Tutoring , Multiliteracies & Rubrics

Image result for learning english quotes" I wanted to begin this blog with this quote minus the last part.

Tutoring ESL: Being a tutor can be rewarding but like many other jobs/responsibilities, it may come with a few challenges/obstacles. ESL students have a lot to learn, consider and convert when it comes to the English language. Although English is quite the global lingua franca, I feel it confuses everyone internationally. From grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, tenses and grammatical gender, it takes a lot of work for NES to comprehend, let alone ESL students.

Harris and Silva discuss ways to consider helping the tutors recognize supportive methods to understand what the ESL writers are not achieving. These students have  similar issues to NES writers.

For students whose first language is not English, the writing classroom cannot
provide all the instructional assistance that is needed to become proficient
writers. For a variety of reasons, these students need the kind of individualized
attention that tutors offer, instruction that casts no aspersions on the adequacy
of the classroom or the ability of the student. We should recognize that along
with different linguistic backgrounds, ESL students have a diversity of concerns
that can only be dealt with in the one-to-one setting where the focus of
attention is on that particular student and his or her questions, concerns,
cultural presuppositions, writing processes, language learning experiences, and
conceptions of what writing in English is all about.

It seems as if some tutors have a preconceived notion about ESL writing and are surprised by the errors. Tutors need to take into consideration that the ESL writer are of multi cultures. What may work in their country cannot be easily translated or writing grammatically here. In the line of teaching, all teachers,coaches and tutors, etc are encouraged to search for something positive about a student, his/her work or action.

They should be encouraged to begin by looking for what has been done well in the paper, acknowledge that, and go from there.

How can the writers be encouraged without being discouraged? Silva and Harris explain explain how tutors should look for patterns by:Image result for writing tips"

  1. Not all members of a particular group may
    manifest all of the problems or cultural preferences associated with that group;

2. Not all problems will be a result of transfer of L1 patterns.

There is also the possibility of some writers being well articulated. One of the main issues within their writing is due to the lack of rereading, less planning, disorganization, hearing what sounds right and few resources.

Silva and Harris mentions tutors strengthen their skills inImage result for tutoring in english language"

  • adjusting expectations
  • setting realistic goals
  • resisting the need to give the answers
  • making hierarchies
  • encouraging proofreading strategies
  • resources for tutors

After reading this article, I realized I never thought about ESL writers and some struggles that they may encounter. I know immigrants take English courses to further their knowledge in America but I actually never thought about the workload. I always thought they listen to recordings and have a group discussion.

I guess I’ve been ignorant to other activities in this world. In World Englishes, we talk about the importance of English in many countries and the effects it has on the people learning but now I have a greater appreciation and respect for my native language and the people learning it. Although my family spoke English when they arrived, some of the verbage was a little different but they were still able to get by. I can admit that I do take for granted my ability to speak and write in English. I remember in school speaking and writing in Spanish and how I struggled writing and understanding the grammatical gender words and the tenses. I know I cannot go through that again.

Using Rubrics to Apply Grading Criteria:

John Bean shares information from Paul Diederich’s experiment with composition research.  300 essays = 53 professionals = 6 occupational fields. When asked to read, comment and organize into a pile based on ratings, every professional had their own  way/style/reason for their selected rating. What I realized is that most teachers are educated in a similar way however when it comes to their grading and explanation, it is most their own thoughts/reasons rather the significant purpose.

Bean introduces the pros and cons of creating rubrics.

Image result for john c. bean"Rubrics come in many different sizes, shapes and flavors. The primary variations are the following:

  • They can be analytic or holistic
  • Generic or task- specific
  • Use different methods of describing performance levels
  • Can have a grid or a non-grid design


I think I was introduced to rubrics in middle school in English class. My teacher never explained what it represented nor did they help us to use it. When my writing was returned I hated the rubric because my grade was either average or below. How was my writing suppose improve? I don’t recall having various types of rubrics that suited the theme or teaching style. Within Bean’s article he shares that a generic rubric doesn’t fit everything, a one size fits most.

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Bean believes in designing task-specific rubrics for each assignment and apply them using what he calls a “left brain, right-brain” method. Generic rubrics don’t easily accommodate the subject matter and rhetorical contexts of assignments and task-specific give the students more meaningful feedback about their performance.

He deems giving students a letter grade is more important than calculating a rubric score. Now that I have gained a better understanding about rubrics, I’m not against them. Rubrics are helpful for teachers and students especially for communication and developing an understanding of the papers theme.

This grading criteria information helps coach students become more efficient and effective writers.

Image result for rubrics in grading criteria"I kind of wish we had a rubric for our presentation but glad we didn’t because we were all able to think outside the box and create our own ideas to follow based on the topic chosen.

Multiliteracies and Writing

ESL Tutoring and Rubrics

In elementary school, I was unaware that English was not my first language.  I  just thought I was a poor student because I was reading and writing below grade level up until almost junior high school. It never occurred to me that my problem was a linguistic one. I really could have used some tutoring, especially the kind described in this article by Harris and Silva. Unfortunately, back then, there was no such thing as English as a Second Language. We non-native speakers were lumped together with English speaking students who were also having trouble with reading and writing and relegated to the lowest level of the reading program used in class. Thankfully, times have changed and so much effort and research is now being used to help ESL students in classrooms and tutoring centers. 

This article highlights the challenges that ESL tutors face when confronted with the diversity of concerns from ESL students. Classroom instruction alone is not sufficient in providing the kind of help that is needed for people with different linguistic backgrounds. One-on-one instruction is great because it allows the tutor to focus entirely on a particular student and his or her “questions, concerns, cultural presuppositions, writing processes, language learning experiences, and conceptions of what writing in English is all about.”   I think it’s also the most efficient way of teaching ESL students. By knowing the needs of each individual, lesson plans can be tailored to certain problems and questions and feedback is immediate. I think it also makes each student feel more cared for and in turn will make them work harder and be more focused as they are only dealing with issues that are relevant to their particular situation.

In addition to the typical training required for tutoring native speakers, ESL tutors need to be aware that drafts written by ESL students may look nothing like what they are normally used to seeing. They might be overwhelmed by vocabulary choices, sentence structure, punctuation, and organization. Figuring out where to begin in correcting is a daunting task. The suggestion of prioritizing among errors and making distinctions between global errors (text based) and local errors (sentence level) is a good start. In addition, I agree that noticing patterns of writing in different cultures will help tutors explain errors by comparing and contrasting American conventions versus the target culture. For example, knowing that in Spanish the adjective goes after the noun will help tutors explain that in English the opposite is done. The adjective goes before the noun. Tutors in writing centers also have to be very patient and good listeners. ESL students are usually more reserved in regular classrooms. They are often shy and quiet around large groups of people, but in a one-on-one setting they may be more comfortable sharing their writing difficulties, or even personal concerns. It is important to establish a friendly rapport with students so that they will be comfortable articulating their needs and what they hope to accomplish at the end of the tutoring sessions. It is also essential for tutors to initially assess the writing competency of students and be realistic about the level of improvement they can achieve. Constant dialogue and realistic goals are important so students know what to expect.

The rubric I just got back from Dr. Zamora for my Formulaic Writing paper was the first time I have ever seen a rubric used to judge the quality of my writing. I’m not saying that my past teachers never used a rubric to grade my work. I’m just saying that I was never made aware of their use of any. Maybe they weren’t popular in the 70’s and 80’s, but they are widely used today.  I now know that there are many types of rubrics out there, not just a one-size-fits all standard one for all teachers and subjects. 

I always wonder what constitutes good writing and whether there needs to be a consensus in order to make a final judgment. “The potential for wide disagreement about what constitutes good writing is a factor with which both students and teachers must contend.” I found John Bean’s article about rubrics most interesting, especially the research done by Diederich in which 53 people graded 300 essays written by freshman at 3 different universities. The  grades were so varied, but he found that people in specific subgroups put more weight on particular areas, such as creativity, sentence structure, liveliness, and organization and development. The fact that he could discern some patterns in this chaotic system enabled him to develop a method to train readers to measure their assessments within a certain number of criteria. 

This was groundbreaking research in the 1970s that was absolutely necessary because “the processes by which individuals make judgments about writing are surprisingly complex, and controversies concerning evaluation of writing are among the most heated in composition studies.” Training readers to reach high levels of agreement on grades promotes fairness and consistency. This is very important given the number of students in modern classrooms. In addition, interrater reliability is essential in grading standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, and AP exams.

I am definitely pro-rubric and am not surprised that most teachers are also in favor of rubrics. I would imagine that it makes their job of teaching and grading much easier, especially when they have the freedom to choose from a variety that best suit their goals and teaching styles. As a student, I like knowing in advance what my teachers are looking for in a particular assignment. I’m sure other students feel the same way. Consulting rubrics are also an effective and fair approach in settling grade disputes.

Multiliteracies & Writing.

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.