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Writing Center: Chapter 7: Looking at the Whole Text

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

Summary of Chapter 7

Courtney Watts
Chapter Summary of ESL Writers by Bruce and Rafoth, Second Edition
Chapter 4: “Looking at the Whole Text” by Staben and Nordhaus
            Tutors can easily be torn between working on the desperately needed grammar corrections and looking at the paper holistically. Often, the ESL students really want tot work on their grammar errors, and event heir English, however tutors are often taught to look at more “high-order” concerns such as organization and meaning. By focusing intently on sentence structure and word choice, however, tutors and students alike can lose an opportunity to learn even more. One challenge that can present itself for some ESL students, especially those from China, is having to learn to use the pronoun “I” instead of “we” in their American papers, creating a more individualistic sense of self in their writing. It is vitally important for tutors to establish some sort of interaction between themselves and the students, either by discussing their assignment, reading the assignment out loud, or asking the students questions about their papers. Also, starting out with the text as a whole helps to examine overall issues of focus and organization.
            The authors also emphasize being “direct” rather than “directive” in order to help the student understand the underlying theme of “get to the point” that so heavily shapes American academic writing. Sometimes it might even help a struggling student if the tutor walks him/her through the tutor’s own writing process, but not focusing on what content the tutor would use if it were his/her paper. Also, tutors must not forget their most important role in the writing center as that of a reader; just like native students, ESL students need feedback on their ideas and points within their paper, not just on how they are presenting them. It may also be helpful for students really struggling with the English language for the tutor to serve as their scribe as he/she asks them questions and tries to help them further develop ideas and concepts they would want to incorporate into their papers.
Key points:
·         ESL students will oftentimes be very concerned about their English and sentence structure, however it is important not to become bogged down in trying to go through and fix every grammatical error.
·         It is important for the tutor to talk with the student about his/her paper and the assignment in order to make the student feel more comfortable and to get a firmer grasp on the situation.
·         Reading through the entire essay can be helpful in examining the text as a whole rather than necessarily going through sentence by sentence.
·         Being direct rather than directive can give students a better idea of why they are expected to write a certain way for American professors.
·         Sometimes discussing teachers’ expectations and even going through a sample paper with the student (if available) will help solidify their grasp of what they are expected to do.
·         It is important for the tutor to share his/her own ideas, highlight areas that are really strong, and also discuss some places in the essay that could be reworked.
·         Help the student draw out his/her own thoughts about the paper by having “scratch” sheets of paper to scribble down notes or ideas that the tutor and student would be able to “smooth out” later and mold into more cohesive concepts.
Question to consider:
·         When would the tutor really need to take the ESL student’s paper paragraph by paragraph, or even sentence by sentence?
·         If the student is very reluctant to talk, or the tutor is unable to really draw out the student’s ideas, what would be a better approach to getting the interaction going?
·         How does the tutor keep healthy boundaries in order for the student not to start to become dependent on the tutor to writer papers?