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I recently attended The National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) at the Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa Florida. The conference included a variety of sessions revolving around writing, peer tutoring, writing center work, and much more. I had the chance to attend Please, Don’t Make Me Read It, which created a new way of thinking for me in regards to language and writing with L2 students. While part of the session could be construed as problematizing English, the workshops highlighted the insecurities L2 students face when writing papers, which personally helped me and my outlook towards my ESL sessions.
As the workshop began, the presenters passed out a sheet of paper that included a paragraph written in English. We were told to translate the paragraph into Spanish using the list of words provided. When first given the paper I was confident three years of Spanish was about to pay off, but as I wrote the first sentence I became mortified. Not only was the writing an unpleasant experience, but the presenters asked us afterwards to stand up and read it. When everyone said no I giggled since we were all saying, “Please, don’t make me read it;” The title of the session made complete sense.
As the session continued, the presenters explained Kaplan’s “five rhetorical patterns—that is, paragraph-and essay-level organizational patterns—[which are] linked to five broad lingua-cultural groups: English, Semitic, Oriental, Romance, and Russian” (Kumaravadivelu 85). This part of the session discussed characteristics by culture, which enabled the audience to understand how a certain language is used in writing. The presenters included activities on how to identify a certain kind of language used in writing; Throughout the workshop, the audience—myself included—learned how an L2 student may feel when trying to write using Standard American English.
Before I attended the conference, I had multiple meetings with one of my ESL students. I began our first session with ice breakers to get to know her—we discussed where we live, our majors, expectations, and a few interesting facts about ourselves. After the activity we began working on her paper; I instantly assumed this student was a reluctant writer. She didn’t want to read her paper out loud, she would ask questions and look for advice but she wouldn't accept the advice. She never wanted to work on higher order concerns; instead, she wanted to focus on grammar and punctuation. However, after sitting through this NCPTW workshop and being put in the position of a student trying to write in a different language, I now understand I should have a different tactic to work with my ESL student. In order to have a successful session I might try to put myself in her place and understand that writing is very complicated and it takes time to learn the rules and expectations.
The recent session I had with this student after the conference was a success. I began the session by engaging in a conversation about her strengths, insecurities, and weakness in writing. We took a step back and examined the piece as a whole, working at a pace that was comfortable for her. I informed her to ask questions if she was unsure of something and we could stop and discuss it further. Instead of her reading the paper out loud to me, we took turns so she wasn't on the spot. Although we had a limited time and could only focus on two things—her thesis and transitions—we were able to focus deeply on them so she was able to understand the rules, and the teacher’s expectations. The NCPTW session I attended truly gave me insight on how to better work with ESL students. I can understand how an ESL student may feel and the emotions they mean when they ask “Please, don’t make me read it.”