Kurk Gayle taught college composition before coming to TCU, where he’s directed the Intensive English Program and the English as a Foreign Language (ENFL) courses at TCU for more than twenty years. During this time he earned the English Department’s Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. He grew up bilingual and has formally studied seven other languages.
During our conversation, we discussed the Intensive English curriculum as well as ENGFL courses that students take concurrently with ENGL 10803. Dr. Gayle also discusses the need for theoretical awareness of ESL for rhetoric and composition students and instructors.
For more about the Intensive English program, visit their website.
“Engage ESL writers in your courses and be sensitive to their needs. When the U.S. President issues two travel bans and seems rather uninterested in college students who are refugees or who are undocumented in this country, there is a need for the practical know-how to include such students in the composition class. Awareness is a start, but you need theory to understand what is at stake for these students and how writing instruction impacts them.”
—Dr. Kurk Gayle
Who is the student population of the Intensive English program?
TCU students in the Intensive English Program (IEP) are those for whom English is their second, third, or fourth language. Like other TCU students, they have TCU IDs, have their TCU coursework on the official TCU transcript, are in the TCU email system, often reside on campus, and can be found after their classes in the rec center, the Center for Writing, the Library, and the BLUU. Some TCU students in the IEP have completed degrees. They’re improving English language writing and speaking for their work or for personal reasons. Others are in the non-degree TCU program to communicate well for a graduate program or undergraduate program, either here or at another university.
A few IEP students are Americans or are US permanent residents. Most are internationals who have to come to this country with the F-1, “full time study” visa, and follow its specific regulations. For example, the F visa requires the international IEP student to attend class at least 18 clock hours each week, the international student in the undergraduate program to take 12 credit hours, and the international graduate student to be enrolled in 9 credit hours. International applicants to TCU are required to take a standardized test of English as a foreign language (the TOEFL). Americans and permanent residents take the SAT or ACT. For the IEP, applicants to TCU have to demonstrate an intermediate level. For the degree programs, they have to have an advanced level on the test or may enroll directly in the IEP as a way to waive the test requirement.
For some individuals, who are not TCU students per se, the IEP and TCU Extended Education partner to create customized English language programs. For instance, last fall semester, we offered the full IEP to a group of refugees for no cost. And spring a year ago, we worked with faculty and postdocs at the University of North Texas whose first language was other than English and whose spoken English was not easily understood by their students because of their accents. In summers, we work with different au pair organizations and those individuals receive continuing education credit. We have also taught off campus, in Chipotle restaurants to those preparing food, in the RadioShack distribution centers to those reporting to supervisors who could only speak English, and in the Alliance Airport area to employees of international companies.
What are the goals and objectives of IEP courses for TCU undergraduates? What would be a normal expectation for students who have completed IE?
For undergraduates, we designed the curriculum to articulate to the TCU Core, particularly the essential competencies. We’re very attuned to the oral communication and written communication aspects, but do not do math. Students are placed into one of three proficiency levels and we meet students where they are. The three levels work up to English 10803. That means that students who have gone through all three levels of IE should be right where any TCU first-year student is in terms of English language proficiency.
There are some at TCU whose first language is other than English who don’t take IEP. When international MBA students start TCU, for example, they take a brief and non-intensive summer workshop taught by an IEP faculty member regardless of their high TOEFL score. And when international undergraduate applicants from non-English backgrounds submit their portfolio to the TCU Admission office, they’re required to include a TOEFL score report with a minimum score. We also test those particular international undergraduates upon arrival to campus. Based on the test scores, they may go right into 10803 and into COMM 10123. If the scores are low, they could be required to take AddRan courses for elective credits, courses called English as a Foreign Language (ENFL).
Can you tell me more about international students who do not do the Intensive English program? What is the English as a Foreign Language course?
If international students test out of the IE program, they are co-registered in English as a Foreign Language (ENFL) courses and English 10803 courses. There are two different levels of these ENFL classes, but they are required to take these courses at the same time at 10803. The ENFL course is inspired by a Peter Elbow-esque approach to writing where students are encouraged to use their voice. There is also a field of scholarship in TESOL called “contrastive rhetoric” that particularly influences my work and these courses. As a former graduate of the rhetoric and composition Ph.D. program at TCU, I approach these courses from a rhetorical perspective.
In the ENFL courses, we talk about the different rhetorical traditions. For instance, the American argumentative structure is influenced by Aristotelian model that privileges direct, linear thought patterns dependent on thesis statements. However, this isn’t the most astute rhetoric in some cultural contexts. In East Asian contexts, there is the circular argument. With Farsi, Arabic, and Hebrew, the thinking would be parallel. And, in romance languages, arguments are digressive and colorful, rather than direct. In ENFL, we let students identify their rhetorics and cultural thought patterns. We encourage students to come to 10803 courses almost as spies, infiltrating and examining the culture of these courses. Therefore, writing instructors can have students who are also taking ENFL, but not know. ENFL students actively hide concurrent enrollment, but we do also encourage them to have a relationship with their instructors and to get help from those 10803 instructors. Usually, we will run two ENFL courses in the fall and one in the spring, although these numbers are contingent on international student enrollment. TCU gets a very small slice of the international student population and that population will generally be the most privileged.
There has also been a section of ENGL 10803 that is permit-only. It has been taught by ENFL or IEP faculty in the past, faculty who are both ESL experts and also individuals whom the English Department has trained to teach the course. It’s a section first open to late-arriving international students who need the course but can’t get into any other section at the time of their later orientation. This permit-only section operates in the same way as other 10803 courses, and once the ENFL comp students and other late-orienting internationals have finally had the opportunity also to register, then native speakers of English are given the remaining permits.
How can writing instructors build on the work of the Intensive English program?
What a wonderful question. Thank you for asking! The real need is for theoretical awareness. That goes for all of us writing teachers, whether in the IEP or in the English Department. Our theoretical awareness has to engage research and practice that does not separate rhetoric, writing, and composition into two different camps: the “regular” and the “ESL.” When I myself was a Ph.D. student in the TCU English Department’s rhet/comp program, ESL and the linguistic research underpinning it, was somewhat marginalized in comp studies. I was the only student in the Ph.D. program at the time doing any ESL work. And not many paid attention to the fact that amazing rhetoricians and comp scholars were sometimes also fabulous ESL and linguistics academicians. The program has grown more in this area. Of course, in fairness, TCU does not have a lot of ESL students. However, when you get a job, you will very likely be working with diverse student populations that include international and domestic ESL students.
Also, just talking to students can help! Engage ESL writers in your courses and be sensitive to their needs. When the US President issues two travel bans and seems rather uninterested in college students who are refugees or who are undocumented in this country, there is a need for the practical know-how to include such students in the composition class. Awareness is a start, but you need theory to understand what is at stake for these students and how writing instruction impacts them.
Interaction between our program and the writing department is also essential. We’ve worked with both Charlotte [Hogg, previous Director of Composition] and Carrie [Leverenz, current Director of Composition] in the past. The WPA regularly invites the new GIs to meet with me to go through what you’re interviewing me about. The IEP composition class faculty members, the ENFL faculty members, the English Department GIs and faculty members have had meetings to discuss the various things we do, working with writers whose first language is English and with writers of English who have a different first language. Our fields and student demographics are changing—we cannot be siloed.
For some of Dr. Gayle’s suggested readings, read Translingual Scholarship under “Beyond Composition.”
In your opinion, what do the students you serve want composition teachers to know?
For many of our students, there is a “felt need”—and because it is felt, it is a need—for grammar instruction. They might say to writing instructors, “give me grammar help.” When they get into 10803, instructors will emphasize argument and say that they will not focus on grammar. But, for many international students, that isn’t the felt need or the priority. They are marked linguistically, or are accented by their grammar or word choice, and will cry out for instruction in syntax and lexicon just to become less marked. We try to reposition this student perspective by encouraging process writing. If instructors were to discuss language difference in their courses, this could relieve some of the tension between the felt need of grammar instruction and the instructor’s focus on argument.