Writing Center Theory - A Brief Discussion On English Language Learners
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Writing Center Theory - A Brief Discussion On English Language Learners

Musings on English language learners in regards to Writing Center theory

212
Writing Center Theory - A Brief Discussion On English Language Learners
UIC News

A few nights ago in my WRD 582 course (grad-level writing center theory/pedagogy), we did a very important writing exercise that I think all writing instructors should try with their students. Before I get into it, though, let me give you a general idea of what writing center theory is and why it's such an unknown, yet important thing to be familiar with.

Writing center theory is something I was first introduced to in August 2013 at my Alma mater, UIC. There, I took a course, ENG 222: Tutoring in the Writing Center. This course, similar to my current graduate level course, taught us theories about writing, writing centers, the students who come to writing centers, and how we as tutors can help students find their voice in their own writing. In addition to learning writing center (WC) theory, everyone in the class tutored two hours a week to build and hone our skills as writing tutors.

Tutoring in the WC while taking 222 was what changed my outlook on writing tutoring and what led me to fall in love with the discipline. As the years went on and I moved onto grad school, I wanted to continue studying WC theory and utilizing my skills to help make people better writers. Over the years, I've worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of different writers coming from different social, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. And though I've loved helping all of them, there has always been a specific group of writers I've been drawn to: English Language Learners (ELL).

As the name indicates, these students are non-native English speakers who are in the process of learning English as a second (or other) language. Coming from a household with one parent whose first language was not English (it's Spanish), I have always been drawn to ELL students for a multitude reasons - one being my personal familiarity with a family member learning English as their second language, and my curiosity surrounding the learning process.

As my curiosity has proliferated over the years, I've increasingly thought about a truism regarding writing tutoring: tutors need to be attentive to a writer's individual needs. However, I believe this statement holds more weight when discussing and working with ELL writers.

That being said, let's transport ourselves to another world right now and immerse our minds in the life of an ELL student writer.


Imagine that it's your first full semester at a new school in the United States. You've come over to study for your Master's degree in an American university because you've been told about the wonderful education you'll be receiving and how an American degree will boost your resume. You're excited because you've studied English during your entire academic career back home, so you have a pretty strong grasp on the language.

You're finally in your first English lit course at your new American school, and you're so excited to speak and write and think in English. You know you can do it because you've done it every day since you were 5 years old.

Fast forward three weeks: you're working on your first essay for your English course and you realize it's a lot harder to write 1500 words in this language than it is to read a book or drum up a conversation with your peers. You can't really wrap your head around why it's so difficult to articulate yourself on paper in the language you've spent the past 17 years studying in school, but you drink your coffee and concentrate on writing the best damn essay you've ever written because you know you can.

Two weeks later, the papers are returned to the class. And you, anxious as ever, get back a red-inked, marked up pile of papers with phrases like "incoherent," "illogical," and "fix this" written within the margins without any explanation of your mistakes or why what you wrote was wrong.

Defeated, you decide you hate writing, you hate English, and you hate your new American school.

Now freeze.

Let's go back to the exercise I mentioned earlier.


It was simple. For five minutes, the class was instructed to write about our process learning a language other than English.

As everyone in American schools is required to take a second language at some point by the time they're in college, all of us obviously had some familiarity in learning another language. We all wrote our experiences in full detail (a majority of us on laptops, typing furiously as English grad students do), and by the time the five minutes were over, we stopped, pleased with our thorough responses.

Then, my professor told us what to do for the second half of the exercise.

Now, we had to rewrite what we had just written - in the language we had written about. (I.e. I wrote about Spanish, so I had to re-write my response IN Spanish).

Stunned, for the next five minutes, the furious clacking of our keyboards ceased as we all struggled with trying to transcribe our paragraphs into another language, our non-native tongues.

When the second half of the exercise was over, we discussed how this process of writing our thoughts out in another language while not being fluent in it reflects the experience of ELL student writers. Collectively, we found that in English, we were able to articulate our thoughts using high diction, strong vocabulary, and complex sentence structure; when it came to the inverse, however, we were unable to articulate ourselves past what would be considered an elementary understanding of the respective languages.

It was only then that we understood the battle between the colorful, bountiful ideas in an ELL writer's mind versus what they're able to put down on paper when they're not writing in their native tongue.


As we do not have to deal with writing in another language and do not have to adapt to academic guidelines that American professors make the entire class adhere to, it is harder for native English speakers to understand the challenges ELL writers face on a daily basis. This is why this exercise is crucial to building an empathetic understanding of what ELL students are going through during their writing process.

As writing tutors, it is literally our job to make sure we are providing the best help possible to students so that they become better writers. So while studying WC theory, we learn that our end goal isn't to help someone just for a moment. By this, we mean that we want a writer's ability to improve overall rather than just helping them get a better grade on a paper for their class.

We are helping build a new confidence around writing, whether the writer is a native or non-native English speaker; hence, we stand by the saying: "Better writers, not better writing".

This sentiment holds (almost) truer for ELL students. With ELL writers, we often tend to focus on less important topical errors like grammar, misspellings, and things that we deem "nonsensical," thereby ignoring the fact that these writers are brilliant and have complex thoughts, cohesive ideas, and limitless minds.

When a professor, a tutor, or a peer overlooks the content an ELL writer has put in front of them only to criticize the writer's weakened grasp on the grammatical and technical mechanics of the English language, we as a whole are discrediting a blossoming mind that craves knowledge and consideration.

Just because someone articulates themselves differently than you do does not make them inferior.

All minds have boundless ideas, some just don't yet have the ability to put their thoughts into words.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Lifestyle

Where To Find The Best Coffee Drinks In America, According To A Survey

Here's the coffee shop where you should get your morning brew.

230758

Coffee, for billions of people, is one of the only things that can get us out of bed (after hitting snooze a time or two), especially in 2020. Because, if we're being honest, is there anything that beats a quality cup of coffee on those mornings when all we wanted to do is roll over and go back to sleep? The answer is no. And if you're headed to a coffee shop to pick up your caffeinated beverage, you don't want to sleep on the best coffee drinks in America.

According to LiveShopper Sassie's Coffee Project survey, when it comes to chain coffee shops, there are definitely preferred spots you'll want to hit up for your go-to order — whether you order the classic, frozen, or flavored coffee, an espresso, tea, or other. To figure out the hot spots, 1,000 coffee drinkers across the United States took to LiveShopper's mobile app, PrestoShopper, to answer various questions about their coffee drinking habits and preferences. In return, these survey respondents got money back for their coffee — something any user who downloads the app can do as well (yes, even you).

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

The Best Bagel Recipes For Every Personality Type, In Case You Need Another Excuse To Eat Carbs

I'll approve of pasta for breakfast any day, but this is more socially acceptable.

5554
NBC

I've had times in my life at which I've told myself I need to cut out carbs. Those moments last about a minute or two before I start daydreaming about rice and pasta.

Bagels hold a special place in my heart — for many of my college friends and me, a bagel sandwich was the go-to breakfast after a long night of drinking. Years later, I still love to indulge in the occasional carb-filled breakfast. As much as I love putting in an UberEats order from bed, nothing beats the feeling of pulling some fresh-baked bread or pastries out of the oven.

Keep Reading... Show less
Content Inspiration

Survey: Which Issues Are The Most Important To You In The 2020 Election

If you're a first-time voter or voting by mail for the first time, we want to hear your story.

82076

The general election on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, will decide not only the next president of the United States but also which political party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate. Young and first-time voters will play a crucial part in determining the result.

Keep Reading... Show less
Tips

Articles To Write If You're All About Saving More Money, And Waking Up A Little Bit Earlier

Get your day started right — and keep that budget tight.

217790

For all the young professionals, parents, and students out there who've been working, learning, or even teaching remote — 2020 has likely been the longest year of your life. If you didn't know (sorry), we've been locked down for over 200 days now, and chances are, you are ready for it to be OVER.

Keep Reading... Show less

Scrolling through Instagram can get stale after a while, especially if you're constantly refreshing in the hopes of finding something new and exciting. Should you be looking to add some inspiration to your timeline in the form of self-love tips, relationship advice, or love secrets, here are 11 relationship coaches you'll LOVE following.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

How Much Of A Coffee Snob You Are, Based On Where You Live

Your state may determine how picky you are about your coffee.

130889

When it comes to coffee, everyone has different criteria for what goes into their "perfect cup." Some caffeine lovers, though, are extra particular when it comes to their beloved beverage. One survey found that the state you're from (or the one you live in now) may play a part in determining how much of a coffee snob you actually are.

LiveShopper Sassie, the company behind this Coffee Project survey, received input from 1,000 coffee drinkers via their mobile app, PrestoShopper, to ask various questions about their coffee drinking habits and preferences. In return, these survey respondents got money back for their coffee — something any user who downloads the app can do as well (yes, even you).

Keep Reading... Show less

If you are a college freshman, or new to college, this is for you. If you are in a new time in life where you don't know where this change is going to take you, where you might not have your community yet, this is for you. Or even if you are stuck in a rut of everyday life where the new normal is quarantine and isolation, this is also for you.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

As Illinois Reaches Its Highest Death Toll Since June, I Urge You To Stay Home And Wear Your Mask

69 COVID-19 deaths were recorded in a twenty-four-hour period, the highest amount since June of this year.

469
Photo by Noah on Unsplash

As we are approaching colder weather, we are also approaching a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the state of Illinois. On October 21, 2020, Illinois recorded its largest daily COVID-19 death toll since June of this year. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 69 deaths of people who contracted COVID-19 were recorded within a twenty-four-hour period, raising the state's death toll to 9,345 since the start of the pandemic.

Keep Reading... Show less

When "Mean Girls" said "In girl world, Halloween is the one time of the year where you can dress up like a total slut and no one can do or say anything about it," they were damn right. Halloween is the perfect excuse to buy that raunchy costume and show your partner that you're that B. Coming from a very single (yes, very single) 20 something-year-old, I have already got my Halloween costume on lock, and now you will too.

Not only are these 10 Halloween costumes dangerously sexy, but you can wear them in the bedroom whenever you want to give your boo a surprise, yes, year-round. Whoever said you can only dress up on Halloween is seriously disturbed.

Keep Reading... Show less

Ariana Grande released her first single called "positions" since "boyfriend" with Social House and it is a BANGER. This song is absolutely incredible and I am SURE you will agree with me once you listen.

I'm a sucker for a single with a video and that's exactly what we got. Ariana's been pretty quiet during the pandemic, and we all assumed she was working on some new music, and we were right.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

Rejection Of Black Lives Matter Mural By Phoenix City Council Doesn’t Stop Gizette Knight

The Phoenix City Council rejected a proposal for a Black Lives Matter Mural in downtown Phoenix. But Gizette Knight says this is not the end.

393
Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash

Community organizer Gizette Knight, CEO of Reality Dreams LLC, is not giving up on the Phoenix City Council's rejection of the Black Lives Matter mural.

Keep Reading... Show less

For me, chai isn't just what I drink — it's a core part of who I am. Sure, I'll switch it up every now and then with a cup of English Breakfast, Earl Grey, rose, or Darjeeling, but I always come back to chai.

Nearly every tea lover has one tea they repeatedly drink and go back to, whether it's a daily morning ritual or an afternoon pick-me-up. One of my good friends has almost eight cups of jasmine tea every single day — she drinks more tea than water, actually.

Keep Reading... Show less

In a world where physical contact is a liability, the ease of slipping into despair and isolation has never been so tempting. Perhaps the greatest kindness we can lend to one another is reaching out to the people that meant something to us before everything changed. Here's why you should message your friend today.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments