To Build Confident ELL Writers, Focus on Strengths

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Photo: (c) 2013 Jupiterimages

One of my new graduate students in the English Language Learner (ELL) Tutoring and Outreach Program forwarded an email to me from her professor to show that she was given three extra days to revise her project and to work with an ELL tutor.  Since I approach writing as a process, and for most students, revision is a learned not intuitive part of that process, I’m always happy about more time for revision. 

New ELL students often lack confidence as much as any writing or language skill, so I begin tutoring at any stage of the writing process with a focus on the student’s perceived strengths: “Where do you feel most confident in writing? What do you know you are already doing right?”

My philosophy is that a writer’s strengths provide firm footing for the next steps:  setting goals for bolstering those strengths and framing our work on the new or weak areas within those goals in order to transfer the writer’s previous knowledge and confidence to learning new concepts and tackling the trouble spots.

However, my new student’s professor also gave a very specific instruction—and this is the line of the email where my eyes fixated and glazed over: “Use the extra time to revise your paper using correct English.” Oh boy! I thought. Why not ask my preschooler to practice riding his new bike for three more days then take his training wheels off and ride like Lance Armstrong?   Learning English takes time, and more than that, only some of what is learned can be taught whereas other elements of English require acquisition through immersion and lots of practice in every day life, more than what the practice provided in one writing assignment can provide.

I’ve developed a resource titled, “Practical Ways to Improve Your Fluency in English” (Login to Purdue Global Campus required) to help my students with this.

So what did I do? How did I help my student revise her paper using correct English in three days? I started by focusing on her strengths. We had some confidence rebuilding to do. 

By Chrissine Rios

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