A takeaway from Myers’ article, ‘Reassessing the “Proofreading Trap”‘

This article was insightful on contrasting the needs of ESL students against native English speakers, highlighting how there’s a different kind of learning going on when someone is not simply trying to convey a specific point but trying to use a different language. An analogy came to mind as I read her material of language as like a car, carrying important content from one place (one’s mind) to another (the reader). For the native speaker, writing help consists of helping the tutee find the best navigation route. But with the ESL student, it’s not only navigation that’s tough but knowing how to drive a vehicle of a completely different design. More learning, and of a different kind, takes place here, which is why I agree with Myers that don’t think the minimalist tutoring strategy is effective (like learning how to drive from a manual). It takes practice and active tutoring. In this way, I’m convinced by her position that writing tutors act as cultural informants in these scenarios, and intend to use her more active tutoring methods when it comes to ESL tutees.
– Nabila

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3 Responses to A takeaway from Myers’ article, ‘Reassessing the “Proofreading Trap”‘

  1. Steven King says:

    Reading Sharon Myers on ESL tutoring prompted me to review John Harbord’s argument for Genre tutoring (1). It stuck me that in one important aspect Myers and Harbord coincide as to the seriousness of discourse convention.

    While Myers’ argument is essentially an appeal for a more nuanced consideration of ESL students, she concludes that the demand for minimalist tutoring should be relaxed to incorporate the need for a more practical stance in which some students, not just ESL students, are shown the correct way to formulate something.

    Harbord brings our attention to the fact that we operate within an academic environment which incorporates specialised communities with their own linguistic conventions. Harbord calls these Genres. If peer tutors are to be effective they need to be trained to “facilitate learning” and that may involve both showing students where they’ve gone wrong and providing an example of what is correct. That is a stance which is somewhat discordant to the minimalist tutoring idea of getting the student do all the work.

    Of course the real problem of writing centres is the cost of training peer tutors sufficiently to be able to assist all students including the ‘hard case’ ESL students and students with EFL from a different socio-cultural background. The salient point made by Harbord is that minimalist tutoring is a style that sits on the edge of a cost-of-training abyss and if it is to be effective writing centres need to provide sufficient training to peer tutors in the explication of discourse conventions to both ESL and EFL students … and that may mean showing the student the right way to formulate a sentence. That aspect of demonstration is important, as Myers notes, because ESL students may simply not be able to figure it out for themselves. I would add that some EFL students may also fail to figure it out for themselves.

    Steven King
    Sydney University

    Harbord, J. Minimalist tutoring: An exportable model. Writing Lab Newsletter 28.4 (2003): 1-5

  2. Brendan says:

    (Sorry guys, I couldn’t actually work out how to post a separate blog post so I’m going to hitch a ride on this one.)

    Sharon Myers, in her article Reassessing the “Proofreading Trap”: ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction, is impressive in demonstrating the shortcomings of the model proposed by Jane Cogie, Kim Strain, and Sharon Lorinskas for tutoring ESL students. To their credit, they seek novel methods to deal with the challenging problem of ESL students. However, the methods they propose are bound by the minimalist tutoring paradigm.

    I think this article has a broader message beyond the challenges of ESL students. It shows how problematic it can be to think that any technique for dealing with novel challenges must fall under the umbrella of minimalist tutoring. As though it were somehow sacred and inviolable. I think it certainly has a lot to recommend it, but I get the feeling from some of the literature that it has passed into the realms of dogma. Sharon Myers shows how fluid thinking in concert with technical knowledge can crack problems the orthodoxy can’t make a dent in.

    Would we imagine that ESL students will be the only challenge that minimalist tutoring comes up short against? If the answer is no, why should invest unlimited faith in it? Rather than seeing minimalist tutoring as the entire toolbox, perhaps we could view it as one fitting on a far more nimble socket wrench.

    Brendan Phillips.

  3. lchi says:

    I think it’s also important to consider students’ comprehension processes. From experiences with friends, I find that many ESL students don’t just encounter difficulties writing an essay, but also face major obstacles in interpreting and understanding their reference material and sources. These difficulties can stem from specific details like the register used in their source material (e.g. slang vs formal).

    Of course, offering help in interpreting source material might be a bit questionable (since there are spoon-feeding issues there), but helping students overcome basic language difficulties in their writing (as Myers’ suggests) might help shape stronger comprehension skills, due to an overall increase in confidence and (English) language ability. Additionally, tutors need to be receptive to varying their tutoring methods based on how an individual student’s cultural background might shape their interpretation, writing *and* learning processes.

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