Ongoing Assessment Question 6

6. When assessing student writing, what cultural issues should be taken into account? Commenting on student writing is an important function performed by classroom teachers. In order to provide the most useful feedback, classroom teachers working with ELL students must consider a variety of issues related to culture. Teachers should be as knowledgeable as possible about the cultures that their students represent. ELL students' cultural backgrounds can impact their writing in a variety of ways.

When an ELL turns in a piece of writing, his or her cultural background may be reflected in the work. The physical appearance of a paper written following standard conventions in the United States may be vastly different from the appearance of a conventional paper in his or her country of origin. The cursive script, including the formation of individual letters, may be different from what is expected in the United States. In addition, the student may have been taught that neatness and presentation are as important as content. This can result in students being afraid to revise or improve their writing for fear of having to erase or cross anything out.

Cultural presentation styles also impact the way that ideas are presented. There are many different ways to convey notions and concepts through writing. The thought patterns used by members of different cultural groups vary (Bower, Kiser, McMurty, Milsaps, & Vande Brake, 2000). As Holt (1996) explained, non-native English writers may not make as many explicit connections between ideas as native-English speaking writers because they do not want to "insult" their readers with linkages that seem apparent or obvious. Whether ELL students have been schooled in the U.S. or in their countries of origin, their background may impact their writing and should be taken into account.


Bower, V., Kiser, C., McMurty, K., Milsaps, E., & Vande Brake, K. (2000). Cultural thought patterns. In A manual for writing center tutors (chap. 9).

Holt, S. (1996). ESL/NNS main document.