Before diving into the Moussu reading, I want to relate what I felt was a very symbolic recent encounter with an ELL student at the Center for Writing and Public Discourse, one that struck me as super allegorical and symbolic of the ELL experience as a whole (or some of it, anyway – I can’t claim to know or even understand most of it).
A student came in to the CWPD with an assignment to write 6 pages on a certain topic. This student was an international student as well as an English Language Learner. He had written 4 pages, and felt that he had run out of things to say about the topic. As I read the paper, I came to the same conclusion. He had thoroughly answered the prompt, and I didn’t see what else there was for him to do. Should he diverge and start writing on things only tangential to the topic? As I pondered this question, I scrolled up and down the Word document on his computer screen. I noticed that the margins were awfully small, and reminded him that margins should typically be one inch wide. He responded that they already were. It was true that his computer had the margins listed as “1,” but they still looked much too small to me.
Finally, I had an epiphany. I asked if he had bought the computer in his home country. He responded that he had. I realized that the computer was measuring the margins in centimeters, not inches, because he had bought it in a country that used the metric system. When we converted the margins to actually be one inch wide, his four page paper turned into an eight page one.
I asked how long his computer settings had been this way, and if any professors or peer tutors had pointed out that his margins were too small. He said that he had been writing this way all semester (it was now November) and that no one had pointed it out. This was the part that struck me as allegorical – because he was from another country and an ELL student, he had literally been doing twice as much work (that is, writing twice as much because his margins were so small) as everyone else had been doing for the same assignments.
In his piece on ELL students and writing centers, Moussu asks some of the same questions that I (and everyone else in class) have been asking since the beginning of the semester. That is, what is the balance between giving students, specifically ELL students, what they want and what they need?
Moussu writes that, “In the writing centre, directors and tutors must seek and test how to respond constructively to students’ grammar-based expectations and knowledge with more grammar awareness and practice, while still acknowledging, explaining, and encouraging WC and composition theories and pedagogical practices (content-based feedback).” I think that Moussu offers many more concrete suggestions for helping ELL students than previous authors we’ve read have, but I still wasn’t satisfied.
I think we tend to forget that, though it may not always feel like it, we’re all adults here. That includes ELL students. I think it’s wrong to assume we know what’s best for other adults, especially those who may have had very different life experiences (such as those of Bielski). Why not, if you’ll excuse the phrase, be adults about things and give each ELL students what they ask for, whether it’s help with higher- or lower-order concerns? Who are we to determine what’s best for them?
In my tutoring praxis, I tend to give people what they’re asking for, and try not to assume I know what’s best for them. Obviously, If I see a major high-order error I’ll point it out, but I don’t always bring higher-order concerns into things.
Anyway, have any of you had allegorical experiences? What did you think of Moussu’s piece? Do you agree or disagree with my idea that we should just give people what they ask for? How was your break?