Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Aren't we all English Language Learners?

Yes, Tim, I agree. I want my students to use the Oxford Comma, but it's probably not going to happen just like I don't know how to teach them how to use commas without circling every comma in their paper and writing next to it "comma splice" or "no comma" with the hopes that they'll look up what a comma splice is.

"The acronym ESL (English as a Second Language) is used here because it is the commonly used term to refer to students whose native language is not English. Given the inherently political nature of working with ESL learners, it is important to note that at urban institutions, such as the University of Massachusetts at Boston, most of these students are residents of the United States. Furthermore, in the case of a number of these students, English may be a third or fourth language." -Vivian Zamel Notes for "Strangers in Academia" 

While I only have two international students, I would say that I have a lot of English Language Learners that are transitioning their writing from probably what they would normally use in texts, tweets, and Facebook to academic writing. While some of my students have  more of a grasp on the idea of academic writing, all of my students run into trouble here and there with comma usage, capitalization, sentence structure, and I really don't know how to go about addressing these issues without just shooing them to the Writers' Workshop and hoping a tutor there will explain what the Oxford Comma and the difference between a sentence and a fragment.

In some ways, I feel like I am failing my students because mechanics and grammar are a part of writing, but I'm not addressing it because I'm supposed to teach them composition. I wonder, if I don't do it, who will? I have been trying to focus on the strengths of my student writing, but isn't it a disservice to not address the numerous problems that are there? On the other hand, I don't have the time to go through every paper and circle every comma, capitalization, fragment, etc, and on top of all this, I felt like I was being discouraged from teaching little details of grammar during orientation. Yes these little things don't detract from their overall arguments, but not using commas correctly or writing in complete sentences distracts the reader from the strength of the overall writing.

Why yes 1779 pages will make you a better student by providing an amazing pillow with soft pages to sandwich your head in between so you can get quality sleep. Can I get this for free? I know I'll fall asleep better at night.

So what do I do? I have a month left in the semester, and I can quickly review A Comprehensive Guide to the English Language  and whip up some lesson plans about clauses and phrases that no one has heard of ever before. I bet $5 it won't make my students better writers, but they'll be able to spit out grammar jargon like a gorgon.

Oh that shrieking? She's just talking about adverbial clauses.
What I'm trying to say is that I see issues in the grammar and mechanics in all my students, and the whole notion of not addressing these topics is probably not benefitting anyone. Maybe giving them tools to talk about grammar might make it more accessible and give them more confidence in their own writing. 

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