Monday, July 06, 2020

Review: Tutoring Second Language Writers (eds. Bruce/Rafoth)

Tutoring Second Language WritersTutoring Second Language Writers by Shanti Bruce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology, edited by the same team as ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors is an excellent collection of essays--all of which have use for anyone who teaches L2 learners. There is a strong leaning toward incorporation of diversity, equity, and inclusion principles in various essays that consider the complexity of "competency", multiple frameworks, and "accommodationist" principles (Carol Severino, 2006). Some of the offerings are short, but potent, such as Jose L. Reyes Medina's "Some Things I Did to Help Myself Learn to Write." Others, like Rebecca Babcock's "Examining Practice: Designing a Research Study" and case studies in Puerto Rico, as well as working with specific identities (such as Jocelyn Amevuvor's "Building A Cultural Bridge Between Ghana and the United States in the Writing Center") have more striking relevance in the writing center context. Those who are new to the concept of multi-faceted identity and how that informs a student's experience will appreciate Ben Rafoth's "Second Language Writers, Writing Centers, and Reflection," which, taking its cue from Harris and Silva (1993), recognizes the "diversity of concerns" of the L2 student. Likewise, Michelle Cox outlines the different facets of identity: those which we are born with, those we inherit, those we create, and those constructed for us as key to understanding how to address the multiple challenges of teaching a non-monolithic group of students who are nevertheless categorized as "ESL" (see her essay "Identity Construction, Second Language Writers, and the Writing Center."

As a teacher, the set of the essays that make up the fourth part ("Academic Expectations") was most useful. Valerie Balester reinforces the idea that understanding multiple identities is key to providing an equitable and inclusive experience for L2 students: "In truth, no single approach works, and applying a single approach to all L2 writers/speakers regardless of their needs, desires, or learning preferences, simply because we assume learning English grammar means learning English rhetoric, would constitute Othering." (200-- See Balester, "Tutoring Against Othering: Reading and Writing Critically"). Beyond philosophical considerations, Balester also provides helpful and concrete ways to use meaning to discuss local (lower-order) concerns in a student's writing. While Jennifer Craig's essay "Unfamiliar Territory: Tutors Working with Second Language Writers on Disciplinary Writing" addresses working with students outside one's own discipline, it is very helpful in understanding the challenges of building a general language proficiency and a disciplinary lexicon at the same time--not to mention writing conventions, tone, and style. Primyupa W. Praphan and Guiboke Seong's "Helping Second Language Writers Become Self-Editors" reconsiders "error correction" and its role in the tutoring experience. The authors also help clarify distinctions such as pragmatic errors vs. grammatical errors and recommend a set of strategies for before, during, and after a tutoring session. These principles are easily applied (and should be) to anyone who is assessing/reading L2 learners' writing. This last essay is particularly important as there are several alarming examples (throughout the book) of instructor/professor commentary on student papers that is ego-maniacal, counter-productive, and glaringly unhelpful in its Othering or complete cultural incompetency. In the context of the book the authors see the Writing Center as a place that mitigates this ignorance/bias on the part of the instructors, but teachers would do well to curb these practices at the outset.

Cross-posted at Rebecca's Reading Rants and Raves

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