which measured students' confidence in their ability to write (Questions 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 12, and 13); the 'process' dimension included four items which evaluated students' approach to the writing process (Questions 2, 7, 10, and 11); and the 'purpose' dimension included two items which gauged students' views on the educative purpose of writing (Questions 6 and 8). Student response to each item was scored utilizing a 5-point scale (1 = almost never to 5 = almost always), with higher scores demonstrating more positive writing-related attitudes and behaviors. Responses to items were averaged to create an overall score and three sub-scale scores for confidence, process, and purpose both at the beginning and end of the semester (see Table 4).

In addition to student writing attitudes, the survey also sought information on students' language background, among other demographic variables. Participants were asked to list the first, second, and third languages they knew. Students who listed English as their first language were considered L1 speakers, while students who listed any language other than English as their first language were considered L2 speakers. As can be seen in Table 1, 400 students identified themselves as L1 speakers of English, whereas 96 students identified themselves as L2 speakers of English. Participants who listed only one language were considered monolinguals, while those who indicated two or three languages were considered multilinguals. The multilingual group (N=236) included all of the L2 English speakers (N=96) and some of the L1 English speakers (N=140). The most common non-English languages listed by the participants were Spanish and French, although a wide variety of other languages were also represented.

Table 1: Student Demographic Information on Beginning-of-the-Semester Survey

L1 or L2 English Speaker N %
L1 English Speaker 400 80.6
L2 English Speaker 96 19.4
Monolingual or Multilingual N %
Monolingual 255 51.9
Multilingual 236 48.1
Gender* N %
Female 332 66.9
Male 158 31.9
Ethnicity** N %
Asian 48 9.7
Black 66 13.3
Hispanic 93 18.8
Multiracial 20 4.0
White 214 45.8
Other 26 5.2
Discipline of Study N %
Psychology 335 67.5
Social Work 57 11.5
History 55 11.1
Criminal Justice 37 7.5
Business 12 2.4
Institution N %
Regional Center 320 64.5
Community College 176 35.5

*6 participants (1.2%) did not indicate gender.
**29 participants (5.8%) did not indicate ethnicity.


Beginning-of-the-semester writing attitudes and behaviors

After tabulating students' overall and subscale scores by language groups (L1 versus L2 English speaker groups and monolingual versus multilingual groups; see Table 2), we found an apparent correlation between students' initial writing-related attitudes and their language background. At the beginning of the semester, before they started working with the Writing Fellows, L2 English speakers had more positive writing-related attitudes and behaviors than did the L1 English speakers (for example, the average score of L2 students on the overall survey was 3.44, compared to 3.32 for L1 students). The same was true for multilingual students, who scored higher than monolinguals (compare, for example, the overall survey scores of 3.40 for multilinguals and 3.34 for monolinguals). In sum, L2 and multilingual students demonstrated consistently higher scores overall and in all dimensions of the beginning-of the-semester survey even without any intervention.

Table 2: Mean Scores on Beginning-of-the-Semester Survey

  Overall Confidence Process Purpose
L1 English speakers 3.29 3.23 3.18 3.73
L2 English speakers 3.44 3.26 3.51 3.96
Monolingual 3.25 3.18 3.13 3.71
Multilingual 3.39 3.28 3.37 3.86
All participants 3.32 3.23 3.24 3.78


To determine if the differences in scores were statistically significant, we conducted an analysis of variance based on language group (again, L1 versus L2 English speaker groups and monolingual versus multilingual groups). As shown in Table 3, one's status as either an L1 or L2 speaker of English had a significant effect on the overall (p < .01), process (p < .001), and purpose (p < .01) scores. Likewise, one's status as either a monolingual or a multilingual had a significant effect on the overall (p < .001), process (p < .001), and purpose (p < .05) scores. Confidence scores were not significant at the p < .05 level. These findings indicate that the L2 and multilingual writers included in our study had better overall writing attitudes as well as a stronger appreciation for process-oriented writing and the learning purpose inherent in writing than L1 and monolingual writers. This information provides some valuable diagnostic information about the profile of our L2 and multilingual writers, who appear to have stronger writing attitudes and potentially more self-efficacy than L1 and monolingual writers.

Table 3: Differences in Beginning-of-the-Semester Survey Scores Between Groups (ANOVA)

L1 vs. L2 English Speaker ANOVA p
Overall* F (1, 120.122) = 7.507 .006
Confidence F (1, 202.089) = .230 .632
Process* F (1, 326.860) = 12.239 .001
Purpose* F (1, 317.695) = 6.323 .012
Monolingual vs. Multilingual ANOVA p
Overall* F (1, 119.151) = 11.553 .001
Confidence F (1, 200.941) = 3.028 .082
Process* F (1, 327.911) = 10.633 .001
Purpose* F (1, 319.043) = 4.230 .040

Note: Values with an asterisk (*) are significant (p≤.05).

End-of-the-semester writing attitudes and behaviors

While the beginning-of-the-semester survey was based on a sample of 496 students, a subset of this group (363 students) completed the end-of-the-semester survey (Table 4). Despite the fewer number of respondents, the end-of-the-semester survey offered important insights into the possible effect of Writing Fellows on the writing-related attitudes and behaviors of the students. For instance, Tables 2 and 4 reveal that there was an across-the-board improvement from beginning-of-the-semester to end-of-the-semester results (e.g., mean overall survey scores of all participants combined increased from 3.34 to 3.38) suggesting that all students, regardless of language status, may have benefited from working with Writing Fellows.

Table 4: Mean Scores of Participants with Paired Beginning- and End-of-the-semester Surveys

  Overall Confidence Process Purpose
Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post
L1 English speakers 3.32 3.34 3.27 3.28 3.21 3.21 3.74 3.78
L2 English speakers 3.44 3.60 3.27 3.40 3.45 3.70 4.01 4.06
Monolingual 3.34 3.38 3.27 3.30 3.25 3.30 3.79 3.83
Multilingual 3.40 3.49 3.30 3.43 3.34 3.38 3.86 3.94
All participants 3.34 3.38 3.27 3.30 3.25 3.30 3.79 3.83


As we had observed in beginning-of-the-semester survey scores, we likewise noticed patterns in students' end-of-semester survey scores based on their language background. As Table 4 shows, multilinguals and L2 writers achieved higher end-of-semester scores both overall and on each sub-scale (compare overall scores of 3.60 for L2 students versus 3.34 for L1; overall scores of 3.49 for multilinguals and 3.29 for monolinguals). We conducted another analysis of variance on these end-of-semester scores to identify significance. As shown in Table 6, one's status as either an L1 or L2 speaker of English had a significant effect on the overall (p < .001), process (p < .001), and purpose (p < .05) scores. In addition, one's status as either a monolingual or a multilingual had a significant effect on the overall (p < .001), confidence (p < .005), and purpose (p < .05) scores. L2 speakers ended the semester with significantly stronger overall, process, and purpose attitudes in comparison to L1 speakers. Multilinguals also ended the semester with significantly stronger overall, confidence, and purpose attitudes than monolinguals.

Table 5: Changes in Mean Scores from Beginning- to End-of-Semester, L2 English Speakers & Multilingual Populations (Paired Samples T-test)

L2 English Speakers
Overall* Pre Post t-test p r
Mean 3.44 3.6 t(63)=2.91 .005 .12
SD 5.90 6.53
Mean 3.27 3.40 t(63)=1.98 .052 .11
SD 4.08 4.35
Mean 3.45 3.70 t(63)=2.42 .05 .09
SD 3.67 4.10
Mean 4.01 4.06 t(63)=.454 .652 .031
SD 1.77 1.72
Overall* Pre Post t-test p r
Mean 3.40 3.49 t(166)=2.87 .005 .048
SD 6.55 6.93
Mean 3.30 3.43 t(166)=3.33 .001 .06
SD 4.08 4.35
Mean 3.34 3.38 t(166)=.578 .564 .021
SD 4.00 4.78
Mean 3.86 3.94 t(166)=.1.36 .175 .054
SD 1.58 1.58

Note. Values with an asterisk (*) are significant (p ≤ .05). A Pearson’s correlation (r) ≥ .10 but ≤ .05 indicates a moderate effect size; r ≥.05 indicates a large effect size.

Since all groups increased their scores from the beginning to the end of the semester, all student participants appeared to go through attitudinal changes toward writing during their work with the Writing Fellows. Paired samples t-tests were run to assess the significance of each groups' score changes. Table 5 shows the results of t-tests run on multilinguals and L2 writers. Note that Table 5 does not include results of the t-tests run on monolinguals and L1 writers, none of which were found to be significant. As Table 5 demonstrates, statistically significant improvement was observed for L2 writers in the overall and process categories, and for multilingual students in the overall and confidence categories (at the p ≤ .05 level). Thus, according to the t-test, we can conclude that certain writing-related attitudes of L2 and multilingual students did improve notably over the course of the semester. Again, no significance was found for monolinguals and L1 writers, even though these groups did increase their initial scores on the end-of-semester survey (i.e., mean overall survey scores for monolinguals increased from 3.34 to 3.38; for L1 writers, 3.32 to 3.34).

Table 6: Differences in End-of-the-Semester Survey Scores Between Groups (ANOVA)

L1 vs. L2 English Speaker ANOVA p
Overall* F (1, 102.108) = 12.607 .000
Confidence F (1, 197.939) = 1.412 .236
Process* F (1, 209.378) = 22.114 .000
Purpose* F (1, 238.120) = 6.261 .013
Monolingual vs. Multilingual ANOVA p
Overall* F (1, 101.887) = 13.417 .000
Confidence* F (1, 193.863) = 9.030 .003
Process F (1, 219.895) = 3.791 .052
Purpose* F (1, 238.631) = 5.474 .020

Note: Values with an asterisk (*) are significant (p≤.05).

As mentioned earlier, L2 English and multilingual groups started the semester with stronger writing attitudes and, thus, demonstrated higher scores on the beginning-of-the-semester survey. We wanted to realistically assess their improvement in scores over the course of the semester, taking into consideration their more efficacious starting position. To do so, we conducted an analysis of covariance. As can be seen in Table 7, even after beginning-of-semester scores were controlled for, there was a significant difference on overall (p < .001) and process (p < .001) scores between the L1 and L2 English speaker groups, and on overall (p < .001) and confidence (p < .001) scores between the monolingual and multilingual groups. These results suggest that L2 and multilingual students experienced significant improvement in these particular attitudinal domains, despite their stronger position initially.

Table 7: Differences in End-of-the-semester Survey Scores Between Groups after Controlling for Beginning-of-the-Semester Scores (ANCOVA)

L1 vs. L2 English Speaker

η2p ANCOVA p
Overall* .030 F (1, 360) = 11.272 .001
Confidence .007 F (1, 364) = 2.602 .108
Process* .046 F (1, 382) = 18.315 .000
Purpose .010 F (1, 388) = 3.722 .054
Monolingual vs. Multilingual η2p ANCOVA p
Overall* .028 F (1, 362) = 10.263 .001
Confidence* .033 F (1, 363) = 12.357 .000
Process .005 F (1, 381) = 1.812 .179
Purpose .009 F (1, 387) = 3.408 .066

Note: Values with an asterisk (*) are significant (p≤.05).

Taken together, the results from all three analyses suggest that L2 and multilingual speakers experienced several significant changes to their writing attitudes during their participation in a Writing Fellows program. Among all of the observed changes, particular attention should be paid to overall attitudes, process attitudes (for L2 speakers), and confidence (for multilinguals), since the changes in these areas were significant regardless of whether students begin the semester with more or less efficacious attitudes. Based on our results, it would seem that participation in a Writing Fellows program can change the attitudes of students, particularly L2 and multilingual students, toward writing. Moreover, the intervention can be influential and transformative for both stronger and weaker students. Also important to note is that significant changes over the course of the intervention were only observed in the scores of L2 and multilingual populations, not in L1 writers or monolinguals. This result suggests that Writing Fellows may be particularly effective in helping L2 and multilingual writers to boost self-efficacy.


What is striking about the results is that L2 writers in this study in fact began the semester having significantly more positive writing-related attitudes and behaviors than the L1 writers. While L2 writers are aware that they lack native competence in English—a seemingly handicapping condition that is believed to lead to lower confidence and higher anxiety—they compensate for it through a variety of positive behaviors related to writing. For example, compared to L1 writers, the L2 writers in the study are significantly more likely to ask for other people's feedback on their papers before handing them in (Question 2), produce multiple drafts (Question 7), conduct prewriting or planning before starting their papers (Question 10), and take concrete steps to understand the instructor's instructions, such as marking up the assignment sheet to highlight important points (Question 11). Furthermore, L2 writers are significantly more likely to think that their writing assignments teach them valuable skills that help to prepare them for the workplace and later life (Question 6), and are more likely to believe that writing assignments increase their understanding of the course content (Question 8). All of these positive behaviors can lead to improved writing over time and serve as resources teachers can use to encourage L2 students, make them feel confident and welcome in the WAC classroom, and further nurture both self-efficacy and performance.

As for the analysis involving the monolingual and multilingual students, it is noteworthy that the multilingual group in the study had significantly more positive writing-related attitudes and behaviors than did the monolingual group at the beginning of the semester. Recall that the multilingual group comprised all of the L2 writers (N=96) and some of the native English speakers who reported having knowledge of one or more languages other than English (N=140). The monolingual and multilingual labels, like the L1 and L2 English speaker labels, were based on participants' self-identification on the survey. While language proficiency is frequently a factor in how people identify themselves as either monolingual or multilingual, self-assessments of language proficiency often do not match actual competence in languages, and individual conceptions of what constitutes a multilingual speaker vary considerably from person to person (Shin, 2013). For instance, an individual who can read but not speak a second language may not consider himself to be bilingual, whereas another person who is able to communicate several phrases or carry on a rudimentary conversation in a second language may self-identify as a bilingual. However, some people may consider the first person bilingual but not the second. Still others may think that only those who have equal and complete fluency in two languages may call themselves bilingual. Contrary to popular thinking, bilinguals rarely have balanced and complete fluency in their two languages, and use the two languages for different purposes with different people in a variety of situations (Shin, 2013). Levels of proficiency in a language depend on the need for that language and are domain-specific.

What is important for the purposes of this study is that one's self-identification as either a monolingual or a multilingual may ultimately reflect the person's attitude toward language-related activities (including writing). The self-identified multilingual group may possess a more constructive, flexible view of their ability and potential as language users regardless of their actual proficiency. Their 'can do' attitude toward languages, as evidenced in their professed knowledge of languages other than English, may in turn prime them to have a more affirming experience with writing. It is also possible that prior instruction in ESL or a foreign language may have increased the multilingual writers' sensitivity to process-based approaches to writing.

In terms of the possible effect of Writing Fellows on students' writing-related attitudes and behaviors, it is noteworthy that there was an across-the-board improvement in scores in all categories from the beginning of the semester to the end of the semester, regardless of the participants' language background. Although we had no true control group, the quantitative data provide a strong indication that Writing Fellows did play an important role in boosting students' writing attitudes, especially when combined with qualitative data collected on the program. During the first semester of implementation, comparisons were made to sections of the course taught by the same instructor during the prior semester, when there was no Writing Fellows program. Instructors reported that paper grades were 5-6% higher in their Writing Fellows courses. Overall, faculty who have Writing Fellows in their courses consistently expressed that their students produced stronger overall papers. Faculty also commonly noted fewer APA citation and formatting errors, fewer instances of plagiarism, and fewer papers turned in late or not at all. These are encouraging evidence of the potential academic benefits of the Writing Fellows program beyond only attitudinal changes.

Students, moreover, assessed the program overwhelmingly positively on mid-semester and end-of-semester evaluations. They noted higher confidence in writing analytical papers and in integrating resources. As one psychology student wrote, "my Writing Fellow helped me build stronger cases and combine ideas better." A history student wrote, "[the Writing Fellow] helped me figure out how to analyze instead of just providing information." A social work student appreciated that she could "gain perspective from someone with more experience." On midterm evaluations, 75% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that receiving feedback on their paper before it was graded was useful. On final evaluations, 69% of students indicated that they saw the program as helpful or very helpful, and 63% of students felt their papers improved as a result of meeting with a Writing Fellow (34% felt their drafts stayed the same).

Why might Writing Fellows be especially helpful to L2 and multilingual writers? One explanation may be that the Writing Fellows program is not a remedial program reserved for low-performing students, but one that helps every student regardless of language background and ability. Many writing apprehensive L2 writers are not good judges of their own abilities and believe that they cannot write well even when they may have adequate competence (Soria & Stebleton, 2013). Their lack of confidence is made worse by years of struggling to compete with native English speaking peers in academic contexts that place little value in knowing languages other than English. Teachers often see ESL students' L1-influenced errors as a nuisance and a problem, and treat their multilingual abilities as a deficit. Writing Fellows programs, in contrast, place the focus on the individual student, and use their less-than-perfect writing in English as an opportunity for growth and learning. In this way, Writing Fellows have the potential to transform deficit-based educational practices into those that empower students by providing individualized scaffolding and emotional support through an empathetic peer.

As Soria and Stebleton (2013) argue, the constructive experiences of students who have more positive perceptions of their own language abilities may contribute to stronger self-efficacy and perseverance. Productive language experiences may enable students to be more inclined to engage with writing-related tasks and resources in ways that lead to substantive change. These students may also embrace their multilingual background and enjoy talking about, practicing, and developing their writing and language skills. This would help to explain the significantly more positive writing-related attitudes of the L2 and multilingual writers, as they would be eager consumers and adopters of new models, advice, and information on how to improve their writing.

Given this, the self-identified language abilities of the L2 and multilingual groups in the study emerge as a distinct resource that may be tapped for improving writing across the disciplines. Although it remains to be seen whether the positive gains in writing-related attitudes and behaviors translate to actual improvements in student writing over time, this study shows the importance of investing in personalized interventions like the Writing Fellows program in colleges and universities—for all learners, but especially for the growing number of students from multilingual backgrounds. 

Appendix - Student Survey

American Indian/Alaskan Native
Year in College:
Age range (circle one):

I. Below you will find a series of statements about writing. Please indicate whether each statement is true for you using the following scale: (1) almost never, (2) seldom, (3) sometimes, (4) often, (5) almost always. There are no right or wrong answers. Some of these statements may appear to be repetitious to you, but take your time and try to be as honest as you can.

  Almost Never Seldom Sometimes Often Almost Always
  1. I don't like writing and avoid it whenever possible.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I ask for feedback from others on my papers before handing them in.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I don't know how to get started writing a paper.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. When I hand in a paper, I feel confident that I have expressed my ideas well.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I have trouble organizing my ideas when I write papers.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I believe my academic writing assignments teach me valuable skills that help prepare me for the workplace and later life.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I don't see any need for writing more than one draft of a paper.
  1. Doing writing assignments increases my understanding of the course content.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I don't understand how to indicate what words and ideas I used from my sources; for example, I struggle with APA style in psychology.
  1. I do some kind of prewriting or planning before I start writing a paper.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I mark up the instructor's assignment sheet (underline or highlight important points) before I start writing a paper.
  1. I am good at selecting relevant information for my papers from class and other resources (textbook, articles, lecture notes, etc.).
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I don't feel confident writing papers in disciplines like psychology.

II. Be as specific as you can in answering the following questions. (Please write down at least two thoughts or ideas you have for each of these)

  1. What do you think successful student writers do when they write academic papers?
  1. What kinds of things do you focus on when you revise your own paper? In other words, what do you look to change in your writing to make it better? If you do not revise your papers, why don't you?
  1. Why do you think some students have trouble writing?

III. For these last questions, circle all the choices that are true for you. You can also choose "Other" and write your own answer.

  1. What do you think will be your biggest challenge in learning to write a strong paper in this class? (Check all that apply.)
  1. Knowing the professor's expectations
  2. Knowing what is needed to write a critical analysis
  3. Understanding the material enough to be able to write about it
  4. Finding appropriate material from class resources or other research to support my points
  5. Other:
  1. What resources do you think will help you meet this/these challenges? (Check all that apply.)
  1. Class instructor
  2. Writing Fellow
  3. Classmates/friends
  4. Reading textbook and relevant articles carefully
  5. Experience of writing a draft and getting feedback from the Writing Fellow and instructor
  6. Other:
  1. This course requires you to work with a Writing Fellow. What do you expect from this partnership? (Check all that apply.)
  1. I expect the Writing Fellow to catch my grammatical mistakes and proofread my paper.
  2. I expect the Writing Fellow to help me get a better grade.
  3. I expect the Writing Fellow to point out what is not working in the paper and discuss how it might be improved.
  4. I expect to work with the Writing Fellow to write the best possible paper.
  5. I do not expect the Writing Fellow to be able to help me with my essay since I see meeting with a Writing Fellow as unnecessary.
  6. Other:


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[1] The authors would like to thank Beverly Bickel and Marsha Youngblood for their insights and helpful feedback on this research.

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Complete APA Citation

Gallagher, Mary, Galindo, Claudia, & Shin, Sarah J. (2016, August 8). Writing-related attitudes of L1 and L2 students who receive help from writing fellows. Across the Disciplines, 13(2). Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/gallagheretal2016.cfm