Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Interview with writing lab coordinator

Some of the most interesting comments about error correction and grammatical errors came not in the presentation on them, but in an interview later with an old friend of mine who runs a writing lab. She of course sees it from the point of view of academic students who are still carrying around a grammatically non-native set of skills.

Apparently an entire presentation at TESOL was given over to the student who just wants the grammar fixed, and nothing else. She confirms my idea that their own grammatical inadequacy is in fact a big deal to them and that they really don't see the other aspects: organizational, etc., as nearly as important. Writing Centers however are philosophically opposed to simply proofreading, and so have adjusted their tactics in such a way as to give the students something to take with them that will help them and teach them, basically, to be their own editors. This of course was the goal of writing teachers in our presentation.

The lab director said that at one point, they measured a student's knowledge of grammar by which of three reactions they had to an error: 1) silly me! 2) yes, I was wondering about that, 3) huh? (clueless). Writing tutors' responses would then be based on students' understanding. To #1 it's mostly a matter of teaching students how to check their own papers to clean up things they basically already know, i.e. teach them how to use their own skills. That's quite different from teaching them grammar, or hoping that their grammar will actually change from today until tomorrow when they have to write another paper.

She agreed that simply ignoring grammatical errors did nothing to make students feel better about themselves, give them more confidence, or put grammatical corrections in their true place in the big picture. Students in fact resented people who ignore them.

To her the #1 bogeyman was word forms. What do you do when the student simply doesn't have the word? Provide it? There was no answer here. Her strategies for tutors had dealt successfully with the maxim: "Don't just change the grammar," and acted upon the principle, "Give them something to take home and improve with;" what she had been unable to deal with was, "What do you do when the student simply has no words?"

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