A Quick Stop by the Writing Center

The first thing I remembered after reading the article, Tutoring ESL Students:
Issues and Options by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, was the Learner Autonomy class that I had to take when I was an undergraduate student. More specifically, the time when we had guests from the writing center of the university who conducted an exceptional long presentation for us. The goal of their presentation was encouraging students to take full advantage of their services in writing center. It was a meticulous and an effective presentation. As I had expected, none of the students in that class decided to attend any of those tutoring sessions afterwards. I knew ESL students all too well.

I still find it fascinating to this day, that majority of ESL students are very reluctant for tutoring in writing. I believe one major problem tends to be the fear that stems from the idea of being inadequate. I’m sure most ESL teachers deal with this issue quite often. I remember a certain student from one of my ESL courses who could write poems in her own language and share them with others during breaks. Unfortunately, she used to struggle with English and it was obvious that made her tense during the lessons. That inability to take full advantage of the language caused her to feel incompetent and she was reluctant to push herself to full potential. ESL students feel the need to hide their proficiency level, especially if they believe it is at a low level. It serves as a great obstacle. Attending the writing center is seen by some as a sign of weakness. So, most of the students avoid it. The students who do not shy away from it are the ones who stand a great chance of improving their abilities in writing.

It is important to note that some of those attentive students might have different set of expectations than intended. As the article puts it: “Tutors are supposed to be educators, not personal editors. This problem is often a result of a mismatch between the assumptions and expectations of tutors and students.” That seems to be the case most of the time. The students attend sessions in writing center simply to get their essays edited out before handing them in. One possible reason why this sort of expectation occurs could be the way that writing centers are promoted as. They need to be seen as additional lessons. As in, certain students require “make-up” classes to improve their abilities without spotlighting the inadequacy and making sure that the focus of these sessions are not just error-correcting.

There was an example in the article about the usage of prepositions and how it could be challenging to delve into. It was this particular statement: “Tutors can be reduced to stunned silence when they try to explain why we say ‘on Monday’ but ‘in June’.” Although I understood what the intention was, I believe the chosen example was poor. Prepositions indeed pose a great challenge for ESL students to comprehend but it is not the basic form as shown in that example. I remember doing a preposition exercise in the class with domino pieces (actually cutout papers) after going over an intuitive chart that displays the rules; general settings require ‘in’, more specific settings require ‘on’, and very specific settings require ‘at’. The students could always recall back to that fun exercise and correct their errors; it was not that hard. I believe a more complex preposition comparison such as ‘about’ vs. ‘of’, when to use which, would have been a better example to display in the article (I do not know why this bugged me so much).

Speaking of errors, the article makes an interesting distinction between global errors and local errors. This was a topic of many discussions in my TESOL classes in university. Though, I can’t seem to recall if we ever used those particular terms from the article while we were discussing them. An example from one of the discussions included the answer “I think, it went boring” after being asked: “How was the meeting?” The verb ‘went’ does not seem to make sense in that context but the logic is something transferred from the mother language of the student. The article suggests that these types of patterns could be detected by the instructor. However, I do not think it is necessarily easy to correct them on the spot without explaining the reasoning. Obviously, a grammatical reasoning could be offered but it is not a local error as mentioned. Global errors in writing, especially by ESL students, occur by mixing the logic of two different languages. Although I am certain a more in-depth lesson about this issue could be conducted in class, offering alternative examples as to why the term ‘went’ does not sound right would probably the best approach to handle it during a session in the writing center, where the time and resources are limited.

It is difficult to handle these sorts of issues at times. The section of the article that introduces certain strategies reminded me of my own presentation from last week. It was based on the article, Writing Comments on Students Papers, by John Bean and there are a lot of parallels between the two articles in terms of how to effectively resolve certain issues in writing. Of course, the effectiveness depends on the execution by the instructor. One specific common strategy mentioned was hierarchy of errors to be concerned about; higher-order issues such as ideas, organization, and development that tend to be more rhetorical in comparison to lower-order issues such as grammar, spelling, and style that could be addressed better at a final stage.

This article ended up being a great follow-up to previous week’s. It was very informative, and it could also serve as a reminder of many important aspects that we have discussed in class so far. It certainly did remind me of many things from my own experience and it is a great thing; being conscious of possible issues in order to be ready to deal with them when encountered.

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