Friday, September 16, 2011

Vocabulary Issues

So far, helping students with the flow of their paper has not been problematic. If students tell me that their main concern about their assignment is that it flows well, I ask them if that means they want to focus on the development of their ideas, on the correlation between their thesis and the content of their paper, on the clarity of their writing, on transitions between paragraphs, or on grammar issues that slow the reader down. Usually one of these hits the mark and serves as the focus for the tutoring session. Although many tutees do not have the vocabulary to state what their primary concern is, they can recognize what it they are looking for when I ask them specific questions that relate to flow.

Occasionally, some students have said that they want help with all of the above and more. In these instances I explain that we should pick the most pressing issues and focus on a few of them. Many times they agree to this. For those students who want nearly everything looked at, the approach has been different from paper to paper. One ESL student had such a short paper that looking at many different aspects of flow was manageable. Another ESL student came in with such a long paper that she choose to focus on a couple aspects of flow during our session and come back to address the others.

Students seeking help with grammar have often been ESL or Developmental English students. ESL students have been a little easier to work with because you can give them a few more freebies. The only vocabulary issues I’ve had when working with them is that they use mismatching synonyms in their paper and use words that don’t quite make sense. For example, one student kept using the word electrification when he meant electricity. When you point out that they need a different form of the word they sometimes get confused and try to think of a whole new word. Such vocabulary issues can be expected in ESL writing and are not hard to fix.

Developmental English students who have grammar and vocabulary issues in their writing are a little harder to help than ESL students. One student I was tutoring wrote out a series in her paper about how she was going to manage her time more wisely by writing to-do list out each day, working on her homework more, and spending less time on unproductive tasks. Unfortunately, each verb was conjugated differently. When I tried to explain that she needed to use a consistent verb tense she looked at me with a blank stare. When I clarified that that meant the ending of the verb she started to understand a little more. Something I need to remember when working with Developmental English students is that they are not familiar with the same level of vocabulary as I am—even when it might appear to be basic terminology. Overall, these issues can be worked out with a little more explanation and time spent figuring out what the student needs during the session.


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