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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mr. T, the bilingual


I observed a session in the Student Writing Center at Salt Lake Community College involving a bilingual student whom I will refer to as "T." This is partly because of confidentiality and partly because I can't remember his real name, let alone how to spell it.
T informed the tutor I was observing that he was raised here in the U.S. but was taught both English and Vietnamese in his home. The paper he was working on was a rhetorical analysis for his English 1010 class, and he seemed very open to corrections and ideas.
Because time was limited, the tutor asked if she could read his four-page paper silently to herself instead of having him read it aloud. T agreed and she began her reading, all the while making numerous notes on the paper and grammatical corrections where necessary.
As I watched him during this process, I saw his eyes become wide and afraid, his body stiffened, and he had the general demeanor of someone about to be executed. He watched as the tutor wrote all over his paper, circling words, drawing arrows, and underlining phrases or whole sentences. I could tell he was feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable having his writing undergo such scrutiny.
When she had finished reading she started giving him feedback and eventually narrowed in down to two major things he could work on to greatly improve his paper. This experience just really emphasized to me how important it can be to let the writer take ownership of their work and read even just part of it out loud to the tutor. Hearing their own writing can help writers catch their own grammatical errors and awkward sentence structure and even some of those larger problems with organization or content. I think that helps them feel a lot more in control of their own writing.
I think T left feeling alright, but I don't know that he'll come back to the writing center soon if he thinks he'll have that same experience every time.

2 comments:

  1. I agree that tutors should work with students to correct grammar together. Your post was a good reminder of that. Sometimes, as I read a paper with the student, the words I need to explain why I'm correcting something escape me so I just do it and hope the student understands. Sometimes grammar is intuitive. But then falls upon me (and us, as tutors,) to learn why some of the rules exist and understand them so we can explain them.

    I learned something once a long time ago from a mentor. He told me (and others who were there) that "You cannot teach beyond your own understanding." I think this applies with any subject including grammar. One tutor (a seven year experienced tutor) told me not to worry about learning grammatical things and that the knowledge would come through tutoring. Another friend of mine, Evan Peterson, was reading a book on grammar yesterday and is a good example of increasing his understanding (and so increasing his ability to teach (and guide)). I think that the combined approach of study and teaching is best. And, while we're at it, lets remember to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. As long as we do our best, that's all that matters.

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  2. It is easy for the tutor to fall into a trap of think he or she is benefiting the writer when all along it is overwhelming the writer. I agree with Alex that working through the writing together is the best method rather than attempting to enact an old response model (what traditional teachers do) that would blockade student learning.

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