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Along with the Meyer’s article, I was assigned to read the focus of Meyer’s article: ““Reassessing The “Proofreading Trap?: ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction.? Talking about theory always seems to be so much harder when you talk about ways in which it can be acted out in everyday life. Thus, I applaud these authors for trying to give us concrete ways to effectively consult with ESL students, but I do have to say that I was a bit bogged down in the details and the nitpicking.
Let’s just start at the very beginning…(Maria VonTrapp, where are you?)

Jane Cogie, Kim Strain and Sharon Lorinskas wrote “Avoiding the Proofreading Trap…? because the authors felt that often times, the role of the cultural informant can look like proofreading “when ESL students have no whole essay issues and relatively few sentence-level errors? (8). They preface their article stating the need to teach relatively proficient ESL writers to self-edit. Thus, the whole article is targeting the more advanced, proficient ESL writers.

Kim Strain gives practical tips on initiating the student’s self-editing process. She begins with a Learner’s Dictionary and Minimal Marking. A learner’s dictionary provides much more cultural information for the ESL student, phrasal verbs, and gives complete, easy examples. Strain writes that, should the need to correct sentence-level errors arise, global errors, those which block meaning, (such as incorrect verb tense, verb incorrectly formed, incorrect use or formation of a modal or conditional sentence, etc)are given priority over local errors. The second suggestion was minimal marking, which flags mistakes in a sentence without telling exactly what the mistakes are; the hope here is that the students will begin to identify their own errors. She also recommends using error logs, which document in columns the type of error made, how to fix it, etc. Error logs are probably most effective in regular weekly appointments and may also be used for less proficient and less confident ESL students.

Sharon Lorinskas begins her section discussing whether or not there is a need to know grammar rules. She comments on a survey done in 1985 which concluded that “knowledge of rules is and of itself is of no heuristic value unless the rules have been internalized.? Thus, to better internalize these rules, she recommends the error log and learner’s dictionary. She also gives a self-editing checklist which goes through the process of editing. This technique would most help the ESL student if it was done with the tutor. These methods are all attempts to stop proofreading, but still maintain the role as cultural informant.

In direct opposition to this article is Meyers- she states that helping with sentence-level errors is not unimportant, but rather is crucial for ESL students. They need more help on the “linguistic? component (vocabulary and syntax). She writes that we need to acknowledge the pivotal place that language holds in our writing, especially complex phrases, and helping ESL students with language is what we must do.
She critiques the error log and other methods because most students know what they struggle with, but they need help in fixing it.

When I first read these articles, I was a bit overwhelmed and felt like they were arguing about seemingly petty things, but upon my second read, I found that there is really one big argument. Meyers biggest “beef? is that the authors focus too much on the negative, on fixing the errors, and not enough on building a bigger vocabulary with complex phrases. It seems to me that his is a very valid argument. I think it is very important to stress the fact that Cogie’s article applied to the more advanced ESL students, as many of these methods, like the error log or minimal marking, does not seem to aid in the acquisition of the language if they don’t already have a foundation from which to build.
I thought it was kind of funny how Meyers went through each of their suggestions and tore them apart—don’t make Meyers angry…I do agree with some of her objections though, that the error log would get repetitive and even frustrating as the student continuously copies down the same error. However, if you were to focus on one error a session, perhaps the error log would be useful. I think a compromise can be made between these two authors; their views are not mutually exclusive.

Combining all four articles, this is my short little recipe for a successful writing consultant for ESL students:

*Role of cultural informant is key; we must take into account their cultural background, how they see education and how proficient they are in English. Remember, this is not just a paper, but a human being coming for help and answers in a possibly brand-new, foreign world.
*Talk to theses students.
*Sentence-level errors, vocabulary, synonyms, phrases and issues such as these are not necessarily ‘lower-order’ concerns for ESL students. Many times, these are the issues that stop them from writing more fluently, especially if they are skilled writers.
*Do not focus solely on errors and the negative aspects, but work on building their writing.
*We can use methods like error logs, dictionaries, minimalist marking but they are just that: methods. There is a need for flexibility within each session.
*Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do.
*Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly. (That’s my little shout-out to Baz Luhrman and the sunscreen song, still one of my favorites!)

See you tomorrow!


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