Agency and Accountability in the Academic Reading of International Graduate Students Using English as an Additional Language




academic reading, accountability, agency, English as a second language


This grounded theory study explores the academic English reading practices of six English-as-an-additional-language students from China and Japan in a graduate course in their first semester at a U.S. university. Academic reading is an understudied yet foundational literacy practice for graduate students. Data include classroom observations of the graduate course during one semester, individual interviews with six students and the course instructor, and the collection of documents. Drawing on the analytic lenses of agency and accountability, the findings show that while the requirements established by the instructor and syllabus explicitly or implicitly held students accountable for the work, students also responded strategically to the course’s accountability structure. They agentively made choices about how to engage with the readings in terms of the purposes for which they read and how much time they spent on the readings.

Author Biography

Mahmoud Altalouli, Duke University

MAHMOUD ALTALOULI, PhD, is an Instructor in the English for International Students Department at Duke University. His major research interests lie in the area of academic literacies including reading and writing of students using English as an additional language. Email: 



Altalouli, M. (2020). More surefire ways to increase the breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge: A response to Shoba Bandi-Rao’s “nontraditional students’ insight into vocabulary learning in the ESL classroom.” NYS TESOL Journal, 5(1), 32-33.

Archer, M. S. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge University Press.

Bauer, H., & Picciotto, M. (2013). Writing in America: International students and first-year composition. Writing on the Edge, 23(2), 75-86.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction. A social critique of the judgement of taste (R. Nice, Trans). Harvard University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice (R. Nice, Trans). Stanford University Press.

Brost, B. D. and Bradley, K. A. (2006). Student compliance with assigned reading: A case study. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 101-111.

Burchfield, C. & Sappington, J. (2000). Compliance with required reading assignments. Teaching of Psychology, 27(1), 58-60.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Sage.

Chou, L. H. (2011). An investigation of Taiwanese doctoral students' academic writing at a US University. Higher Education Studies, 1(2), 47-60.

Clayton, T. (1998). Beyond mystification: Reconnecting world-system theory for comparative education. Comparative Education Review, 42(4), 479-496.

Clump, M. A., Bauer, H. and Breadley, C. (2004). The extent to which psychology students read textbooks: A multiple class analysis of reading across the psychology curriculum. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31(3), 227-232.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Sage.

Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (2011). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press.

Glaser, B. G. (2001). The grounded theory perspective: Conceptualization contrasted with description. Sociology Press.

Grabe, W., & Zhang, C. (2013). Reading and writing together: A critical component of English for academic purposes teaching and learning. TESOL Journal, 4(1), 9-24.

Hoeft, M. E. (2012). Why university students don't read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 1-20.

Hyland, K., & Tse, P. (2007). Is there an “academic vocabulary”?. TESOL Quarterly, 41(2), 235-253.

Institute of International Education. (2019a). Open doors.

Institute of International Education. (2019b). Project Atlas.

Iwai, Y. (2008). The perceptions of Japanese students toward academic English reading: Implications for effective ESL reading strategies. Multicultural Education, 15(4), 45-50.

Jenkins, R. (1992). Pierre Bourdieu. Routledge.

Kim, H. Y. (2011). International graduate students' difficulties: Graduate classes as a community of practices. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(3), 281-292.

Kuzborska, I. (2015). Perspective taking in second language academic reading: A longitudinal study of international students' reading practices. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 20, 149-161.

Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews. An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Sage.

Lee, J. (2015). Language learner strategy by Chinese-speaking EFL readers when comprehending familiar and unfamiliar texts. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(1), 71-95.

Liu, J. (2015). Reading transition in Chinese international students: Through the lens of activity system theory. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 17, 1-11.

Manchón, R. M., & Matsuda, P. K. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of second and foreign language writing. Walter de Gruyter.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2016). Designing qualitative research (6th ed.). Sage.

McMinn, M. R., Tabor, A., Trihub, B. L., Taylor, L., & Dominguez, A. W. (2009). Reading in graduate school: A survey of doctoral students in clinical psychology. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 3(4), 233-240.

Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2nd ed.). Sage.

Schwandt, T. A., Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (2007). Judging interpretations: But is it rigorous? trustworthiness and authenticity in naturalistic evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 2007(114), 11-25.

Seloni, L. (2012). Academic literacy socialization of first year doctoral students in US: A micro-ethnographic perspective. English for Specific Purposes, 31(1), 47-59.

Singh, M. K. M. (2015). A qualitative perspective of academic reading practices and overcoming strategies used among international graduate students in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Languages and Linguistics, 4(1), 55-74.

Singham, M. (2005). Away from the authoritarian classroom. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 37(3), 50-57.

Starcher, K. & Proffitt, D. (2011) ‘Encouraging Students to Read: What professors are (and aren't) doing about it. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(3), 396-407.

Tardy, C. M. (2005). “It's like a story”: Rhetorical knowledge development in advanced academic literacy. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4(4), 325-33.

Thompson, B. (2007). The syllabus as a communication document: Constructing and presenting the syllabus. Communication Education, 56(1), 54-71.

van Pletzen, E. (2006). A body of reading: making ‘visible’ the reading experiences of first-year medical students. In L. Thesen & E. van Pletzen (Eds.), Academic literacy and the language of change (pp. 104-129). Continuum.




How to Cite

Altalouli, M. (2021). Agency and Accountability in the Academic Reading of International Graduate Students Using English as an Additional Language. Journal of International Students, 11(4), 932–949.



Research Articles