Thursday, October 30, 2014

English, not their mother language.

I've been working in the SLCC (Salt Lake Community College), Writing Center for about a month now and I have only a few more hours and my fifteen will be complete. My experience there has been really good. As a tutor, most of the students I have helped have been where their mother language was not English. It's a lot harder than it looks to help a student who struggles with the language I've known from birth.

On one of my sessions I was helping a young woman who spoke and wrote fluent Arabic. Her notes for the assignment were written all in Arabic and I could see that she was very proud of her background. She came in wanting my help with the notes her professor wrote on her paper. Those notes consisted of, "You must be able to write fluently in English if you are to move on to the next class." With her notes all in her mother language, I could see why the professor would make that statement.

In a class discussion I was given the advice on what to say the next time I have this situation. The suggestions were:

          *Ask her if s/he would start taking notes in English.
          *Remind s/he that if they want to move on to the next class they need to know the English language. 
          *Explain that when learning a new language it helps to immerse yourself in the language with speech, writing, and reading, etc.


I found my classmates suggestions very helpful and it makes sense. When I was in high school I took a lot of Spanish classes. I only know very little, only enough in fact to get through to the kids at the daycare where I work. If I had applied these suggestions to my learning I might know more. I intend to use these suggestions in my tutoring sessions and also when I transfer to a four year institution that requires four years of a second language.

---Emily---

Monday, October 27, 2014

ESL Learners

    ESL learners learn differently than we do. I realize that I'm just stating the obvious (for those of us that have worked with ESL writers). But underneath we are really all the same. Keeping that in mind has helped me immensely as I immersed myself in the writers that I was helping. I say was because my time at this particular library was cancelled due to funding for the program. While I hope that at some point to go back there, I'm moving forward to help others.
    So what have I learned from this time working almost exclusively with ESL students? First thing I found out was the most important is who they are, everybody is different which is what give us our identity. Grammar mistakes are something I tend to overlook; since my own grammar is not perfect. Even though they might not be native they will know what they need to have looked at and where their paper needs to be strengthened. Sometimes the problem is merely in the translation of the text.  Higher order of concerns would be for them to understand exactly what they have to do, do exactly what they have to do and show that they have done exactly what they had to do. Doing that even the most struggling ESL writers can succeed.
    
   

Friday, October 24, 2014

Respect for L2 Writers

I don't like to admit this, but I have a bachelor's degree in a foreign language. German, to be exact. The reason I don't like to admit it is that after four years of college study, including one study-abroad experience in Austria and one in Germany, I never became fluent in German; and after decades of not speaking or reading German, I've lost my L2 skills almost entirely.

The textbook ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors has made me think back to my own struggle to master a second language. Just for kicks, I found a website, www.learnoutlive.com, with "Immersive Stories For Language Learners," and spent about an hour working with a short story in German. I read the story twice, picking up the basic idea pretty accurately but missing some vocabulary and verb tenses. Then I read an English translation of the story and was gratified by how much of it I'd understood properly.

After reading the story and translation, I stayed on the website and went through a series of exercises for study and practice. I ended by taking several quizzes until I was able to pass them all with 100% accuracy. It felt pretty good to have the language start coming back to me, but it was also daunting to know that there was absolutely no way I could converse or write effectively in German at that point, other than saying, "Hello. I'm pleased to meet you. What's your name?"

My little exercise gives me great admiration for anyone who attempts to function in a second language. I want to get through ESL Writers in its entirety as soon as possible and read it again many times. One thing my reading has made clear to me is that writing center tutors would do well to learn something about the structure of the native language of the ESL writers they work with. (Preposition ending a sentence! I know.) Knowing about the writer's native language would help the tutor understand transfer errors and difficulty with articles. Even if the tutor knows nothing of the writer's native language, one thing is for sure: L2 writers deserve large amounts of patience and respect from writing center tutors.

Preserving the Writer's Voice

Original sentence by a Japanese L1/English L2 writer: 
It is said that in Japan to write own names well is to represent how intelligent people are.

Reformulation 1: 
It is said in Japan that writing one’s name well represents how intelligent people are.

Reformulation 2: 
It is said in Japan that writing one’s name well is a sign of intelligence.

Reformulation 3: 
The Japanese say that writing one’s name well is a sign of intelligence.

The first and second reformulations preserve the writer’s voice by keeping the passive construction It is said in Japan. The Oregon State University video Writing Across Borders explains that one characteristic of Japanese writing is that writers state things less directly than is the custom in the U.S., and Japanese readers are expected to work harder than U.S. readers to follow the writer’s meaning. The passive construction seems to match the way a Japanese L1 writer might express herself in her native language. If I were the writer, I might favor the second reformulation, which preserves the writer’s voice with the phrase It is said in Japan, while changing the clunky phrase represents how intelligent people are to the phrase is a sign of intelligence, which flows more naturally in English. As a native English speaker, I like the third reformulation the best because it most closely resembles the way I would express the idea myself, using an active rather than passive construction, but it really loses the Japanese writer’s voice.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What’s your advice?



What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a new tutor?  

Last week, one of the writing center tutors told me to write down every grammatical issue that comes up in a session when working with an ESL writer. Looking back, that’s what he would do differently as a new tutor. He’d write the issues down and figure out ways to handle each of the errors in future sessions. In fact, he said he’d figure out several ways to explain the grammatical rule, how students can notice the mistake in a sentence and various ways to explain the solution. Sometimes it takes several ways of explaining something to clarify it. I think this is a great idea and I’m betting that all you seasoned tutors out there each have a piece of advice that you could share. Is there something from your experience that you would do differently? Something you did that worked fabulously? Something you think made you (and can make us) a better tutor?

Even if you’re a newbie tutor, you could probably share a piece of advice that the rest of us could benefit from.

Here’s my advice…

I have observed that good tutors possess character traits such as approachability, friendliness and patience. In addition, good tutors also strive to be interesting, humorous, lively, cheerful, confident and straightforward with students. I know it’s a big list, but I think it’s a good one to work toward.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Salt Lake Teens Write

I’m volunteering as a mentor in the Salt Lake Teens Write (SLTW) program administered by SLCC’s Community Writing Center (CWC). The SLTW Mentor Training Manual states that the program is “designed to motivate both teens and mentors to strengthen their writing skills for personal, academic and professional development.” Each mentor-teen pair is supposed to work on 7-10 projects, culminating in a writing portfolio for each teen, an anthology publication of all participants’ work, and a closing celebration that will include a public reading at the end of the school year. It's a nine-month commitment to a one-hour weekly mentoring session.
 
Salt Lake Teens Write kickoff, September 13, 2014

I’ve been assigned to work with a 16-year-old girl at the Hser Ner Moo Community and Welcome Center, which serves immigrants and refugees from all over the world. I’ve had an initial get-to-know-you meeting with my mentee and a few of the folks who run the Hser Ner Moo Center, but I have yet to start the actual mentoring.

I can see that a major challenge for me will be managing and adapting expectations: the Hser Ner Moo staff's, my own, and my mentee’s and her family’s. My assignment from the SLTW program is only to be a writing mentor, but the Hser Ner Moo Center needs tutors who can help non-native English speakers with reading, math and science. I may need to clarify with the center staff that I’ll just be working on writing skills. My own hope in signing up for the SLTW program was that I’d be paired with a teen who was already proficient in English and would have a lot of ideas of their own about different genres and projects they wanted to try. I’ll need to adapt to mentoring a teen who might be more focused on language acquisition, and I’ll definitely need to ask other mentors in the program to share any applicable experience and advice they can offer me. My teen mentee canceled our first scheduled session right before I arrived because she had to tend her baby brother, so I’ll probably need to adapt to her family’s expectations and priorities, while encouraging my mentee and her family to commit to her full participation in our weekly mentoring sessions.

Like so many things in life, mentoring for SLTW will most likely take me in directions I hadn’t imagined when I signed up. It will all be valuable information as I learn how to work effectively with all kinds of writers in all kinds of situations.


The Breakroom S01E01 "The Mime"

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

I'm a tutor. How can I help you?



              
Image: writingworkshop.blogs.wesleyan.edu 
Upon entering you could assume that you have entered into a library. In the large classroom size room there are shelves with books along one wall. There is one wall with many large windows and a long table with computers are at the bottom of the windows. Comfy chairs occupy the corners and in the middle of the floor are several tables. The Salt Lake Community College, Student Writing Center is a very open and welcoming place. For my semester project I have chosen to work in this writing center.

My first day has come and gone and I admit, I was nervous but having observed several sessions it wasn’t too overwhelming. In the hour that I was scheduled, there was an abundance of staff and the writing center was slow. I didn’t get to tutor that day but I need to do 15 hours and so I’m sure that I will get my chance. I took the slowness to re- think about the observations I did and what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do things differently. 

For one of my observation sessions I was able to see two very opposite sessions happening at the same time. Two friends walked into the SWC (student writing center) and the first one received a tutor that was interested in them the moment they sat down. The second had to get their tutor’s attention by another staff member. The tutor didn’t even close their own work. I was shocked that the second tutor immediately, upon receiving the student’s paper, wrote all over it and changed almost everything on the first page. 

When I checked on the first student I noticed their session was very happy. They were laughing and sharing the student’s paper. The tutor was very engaged in the work they were there to do. The second tutor was very quiet and the student sat across from them, wringing their hands. I realized then that no tutors are alike and that I want to be very involved with the student’s work and with the student. They are coming in for help and if I just take over, do it for them or make them feel uncomfortable-- they won’t want to come back again. When the two student's left one was smiling and very happy. Student number two looked like they would never return.

                Overall, I am very excited for the work that we do in helping the student’s and I am glad to have this opportunity.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I’m going to be a tutor…


SLCC Student Writing Center

My service-learning project for English 1810 (my mentoring writers class) is to engage students in one-to-one tutor/writer conversations at the SLCC Taylorville Campus Student Writing Center, in an effort to improve their (and my) writing process. The project mainly includes student writers seeking help in the writing center, but also the other tutors/instructors who I'll be working with.

Together with student writers, I will discuss aspects of writing based on each student’s priorities for their individual writing assignments. These facets of writing ability may include:

  • understanding instructions
  • planning strategies
  • determining content
  • drafting and revising assignments
  • defining purpose
  • composing a thesis
  • editing and proofing for errors (grammar and punctuation)
  • writing concerns other than those listed

Working with students on their various projects is a way to strengthen my own writing skills. I foresee that my experience in the writing center will facilitate this happening in several ways:

  • formulating and studying explanations for various issues and concerns that will arise in my tutoring sessions
  • solving problems for the various writing difficulties involved in student writing
  • learning how to assist all the diverse people and personalities who are patrons of the writing center
  • evaluating and reflecting on what I learn and my experiences through the use of the SLCC Student Center evaluation form and the TSR writing center tutoring log
  • networking with other writers, both students and instructors

I’m looking forward to starting my own tutoring sessions with fellow writers. If all goes well, this should begin this upcoming week. Watching the tutors and tutees as they work through the individual writing projects, I can’t help but think about what a wonderful opportunity the writing center is providing. It not only offers us the opportunity to better our writing, but also the chance to get to know other students and to network—or commiserate—with other writers too.