Multiliteracies & Writing

Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, in their piece “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options,” speak on the problem present when coaching ESL students and offer suggestions to better interactions when teaching these students. The apparent problem is, tutors and teachers, don’t know where to begin when examining a paper written by an ESL student. I have ELL students transferred into my class every year, and this is the very problem I face. Harris and Silvia recommend plunging in by looking for what has been done well in the paper. Tutors should also let their students know errors are a natural part of writing, and it’s totally ok.

Contrastive rhetoric, which is the study of differences in rhetorical preferences among various cultures, is proven insightful into how the writing of ESL students may differ.

There are two components:
(L1) linguistic and rhetorical patterns to the second language.
(L2) writing has been a central and contentious issue in ESL studies since the beginning of work in the area.

This technique can be useful when identifying typical problems associated with particular ESL groups. However, tutors must not think that all ESL students will manifest the same issues.

Tutors need to distinguish individual student skills. A student with low English proficiency might not be able to produce any writing, and another student with enough English proficiency may be able to compose a five-paragraph essay. Tutors then must distinguish between language proficiency and writing ability. They can do this by looking at general English proficiency tests, analyzing sample student writing, or asking the student what the is primary difficulty they are facing.

Through Silva’s research, we see ESL learners spend less time planning, write with more difficulty, reread their papers less, and revise less based on peer-editing. What might be helpful to these learners to guide them to plan more, write in stages, and to provide realistic strategies for edition, both rhetorical and linguistic? When it comes to grammar, ESL students have a hard figuring out why a sentence may be incorrect. The tutor has to layout explicit rules to a certain extent to help guide them. Tutors have to also refrain from correcting every single grammar mistake. They have to remind the students to concentrate more on substance and not worry so much about style. So to stop supplying all the answers, the tutors need to make the expectations and goals clear. Tutors have to be “tellers” to some extent to provide rhetorical and linguistic information. Not all the time, but when neccassay, they have to be the informant.

The essential aspects of grammar the tutor should concentrate on are verbs, nouns, articles, and prepositions. These are the four types of mistakes most commonly seen in ESL students. Tutors also need to encourage students to read aloud to correct their errors. If that doesn’t work, more mechanical rule-based proofreading will be necessary. Lastly, insights from ESL writing theory, research, and practice can help writing centers and tutors to deal effectively with ESL students.

John Bean, in his article “Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria,” begins by addressing the controversy surrounding the evaluation of writing. Paul Diederich conducted a study where he collected three hundred essays written by first-year college students. He had them graded by fifty different professions; all of them ranked with a different standard in mind, including ideas, organization, sentence structure, wording, and flavor. Diedrich, with this study, proves that all educators grade differently. He is thus pointing out the value of using rubrics.

Next, Bean offers an overview of rubrics presents currently.

1) Analytic- separate scores for different categories.
2) Holistic: one score that reflects the reader’s overall impression of the paper.
3) Generic: one size fits all rubric.
4) Task-specific: fits and the individual assignment or genre.

As a teacher, I find the analytic rubric to be the most useful. It breaks down the characteristics of an assignment into parts, allowing me to see what’s good and what needs improvement. It is also fit for students; it gives them a clearer picture of why they got the score got. The only downfall about the analytic rubric I feel is, it takes quite a bit of time to create one.

Bean shows how he uses rubrics and states that teachers must find rubrics that work for them. Another way to improve grading practices is to have a conversation with colleagues about what is excellent, good satisfactory, and poor writing. I like this technique because frequently, I find myself biased when grading papers, and I always second guess myself. I have a stack of papers to grade this weekend, and maybe I’ll try to use Bean’s approach. Perhaps not, it’ll take a lot more time. We’ll see!

Here is the actual gif of me grading papers this weekend.