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A descriptive study of Korean ESL students' experiences and perceptions of the writing processes in U.S. mainstream college classes

Dissertation
Author: Kyeongheui Kim
Abstract:
This study explored the learning experiences of five Korean college ESL students in U.S. college classes and how they responded to required writing tasks in their classes, focusing on differences between Korean and American cultures in three aspects: communication, writing styles, and classroom practices and how these differences influenced these students' learning in American learning contexts. The primary data source was a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews undertaken with study participants. In order to examine how different cultural assumptions and educational practices of Korean ESL students influence their written communication and perhaps can lead to misunderstanding of professors' expectations and requirements, study participants' papers, including teacher comments and feedback, were utilized as data. The researcher also utilized her research journal as data in order to monitor her assumptions and biases, as a Korean-born educator now studying and teaching in the United States, during her data collection, analyses and interpretations. Study participants' different cultural backgrounds as well as limited proficiency in the English language led them to face many difficulties in the learning and writing process. To overcome difficulties and problems in writing, they went to the writing center, visited their professors and/or got a private tutor. However, when there was no one available for help, they stopped seeking further information for learning. A most influential contributor to positive or negative experiences was study participants' perceptions of professors' responses to their writing and these perceived responses directly affected these students' learning. Study participants said that it is an individual student's responsibility to be prepared for classes but that more support from professors and the college would enhance each individual student's needs. Study participants lost much of their confidence, but they learned how to cope with difficulties and their writing skills were also improved. For successful learning, students' effort should come first, according to study participants, but students' effort and support from professors and the college should be combined.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Acknowledgements iii Table of Contents iv Chapter I: INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction and Rationale 1 Theoretical Perspectives on Leaning in Cross Cultural Contexts 6 Cross-Cultural Orientations to Learning 6 Pedagogical Practices in Second Language Learning ... 7 The Problem 9 Purpose of the Study 9 Assumptions and Research Questions 10 Significance of the Study 13 Cultural Significance 13 Educational Significance 13 Personal Significance 15 Methodological Orientation 16 Summary 20 Chapter II: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 22 Different Cultural Contexts and Educational Practices 22 Professors and their Influence on Students 31 Feedback, Revision, and Learning 38 Feedback and Learning 38 iv

Revision Strategies 44 ESL Labeling 49 Summary 54 Chapter III: METHODOLOGY 55 Introduction 55 Research Questions 55 Contextual Background to the Study 57 Pilot Studies 57 Research Design 68 Participants 76 Participant Recruitment 76 Participant Profiles 77 Data Collection 80 Interviews 81 Written Documents and Feedback 83 Data Analysis 85 Summary and Overview of Findings 89 Chapter IV: FINDINGS 90 Learning Experiences 92 Completing Written Assignments 93 Understanding Assignments 95 Coming Up with Ideas 98 Writing Formats 99 v

Changing to More Appropriate Sentences 102 Writing Center 106 Summary 107 Classroom Practice 108 Perceptions and Changes and Strategies for Overcoming Difficulties 110 Perceptions and Changes 110 Impact of Writing and Classroom Practices .... 110 Impact of Professors 112 Teacher Attitude and Teaching 112 Approaches Teacher Attitude and its Impact 115 Factors 118 Teacher Role 119 ESL Labeling and its Impact 122 Positive Changes 124 Summary 126 Strategies for Overcoming Difficulties 129 For Difficulties in Writing 129 Writing Center 131 Professors and Effectiveness 134 Private Tutor and Effectiveness 136 Giving-Up 138 Summary 139 For Emotional Difficulties 141 Ways for Better Learning 143 vi

Students'Effort 144 Support from Professors 145 Support from College 148 Self-Reflection 150 Summary of Findings 152 Chapter V: DISCUSSION 158 Overview of Significant Findings 158 Findings and Assumptions 160 Assumption 1 160 Assumptions 2 163 Assumptions 3 164 Assumptions 4 165 Assumptions 5 167 Findings and Existing Research Studies 168 Learning Process 168 Writing Process 168 Communication Breakdown 170 Classroom Participation 173 Feedback and Revision 174 Feedback 174 Revision 177 Professors, ESL Labeling, and Perception 178 Professors, Perceptions, and Learning 179 ESL Labeling and Perceptions 181 vii

Subjectivity 183 Summary 184 Chapter VI: CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 186 Implications 186 Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research 188 Conclusions 190 References 193 Appendix A: Open Doors 2005 - A 209 AppendixB: Open Doors 2005 - B 210 Appendix C: Open Doors 2005 - C 212 Appendix D: Informed Consent 213 vin

1 Chapter I INTRODUCTION Introduction and Rationale The population of Korean students before or after graduation from college in Korea is continuing to grow in English speaking mainstream college level classrooms.1 Many Korean college ESL (English as a Second Language) students have completed some college work in Korea and come to the U.S.A. to study. However, there is little research on Korean college level ESL students in general and how they go through the process of learning in the English speaking countries (Lee, 2006). Most research on ESL students represents ESL populations as a single category and most do not focus on specific populations, even though "There is no such thing as a generalized ESL student" (Raimes, 1996, p. 19). There are a variety of categories of ESL populations, such as Asian ESL, Spanish speaking ESL, and European ESL students. Yet even a category of 'Asian ESL' population is too broad and it includes too many different cultures for one curriculum targeting Asian ESL students to satisfy all these students' needs. Asian ESL students "share commonalities, but they also have differences in such areas as income, ethnicity, culture, and political leanings" (Hune, 2002, p. 12). 1 Open Doors: 2005 Report on International Educational Exchange (see Appendix A, B, and C), the 2004 Report of the US Census Bureau Educational Attainment in the US, and 1991-92, and 2001-02, College Enrollment by Ethnic Group of College Board

2 This population consists of at least thirty ethnic subgroups (Baruth, 1996; Chiang, 2000; Suzuki, 2002) and the four major ethnic groups of Asian ESL students are those from East Asia, including Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans; Pacific Islanders; Southeast Asia, including Thai and Vietnamese; and South Asia, including Indians and Pakistanis (Chiang, 2000). All these groups "differ enormously in cultural background, historical experience" (Suzuki, 2002, p. 25; see also Baruth, 1996; Chiang, 2000). Now that Asian ESL students are "an integral part of colleges and universities" in the U.S.A., researchers, educators, and policy makers should be aware of diverse Asian populations so that they respond appropriately to their various needs and concerns. Asian ESL students are heterogeneous and they have a wide variety of educational needs. The major groups of Asian ESL students in the U.S. are those from Korea, China, Philippines, and India (Open Doors: 2005 Report on International Educational Exchange, 2004 Report of the US Census Bureau Educational Attainment in the US, and 1991-92 and 2001-02 College Enrollment by Ethnic Group of College Board). Among those groups, the number of Korean students who come to English speaking countries, especially the U.S. for higher education, has been constantly growing. This population, however, has not been fully recognized as a major group of ESL students with distinct needs that are different from other ESL populations. Some broad characteristics of East Asian students have been identified. For instance, many Asian students are seen to be passive in classroom activities (Chiang, 2000; Rong & Preissle, 1998; Yang, 1993), they are more likely to be dependent on teachers out of respect and loyalty to them, and they tend to express their thoughts indirectly, which can cause misunderstanding and confusion on the part of native English speakers. However, Korean students in particular are most likely to be passive

3 in classroom activities because of the influence of their educational experiences. Korean students' respect for teachers is the most salient among Asian students (Ferguson, 2001; K.S. Lee, 2004). The importance of the teacher "cannot be overemphasized" in contributing to the learning of Korean students, who perceive the teacher "as an absolute authority" (K.S. Lee, 2004, p. 60). Also, the indirectness in communication is the most salient feature in the Korean communication. There are also differences between Asian languages and English and especially the Korean language is uniquely different from English, which affects Korean students' learning and these differences need to be recognized. This does not imply that all Korean students learn in the same way or that one type of teaching approach can serve all Korean students. However, although there are individual differences, members of a group also share many aspects, such as behaviors and perspectives (Goodman, 1994; Novinger, 2001). According to Tucker (2003), "one's perceptions of reality, cognitive processes, and personality are largely framed by the culture in which" the person is raised (p. 2). Tucker, with his experiences of teaching Korean students, lists some similarities among Korean students: Korean students rarely participate in classroom discussion, they do not have much experience of writing papers, and their writing styles are similar in that they express their thoughts indirectly, that is, their papers begin with a general statement and end with the thesis. Knowledge that different ESL populations have different interests and needs suggests that higher education policies, programs, and services that will enhance their learning need to be developed (Hune, 2000). By the same token, when educators know that Korean ESL students face different educational problems and have

4 different learning proclivities, then they can better understand the difficulties many Korean students have in college level classrooms in English speaking countries. Researchers who are aware of differences among ESL populations have conducted studies on Asian ESL populations, but few focus on experiences and perceptions of those students in the process of learning in English speaking classrooms (Baruth, 1996; Chiang, 2000; Hune, 2002; Mizokawa & Ryckman, 1990; Raimes, 1996; Suzuki, 2002). Those that focus on needs of Asian students focus mostly on Japanese and Chinese ESL students (Silva et al., 2003a; Spack, 1997). The number of Korean college level students who come to English speaking countries is growing and it is the third highest, after India and China (Open Doors, 2005). Despite this, it is difficult to find research on experiences and perceptions of Korean students in the process of learning in the English speaking classrooms, especially at the college level, (Lee, 2006). Consequently, for Korean ESL students in American college level classes, their "interest and issues are underserved" and "an understanding of the complexity of this population is important in developing policies, programs and services that are more responsive to" their needs (Hune, 2002, p. 12). It is acknowledged that Korean ESL groups do not "behave the same, because there is a wide range of individual differences" (Novinger, 2001, p. 29) and that "[i]n any intercultural encounter, one must distinguish individual differences in personality from group or national characteristics" (Goodman, 1994, p. 136). According to Novinger (2001), "most members of a given culture share many aspects of behavior to varying degrees" and they "share common early experience" and "these experiences produce similar personality profiles" (p. 29). Though they have commonalities, all groups - even Asian ESL students - "differ from each other in language, culture, religion, and history and therefore to group diverse peoples from Asia under the rubric

5 of Asian may serve to mask many underlying ... differences" (Mizokawa & Ryckman, 1990, p. 435, emphasis in original). Korean culture is different from other cultures and thus, it can be argued that most Korean students go though the learning process differently in mainstream English college classrooms relative to other ESL students from different cultures. The learning environment in Korea is very different from that in the U.S.A. in two major aspects: culture and communication styles (Kubota, 1997; Ramanathan & Atkinson, 1999; Sawyer & Smith, 1994). These two different aspects affect Korean students in the process of learning at large, especially in the process of completing required written work, which is a big part of most American college level class activities. Further, there is "the growing trend within academia toward setting more rigorous standards of literacy, especially as more and more institutions are requiring candidates for graduation to demonstrate writing competency" (Janopoulos, 1992, p. 109). Consequently, instructors in many academic disciplines make writing a central component of their courses (Janopoulos, 1992). Hence the ability to write well in English is essential for students' success in college. Many courses in college in English speaking countries, such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia, require students to write essays or papers to demonstrate their competence and fluency in language. One of the most influential factors in Korean students' success in college is their confidence as well as their ability in writing. By identifying some common difficulties Korean students face in the American higher educational setting, instructors can help them learn in a supportive learning environment. As colleges and universities in the U.S.A. continue to accept more Korean students, the challenge is that if they want those students to learn effectively, then instructional staff need to understand how cultural differences, among other things, influence learning.

6 Theoretical Perspectives on Learning in Cross Cultural Contexts In order to understand issues in the learning process of Korean college ESL students, this study examines how cross cultural contexts impact on students' learning in general. It is also important to consider teachers' perception of the ability of students from different cultural backgrounds and their teaching approaches to those students. Cross-Cultural Orientations to Learning Cultural differences, including experiences in classroom practice, writing format, and communication styles, influence many Korean college ESL students' abilities and confidence in writing in English in negative ways and this in turn affects their whole learning experiences and confidence in themselves (Baker, 1998; Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 2000; Novinger, 2001; Reid, 1989). Language confidence is another issue in Korean college ESL students' learning experiences in the U.S. college level classes that influences learning. Most Korean college level ESL students who come to the U.S.A. to study are from strong academic backgrounds and they have confidence in their ability for success in learning as well as themselves (Hirvela & Belch, 2001). However, in the U.S., many of them are recast as ESL students, which implies a need for remediation because they show some second language errors in written work, such as the use of inappropriate grammar forms and word choices (Reid, 1989). These two issues of cultural differences and ESL labeling both play a role in influencing many Korean students' experiences and perceptions in

7 the process of completing written work required in classes and learning in general; however, the extent that this impacts on learning has not been investigated as well as fully understood. Moreover, since Korean students have experienced different power relationships with their professors in Korea, and they lack confidence in the English language, many Korean college ESL students are more likely to be dependent on professors in the U.S.A. Thus it can be argued that professors' attitudes are very important for their success in learning and achieving positive learning experiences. By carefully examining those differences as well as the potential influence of professors' attitude on Korean students' learning experiences, instructors can learn how to better optimize the conditions and outcomes in the new learning context where Korean ESL students study. Knowledge of different cultural backgrounds, their influences on the experiences as well as perceptions of some Korean college ESL students in the process of completing required written work in U.S. college level classes, and those students' experience of being labeled as ESL students may help college faculties better understand those students' strong academic background. It may also suggest to them strategies to better help many of their Korean students learn how to complete written assignments. Pedagogical Practices in Second Language Learning Differences in writing format and communication styles in Korean, for example, subtle and interpretive character and reader/listener responsibility in communication, lead many Korean college ESL students to have difficulty meeting the expectations of native speakers of English. Many Korean ESL students who are from different cultural backgrounds, especially in communication, have limited

8 perceptions of what is expected and this in turn hinders their success in communication in English (Connor, 1996; Hinds, 1987; Hyland, 2003; Kubota, 1997; Leki, 1992; Ramanathan & Atkinson, 1999; Tucker, 2003). Even with high proficiency in the English language, these students still tend to show some L2 (a Second Language) errors in written work, for example, the use of inappropriate grammar forms and inappropriate word choices (Reid, 1989). There is a gap between what these students want to write and what they can write (Leki, 1992; Swain, 1995). They need much more time finding the right words, formats, and right grammar structures. Many of these L2 errors, however, result in part from different cultural practice, not from inadequate proficiency in English. These errors are in a sense culturally inappropriate (Land & Whitley, 1989; Reid, 1989) and many Korean college ESL students from different cultural backgrounds face difficulties in the process of learning. Those difficulties resulting both from different cultural practices and incomplete mastery of the English language lead these students to go through time-consuming processes when they need to produce English academic papers (Leki, 1992). Another issue to be discussed is the classroom context where learning takes place. As many ESL students must meet English language proficiency in order to be admitted to college or graduate school in the U.S.A., the L2 errors in communication they have do not lead to fundamental problems in communication (Reid, 1989). However, these L2 errors play some negative role in interactions with some professors who are not aware of the impact of cultural differences on students. Also, Korean ESL students are not accustomed to speaking up in classrooms. There are not many classroom discussions and question-answer activities taking place in Korean classrooms (Chiang, 2000; Goodman, 1994; Kang, 2005; Lee, 2006; Rong & Preissle,

9 1998; Tucker, 2003). Along with some L2 errors displayed in Korean ESL students' written work and their speaking, these students' silence or rare participation in classroom activities gives somewhat negative impressions of their ability to learn to some native English speaking professors who are not familiar with Korean cultural properties. They have lower expectations of Korean students and Korean students perceive those professors as teachers who underestimate or devalue their ability to learn. Their negative perception of their professors silences them and limits the possibilities of participation in classroom activities and interaction with professors in and out of classrooms (Zamel, 2000). The Problem Along with the emerging research chronicling difficulties foreign students experience in learning settings in the U.S.A., many stories from Korean college level students about their experiences in classes led me to begin to think it necessary to examine some of the issues confronting Korean students' experiences in U.S. college level classes. I thought that such knowledge would be important in professors helping Korean college level ESL students have more positive learning experiences. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to explore some Korean ESL students' experiences as well as perceptions in the processes of competing required written work and getting involved in classroom discussions in U.S. college classes; to explore how they experience and respond to the required learning tasks; to examine the possible relations between participants' experiences as native Korean speaking

10 students and their experiences as ESL labeled students in the U.S.A. More specifically, this study focuses on study participants' different experiences and perceptions in the process of completing required written work in college classes as well as getting involved in classroom discussions in Korea and in American college classes. The study focuses on the cultural differences between Korea and the U.S.A. and the impact of those differences on students' understanding of the requirements of written work as well as their process of completing written assignments in U.S. college classes. This study is designed to help college educators to better understand the experiences and perceptions of some ESL students from Korea in the process of completing language-based educational requirements. With better understanding of these students' learning experiences, they perhaps can better help these students more clearly understand what elements are needed to complete required written work and to have more positive experiences in mainstream college classes, such as the feeling that they have learned and accomplished something valuable through hard work, that they are connected or belong to the community in which they are learning, and that their work or ability to learn is recognized/valued. Assumptions and Research Questions With some knowledge of the difficult and sometimes negative learning experiences some Korean college ESL students have had, and based on my own experiences as a native Korean born student and educator, I began this research based on the following five assumptions: Assumption 1: Many Korean students' difficulties in the process of completing

11 required written work in U.S. college classes and getting involved in classroom discussions may mostly result from their own problems: lack of ability; lack of efforts in study; and/or lack of interest in learning. Assumption 2: Korean students would have more positive learning experience if they work hard. Most Korean students who come to the U.S.A. in order to study have strong academic backgrounds with their successful experiences as students in Korea and this should lead to more productive learning experiences in U.S. college classrooms. Assumption 3: When Korean college students receive unclear teacher feedback from their professors, a more responsive learning environment can be established if efforts are made by both students and professors to facilitate student-teacher interaction and liaison to clarify and solve problems of misperception and miscommunication. Assumption 4: Many approaches of Korean college ESL students to English writing, which are inappropriate according to the structure and content of the English language as well as unclear to native English speakers, may result more from different cultural conventions than students' lack of abilities. Assumption 5: Korean students may not be aware that they are labeled as ESL students and even when they are aware of it, they may not know the implications of ESL labeling. This dissertation study investigates the experiences and perceptions some Korean college ESL students have in the process of completing required written work

12 as well as participating in classroom activities in U.S. college classes and addresses the following questions: 1. How do Korean college ESL students in U.S. college level classes experience as well as perceive the processes of completing written work required in their classes and getting involved in classroom activities? 2. How do these experiences as well as perceptions differ from their experiences and perceptions of completing required written work in Korean college level classes and getting involved in classroom activities? 3. If experiences and perceptions differ, what are the contributors to the different experiences as well as perceptions? What strategies, if any, do participants use to reconcile or deal with these two different experiences? 4. What happens to her/his conceptions as well as perceptions of her/himself as "a student" when an academically strong Korean college level student is recast as an ESL student in the U.S.A. in need of remediation? 5. What do Korean college ESL students think can help them learn better in a different learning environment? 6. What happens to me, as South Korean born teacher and researcher, when I explore these experiences and perceptions of South Korean students in U.S. college classes? I am hopeful that knowledge from this dissertation research will call attention to this issue for many educators and may change classroom practices so as to become more responsive to Korean ESL students' learning experiences.

13 Significance of the Study Cultural Significance As culture influences people's behaviors, cultural practices impact on the way students write and respond to the context of the classroom (Hyland, 2003; Ng, 2001; Tucker, 2003). Thus when there are distinctive differences between cultures, people from different cultural backgrounds can experience difficulties and problems when they interact with each other. In the case of Korean college ESL students, many of them can have difficulties understanding what is expected of them in the process of learning in the different learning context. As Korean culture is different from diverse American cultures in many ways, this difference influences Korean ESL students' approaches to writing, their classroom interaction, and their learning style (Hyland, 2003; Ng, 2001; Tucker, 2003). This study explores, from particular and limited contexts and perspectives, differences between Korean and American cultures in three major aspects: communication, writing format, and classroom practices. And it also examines how these differences can influence these students' learning in the American learning contexts. Thus this study perhaps can highlight how professors in English speaking countries might become aware of cultural significance in teaching ESL students from different cultural backgrounds. Educational Significance Many problems and difficulties that many Korean college level ESL students face in U.S. college level classes result from the lack of awareness or understanding

14 of different cultural practices on the part of some professors. Some knowledge of the cultural characteristics of Korean college ESL students may help professors better understand as well as help these students' difficulties in the process of learning in the U.S. Thus it is important to know and understand what cultural characteristics Korean college ESL students have when they start their college work in the U.S.A. By knowing and understanding these characteristics, professors can better help these students with their problems and difficulties in the process of learning in general in U.S. college level classrooms. Also, when professors are aware of the cultural characteristics of Korean ESL students, they might recognize their strengths as well as weaknesses. They can help students see their strengths and have more confidence and they also can help students improve their weaknesses by helping them see their weak points (Probst, 1989; Sawyer & Smith, 1994). Also, the awareness of cultural differences may lead professors to have higher expectations for Korean ESL students and this in turn may influence these students' perceptions of and attitudes toward their professors in a positive way and they may work harder in order to come up to their professors' expectations (Cheng & Wong 1996; Elbow, 2000; Harris, 2000; Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 2000; Youngs & Youngs, 2001; Zamel, 2000). Korean students culturally tend to respect and trust teachers as a whole and their respect and trust for teachers, combined with their positive perceptions of professors, can lead them to try to work harder to meet teachers' expectations. The study conducted by Robinson (1994) shows strong evidence of the impact of teacher expectations on Korean students' achievement. Thus the cultural awareness this study may bring to college level professors' attention in English speaking countries might contribute to their teaching approaches to college ESL students of different cultural backgrounds

Full document contains 227 pages
Abstract: This study explored the learning experiences of five Korean college ESL students in U.S. college classes and how they responded to required writing tasks in their classes, focusing on differences between Korean and American cultures in three aspects: communication, writing styles, and classroom practices and how these differences influenced these students' learning in American learning contexts. The primary data source was a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews undertaken with study participants. In order to examine how different cultural assumptions and educational practices of Korean ESL students influence their written communication and perhaps can lead to misunderstanding of professors' expectations and requirements, study participants' papers, including teacher comments and feedback, were utilized as data. The researcher also utilized her research journal as data in order to monitor her assumptions and biases, as a Korean-born educator now studying and teaching in the United States, during her data collection, analyses and interpretations. Study participants' different cultural backgrounds as well as limited proficiency in the English language led them to face many difficulties in the learning and writing process. To overcome difficulties and problems in writing, they went to the writing center, visited their professors and/or got a private tutor. However, when there was no one available for help, they stopped seeking further information for learning. A most influential contributor to positive or negative experiences was study participants' perceptions of professors' responses to their writing and these perceived responses directly affected these students' learning. Study participants said that it is an individual student's responsibility to be prepared for classes but that more support from professors and the college would enhance each individual student's needs. Study participants lost much of their confidence, but they learned how to cope with difficulties and their writing skills were also improved. For successful learning, students' effort should come first, according to study participants, but students' effort and support from professors and the college should be combined.