Ability to help language learners limited by resources
Working at Gannon’s Writing Center has pretty much cemented the fact that at some point in my life, I am meant to teach, in some capacity. And one of those appealing capacities is English as a second language.
Some of my favorite students I’ve tutored have been ESL students. They are always warm, receptive and eager to improve their skills. They are also some of the most grateful and they usually come out of their own volition, which can’t be said for everybody.
But there are times when I have felt under prepared to adequately help them hone their grammar, let alone write an effective thesis statement and paper. And this is no fault of our training system or director, because this is a changing landscape that is reshaping rapidly.
After working there for three years, I see the dramatic increase in the number of ESL students who are being told to come to us for grammatical help, which hasn’t always been part of our mission. We’re still finding ways to adapt so that we can be effective teachers.
The challenge comes when conveying the “why” associated with the grammatical rule rather than the unsatisfactory and probably extremely frustrating “because that’s just the way it is.”
I’m sure there are tactics and ways of teaching grammar that we, while being more than prepared for helping students with papers, haven’t been exposed to. It requires a specific skill set.
The Writing Center’s primary focus is right there in the name. We help students with their writing, but we do not have the resources and training that is needed to truly help students who are still learning the basic aspects of the language.
Personally, I want to keep seeing ESL students come to the Writing Center for help with their papers, and I would like to help them with their grammar as much as I can. But in order for this to be effective and worthwhile, we, as a department, are wanting in pretty much every facet.
Our director and consultants don’t have the necessary funds or resources at our disposal. Our shelves are laden with books that will help us teach students how to cite their sources, how to organize a paper, how to write different types of papers – commentaries, annotated bibliographies, research papers – and yet we are totally lacking when it comes to this one aspect that provides a sizable chunk of our business.
There needs to be a coming together of what we are expected to do and what we are actually able to do. If we’re strictly dealing with helping students write effective papers with solid theses and coherent arguments, we are more than equipped to do so. We have a bright, friendly staff that I believe can better any paper that passes through our door.
If giving grammar lessons to ESL students is going to continue to be part of our agenda, we need to be allowed to have a better communication with the ESL program as a whole. We need to know what they’ve learned and what they should be expected to know, so that we can see what they’re struggling with and how to better help them.
Most importantly, we would need some means of furthering our training in this area and as well as our pool of resources from which we can draw helpful strategies and tips that will help us help the students.
We’re more than capable, but only if we’re set up for success.
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