Engaging with ESOL Students

Course Writing Associate, Natina Gilbert ’18, discusses devising strategies to most productively navigate writing sessions with English Students of Other Languages (ESOL).

Thinking about how to navigate tutoring sessions with English Students of Other Languages (ESOL) is important because many students feel that they are not always serviced well when they go to the writing center to seek help.  This is not to say that students need to have only positive experiences upon leaving the writing center, or that they do not receive support and help in many sessions.  After speaking to students, however, I think there are certain strategies that writing associates can keep in mind when ESOL students come in to receive help.  Here are some that I find useful:

  • Be extra specific in the questions that start your session and do not take things for granted.  Defining the parameters of the assignment are especially important, so not only asking when it is due or how long, but defining terms in the assignment such as “analyze, compare, secondary/primary sources, etc.” and asking them if they do not understand any of the terms.
  • If they tell you they are interested in a specific issue, listen to them! Oftentimes I have had friends that go into the writing center with a very particular issue they have in mind, for example looking at what tense to use when discussing a literary text, but the writing associate behaves as if they don’t trust the student to know what they need to work on and try to start on a high order concern (HOC) that they believe is present.
  • In regards to the above, sometimes there are HOCs that need work, but again if the student is being particularly specific then it is only respectful to help them answer their question if you possibly can.
  • Sometimes students are not specific. They will say something very general, like they want to work on grammar, and, because English is not their first language, further questioning will not produce a clearer answer.  In this case I think it is most useful to get a grasp for the overall structure of their writing (e.g. read the introduction, topic sentences, and conclusion), address Higher Order Concerns, and then focus in on one paragraph and read it through with them, potentially looking for patterns of Lower Order Concerns you could point out to them.
  • Another very important aspect to the previous point is to provide metacommentary at all times for the students to make it clear to them that this is a process you think will benefit their writing. Oftentimes students will become frustrated and shut down if they do not know what you are doing and it seems like you are ignoring their concerns or do not have a purpose or goal in mind.
  • Never make assumptions, listen closely, and ask and encourage questions.

When keeping these various considerations in mind it is important to realize that these strategies can be applied to all students, and once this conscientious way of communicating becomes internalized it is clear that each tutoring session begins with the same considerations.


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