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Re: Writing Resources for tutors helping ESL students


Kim Ballard <[log in to unmask]>


Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>


Fri, 26 Feb 2016 13:12:38 -0500





text/plain (142 lines)


I'll offer some excellent sources for you, will mention an example of my personal approach, and though I don't mean to, will likely "scholarsplain" ESL (or L2) assistance by also talking about potential issues associated with tutors editing or ONLY helping L2 students edit their work. I will likely be misunderstanding your intentions when I "scholarsplain" (talk about a bunch of considerations the person already knows when they just post in a hurry to get resources), so take anything I say (besides the sources) with a grain of salt and with the notion that I'm trying to help, even if I "scholarsplain." (I think I created that word when I posted to the Writing Program Administrator listserv about assessment and was told to read book and consider issues I'd already considered. While a number of the "scholarsplainers" were males, not all were. Still, I clearly am borrowing from "mansplain." 

Books & Article Sources for L2 Tutoring of Writing 
Tutoring Second Language Writers Mar 1, 2016 by Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth 

ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors , 2nd EditionFeb 3, 2009 by Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth (Sometimes publishers will send this book for free) 

Multilingual Writers and Writing Centers by Ben Rafoth (2015-01-15)1656 by Ben Rafoth 

"Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options." Muriel Harris and Tony Silva (available at or at 
(Appeared in College Composition and Communication in Dec 1993, but still pretty good) 

"Tutoring and Revision: Second Language Writers in the Writing Center." Jessica Williams. (available through your library probably) 
(Appeared in the Journal of Second Language Writing in September of 2004) 


Best Instructional Practices for English Learners Selected Research (2006-2011) {May appear to be secondary-related, but still worthwhile) 

Reflecting Forward TESOL Instruction 50 years 

Personal Thoughts 
Here are some things I know. Many L2 students know more about English grammar and usage terminology than do native speakers who may be tutoring them. Encourage your students to be cautious about making up rules. For example, I heard a tutor the other day explain that "whenever one says "nor" one needs "neither." Not true, but the tutor thought that was a rule., and it fit the particular situation--the writer needed to say "neither . . . nor," but it's not the case that such is always demanded. Finally, if the tutors can use the terminology, have them do so. 

But mainly have tutors NOT tell the L2 students the answer. I usually say to tutors, if you find yourself starting to say "Well, I'd say" or "Well, U.S. speakers would say," stop. Instead, ask questions to find out what the L2 writer really means rather than just assuming you (the tutor) already know it and can see the way to correct it. 

Let's say the L2 student writes the following (which I just took from a text a student told me I could share in training). 

L2 Student's Statement: U.S. students make lots of notes in lectures but they share them with eager when I asked. 

Instead of the tutor saying, "Rather than "with eager" use "eagerly" and the "I asked" needs to be "whenever I ask," try this. 

1. After the tutor points out sentences or passages that are correct, come to this sentence and note, "I like a lot of this sentence, but I see at least three mistakes. A native speaker might make one of the mistakes, but not the other two. Can you figure out where the problems are? Try reading it?" (By the way, I would not touch "make notes" because I don't think that phrase violates English usage, although it's charmingly L2 and not something a native speaker would say.) 

2. The L2 student may, of course, not be able to hear the error, so the tutor should read the sentence without trying to emphasize the problem. 

3. Again the L2 student may not get the error, but at least the tutor is making the work collaborative and is not just editing and asking, "See?" 

4. The tutor can now acknowledge that the most important error is one with tense. Go for this error first because it is likely the most egregious error and also one that follows a pattern. My bet is the student has problems with tense more than once in the paper. So the tutor can say "when is this (I find) happening" and when is ("I asked") happening? My bet is the L2 student will say the "I find" happens often in lectures or that it happened just once. Compare that to "I asked"; my bet is the L2 student will say that he/she once asked for a friendly native speaker's notes and the person was happy to share. Now the tutor can ask the L2 student what he/she wants to say and what the student thinks will be right. Either the student will want to make the situation a one time in the past for the entire sentence, or will want to make the first part of the sentence something that reoccurs and the last part something he/she did just once. Perhaps the L2 student wants to break the idea into two sentences or just use additional context words to make the tense changes clear. The L2 student won't be passive in this situation and can clarify his/her meaning. In this case, the L2 student can also find a potential proofreading technique: Check to see when you want something to happen and whether or not the time is clear to the writers by changes in the verb tense and/or by changes with context words. 

The tutor should also, at this point, have the L2 student start creating a strategic proofreading list about ways to find issues the L2 student has. 

5. Now the tutor should take on the "with eager" by asking what kind of word "with" is. My bet is the L2 student will say "preposition." Okay, why did the L2 student write "eager" after the preposition. The L2 student may actually talk about objects of prepositions, but may just talk about how helpful the student was. Eventually the discussion can be turned to adverbs and "eagerly." Even if the tutor can't hang with all the terminology, the tutor can still offer 3-5 ways to present the information, with only one or two being correct, such as I offer below: 

So which of these would you say (the tutor asks the L2 student): 

a. but they share them with a lot of eager 
b. but they share them eagerly 
c. but they eagerly share them 
d. but they with eager share them 
e. but they with kindness share them 

Even a fairly new-to-English L2 student will pick b or c as answers. And if they don't, the tutor can find lots to talk about as he/she teaches the L2 student ways to find the answers. Because many prepositional phrase are based on strings of semantic content rather than on any easily accessible grammar/usage rule, the tutor can acknowledge that many of the English wordings aren't confined by easily accessible grammar rules but are just things native speakers know works well in their language and will be acceptable because they've heard the combinations since birth. 

Finally, should be tutor take on the need for a comma before "but"? If so, he/she can do so by talking about F-A-N-B-O-Y-S (For, And, Nor, etc.) and independent clauses. And, of course, the tutor can again provide a clear proofreading strategy, although helping students recognize independent clauses can be tough at times and depends upon the tutor and L2 writer recognizing that a clause has a verb and a subject for the verb. 

In such an approach as I quickly described above, the paper won't be edited line by line (which the books and article I mentioned will also suggest), but the L2 student may will come closer to improving his/her knowledge of the structure and vocabulary of English and will not be simply expecting a native speaker to make things right. In addition, the L2 student may understand that when someone else edits his/her paper or is in charge of doing so, the editor sometimes makes "mistakes" based on the editor's understanding rather than on the writer's meaning. 

Now the potentially condescending part, you may already know, so forgive me if I'm insulting! 

One issue you may need to consider is that your tutors may not be the best qualified individuals to help L2 students, although you may have little choice in the matter as many schools are enrolling more and more L2 students and providing no or few additional resources. Consider, if you can, helping the tutors learn about working with L2 students by having someone with at least an MA in TESOL and Composition talk to them. I think you'll find that the effort for L2 students should not just be on editing papers, but also on revising the papers and writing them for the particular readers and culture the students are discovering themselves in. 

For example, a woman from China once brought a memo to our Writing Center that was written for a course in human resources. The memo was supposed to outline a social media policy the company would train all employees to follow. The individual from China simply forbade all employees from making any political or religious comments on their social medial and noted individuals would have to let the company follow all social medial of the individuals. The student also developed a set of consequences for violating the policy, which started with immediate termination for posting a political or religious statement on one's private social medial. Whether or not the individual was writing her insights from a perspective of growing up in China (which I can't say), her real problem wasn't an editing concern but a lack of understanding about the U.S. culture and how to negotiate individuals' rights and employers' needs to avoid, if possible, having an employee make them look bad on social media. Also, she wasn't thinking about the actual costs of tracking all employee social media. In this case, the student and consultant discussed the problem and the students devised a new plan--one that told employees their employer did not want to be identified in the individual's social media postings and why as well as listed potential consequences, which started with a verbal request and then escalated. 

One of the most difficult problems of helping L2 students "edit" their papers is that tutors tend to just explain what changes are needed based on their native knowledge of English. They don't actually teach because the problems are so overwhelming. As a result, the L2 students often learn to give their papers to a native speaker (something their instructors also often recommend) who correct the papers so that instructors who read for correction instead of meaning or instructors who are simply overwhelmed with trying to work with L2 writing stop marking surface errors and offer the L2 students a grade they are happier to receive. Unfortunately, while the L2 students may be picking up a lot about English, they are also missing lots of opportunities to learn, especially from tutors. 

For me, and others, of course, the point is to help L2 writers learn, not just to help them get a better grade. But tutors may struggle, as I do sometimes, when the L2 student has a paper for which he/she will earn a poor grade because, although the ideas are clear and the student can talk about the points in the papers, the student cannot demonstrate his/her knowledge effectively in standard written English. 

Off to stop having fun with this post. 

All my best, 

Kim Ballard 
Western Michigan University Writing Center, Director 
WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, Editor 

---- Original Message ----- 
From: "Stephanie M Olson" <[log in to unmask]> 
To: [log in to unmask] 
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2016 10:44:55 AM 
Subject: Writing Resources for tutors helping ESL students 


I am looking for some resources to provide to writing tutors who are helping ESL students. A lot of ESL students come to tutors week after week and I am looking to provide some resources that the tutors can use to work with these ESL students to help them be able to edit their papers on their own. If anyone knows of anything, I would appreciate! 

Steph Olson, M.S. 
Coordinator for Academic Support Services 
Campbell University | College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences 
e:[log in to unmask] |<mailto:[log in to unmask]> t:(910) 814-5693<tel:%28910%29%20814-5693> | f:(910) 893-1937<tel:%28910%29%20893-1937> 
P Please consider the environment before printing this email. 
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