Grammar and Tutoring ESOL Students:Attention to Form, Meaning, and Use to Address Writing Weaknesses Helen Alexander Cal State University, Fullerton Saddleback College
This Session’s Objectives • Exploring the research foundations of this approach • Presenting and discussing a set of guidelines for tutors to help ESOL writers develop (grammatically) appropriate form, meaning, and use in texts • Autonomy in writing habits and self-editing for the tutee • Building a self-corpus and sense of practitioner for the tutor • More conscious control of the underlying logic of “good” writing in English for both
Overview • The concepts and theories informing this approach • The four components to the approach and examples and practice for each • Scaffolding and awareness-raising ideas for your native speaker/non-TESOL trained tutors • “What sounds wrong? Why does it sound wrong?” • Focusing on manageable chunks of meaning instead of nitpicky, disconnected grammar elements in order to make each tutoring session more communication-centered and less error-driven
Competence and Control • This approach takes for granted that the ultimate purpose of writing is communicative competence, as outlined by Sauvignon (2001): • The ability to communicate effectively in English (especially as one’s second language) must include attention to the sociocultural, strategic, discourse, and grammatical elements that enable a person to move between contexts. • Larsen-Freeman’s depiction of grammar as form, meaning, and use (1997) enables the practitioner to use grammatical and syntactic elements as sites of competence-building since each element can be examined as part of a larger context, giving the learner a point of reference : • Form—Is this accurate to the structure and situation? • Meaning—Does this structure convey what the author intends it to convey for this situation? • Use—is this appropriate to the intended purpose and situation?
Application • While all the elements of communicative competence are all interrelated—as are the form, meaning, and use of grammatical structures!—treating them separately when discussing how a learner’s words can be used in different contexts can give the tutor and tutee a more structured approach to exploring why “ain’t” works in rap songs but not in college level papers. • Spoken versus written: colloquial versus academic • Intention and meaning • Rhythm and pronunciation • Irregular verb forms and use of contractions • The tutor can choose which competency context to address during a particular session as well based on the tutee’s level and readiness for the input. • Grammatical competence of spelling, subject/verb agreement • Sociocultural competence of Southern English/rap music • Strategic competence of how to gauge when this could be used • Discourse competence of how this use fits the tone and purpose of the whole document • What does “readiness” mean in an ESOL tutoring session?
Theoretical Foundations • Using the accessibility hierarchy (Lightbown & Spada, 2003) as a foundation and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1978) as the medium of transmission, this approach assumes: • Students’ knowledge of structures can be gauged by what they do seem to know, and this in turn can be used to help them build knew ways of structuring language appropriate to the context. • The learner can connect to structures in their own language and higher in the hierarchy if the meaning of the structure can be tapped into. • Explicit attention to these forms in the shape of awareness raising (or meta-cognitive) activities gives the tutee control over his or her own processes and helps him or her move more quickly to a higher level of communicative competence.
Four Guidelines • Explicit attention to the following four concepts can help the tutee building communicative competence, and help the tutor focus on specific points of possible miscommunication from a global perspective: • Reinforcing thought completion by attention to the types of sentences found in English (5) • Exploring old information/new information expectations for (properly) cohesive texts • Clarifying pronoun reference principles and the importance of noun repetition • Examining repetition of ideas at the paragraph level toward coherence and prepositional phrases as necessary modifiers/redundancies
Thought Completion • Look at the following sentence stems. What must I do to complete the thought? • Do you have a pen? Yes, I have. • Transitive • I gave the pen. • Ditransitive • I fell. • Intransitive • The results indicate. • Transitive requiring a noun clauses (complex noun) by abstact meaning • He happy. • Copula—adjectival complement • He teacher. • Could be copula—nominal complement; could need to be intransitive: what is the context? Is this an action (spelling problem? Part of speech problem?), or a description? • Rule #1: When something feels fishy, look at the verb. What kind of action is it? What does it need to be complete? This is as true for the dependent clauses as for the main clauses; however, incomplete main clauses are more damaging to discourse level comprehensibility.
Flow • What is wrong with this sentence? • My neighbor’s cat was in my tree. Now he’s suing me! • Rule #2: Try to elicit one main idea for each paragraph from the student. Then, keeping that idea in the main clauses as much as possible, have them talk you through the how they want to explain that topic. Often most students can say it out loud even if they don’t write it. Then help them create an A to B. B to C. C to D relationship between sentences, discussing what you can take for granted the reader will know/what you can leave out. Don’t be afraid to flip sentences or move them around! The ideas might all be there, but they might be organized according to the student’s first language’s needs for communication.
Reference • What does the “it” refer to in this sentence? What other pronouns do you see? How can we clarify these ideas? • To illustrate, when someone took this test and the doctor tells him there are 50% to get your child disease. After that, the doctor prevents them to not get married, it means the doctor broke their relationship, that is very sad. • What about these pronouns? • If you take a genetic testing, you will be able to find out what is going to happen to your health in the future. • Rule #3: Examine all pronouns and the nouns closest to them. Can this pronoun replace this noun, and would having the noun be better for keeping the reader focused on the paragraph’s main idea? Is this pronoun referring to an idea, or is it filler more appropriate to a different context? Bearing in mind that sometimes filler is the most appropriate structure for flow!!
Repetition The two practice examples can be found on the handout. • Rule # 4: Make some ideas less important, and keep similar ideas in similar types of language. Create explicit relationships between sentences and/or ideas by adding clarifying prepositional phrases (or other modifiers) to guide the reader’s ability to recognize the wholeness of the paragraph and paper. Don’t change essential vocabulary heedlessly.
References • Larsen-Freeman, D. (Series Director). (1997). Grammar dimensions: Form, meaning, and use (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Heinle & Heinle. • Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2003). How languages are learned (2nd ed.). Oxford: University Press. • Savignon, S. J. (2001). Communicative language teaching for the Twenty-First Century. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd ed.) (pp. 13-28). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle/Thomson Learning. • Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.