ESL student's need more time...

I just finished Jane Cogie's "ESL Studend Participation in Writing Center Sessions" form the Writing Center Journal and something she wrote really struck me. She made a point that ESL student's need more time to process infomation in order to learn. That tutors need to be patient with ESL students so that they can actively participate in their learning. I completely agree with this - the problem is that with 30 min or 1 hour sessions we often have barely enough time to cover one issue they want to discuss. Last week an ESL student came in who had worked with another tutor a day or so before. The tutor had only had enough time to go through a little more than one page of the students assignment. The student asked me in our session to help her find areas to expand her paper. We spent the entire hour working on this and then when we were just about out of time, she asked about the grammar issues. Of course, we didn't have enough time to work anything else so I felt really bad that I wasn't able to help her. Luckily, she had another appt already set up with another tutor.

I often feel frustrated after a session with an ESL student because of the time contstraints. Most ESL students seem to want help with grammar, and rightly so as this is a learning process for them; but, the time needed to really go over some of these concepts is not available in most tutoring sessions. I wonder if we should be automatically asking ESL students if they want to make another appointment. I have seen several ESL students who continually work with the same tutor week after week and I think that is ideal, but too often this does not happen.

I tend to have this need to fix everything, my mother calls it the "Mother Hen" syndrome. I just think that we could be doing more for ESL students. Maybe we just need to get the word out that an hour appt is better than a half hour when there are language issues. Of course, how do you do that without it coming across in a negative light?


  1. Hi Jenny,

    I really like the issues that you address here. I have also felt frustrated after sessions with ELL students. Quite often I find myself zeroing-in-on a single grammar issue or on larger HOC issues, simply because those topics are ones that I feel we can throughly discuss before the sessions up.

    Although I feel this works, and is something the student can benefit from, I often feel really bad because I know the student left the Center with an entire paper full of potential conversations. So often they leave with only getting to half of what they wanted to talk about.

    I think that it's a great idea to suggest making another appointment to every writer, yet perhaps it's even more so with ELL students--especially if they're leaving with issues unaddressed.


  2. Time has certainly been an issue for me this semester with my ELL sessions, so I understand how you're feeling, Jenny. A few weeks ago I had a session with a delightful student who was struggling with the use of "you" in her BusComm paper. She was so scared to rewrite the sentences herself, we spent nearly an hour rephrasing all of the sentences. It seemed worth the time, however, because as we neared the end of the paper she began to revise them herself.

    On the whole, ELL sessions seem to require more time, but I have had a couple that are more established in the English language and actually go more efficiently than native speakers. How do we make sure we are giving them the time they deserve while keeping to our schedules?

    In a perfect world (where consultants worked the writing center like a full-time job), I think it would be beneficial to have students sign up for one consultant each semester, sort of like a family practice doctor's office. Of course, students could also switch "providers" if the relationship didn't fit well for them. While this scenario would probably not work in our center for several reasons, I can't help but think there could be great work done between student and consultant if they had a continual working relationship rather than just a one-timer.

    In sessions where extensive time is spent on one issue that clearly needs attention based on the questions of the student and those issues evident on the paper, it seems our responsibility as writing center consultants also includes language tutor.

    It seems my student who struggled with her "you's" could have benefited from an English language tutor as well--maybe that's what she thought I was.

    While it is rewarding to help an ELL student reach a grammatcial AHA moment, I worry that such sporadic sessions across the course of a semester is not enough for the lessons to sink in.

  3. Everyone is bringing up really valid issues. I agree with Alisha that it can be helpful to invite every student to schedule another session. It helps build our image of wanting to see the writer again, and making him feel welcome and comfortable in the center. I would also agree that the verbal invitation is especially important for ELL students. These sessions may be especially stressful, wading through social and language barriers, and an invitation to come back seems like a positive opportunity to extend and deepen the conversation.

    I see the validity in Jen's comment about the benefits of a writer working with the same tutor for an entire semester. However, I feel that the shifting staff/personalities/points of view of writing center consultations as a strength that keeps it in the realm of chaos, and out from under the wing of classroom teaching. Writers come to the center usually after receiving feedback from a single teacher, maybe having workshopped the piece with the same class. The Writing Center is a great place to go to get well-rounded multiple perspectives. Every tutor has a good reason for being a tutor--if the writer openly communicates his goals, he can have productive sessions with many consultants.


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