Monthly Archives: February 2016

Cultural Struggles and Learning English

This week’s readings were quite emotional, which made them more relatable and compelling. The first was Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle by Min-Zhan Lu; the second, The Achievement of Desire, a chapter from Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez (Sorry, I could not find a link for this one). Both were from the perspective of learning English as an additional language, and the struggle that accompanies it when learning as a child.

In both readings, English was encouraged by their families. For Min-Zhan Lu, her parents hired a live-in tutor, and at home, they spoke English. This is surprising to me for a family living in China at such a pivotal time in the country’s history, the 1950s.

Min-Zhan Lu spoke of how she thought of English as her family’s language. At school, she spoke Standard Chinese. Since she started at the age of four, learning came easily, and she attached one mean to each word she learned. She used the example of “red” meaning “love” for motherland at school and home for her mother, and how both “loves” meant how she felt about my mother. However, as she aged and with the dynamics of her country changing to socialism, in high school, she realized her home language and her school language were in conflict.  This conflict of discourse caused her to withdraw and become silent, and she felt a great lack of control.

Richard Rodriguez felt this conflict of discourse, but as a young man, he felt ashamed of his parent’s lack of mastery of the English language, even though they encouraged him. However, his struggle to find the discourse lead him to withdraw from his family and pursue academia. He read in a devouring manner to find the verbiage, to imitate what he learn in school, and he was praised for doing such. He saw himself as a scholarship boy. This ultimately took him to London where he was among the elite in his field of Renessiance study. As he sat in the British Museum, he also realized how lonely he was, and longed for home.

With each of essays, the writer felt conflicted between who they were at home and who they were at school. While Min-Zhan Lu ultimately was grateful for her conflicts and what she learned from them, Richard Rodriguez seems to have had more of struggle learning where he and his voice fit into the discourse around him.

As a much older student, I relate to their struggles. While my nationality does not separate me from the college discourse, my age, and background do cause a conflict. When having discussions in classes, I am aware of my separation from the others. Many find discussing juxtapositions of various essays and quoting Burke, or Chaucer, or expounding on the latest classical works they have read to establish themselves a place in academia; I am questioning why I am even there. A part of me likes the jargon used, but I know I can not use it outside the classroom. Moreover, when I am around my family and friends, I am careful not to use the language of academia, and since many of my friends are already past college they have no real desire to hear about what I am doing there; they merely tolerate when I speak about it. I, too, feel the pressure of silence and long for a place that doesn’t feel so lonely.

So while these essays were to shed light on how cultural differences can affect the individual learning to maneuver and struggle within the English language, I found they also have value for those who are generational separated in the hall of academia. I leave you with a quote Min-Zhan Lu that started her essay as food for thought:

“Men are not built in silence, but in work, in  work, in action-reflection.” ~Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in Uncategorized


Writing Centers and ELL Students

Have you ever tried to put yourself in someone else’s shoes? You know, walk a mile…

I ask because it seems the filter through which we see the world is limited to our own biases until something jolts us just enough to look to the left or right. I’ve tutored adults learning English, usually with limited or no English; they were my first jolt. This week I watched three videos called Writing Across Borders. They were about college students from other countries, learning to write according to American English standards. This was another jolt.

I considered this a jolt, not because I personally did not understand this was an act that took courage on an international student’s part, but because of the rigidness of some professors. Not that I am suggesting the standards be lowered. I think there is a level of comprehension and ability to convey thoughts that a student definitely needs to be able to express. However, the lack of instruction on how to do such is often left undone.

An example from the video was of a woman from China explaining she did not understand the need to cite sources. Telling her not to plagiarize accomplishes little when consideration for where she is coming from a culturally has not been explored. As the student pointed out, she comes from a communist country where everything belongs to everyone, using others words is a part of writing.

Just because someone from another country attends an American school, doesn’t mean they instantly know how everything works just because their feet are walking the halls. I highly doubt Americans would adapt any better if the roles were reversed.

This week, to go along with the videos, I also read Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva. This article was about how to prioritize errors, and meeting needs of the ESL student.

One of the comments that I thought fit with the videos was “…we also have to be aware that we might make unconscious judgments about others based on our expectations about such behaviors.” This was said in the context of looking for patterns in a student’s work, and how worthwhile it may or may not be.

I need to say, though, while I give this article leeway in using ESL (English as a Second Language) instead of ELL (English Language Learners) because it was written in 1993; I personally do not like ESL. For me, using it takes on a superiority complex that is false. It is Americans who are not fluent in other languages. Though this is beginning to change as we catch up with the rest of the world. Most other countries learn three or more languages; English is merely one of many for them.

Which brings me back to colleges, professors, and writing centers. We do a disservice to students (American or International), and our universities, if professors do not take a few steps in an International students shoes and try to understand what cultural differences may need further explanation. Universities could also improve on this as they integrate International students.  Finally, it does a writing center no service to send frustrated ELL students to their doors, who only want grammar help because a professor expects American articles to be included correctly in every sentence. After all, would we remember to remove them if we were attending a university in Russia?

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Posted by on February 23, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Research Project: Brief Proposal

After observing in the Writing Center, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the role gender plays during tutoring sessions. I hope to find the impact gender has on both the tutor and the tutee if any at all.

In class on Thursday, post-session write-ups were mentioned as being available for research purposes upon request. I plan to request the notes to see if there is any clues, data, or other information that could be helpful in my gender role research.

Historical data will be another resource that could prove fruitful for this research. It could offer a basis in which to compare any current data and note possible changes.

Finally, Scott suggested the idea for me to send surveys to other university writing centers to see if gender has any impact within their programs.  I will need to create these survey questions and send them out as soon as possible to give the universities time to respond and incorporate their data into my research paper.


Posted by on February 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


Writing Centers Should Be Bolder

This week’s articles dealt with the terminology used in and about writing centers. The first was Reading Our Own Words: Rhetorical Analysis and the Institutional Discourse of Writing Centers by Peter Carino.  I couldn’t find the whole article online for you. The copy I read came from the journal, Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation. I am coming to like Mr. Carino’s approach to writing about writing centers. In this article, he took a rhetorical approach to what writing centers say about themselves. He pointed out the strengths and weakness, but my favorite part was after pointing out the way directors of writing centers explain or emphasize the tutors are skilled, sometimes using “expert”, trying to maneuver through being marginalized, and be inclusive to everyone of all writing levels across all curriculums,  he pointed out how paranoid and over promising they sound. He asked this one question (my favorite), “Does the description of the biology department in our institutions’ catalogues assure students that the faculty are qualified? What an empowering question! Why is it English department, and writing centers, in particular, feel the need to tell others on their campus they know what they’re doing? Carino discussed several other topics in this article. It is worth reading if you are interested in writing centers.

The second article was Writing Centers and the Idea of Consultancy by William McCall. This is not a long essay. It is interesting, but it did something that frustrates me about English majors writing about what they do; make a disclaimer after working to support their thesis. This essay tackled whether using “tutor” or “consultant” conveyed what the position really does. Now, personally, having been a tutor for several years, I’m partial to “tutor.” “Consultant” sounds too stuffy to me, and I was surprised that McCall agreed in the beginning. He built his case and them showed his acceptance of using “consultant” as what better describes what goes on in a writing center. He went so far as to have a chart comparing the two. I’m not one to accept change easily, but was convincing me. And then, BAM! He says, “No designation for writing center staff is without its shortcomings, and this is as true of writing consultant as it is for tutor, writing fellow, or writing assistant. But we might ask ourselves which term offers the best and most complete description of our work not only in the center but also out of the center, and, in this regard, the consultancy model also has much to recommend it.”

Now you might read this and think he is actually supporting it. But is he? Look closely, he is definitely taking a step away from his argument. It goes back to what Carino was saying earlier about why writing center directors feel the need to say they and their staff are competent. All I could think was, Be bolder McCall. You were convincing even me! But that step backwards made me question you.

Maybe that is the real key to writing centers being successful across curriculums and within their institutions–be bold and stop apologizing and explaining your ability and need to be there. At UNL I don’t see our Business School explaining why they are there or that they are qualified to educate students. They present themselves more as: where do you think you’ll be without me?

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Posted by on February 8, 2016 in Uncategorized


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