September 20, 2007

Technical help!

Posted in Uncategorized at 11: 06 am by MK

So I realize the font in that last post is really small, and I promise I’m not trying to ruin everyone’s eyesight!

A. How do I enlarge the font?

B. Will it be more readable if I just show part of the post and then do that fancy “more . . .” link thing other bloggers do?  And if so how do I do this?


C. Does it look fine to everyone and it’s just my computer??


Defining the basic writer

Posted in English as a second language at 10: 47 am by MK

I’ve been reading quite a bit about basic foundations of literacy.  Paul Kei Matsuda explores defining “basic writers” in his article, “Basic Writing and Second Language Writers:  Toward and Inclusive Definition.”   Currently a professor at Arizona State University, Matsuda is well-known and respected theorist in the field of Composition Theory.  His article made me think about the future Z. and G.—when they are leaving high school and hopefully furthering their education.  At that point, should they still be in an ESL classroom?  Or should they be in a basic writing classroom with American students? 


According to Matsuda, immigrant and refugee students who have been in the U.S. long enough to develop strong aural language skills but still struggle with the written language are in danger of falling through the cracks.  Matsuda cites William Slager (a former staff member of Michigan’s English Language Institute) as saying,

Even though they have serious problems in English as a foreign language, the immigrants do not profit from classes that are specifically devised for the newly arrived foreign students.  They need special work on grammar of usage.  But they often need no help at all in aural comprehension; and since they have lived for some time in this country, they need very little orientation. (Matsuda 70)

Historically, our higher education system did not have a place for these students.  Institutional change most noticeably began to happen when the open-admissions policy in many urban institutions changed in the 1970s.  This new policy allowed colleges to accept students who otherwise would have not been.  Matsuda discusses CUNY in particular as a good case study of the policy.  By 1980, 21.4% of new students and 18% of transfer students were born outside of the United States. (Matsuda 73)  CUNY attempted to distinguish between basic writers and ESL writers, but other colleges did not.  These other schools simply tracked ESL students into basic writing classes, ultimately ignoring the unique needs and circumstances of their ESL students. 


Matsuda argues that due to the make-up of the U.S., all writing teachers must be adept (on at least a basic level) at teaching ESL students.  ESL students will still continue to be tracked in basic writing classes.  It seems that in a perfect world students could be tracked in three ways:  basic writing, basic writing with an ESL focus, and ESL.  However, as schools (particularly smaller schools) struggle with funding and other obstacles, this ideal probably won’t happen.  Therefore, if writing teachers are aware of these differences, and trained to work with ESL students, perhaps some of the gaps will be filled.


I have been tutoring E., a woman who emigrated from Russia roughly six years ago.  Over the summer she took a basic writing course at Hudson Valley Community College.  We worked on her essays, which mostly required grammar changes, including word choices, sentence structure, and subject-verb agreement.  She spoke English well and had no difficulty understanding me.  However, her writing skills needed work.  Thinking back on that class, I wonder if her professor had ESL teaching experience.  I wonder if he knew about E.’s unique situation.  She is definitely a student that could easily slip through the cracks if a professor or a college is not aware of the extra help she needs. 


She seems to be the student Matsuda is talking about and, for me, puts his discussion in tangible terms. 

September 12, 2007

The baby

Posted in Uncategorized at 12: 42 pm by MK

The one-year-old is finally warming up to me.  When I first use to go to the apartment he was absolutely terrified of me, and would cry if I tried to go near him.  I wonder if he had ever seen someone who looked like me before?

Last night he was very curious about me, and even sat on my lap for part of the lesson.  He was also curious about my purse.  After digging through it to see what he could find, he decided he liked the book I had, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.   But more specifically it was Prose’s picture on the back of the book that he spent most of the night staring at. 

A perfect collision of worlds.  

Lower vs. Upper Case Letters

Posted in Literacy Needs at 12: 27 pm by MK

Last night I worked with just the two children (Z. age 10 and G. age 11).  By being able to spend some time alone with them, I realized how little English they know/understand and how they were just getting swept along in the adult group lessons.  I spent a lot of time on the alphabet with Z.  She has trouble distinguishing M from N and also difficulty remembering R and U.  Another issue I discovered is that she has learned to recognize letters only in upper case form.  Therefore, as I had her spelling out words from the picture dictionary, I realized she wasn’t familiar with the shapes of the lower case letters.  Yes, a huge deal.  Remember her alphabet is completely different.

So it makes me think about what else I’m missing, or not clued into.  And I realize the only way to figure these things out is to keep working.  But in the meantime it feels slightly frustrating that I’m not picking up these things sooner. 

Why aren’t the kids in school?

Posted in Uncategorized at 10: 50 am by MK

I can’t quite figure out why the two children are not in school yet.  We are almost a week and half into the new school year, and they have yet to go.  As of last Thursday their case worker told me she was going to pick them up Monday morning and take them…but as far as I can tell that didn’t happen.  I’m sure there is an explanation; their case worker seems very conscientious.  But she also appears to be pretty overworked…  I worry that the longer they wait to start the harder the transition may be if other students have already fallen into a routine with friends and classes. 

September 7, 2007

Theory & Practice of Second-Language Writing

Posted in Independent Study at 12: 15 pm by MK

I have finalized the content of my independent study, Theory and Practice of Second-Language Writing, and I’m psyched to officially begin.  So what will this all entail? See below for a description…

Course Content:

Through a reading list and research project, I will examine how the construction of second-language identity affects writers and ultimately writing pedagogy.  What are our community and institutional expectations for second-language learners?  How do we teach adult learners when they are no longer in a school system?  What are the literacy needs of adult learners?  For adults, writing a school term paper is not a needed skill; however, paying a phone bill or writing a check to the power company is necessary.  How, therefore, do we decide where literacy lessons should begin?  What have composition scholars discovered in writing and researching about these topics?  This study will focus on not just the construction of a writer’s second-language identity, but how that construction affects the way in which educators teach English as a second language. 

It will also be important to study how second-language identity is created.  Is second-language identity created by the student or the student’s outside community?  How do immigrants or refugees cope with the loss of professional identity when they move into a new country, culture, and language?  Ultimately, how second language identities evolve impacts the ways in which students learn.  This course will study what current theorists are writing and saying about these issues.    

The unexpected

Posted in Literacy Needs, Second language learning, Uncategorized at 11: 56 am by MK

I went to the apartment last night with an array of lesson plans & activities.  I was prepared to teach, and teach well.  And I was ready for one student, or ten.  I thought this was going to be the night we would make some real progress; I was determined.

When I arrived, I quickly realized that just because I have some nice, neat lesson plan packed in my bag, doesn’t mean that the family is sitting there waiting for me to show up.  They are dealing with real, concrete, functional issues of life:  like sending two kids to school for the first time.

Ordinarily the junior-high school both children attend would be a short one-block walk from their apartment.  However, it’s currently being renovated so now the trek to school consists of two city buses and a transfer half-way.  Their case manager O. was there last night trying to get things sorted out.  O. and I ended up driving the children to their new school so they could see what it looked like, and then figuring out the best bus-route for them to take.

I felt for the two kids.  When we pulled up to the school, I really tried to look at it through their eyes:  it was big and looming and scary.  I gave them encouragment and acted excited, but their fear was evident.  Going back to school for any child can be overwhelming, let alone in a new country when you don’t speak the language.  And I know adults (okay, myself included, I’ll admit it) that would be nervous about taking the city bus and negogiating a transfer…how are these kids suppose to feel? 

O. is going to do a dry-run on the bus with them and take them to school herself on Monday (their first day).  I am sure this will help.  The school has also assured her that they have a number of refugee-status children, are familiar and comfortable working with the families, and have the experience to do so.    I am sure the first few weeks will be rocky, but it will get better.  And the children will become sponges, learning the language quickly. 

As I drove home last night, I realized my lesson plans never left my bag, but it felt like I got a lot done.  My concept of “progress” is always changing.