Chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing, by Dana Ferris and ESL Writers, Chapter 9 (see earlier blog for Chapter 10)

Chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing, by Dana Ferris  and ESL Writers, Chapter 9 (see earlier blog for Chapter 10)

Dana Ferris:

Chapter 1

There is great controversy about whether error-correction is effective with ESL (and NES) writing students. (Note: Ferris mainly focuses on error-correction of ESL students in this text).  Although there recently has been a resurgence of interest in error correction among ESL teachers, there still remains a cadre of teachers who believe that error-correction is not only useless, but harmful to students.

In contrast to what many teachers believe, students value error-correction from their teachers, and believe that it helps them become better writers. Ferris agrees. She argues that “… instructors need to work at finding the best ways to help their students become ‘independent self-editors’ of their own work” (2002, p. 9). Furthermore, argues Ferris, “Writing instructors surely have some responsibility to arm their students with the knowledge, strategies, resources they will need to function effectively outside of the ESL writing classroom” (2002, p. 9). Ferris concedes that more research needs to be done in order to discover the best way to help students become effective writers in self-editors. However, avoiding addressing students’ errors is guaranteed to stymie students’ writing development.

Ferris (2002) argues that it is not necessarily error-correction that is problematic, but rather the following issues:

  • Inadequate error correction – How do teachers go about correcting students’ errors? Perhaps a checklist can help us understand how teachers correct errors, and what is effective.
  • Limited, non-representative samples – Many other studies cited by those who argue against error correction are small and limited. Can we really draw conclusions about error-correction based on such limited information?

In addition, argues Ferris, a lack of error correction has a negative impact on students. When these students leave school for the “real world,” if they haven’t had effective grammar instruction, then they will end up being marginalized by their lack of proficiency in the English language.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, Ferris addresses the anti-error-feedback arguments of other scholars. She first addresses the argument that teacher feedback is often confusing, inaccurate, and otherwise flawed. In Ferris’s own studies, she and her colleagues found that 89% of teachers’ feedback was accurate. Ferris also mentions that other scholars’ studies have shown similar results. In short, Ferris found that the assertion that ESL teachers “… Misread student texts, are inconsistent in their reactions, make arbitrary corrections, right contradictory comments… [and] overwhelmingly view themselves as language teachers rather than writing teachers…” (Zamel qtd. in Ferris 2005, p. 13) is false.

But what about the assertion that students ignore teachers’ feedback? Ferris mentions that overwhelmingly, evidence shows the contrary: Ferris and her colleagues found, through a number of studies, that the vast majority of students respond to teachers’ error corrections. For instance: “In the study by Ferris et al. (2000), students made successful edits of about 80% of the errors marked by their teachers. Finally, in a recent study by Ferris and Roberts (2001,) 53 university ESL writers who received error feedback were able to self-correct 60 to 64% of the errors marked during a 20-minute in-class editing session” (Ferris 2002, p. 15). Clearly, Ferris’s studies have shown that teachers’ error-correction has a positive effect on students’ writing skills.

Another issue Ferris addresses is the argument that teachers’ error-correction fails to provide any long-term benefits for writing students. Unfortunately, there are few studies comparing students who have received teacher feedback to those who haven’t. However, the few studies that have been completed show that teacher feedback improves students’ writing long-term. Indirect feedback, in particular particular, has been shown to be very effective for helping students improve their writing.

Another important point that Ferris brings up is this: error-feedback need not solely exist as red marks on students’ papers. Teachers can also incorporate student-teacher conferences, error logs, and short grammar lessons into their instruction.

Chapter 4

Teacher feedback is important, but it must be well-constructed and not limited to marks on students’ papers. For instance, Ferris suggests selective error correction – instead of marking every single error on students’ papers, teachers should mark patterns of errors. Ferris also suggests that teachers focus mainly on errors (specifically, global, rather than local errors), rather than stylistic issues. Teachers should also note that ESL writers often make different types of errors than NES writers. However, even though this is the case, it is important for teachers not to make generalizations — each student is different, and therefore may have different patterns of errors, regardless of whether they are ESL or NES students.

Interestingly, Ferris suggests that teachers address errors earlier in the writing process, rather than later. Instead of waiting until the final draft to address grammar and spelling issues in ESL students’ writing, Ferris suggests that teachers take as many opportunities as possible to address these issues, as these are teachable moments. While Ferris does not suggest overloading students with corrections, she does suggest that teachers write comments on earlier drafts, such as, “Keep an eye out for [issue] as you continue working on this paper. I have circled some examples…” This will help students avoid fossilizing errors.

Also, indirect feedback — which encourages students to reflect on their own writing, rather than transcribing the teachers’ corrections — is much preferred over direct feedback. In rare circumstances, direct feedback may be the best choice. For instance, teachers may use direct feedback in order to address word choice issues. Also, teachers may use direct feedback when they want to help a student correct an error, but not spend a lot of time on it in lieu of spending time working on something else. Excessive use of direct feedback may lead to appropriation of students’ texts.

Questions I have about the reading:

When and why did error-correction become so controversial? And, what do process-focused scholars suggest teachers do instead of providing feedback, particularly when a student produces writing that is riddled with errors?

ESL Writers:

Chapter 9, by Sharon K. Deckert

ESL writers commonly misuse articles, and this misuse is often neglected by tutors in favor of higher-order writing concerns. However, L2 writers are often very concerned with articles, and are interested in making their writing sound more like L1 speakers’ writing. Dana Ferris argues that it is important to address this issue, since “… what evaluators view as typical ESL errors may negatively affect the grading of second language (L2) writers’ work” (105). So, how should tutors address this issue?

  • Tutors should read their students’ work aloud; after all, as tutors read, they may stumble over certain areas of students’ papers, which may indicate to students that articles are missing.
  • Student should read their work aloud to tutors. This is especially effective for students who remember to say articles as they speak, but forget to write them.

Why do ESL students often find articles so challenging? First of all, articles are incredibly frequent in the English language. There are three types of determiners in English (e.g., articles, such as “a,” “an,” and “the”; possessive determiners, such as “my,” “our,” etc.; and demonstrative’s, such as “this/these” and “that/those”). That’s a lot of information to keep up with!

ESL writers may also find it difficult to master English articles because different languages use articles differently. Furthermore, it is a challenge to learn the various count nouns, non-count nouns, proper nouns the English language has to offer — this is especially the case when a student’s home language uses non-count and count nouns differently from how they are used in English.

Questions I have:

I found this chapter to be very comprehensive, so I don’t have any questions right now.

**Note: I wrote about Chapter 10, “Editing Line-by-Line,” in a previous blog entry.**

Tips for Responding to Students’ Writing

  • Be very specific with your comments; do not just give general commentary.
  • Do not forget to praise your students! (Do not be one of those red pen wielding killjoys.)
  • Have a grading checklist or rubric at hand.
  • Use your comments to do the following (a Nancy Sommers excerpt, courtesy of Laura Brady, Department of English, West Virginia University):
    • ask questions,
    • register confusion,
    • point to breaks in logic,
    • note disruptions in meaning, or
    • question missing information.
  • Use your comments to set priorities – what do you hope that the student will do as a result of your comments? What should the student focus on while revising his paper?
  • Use both global and marginal comments.
  • Use peer response exercises, even in large classes.
  • Request a conference with the student if her essay is very confusing and/or requiring complex feedback; this is a better method than over-marking a student’s paper.
  • Be judicious with comments — you want students to read all of your comments.
  • Focus on two or three global errors per paper.
  • Use pencil when commenting; this way, you can revise your comments as needed.

Revamped Essay Draft #4: Philosophy/Approach for Working on Oral Features

Oral features often find their way into my tutees’ writing. For instance, a long time ago, in one of my students’ essays, I came across the phrase, “Shakespeare is cool beans.” While the truthfulness of this phrase is undeniable, I was certain that her teacher expected something more formal from her literary analysis paper. Other times, I have encountered dialect features that obscured the meaning of what the student was trying to convey. For example, the sentence, “She done went wrong with her triflin’ behavior; she actin’ some kinda way,” is understandable to me, given my proficiency in Black English and Southern English; however, for those lacking these proficiencies, the aforementioned sentence is likely to be very confusing. Those two dialects’ features are SLIPs (spoken language interference patterns) in SAE. Other times, oral features find their way into students’ writing as they rush-write a nearly late essay assignment just before class. Although I use my usual tutoring toolbox for all students (e.g., breaking the ice, being empathic, asking questions, and setting up a flexible plan for the session), when I encounter oral features and students’ writing, I focus mainly on certain techniques, which I will discuss in this paper.

During a tutoring session with Brian (a pseudonym), I noticed that certain colloquial phrases, such as, “You know” and “like, totally,” had crept into his formal essay. In addition, I noticed some sentence boundary issues (fragments and run-on sentences). First, I asked Brian to read his essay aloud and circle any areas that looked “not quite right” to him. Although Brian noticed some spelling errors, he didn’t take notice of the out-of-place colloquial phrases. In addition, the fragments and run-on sentences remained on the page, uncircled. I pointed out one of the colloquial phrases and asked Brian if he thought that it stood out for any reason. In response, he gave me a baffled look. At that point I realized that Brian was unfamiliar with certain academic conventions. In response, I briefly reviewed a few academic conventions with him. I told him that I enjoyed reading his casual phrases, but since he was writing a formal paper, the language used in the paper also needed to be formal. Half jokingly, I told him that if he could see himself using a phrase while slapping a friend on the back with one hand and holding a red party cup in the other hand, he should consider omitting it from his paper. This is a method that I use often, and I do so in order to encourage students to be vigilant about their own writing. This method encourages students to pay attention to what they have written, as well as whether it is suitably formal. Most of all, it increases students’ audience awareness by reminding them that they are addressing their teachers and the academic community.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how I responded to the fragments and run-on sentences in  Brian’s paper.  When encountering fragments, I used a technique I learned in my English 704 class — I asked him, “… And then what?” This would encourage Brian to explain in more detail. In response to run-on sentences, I have found that asking students to read the sentence aloud works well – most of the time, students pause in the middle of the sentence, realizing that it is unclear. However, if this method fails to work, I ask students how they can break the run-on sentence up into two sentences. Most of the time, this is very effective.

However, sometimes a student’s essay features oral qualities mirroring his home dialect. For instance, when working with students who speak Black English, it is common to encounter morphological SLIPs, such as a dropped “s” or “ed” endings. For instance, a student might write, “I went to my grandma house and she cook a big Sunday dinner.” Here, the student has dropped the “s” from “grandma” and the “ed” from “cooked.” Here is my method for addressing the situation: First, I asked the student to read the sentence aloud. Most of the time, students notice morphological SLIPs and self- correct. But, if I have a student who does not notice anything noteworthy, I asked the student how he would translate the sentence into SAE. I then inform the student that his dialect is perfectly reasonable (and in fact, a favorite of mine!), but since his teachers expect his papers to be in SAE, it would be wise for us to do a dialect-to-SAE translation of his paper.

While I always try to make sure that my students have an understanding of SAE (after all, it is very important for them to be well-versed in it), in the process, I never expect students to eliminate their dialects and permanently replace them with (SAE). After all, how we speak is very individual, and many people are interested in preserving their ways of speaking for this reason. For example, my mother is from northern New Jersey. I am so used to her accent that I have hardly noticed it, but I believe that she still has it. She has lived in California since 1982, and still retains some of her accent and many East Coast speech patterns. People often ask her where she is from, and when she tells them, it helps keep her connected to her family and time back home. I believe that it is like this for students who speak non-standard forms of English. Then again, I also understand that, there may be a stigma associated with different dialects of English. For this reason, I aim to be knowledgeable about different dialects, and always respectful of them.

In sum, when oral features show up in my students’ writing, I gently guide them towards noticing them, and in the process, I review academic writing conventions with them. When working with students who speak different dialects, I take care never to appropriate their dialects, but I make sure that they have an understanding of SAE. Furthermore, I tell students that everyone has his or her own way of speaking. I am open to sharing my own experiences with students; for example, I tell them about my childhood experiences visiting Chicago, where I was called “surfer girl” and “school girl” due to my (mostly) California accent and my use of arcane sayings and East Coast-isms I picked up from my mom. [I need some sort of concluding sentence here, but it hasn’t come to me yet]

Revised Essay #3: My Philosophy for Working with Students with Underdeveloped Writing Skills

Through my tutoring experiences, I have learned that many students who have underdeveloped writing lack confidence in themselves. Countless times, I have heard from students, “I am just not a good writer!” I have noticed that many students believe that some people are born with writing talent, while others just aren’t (I have also noticed that many students have this attitude towards math). Therefore, students often feel under pressure when seeing that their writing has been judged as either “good” or “bad.” For this reason, I have found that many students come to dread writing; after all, they expect to fail at it. How do I address this issue in my tutoring sessions?

First of all, I approach my tutoring sessions without judgment and with empathy. I have found that many students have already judged themselves harshly. More judgment will likely cause them to run, screaming in terror, from any writing assignment coming down the pike. Instead, I ask students what they like most about their writing, as well as what they are most concerned with. This is a non-threatening way of finding out students’ writing challenges. Sometimes, students have a good idea of what they believe needs improvement, but other times, students are uncertain or uncomfortable discussing what they believe needs work. In this case, they will often respond to my inquiry by saying, “I don’t know…” or “I’m just a bad writer; my papers suck.” When this happens, I ask more questions, such as, “What comments do your teacher make most often about your writing?” or “What do you believe is inadequate about your writing?” Most of the time, these questions help students think about why they feel insecure about their writing. Other times, I have found that sharing personal experiences really helps students open up. Many times, I have told students about how much of a struggle I find it to sit down and write. I tell them about my writer’s block and the negative thoughts circulating though my mind during the writing process (e.g., “This essay is already horrible, and I’m only on the introduction!”). I also suggested they read Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts.” In this essay, Lamott, a talented professional writer, describes the agony she feels as she composes her writing. She also offers insights about how to move past this agony, towards a completed project. Most important, Lamott’s text illustrates to students that that even the most professional, successful writers find it challenging to sit down and write, and that it’s just part of the (sometimes painful and sometimes terrifying) process.

When tutoring students whose writing is underdeveloped,  I encourage them to write creatively. I like the ideas that Wendy Bishop mentions in her chapter in A Tutor’ s Guide: Helping Writers One to One, “Is There a Creative Writer in the House?” Bishop suggests a number of very interesting and fun activities, but my favorite is “Try What-ifs.” Here, the student can ask herself, “What if I recast my opening paragraph in short declarative Hemingway-esque or circular Gertrude Steinian sentences? Will I be able to harvest the passage of declarative or rhythmically circular prose?” (76). I think that this is a really interesting exercise, as it shows students that writing comes in many varieties and has many functions. In essence, this exercise illustrates that there are many writer’s voices, and all of them are valid. Not only do creative writing activities help students engage more deeply with texts they read, but they also help them engage more deeply with their own writing. After all, it is hard to stay disengaged when you’re having fun with your writing. In addition, writing creatively may help distract students from feelings of insecurity.

Students who have underdeveloped writing would also benefit from interacting with certain types of texts, for example, opinion articles from the newspaper. Often, I have found that when I am tutoring students who have underdeveloped writing, they are reluctant to express opinions. However, these students find it easier to have a conversation (through writing) with an opinion writer from the newspaper. For many of fmy students, this exercise helps them to think critically about what they are reading, as well as form their own opinions, but without the high pressure of trying to analyze an entire book written by some highfalutin author. While I would like students to analyze what they read in books as well, I think it is best to start out with shorter texts first. As the semester progresses, students can read larger and more challenging texts.

I also use my “devil’s advocate” role-playing exercises with students whose writing is underdeveloped. For instance,  a method I like to use is to question the student’s point of view from the viewpoint of someone has different opinions. I often say something along the lines of, “How do you think someone who has the opposite point of view would respond to your opinion? Where might that person find holes in your argument? How do you think you could convince him of your point of view? What resources would you suggest he read in order to learn more about your point of view, and why?” Most of the time, I find that this helps students to develop their points of view. And, for students who have already formed points of view, this exercise helps them establish whether their arguments are consistent and convincing.

*Conclusion (still!!) under construction*

Revision of Essay #2: My Tutoring Philosophy: Working One-on-One with ESL Students

When others learn that I tutor ESL students, they often ask me, “Is that radically different from tutoring native English-speaking students?” I have found that it is actually quite similar to tutoring NES (native English-speaking) students. With some exceptions, I use a similar tutoring style with ESL students as I do with NES students. With ESL or NES students, it is my job as a tutor to listen to them and discover what they know, where they need additional education, what they are concerned about, and of course, which classes they are taking. I learn these details by taking the time to “break the ice” with my students. During these “ice-breaking sessions,” I ask students questions such as, “What do you think about your classes so far? What concerns you most about your paper? What do you like most about your paper?” I also encourage students to guide our tutoring sessions by asking them what they are interested in working on, and how they would like her sessions to proceed. I write their responses down, so that I can refer to them during our session.

There is one thing that differs in my work with ESL students: It is important for me to balance my desire to give ESL students the same access to writing education as NES students while avoiding forcing their writing to sound exactly like NES students’ writing. In other words, I want to avoid appropriating ESL students’ writing. How do I go about this? First and foremost, I ask the student what her teacher’s expectations are for her writing: Does her teacher focus more on grammar, the organization of ideas, or something else? Second, I ask the student how NES-like she would like her prose to be. Depending on the student’s answer, I tailor my instruction. However, despite this tailoring of instruction, it is still important for me to give the student as much access to U.S. academic writing conventions in English grammar as possible. After all, I understand that one day this student will graduate college and would like to be prepared for either graduate school or a career. Although it is not possible for me to help relatively new English speakers (or even native English speakers) to write like Hemingway in a semester’s time, I will do my best to help them learn as much as possible in the time we have together.

When working with ESL students, I tailor my lessons depending on whether the student is a Generation 1.5 student or an international student. International students often arrive in the United States having learned the grammar conventions of their native languages. Therefore, these students tend to do quite well when attending college in the United States. “The academic knowledge [international students] build in their high schools at home helps compensate for potential lack of L2 [second language] proficiency” (Leki 2009). Generation 1.5 students tend to speak English well, but due to their being ear-learners, they may have trouble with grammar and spelling. “On the one hand [Generation 1.5 students] might have learned the grammar, but what they learned is based on what they heard or thought they heard” (Ritter and Sandvik 2009). When working with Generation 1.5 students, I offer indirect guidance and corrective feedback. Ritter and Sandvik recommend that when offering this type of feedback, tutors avoid referring to complex grammatical rules (2009). Even though I am often been tempted to give detailed explanations about grammar, I refrain from doing so. Instead, I ask questions, such as, “Is this the correct verb form?” or, when addressing clarity issues, I make a comment such as, “Your introduction has a great opener, but I am confused as to what your point of view is.” Looking back, I realize I’ve used this technique a lot with NES students as well, and I have found it to be very effective. After all, it helps students think carefully about their papers: Are they answering their readers’ questions? Are there any grammatical issues that are obscuring meaning?

I have mostly worked with NES students, but once in a while, I have worked with ESL students. For instance, when I worked at a local community college as an ESL tutor, I had the joy of working with a newly-arrived ESL student. She was from Djibouti and spoke French (in addition to a number of other languages) as her first language. At the time, I was pretty clueless about working with ESL students, but I decided to use similar techniques that I use with NES students. For instance, she and I worked on higher-order concerns first (organization, ideas, and argument), and then addressed grammatical concerns last. Like many ESL students, she was initially very concerned with her grammar, but as we worked together, she expressed a lot of concern about whether her ideas were clear. We took turns reading her essays, and as I read, I would ask her questions in order to help her clarify her ideas. She was a very enthusiastic and quick learner, and improving her written English was very important to her. In order to help her remember certain grammatical rules, I gave her some handouts that I had printed from the Purdue OWL website – I found these handouts to be very clear and concise. I wanted to be sure that she had the handouts for her use, but I did not want our sessions to be dominated by grammar instruction.

When working with Generation 1.5 students, I have found that they come with a wide range of English proficiency, and many students are much more skilled at speaking English than they are at writing it. In general, my philosophy for working with generation 1.5 students is as follows: I provide corrective feedback for grammatical issues. For instance, upon noticing an incorrect verb form, I may ask, “Is this the right verb form?” I have found that this will often lead students to self-correct without further direction. Sometimes, this method doesn’t work (this is usually the case if the student does not know the correct verb form). In that case, I give students mini grammar lessons.

In my experience working with ESL students, I have found that, like NES students, they come to tutoring sessions with a variety of concerns, skill levels, and writing proficiency. For this reason, I don’t base my instruction solely on whether the student is in NES or ESL learner; instead, I assess each student and determine the following: What is the student concerned about? What is the student’s teacher concerned about? What is a student interested in? And, how similar to an NES speaker does the student want to sound/write?

Revision of Essay #1: My Tutoring Philosophy: Working One-on-One with Students (out-of-order: see previous post for Essays 5 and 6)

“Monica,” said one of my tutees, in a voice tight with distress, “I hate essay writing! My words just own come out right, and then the teacher writes all of these scary comments of my paper!” This is one of the most common refrains I hear when I first meet students were tutoring. It doesn’t matter if the students are children or college students – the struggle is real! When I work with students one-on-one, I hope to help them find their way out of the misery that comes from being overwhelmed by writing tasks. In the following paragraphs, I will outline how I go about doing so.

When I work one-on-one with students, I avoid being directive; instead I ask them a lot of questions about their texts, their writing processes, and their experiences in class, and then guide them towards a deeper understanding of how to express their thoughts on paper. In doing so, I help students take an active role in clarifying their own thinking processes, and as a result, their writing improves. I also share some of my own undergraduate experiences, as well as my current struggles as a writer. In the process, I always approach tutoring with enthusiasm and humor; after all, tutoring students is my opportunity to do something that is rewarding, fun, and engaging for both the student and me.

When tutoring, I am direct, but not directive. It is not my job to take over a student’s assignment and shape it into what I believe it should be. Instead, I am there to listen carefully to students and act as their academic coach. I begin each session by “breaking the ice.” I ask the student how her week is going, and if she’s enjoying her classes. Next, I segue into asking her if there are any assignments she is especially concerned about. Is there paper coming up? Does she have a draft she would like us to review? If so, I usually have the student read the draft aloud to me while I read along silently. Often, students will catch errors they had not noticed while they were reviewing their writing silently to themselves previously. Afterwards, I ask the student questions about her draft, particularly areas of the draft that may be confusing to readers. Most of my questions are related to the student’s argument; these questions encourage students to explain their arguments in more detail or provide more support with evidence from texts or research materials. Many times, I play the part of the Clueless Reader (“I’m confused – do you mean…?”), and sometimes, when working with the student who is writing an argument paper, I will play the part of the Doubting Friend (e.g., responding to a student’s pro-gun control paper as the Republican friend who is not convinced that gun control is such a good idea). I play these roles in order to encourage students to think rhetorically about what they are reading and writing.

Sometimes, students arrive unprepared to sessions. When this happens, I improvise based on what the student’s concerns are, and how much time we have to address those concerns. Recently, one of my students – I will call her “Janet” (not her real name) – arrived to our session with no assignments and no writing. Because we didn’t have a specific assignment to work on, after our ice-breaking, I suggested that we review her syllabus and begin planning for upcoming assignments. Afterwards, we made a reverse outline for her paper draft, which she had left at home that morning. Fortunately, this method worked for Janet, and she ended up with an essay with which she was satisfied.

Although I have had many students arrive at tutoring sessions, hoping that I would edit their papers, my aim is to help students gain skills that they can use for future writing endeavors. Like my philosophy with ESL students, I aim not to appropriate students’ work; instead, I want to guide them through their own writing processes. I believe that, as a tutor, it is my responsibility to give students the tools they will need for future writing tasks. In other words, I believe that it is important for students learn the conventions of writing. Although I am interested in helping students to develop a strong voice, I believe that voice is something that develops within the framework of writing conventions (format, proper use of punctuation, organization of ideas, etc.). By contrast, learning writing conventions is not something that develops organically. I believe instructors and tutors do students a disservice when they fail to teach them these conventions.  In fact, the reason so many students arrive at college not knowing how to write rhetorically, organize their essays, and evaluate sources is because (most likely) they did not learn these things as K-12 students. Therefore it only makes sense that instructors and tutors help them learn these skills.

However, some scholars have expressed concern that teaching students U.S. writing conventions is “constricting” or “oppressive.” Actually, I think it is oppressive to deny students access to the same writing conventions that open doors for them (further education and jobs, for example). At the same time, however, I think that once students learn these conventions, it is important for educators to encourage them to experiment with different styles of writing. For instance, when I was in college, I had a really terrific professor who allowed students to get very creative with their essays. I had a lot of fun in that class – I got to break those conventions! Not only was this fun for me (what is more fun than writing a play with Ayn Rand and Karl Marx arguing with each other?), but it also allowed me to think more deeply about what I was writing. As I wrote, I thought to myself, “What would Ayn Rand say in a debate with Karl Marx? Would they agree on anything? If so, why do I believe this?” I found myself looking back through my texts, just to be sure that I would be able to represent both Rand and Marx appropriately (their voices and their views). I would like my students to have enough knowledge of academic writing conventions that they will have the opportunity to break these conventions without losing their ability to effectively express their arguments.

One-on-one tutoring is a collaborative process in which I help students navigate the long, winding writing process. As a tutor, my goal is not to tell students how to write, but rather to guide them towards rhetorical ways of thinking and writing. My use of questions and roles (e.g., playing the roles of “The Confused Reader” and “Doubting Friend”) illustrate my philosophy, as these techniques are guidance methods, rather than directive methods. Furthermore, I consider myself a resource for students: during sessions, I often answer questions about why certain grammatical methods are used, why teachers assign certain assignments, and word definitions. Needless to say, being a tutor is a multifaceted, always interesting role.

Drafts of Essays 5 and 6

Draft of Essay 5:  My Philosophy for Working with Speakers of Minority Dialects

My philosophy for working with speakers of minority dialects is similar in many ways to my philosophy for working with ESL students. In all of my years of working with students, I have learned that everyone has his own way of speaking. For instance, some students use different types of slang than other students. Students from Nashville, Tennessee generally speak differently than those from New Rochelle, New York. Not only do these groups of students speak different dialects of English, but they also have different rhythms of speech and may use different sayings.

In my personal life, I have experienced this as well. One side of my family hails from northern New Jersey, while the other side comes from the American South (and a large portion of my southern relatives moved to the Midwest with the second Great Migration). I was born in Oak Park, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), but spent most of my life in California’s Silicon Valley, a place featuring a number of residents with non-California and non-American dialects and accents. Needless to say, associating with those speaking various dialects of English is very commonplace to me.

But back to the topic at hand — how do I work with students who speak minority dialects? As with all students, my tutoring sessions are structured in this way: first, I break the ice with the student. I asked him how he is doing that day, how is weekend was, and whether he is enjoying his classes. I also like to find out what the student’s major is, and how he likes his teacher. After that, I move on to the business at hand: What is the student concerned about today? What would you like to work on during the session? If the student has brought in essay to work on, I asked the student what he is concerned about regarding his essay. If the student has not brought in essay with him, I help him generate ideas for his rough draft. I do so by asking him a series of questions, related to the prompt is teacher has given him.

If the student has brought in essay to the session, and I noticed that it appears to be written in a different dialect, I take steps to find out whether the teachers are dialect-related, or if the student has typed those features accidentally. One step I take is to have students read their papers aloud. If the student has made errors, he will notice them as he is reading and stopped to correct them. However, sometimes, if the student has written a paper in a different dialect, he may keep reading. If the student continues reading, I will stop him and ask him to reread the section with the dialects feature and asked if he notices anything. If not, I will encourage him to continue reading the paper to see if he has the same response to other potential dialect features in the paper. If so, I will review academic writing conventions with the student. In the process, I will always treat all students’ dialects with respect. All forms of English are valid forms of English. As a linguist John McWhorter says, Standard American English is not more “proper” or “correct” than other forms; it was merely the form that caught on among those who were in power at the time. For that reason, I do not respond to students’ non-standard dialects with an aim towards “correction.” Instead, I have an aim towards translation; I am helping students translate their own dialects into Standard Academic English.

[conclusion under construction]

Draft of essay 6: My Philosophy for Responding to Writing

Praising students’ hard work is very important to me. After all, praising what students have done right helps them to develop confidence in and enjoyment of the writing process. In my English 700 class, I recently read an article called “Learning to Praise,” by Donald Daiker. I was really alarmed to learn that many composition teachers find it incredibly challenging to say something nice about their students’ writing, even when such praise is mandated by their institutions. Daiker argues that a distrust of praise developed back in Hemingway’s time – back then, it was considered outré to praise another writer’s work. Daiker believes that this tradition, which he refers to as the “school tradition,” has become entrenched in American universities. By contrast, Daiker encourages teachers to adopt the “scholarly tradition,” which insists that teachers look for what students do well and praise it.

For that reason, when I review a student’s paper, I first take notice of what she has done right, and I also write positive comments on her paper (e.g., “interesting observation about…” or “you have brought up a very interesting question here – very insightful!”). I also offer students suggestions for improvement, but I do so in a way that is gentle. For instance, instead of adopting one of my high school English teacher’s methods of criticism (e.g., bellowing at a student, “Your thesis is really bloated! This is terrible!” How am I supposed understand this?!”) I ask the student a number of questions, such as: “How would you explain this in two sentences to a friend?” This helps direct the student to clarify her thesis by simplifying it.

In responding to students’ writing, my aim is to help students make meaning of their writing. I help them do so by asking them clarifying questions in order to help them think more deeply about what they are writing. For instance, if a student gives a simplistic response to a prompt, such as “prisons are bad,” I asked questions to help students clarified to themselves (and eventually to their readers) why prisons are bad. Are they bad for everyone? Why? Under what circumstances might they not be bad? While asking these questions, I encourage students to write down their answers in simple, low-pressure lists. I suggest this low-pressure method so that they don’t feel as if they need to come up with complete answers right away; instead, they could always expand or decrease their lists later. Later, they can look back at their lists and begin forming their drafts.

In addition, I respond to students’ writing with the aim of helping them clarify meaning to an imaginary audience. One thing I do is act the part of the “not-very-bright” reader. If I noticed that areas of the student’s paper are unclear, I ask a lot of questions, such as, “What do you mean by…?” Also, if I think a student’s argument needs to be more convincing, I will play devil’s advocate with the student — I will argue the opposite point of view from the student’s own point of view. However, I always inform the student that I am merely playing a role; I do not necessarily agree with the role I am playing. Another method I use is to ask the student what a disagreeing friend might say to her — what areas of the student’s paper might raise red flags for the skeptical friend? I encourage students to make a list of these questions, so that they may remember to address these issues in their writing.

*Conclusion under construction*