Writing Center Theory - A Brief Discussion On English Language Learners

Writing Center Theory - A Brief Discussion On English Language Learners

Musings on English language learners in regards to Writing Center theory
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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.

Cover Image Credit: UIC News

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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
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Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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Body Image Lessons That I Didn't Learn From A Professor

What I realized about body image my freshman year of college

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Girls usually struggle with self image in general. But the game changes when it's time to go to college. When you are constantly surrounded by your peers, you begin to compare all of the little things they do to you. You compare their bodies to yours. You try to figure out what they are doing that you're not. Or vice versa, why they don't have to do anything to look the way they do. But by the end of my first year, I realized that I would never be happy with myself if I kept thinking this way. So I recorded some realizations I had throughout the year that helped me to improve my body image.

My body is, and never will be the same as any other girl... and that's okay

Different sized and shaped strawberries

https://picjumbo.com/strawberries-with-yellow-background/

It can be so easy in college to compare your body to the girls that surround you. Like the one's live with and you see on a daily basis. There is no point in comparing apples to oranges, so why would you compare your body to a girl who was made completely different? So what you can't fit into her party pants, you can rock another pair just as well.

What works for her, might not work for me

Daily Planner

https://kaboompics.com/photo/9447/planners-organizers-in-bed-women-s-home-office

With different body types, comes different food and exercise needs. Some girls don't need to work out or eat healthy to keep a slim frame. Some girls are naturally muscular. Your routine needs to be catered to you, and there is no need to analyze what someone else eats or does to try to attain their stature. You have to do what feels right for YOUR body to have a good self image.

Don't spend too much time on istagram

https://stocksnap.io/photo/JUC6R3PPLE

Obviously social media effects our body image because of how easily and frequently photos are edited and then presented for the most likes. So if there is a certain account that always makes you feel bad when you see their content, unfollow, and take that aspect out of your life. However, because social media is unavoidable you can't completely escape all the provoking images. So when scrolling, think positively about those who's pictures you see, don't compare, and be aware of the previous lessons.

It's okay for your body to fluctuate

https://pixabay.com/photos/scale-diet-fat-health-tape-weight-403585/

The weight and look of your body can easily fluctuate, It's just natural. And in the same way your life fluctuates, your body may follow along and thats not a big deal! In exam season, there might not be enough time to go to the gym everyday. Or during the holidays there might be an increase of indulgence in treats. But its all okay as long as your getting things done or enjoying life. The only time it becomes an issue if the fluctuations turn unhealthy.

Cut out the negativity

https://snap-photos.s3.amazonaws.com/img-thumbs/960w/4JS6X4XCW1.jpg

If a friend is constantly complaining to you about their body, it can trigger distress in you, and set you back. So if someone else's body image issues are interfering with you mentally, you need to call them out on their B.S. or stop allowing them say those things in front of you.

Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in

https://cdn.cliqueinc.com/cache/posts/216319/-2084176-1487185433.700x0c.jpg

If you wear things that you feel comfortable in, then you wont constantly be thinking about how your stomach, legs, or arms look throughout the day. Wear something that you are confident in, even if it means wearing leggings every day of the week!

I'm not a little kid anymore, therefore my body is not going to look like one

https://unsplash.com/photos/sGSBkfK1hJU

Curves and changes that come after high school can take anyone by surprise, but it's supposed to happen. You can't really be mad at biology...you can only find the beauty in it.

Everyone has their own insecurities

https://jimsomerville.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/girl-looking-in-mirror.jpg?w=640

Even if someone has your ideal body, odds are they still despise theirs. I have met friends in college that are stick skinny, yet are self conscious about it. I know curvy girls that are very insecure. And even an "average" body type has a thousand things that they nit-pick about themselves. No one has their dream body and never will, which is why I had to learn to love the little things about mine.

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