I was thinking about something today during physics (which had nothing to do with physics) that I thought I would bring up on PeerCentered. This "something" goes beyond writing centers and into the realm of teaching. I realize that we have lots of English Comp. teachers (and other teachers), so, anyone, feel free to chime in.

This now very vague thing that I was thinking about during physics was the extent to which we (being teachers, consultants, friends, etc.) influence the writing of others (being the students we teach, work with, or are friends with).

I think that I would be safe to say that by now in our educational careers we have all developed a very unique way of writing (and thus reading). Sometimes when I am reading articles, essays, or books I get hung up certain sentences, transitions, or styles because they feel entirely different than something I would write. It is like walking into an entirely new place; your eyes stutter a few times before becoming familiar with the area. This problem can carry over into working with students (and usually does). I have to stop myself constantly from suggesting changes to a student's paper that is simply composed in a different style than mine (that style being theirs). This can get rather frustrating as the line between how much I help the student's paper and how much I change the paper to the way I would like to see it becomes very blurred.

I think that this is especially the case with ESL students. Just today an ESL student asked that I re-write one of her sentences to the way I would write it; she wanted it to sound professional and native. Of course in today's example the student ASKED me to re-write something, but what about the days that we do this unintentionally?

I mentioned earlier that this problem pertains to teachers as well as consultants. I suppose the fact that I am a history major and will be doing lots of writing with and for professors in the future spurred my thoughts about this topic. One of my current history professors is eager to inform the class about the absolute right and wrong ways to write a paper, which I sometimes disagree with. But, is there irony in that eagerness and my disagreement with it? Do I do the same thing to the students I work with?

What do you think?


  1. Hey Ian,
    Very interesting topic here. I also find myself reading a students paper and getting hung up on the style of writing, but after I reread it I usually concur that the writing is perfectly correct. I think that when working with ESL students (and probably others) we need to be careful that we are not just giving them an answer. Often times they do not have the vocabulary to form sentences (or papers) so that they sound American. If we offer them a choice, like you could write it this way or this way, then I think that puts the "writing" of the paper back on the student. I am glad you brought this up and I think it is a valid concern.

  2. Leaving a choice for the student seems to be the best thing to remedy this problem. Regardless, I still feel that, to an extent, with some writers, I am still pushing the answers rather than pushing the learning.

    Thanks for the feedback though.

  3. Ian,
    I have issues with this also. Because it seems that we do see a lot of ELL students in the writing center, I feel like I face this problem a lot.

    I usually start with asking the writer what they want to say. If they can say what they mean to say orally, I usually say something like "is that what you want to put in writing?" Usually, the answer is yes. I have been able to help them fine-tune their word choice this way, but I've also had to help them with word choice so it is more exact.

    When I feel like I'm coming to a roadblock in helping them re-phrase something, I just suggest a few different ways to state the words that seem to be the problem. Almost every time, the writer has said, "yeah, what you said" and ends up writing something similar. I'm not saying that this little technique works all of the time, but it does work well most of the time.


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