ESL instructors can look to student writing itself for evidence that their students are struggling to produce thesis-driven essays or to develop critically thought-out arguments.
Common types of essay challenges include what Bean (2011) refers to as ‘And Then’, ‘All About’, and ‘Data Dump’ essays.
All students encountering new information need time to incorporate it into their worldview, but this is especially true for ESL students who are balancing new language, new methodologies, and new subject matter.
When it comes to a gradual introduction to the liberal arts and critical thinking underpinnings of thesis-driven writing, Wolcott Lynch Associates Idea Paper #37 (Lynch & Wolcott, 2001) provides a five-stage treasure trove of scaffolded technique.
Repeating, paraphrasing, summarizing, describing, and listing all work with the desire to find the answer while still getting the student to process arguments (Lynch & Wolcott, 2001).
The open nature of the staged framework also allows ESL instructors to flavor the process however they see fit.
ESL students struggling to create engaging thesis statements and develop argumentative essays may be blocked by the gap between existing and expected educational schema.
Wolcott and Lynch’s 5-Stage method for developing critical thinking offers a route by which students can bridge these gaps.
This is not to say that critical thinking is absent from these educational environments or from business and STEM majors; a false demarcation between a liberally focused American classroom and an authoritarian Eastern one, or even a humanities classroom versus a business or STEM classroom, obscures complexity on both sides and hinders understanding more than it helps it (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).
It is to say, however, that these students may require extra attention in developing critical thinking vis-à-vis the argumentative essay and other thesis-driven liberal arts practices such as presentations, discussions, debates, and other tasks of a similar nature.