ESL expert Dana Ferris said at a recent St. Marys University conference in Minneapolis that it’s almost dysfunctional the way many colleges and universities handle students who speak English as a second language.
Tension often exists between faculty in the various disciplines and the campus writing center, which is where many ESL students go for language improvement.
She told me:
“It’s pretty widespread. It’s a real problem. Writing center pedagogy is a whole separate entity. And there are some pretty strongly held values, and they need to be challenged.”
Often faculty send students dismissively to the writing center — and yet many writing center personnel won’t handle “sentence-level” language issues, which are your basic grammar, spelling and sentence-structure errors. Those personnel, Ferris said, often say they don’t get involved in such detail, and that they handle higher-level writing issues involving the flow of logic and arrangement of ideas.
“I think it’s more of a practical concern covered up by a philosophical statement. They might say it’s not their job, but often what they’re really saying is, ‘I don’t feel I can deal with those issues,’ or ‘I don’t want to — it’s tedious, or ‘I’m not qualified.’
But they shouldn’t be in a writing center if they can’t teach grammar. If I were queen I’d decree that (writing center personnel) couldn’t teach writing unless they’d had classes in grammar and linguistics”
“There needs to be more thoughtfulness and collaboration (between faculty and the writing center). Faculty should tell the student, ‘You can benefit from one-on-one time with a tutor on these three things.’ There can even be communication between a faculty member and writing center tutor.”