« blogging on the installment plan (or not) | Main | Title! »


I’m sorry I’m late! I coulnd't find how to post this!
For this blog, I will discuss the Harris article, and then an additional one I was assigned to read: “ ‘Whispers of Coming and Going’: Lessons from Fannie? by Anne DiPardo. These two articles really complement each other(hmmm…coincidence?), as the Harris article deals more with the theoretical aspects of how best to approach clashing cultures in the writing center, and the DiPardo is a case study of Fannie, a Navajo Indian seeking more than just writing help from Morgan, the well-meaning but clueless writing tutor.

Harris begins her article discussing the individual differences between ESL students, and how each person brings with them different expectations and beliefs to the writing center. She writes that it becomes difficult when the tutor and the writer have two different conceptions of what is going to happen during this consultation. This clashing of expectations has happened to me several times- one specific example is when a young lady came in, expecting me to fix her sentence mechanics, whereas I wanted to focus on the bigger problems of organization. The whole session was a tug-of-war for power, and looking back, I surmise that I could have handled this situation SO much better, like beginning the session with a clear discussion of our expectations.

Harris declares that collaboration is what writing consultants do, but she also gives room for movement within that, as each person and session is different.

The expectations of ESL students’ in a writing consultation are different than a native speaker (I guess that may seem obvious, but sometimes I forget that these students are coming in from a completely different background than native speakers, so I think it bears repeating.) They look to tutors more for answering questions, personal help, and most importantly: to improve in writing in the English language. These students also enjoyed the small-talk at the beginning, as it calmed their nerves and provided times for tutors to get to know the student’s background. They also expressed a need for direction within their writing, as with things like synonyms, wording, and sentence-level mechanics, idioms, etc. They also come from different writing styles, as many countries stress different aspects in writing than the United States. These cultural and writing differences make an appointment with an ESL student drastically different than an appointment with one who is native to the culture and language.

DiPardo’s article seems to demonstrate all of these aspects perfectly. Fannie is a Navajo Indian who never learned to be literate in her own language, and was barely taught to read or write English proficiently before high school. Graduating high school against all-odds, she went to college, but was still very insecure about her language skills. Attending college was a landmark event in her family, as she was one of the first to attend. She also saw education as a double-edged sword: while it gave her many opportunities, she was also concerned of it taking away from her heritage and betraying her people. Not only did the educations system prepare her inadequately in reading and writing, but the teaching style was much different than she was used too in her Navajo education. Like the ESL students that Harris interviewed, Fannie brings a lot of emotional stress and identity crisis surrounding her education.
College writing was a struggle for Fannie, as her writing was not sophisticated, but the comments that teachers gave were vague. In an attempt to improve her writing skills, Fannie attended the writing center regularly to find direction in this complex language. Morgan was her tutor who tried compassion in the beginning, but when Fannie did not seem to know what she wanted to say or had trouble expressing her thoughts, frustration took over their sessions. Fannie had no idea how to articulate what she wanted to say or what she even needed from Morgan; her problems were all connected to the ways in which her culture viewed the world. Like Harris’s article, if Morgan would have taken the time to get to know about her culture, her language ability, a lot of the frustration would have been solved.

Morgan later on tried to be more “collaborative? and not as directive. She encouraged Fannie to take control of her paper, like any good tutor should do, but it failed. Morgan did not adequately listen to Fannie, and instead seemed to confuse her more. DiPardo ends by critiquing Morgan’s care for Fannie. Collaboration, she says, is not just a set of techniques, but a “new way to think about teaching and learning? (113). This echoes Harris’s article that each person is different and cannot be dealt with by a set of techniques.

These articles read together really increased my understanding of working with ESL students; they take student individuality into account.

“Teach students, not subjects.? I think this is a good mantra not only for teaching in a school, but for consulting in a writing center. These articles combined show that teaching ESL students require different approaches, and helping them find words or giving them sentence level help may not be the wrong thing to do, as they are trying to learn about the language, which will in turn help them learn about the culture. I think one thing I will especially take away from these articles is that ESL students are bringing with them a lot of unknowns, and a visit to the writing center is a way to explore this foreign culture. It is a call for help, and sitting back and being elusive to these students because we do not want to do the wrong technique is not what we are meant to do. Adapting to a new way of life and culture is hard, let alone trying to learn a new language. I guess my question is how do we not get bogged down in a legalistic framework for writing consultancy? How do we teach students, and not subjects?

Perhaps the next blog on the Meyers and Cogie article will answer that one…coming to you soon.


Small talks can really help a person, or the audience, to feel at ease and adjust with the environment. A person needs to have good communication skills to make it more effective.

Communication skills can help in making the small talk into an interactive conversation. It is important that everyone feels comfortable in the conversation so that they won't feel left out and that they would actively participate.