Tutoring ESL Students

Editing Line by Line

The first reading this week was “Editing Line by Line” by Cynthia Linville. This reading focuses on the importance of teaching ESL students to proofread, which requires great deals of patience and confidence in the fact that ESL students can indeed be taught to proofread effectively. This reading acknowledged that tutors do see value in teaching these students to proofread, they just do not know how to go about it. To remedy this, the chapter lists strategies on how to teach proofreading skills rather than just proofreading it outright. The author includes a lot of worksheets containing sections for the writer and for the tutor, which are useful for second language learners.

I think that the most useful part of the article was the list of what has been identified as the six most prominent error types, which is located on page 119. This list identifies the error and explains the cause of it, meaning that the tutor could refer to this list to understand the cause which would therefore allow him/her to explain the proper grammatical rules to the client. This list is very formulaic, which works for me because of the way I learn. However, it is important to remember that these rules are more complicated than a 150 word list can encompass, and just like how clients learn differently, these errors will not always fit neatly into rule boxes.


Shattering Myths

Reading two was “Tutoring Multilingual Students: Shattering the Myths” by Terese Thonus. This reading was useful in bridging the disconnect between NES and ESL students, who are often on opposite sides of a cultural divide. When I was a sophomore in High School, my spanish teacher was explaining a Spanish grammatical concept and its English counterpart, and explained that the differences between the two were why many ESL speakers made certain grammatical errors, such as using double negatives– which in Spanish is often grammatically correct whereas in English is almost always grammatically incorrect. Understanding these rules and where they differ are useful in understanding why ESL students make the mistakes that they do, which puts us one step closer to being able to explain the proper rules.

The myths encompass a great variety of topics, most of which make a great deal of sense. The first is the idea that multilingual students are a uniform group, which is untrue because they are as diverse a group at NES speakers. They are in categories that are “open and overlapping”, and are thus more akin to a venn diagram than a chart. We are also reminded that multilingualism is not the same as multiliteracy, which is obvious but is mostly overlooked. Yo puedo escribir y leer en español mejor que yo puedo hablar en español, but even I forget that being able to speak a language does not entail being able to write it and vice versa. Myth three was the idea that multilingual writing problems was caused because of the writer’s first language. I do not believe that this is always true, but I believe that because of the way we teach secondary languages and the reliance on translating the primary language do cause the transfer of grammatical rules that apply in one language and are an error in the other. Myth four encompassed the idea that multilingual writers make the same errors in grammar and vocabulary, which is similar to the idea that multilingualism does not equal multiliteracy.

Among the myths about tutoring multilingual writers, we are reminded that multilingual writers have to be tutored the same way as monolingual writers. The fact of the matter is that no two clients will learn the same way, so we should not be trying to fit them into archetypes anyways. Myth two was similar to myth one, wherein it reminds us that multilingual writers cannot all be tutored the same as one another in the same way that they cannot be tutored the same way as monolingual students. The third myth was that the best tutoring can be done in English by native english speakers. I think that it would make more sense to have ESL speakers tutoring, because they understand the roots of the issue and they likely are able to have more shared life experience with the ESL client. Myth four was the idea that multilingual students only have grammatical and vocabulary errors. Since multilingual students are just like any other student, it would make sense that they also struggle with issues like content.

Issues & Opinions

The final reading of the week was on the Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Opinions by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, who we have had readings from in the past. This reading was the hardest of the three to follow for me. One point that really stuck out to me was the idea that tutoring ESL students requires taking a step back. We must remember that we only know our grammatical rules the way we do because we grew up immersed in it, and in fact the way that we know our grammatical rules “by ear” harms us because there are some arguably arbitrary rules that we cannot explain. As a result, we need to consult resources the way that we would when tutoring a NES student.

We are taught how to prioritize errors by identifying which are lower and which are higher order errors. This concept is difficult to me because I think that we need to prioritize errors on a student by student basis. It’s hard to say “this error is worse than that error” when the reality is that each student will err differently. They also discuss the idea that ESL writers compose differently, and debunk it through a study that showed that NES and ESL writers are not all that different in the way they compose papers. I think that this is difficult to gauge because there are so many nuanced factors that go into writing– how can we choose which to monitor in a study?

Overall, many of the points made in this article are applicable to the concepts of tutoring as a whole, such as withstanding the urge to correct every error. For this, we have been taught to negotiate priorities, set goals, and to ask the student to come back. The authors also mention something that we talked about in the first week’s reading– the idea that we, as tutors, need to teach writing rather than proofreading or “telling” (page 532). I think that telling is fine in some cases for ESL students, as long as you explain the concept in addition to giving the answer, that way you will not have to give them the answer a second time. This reading ties largely into the other two, and readings from previous weeks, because it emphasizes the importance of teaching students how to proofread rather than doing it for them.

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