Tutoring ESL Students: Issues & Options- This article resonated with me because I work directly with ESL students. Over the summer I worked with teenagers who learned English as their second language. Throughout the school year I work with pre school aged children who mostly speak Spanish as their first language. Both cases are unique in that the children are in two entirely different age groups, which presented different challenges for me. In my World English class I’m surrounded by not just teachers but specifically ESL teachers. They talk openly and candidly with me about the issues they face in teaching these students English. Sadly a lot of the issues seem to stem from the politics found within school systems, which most teachers can’t seem to escape. But besides the trials and tribulations they spoke about, I found that all of them really cared deeply about their students. All of them were pursuing their MA degree in ESL so that they could further their education but also to be more qualified and capable of teaching in this difficult field. It feels good knowing there are educators who really care about and still have a passion for their work and their students future success.
Harris and Silva do a great job of dissecting the complex issues facing ESL tutors and students. They also provide insightful tips and strategies to help ESL tutors teach students how to read and write. In the opening paragraph they talk about the importance of one on one interaction between the tutor and the student. This is essential for ALL students in my opinion. Whether they are ESL learners or not, every teacher as busy and frazzled as they may be, should try their best to find time to talk to and work more closely with struggling students. I know from personal experience that we can always find time! You just have to sacrifice and make it happen for your students. I know it can be done and I think that when a student has that more personalized interaction with their teacher it humanizes the teacher in their eyes. Which makes them feel more at ease and able to open up to the teacher who now isn’t this authoritative figure but also a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. This is even more critical when it comes to ESL students. Every single ESL student has a unique background and experience. That depends on their age and when they arrived in the U.S. Also the circumstances surrounding their arrival and how much exposure they had to learning English at home or prior to arriving in the U.S. So its important for ESL teachers and tutors to realize that each and every student has a unique and special story to share. They should try to recognize this in their students because I believe it translates to their teaching and to their students learning of the English language.
In the section of the article that talks about the composition issues ESL students face when writing an essay I think the authors were spot on by suggesting that the tutor focus on the organization and structure of the essay FIRST, then work on the grammatical issues later. Students who are not proficient in English just yet, will face a lot of challenges when they have to write essays. So to have them brainstorm ideas, work with a outline and formula to follow, I think would benefit them immensely. Again I like to use the example of my experience working this past summer with the EEOF summer program. In the writing course I taught, the majority of my students were Hispanic and their first language was not English. Many of them spoke to me with heavy accents but understood English. I also had one Egyptian born student in my class who learned English as her second language. What I found remarkable was that although my L2 language learners had difficulty with grammar and word usage. Their writing was superb compared to many of my L1 speaking students. I was shocked to say the least, maybe I shouldn’t have been but I was. The Egyptian student was such an articulate writer! I was blown away! Many of my Hispanic students who were L2 wrote just as well as she did. I guess this proves that you can’t judge a ESL student by its cover or by their thick accents. Research definitely needs to continue to see the connection between speaking English, then learning to READ and then WRITE in English. There is a strong and vital connection for ESL students between them speaking, than learning to read but also learning to write in English. But from my first hand experience over the summer I realized that although many of my students had grammar issues and tense issues when writing, they also had strong accents and not yet proficient English speakers, regardless their overall essays were very strong! The content was clear and sensible. Keep in mind I did provide all my students with a outline for each essay writing assignment. Again I’m a big proponent of that! Give a student ESL or not a formula to follow and watch them soar!
Another interesting part of the article and one in which I’m happy the authors pointed out was the importance of acknowledging that each student comes from a diverse background and culture in which they are not yet accustomed to the ways of American life. I think its important to treat each student regardless of age with respect and understanding to gauge where they are in the English learning process and also observe how comfortable they are with their new surroundings. This can help ESL tutors to connect more and make a more comforting and learning conducive environment for the students. What I also found interesting in my personal experience teaching the writing course this past summer, was that my L2 students were a lot more invested in coming to tutoring and also asked more questions during class about particular assignments. My American born students didn’t seem as invested. I tried my best to not have tunnel vision and just focus in on grammatical errors or slight tense issues with verbs or nouns. Instead I focused more on the content of their essays and if it flowed and made sense to the topic assigned. I know in the future grammar will play an important role in their academic writing, but for my summer assignments with them I wanted to focus more on the material and find the GOOD in their writing, not all the MISTAKES. I felt like my main job was to encourage them and make them feel more confident within themselves as English learning writers and readers.
Growing up as a first generation Italian American I grew up in a home with both my parents speaking Italian to each other, to the rest of our family and even to my older brother and I. But I was lucky in that although they were very proud of their heritage, they made sure to teach my brother and I English first, then Italian second. My parents who emigrated from Italy due to poverty and lack of opportunity, knew first hand how difficult it was to learn English and adapt to this big, scary, new American land. A land in which they both tell me they would hear glorious stories about growing up as poor kids in Italy. It was like Dorothy finding OZ, they were Dorothy and OZ was America. I will never forget my mother’s first vivid memory of seeing the Verrazano Bridge for the very first time. She was mesmerized, frozen with excitement. As a kid I would shut my eyes tight and try to envision what my mother looked like and what she felt in that exact moment: a young, nervously shy, skinny, 17 year old Italian immigrant girl, excitedly seeing NYC for the very first time. Both my parents struggled to learn the language but never had the finances to afford going to school to learn. So learning English was up to them, a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that process. My mother shared her horror stories of getting lost on the bus and having trouble communicating where she needed to go to the bus driver, who was sweet but didn’t understand Italian and couldn’t really help her. She was scared and saddened by the communication block. Through the years my parents prevailed. They both speak English today, very well I might add, and of course they still have their thick Italian accents, which I honestly don’t even hear but my close friends do and love it. But looking back after all these years I’m proud of my parents for making the choice to teach us English at home first. Even though their English was not perfect they made sure to speak to us, read to us and even yell at us in their “broken” English. My brother and I learned to assimilate into school with no issues. We knew how to speak English and did well in reading, writing and spelling. We understood Italian as well. My brother still speaks it fluently to this day. I can write, read it and understand it all but speaking it, ugh I stink!!
Why I wanted to give a background on my own family and how I was taught English as my first language, was because I see a connection when I’m working in the preschool in downtown Elizabeth. Most of my 15 students are Hispanic and most only speak Spanish. They seem to understand English, but from meeting their parents its clear Spanish rules in their homes. Its not only hard for educators to communicate with children but also with parents who don’t speak English. Last year we had a problematic child who was getting violent in the classroom. His father came in and didn’t speak a word of English. I needed help from the Spanish speaking TA. I felt awful because the father had so much trouble in understanding me, and I wish it wasn’t this way for the benefit of his son and the issues he was facing. I also see first hand the difficulties and the frustrations that the children have when they cant seem to get the right word out, or when I’m looking at them with a blank expression trying to figure out what their saying. Its not easy and very tough. We should never and I would never make a student regardless of age feel badly about their native language. That would be a disservice to the child. But I always try to gently encourage them to answer me in English. Luckily throughout the decades and with the influx of immigrants coming to the U.S. from across the world, many more ESL programs are available to students now in all grade levels. I feel encouraged by the ESL teachers I was lucky enough to meet here at Kean who are working towards their MA in ESL and really take pride in teaching their students to learn English and be the very best. Now if only I could get the majority of parents and guardians on board in them teaching their children English as a first language at home, even if like my parents, their English is far from perfect. But in a world where you can get around just fine within your Spanish speaking community that’s a uphill battle. So in the meantime I’ll just have confidence and faith in the dedicated ESL educators who still do exist today. Being a first generation child of immigrants, I understand and empathize with the struggles the parents and students face in their journey to learning standard English. I wish them the very best and I know because I saw my parents do it that they can do it too. Xo
Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria- Yay John Bean is back!!! I have a special place in my heart for him because his article was the very first I read for this class and presented on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and presenting on his Feedback In Writing article. I thought his insights and ideas were an awesome tool for educators to help guide and grade their students works with integrity and leaving their students feeling empowered rather then demoralized. His idea of “coaching” them through it was awesome! Reading his theories on the use of rubrics was interesting. I didn’t know as much in depth information about analytic vs. holistic rubrics until I read this article. Holistic scoring gives students a single, overall assessment score for the paper as a whole. Analytic rubrics provides students with at least a rating score for each criterion, the rubric for analytic scoring offers teachers enough room to provide some feedback on each criterion. Holistic rubrics are sometimes preferred by teachers because they are quicker and more efficient. While some tend to criticize the use of analytic rubrics because they believe writing cant be analyzed in component parts. Both rubrics can be classified as generic or task specific. Teachers just like students are all unique and individual. They have to decide which rubrics are best for them and their teaching style, as well as taking into consideration what would be best for their students. John Bean gives an overview of what he believes can help teachers decide. Sometimes that can mean they choose depending on the type of essay assignment. Again every teacher is different, some may prefer very detailed rubrics while others prefer a simpler guide for students. Regardless of the rubrics teacher use to determine grades, I have and always will be PRO RUBRICS!! In a previous blog post of mine I revealed how the very first grading rubric I was introduced to was in my junior year of college. I had never seen or heard of one before that. It was for a Women’s Health Studies course where I was writing a APA formatted research paper on the plight of women in Afghanistan. The rubric was so very helpful! I find the more detailed it is and the more categories and boxes I can check off the better! I received an A on the essay. Of course I was a solid, overall good writer even without a rubric but I strongly feel like the rubric took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. Once I was able to see exactly what my teacher expected of me, I was able to get to work! My creativity blossomed once the pressure was off. I didn’t second guess myself as much, I was able to ask less questions and instead figure stuff out on my own. Which I think was a huge advantage for me and I would think for other students.
It’s one thing to be a naturally strong writer, or someone who enjoys writing. But for the students who find writing a college essay daunting, I feel like a good, solid specific rubric is essential! Also the article makes a good point in highlighting how a rubric can be useful for teachers. It gives them a guide just like it does for the students. Also if parents or students have specific questions or concerns about their grades and why they received a specific grade then teachers have a more tangible and solid explanation to give, which will satisfy most parents and ease tensions. I think that facilitates more open, honest communication and brings a deeper understanding all around. This is a huge benefit to the parents, teachers and student’s in building a solid relationship with each other which I believe we need more of in classrooms today. A final note when Emily and I were anxiously starting to work on our presentation for this class, I found the rubric Dr. Zamora provided. I rushed to print it out and gave Emily a copy! We both were excited to see it, read it and touch it! We were so nervous and full of self doubt in giving our very first graduate school presentation and here before us we saw the guidelines and boxes, and it was a huge relief! It was like our mini Bible for the time being! I know for myself personally I referenced the rubric as I was beginning to create each slide, and made sure to factor in the specific parts of the rubric that had to do with the presentation aspect. Overall I think Emily will agree that the rubric was a helpful tool and guide that helped to ease a bit of our anxiety. With a lot of hard work we were able to pull it off and give a solid presentation! We both received a awesome grade and it definitely boosted our graduate school confidence!! YAY RUBRICS!! Hope you all enjoy this video below!! I thought it was a great guide for teaching and supporting ESL students!! Xo.