I have been struggling this week with how to help my student writers. Some of them really get it. They can write a very good paper. It will be organized well and have only a few grammar problems. Others of them though, have trouble with organization as well as grammar. I have noticed that a big part of the problem is really that these students do not use clear and precise vocabulary.
I have taught ESL writing for a lot of years now, and I never remember students having as much trouble as this group does. I spent all class yesterday working with a small group of them to get them to write topic sentences that expressed a clear idea. And what I got from them today was better, but there were still problems — like the young lady who wrote about the “goodness” of social networking for education, saying things like
It is goodness for students study.
Now that I see it written here, it doesn’t look as bad to me as it did before. But it isn’t anything that I would ever say.
And then there is the young man who wrote:
Now technology is running so fast and it brings podcasts to people.
My purpose here is not to criticize or ridicule my students but to try to get some perspective — and maybe some advice — on their writing and on what I can do to help them.
The students are all, except for one, Chinese. I know that colors their writing. But somehow I have to help them learn to write, not as Americans, but as Chinese who understand Americans and what we expect when we read. The young lady I quoted above will probably be in some ESL classes again next semester, so there is time to hep her. But the young man is determined to get out of ESL at the end of this semester. I would like to see him be able to do that, but we have to work on his writing before that can happen.
This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. Their writing has really improved. But there is still a ways to go. I wish I had a magic potion to give them or a fairy godmother to grant their wish. Since I have neither, I will have to keep trying to work with them individually as much as I can and see what we can do.
I know this is even more frustrating for them than it is for me. For me it is an intellectual challenge, but it is their lives and their futures. I only wish there were an easy answer.