Friday, November 17, 2006

What they really need . . .

I recently attended my first ESOL grading session. Faculty teaching the same level of ESOL meet to read and evaluate student mid-term essays, which were written based on the same prompt. Essays are then "scored" on a High Pass/Pass/Low Pass/No Pass basis. I was, at first, a little taken aback by the emphasis on essay form in the scoring, i.e. Is there a clear thesis statement? Do they have two body paragraphs with topic sentences? The level I teach is intermediate (ESOL 20); they have two levels of ESOL and a developmental English composition course (ENGL 51) to pass before they can move on to English 101. In other words, they will be learning how to write a five-paragraph essay for the next year to year and a half, minimum.

The question I had been mulling over about the focus on essay form sharpened after I had a conversation with one of my colleagues. He affirmed, "Our ESOL students, by the time they exit ESOL 40, know how to write an essay. They've got that down. However, they struggle in ENGL 51 because of their sentence structure, grammar, and vocabulary. Many of them have to repeat the course." I reflected on the developmental reading class I am teaching (ENGL 56). Many of the former ESOL students in my class were having a terrible time restating main ideas in their own words (the focus on our current chapter). An impoverished vocabulary, reading difficulties, and limited understanding of sentence structure contribute significantly to their struggles.

So, my question is . . . what should our focus be in the lower levels of ESOL? Do we need to re-think our curriculum?


Blogger Marian Thacher said...

Hi Jan,

First of all, thank you for creating this blog. It's a really good idea! This is a great use for a blog, to keep track of ideas as they evolve, and allow others to participate in your thinking process.

OK, now about college level writing - this is a big issue! My son, who was in special ed all his life, is now going to City College. He just turned in his first long research paper. He worked hard on it (from his point of view), and really wanted to do well. He loves and admires this teacher and wanted to impress him. Well, the teacher told him his paper was garbage, and it looked like he just threw it together.

The lesson was that he actually has no idea how to write a research paper, or a five paragraph essay either for that matter. I talked to a friend who runs a high school in Chicago and she said that this is a huge issue for their kids too. They don't know how to write. They spend four years teaching them how to write essays and papers in business English.

If we don't do this, as continuing ed, it seems to me that we aren't preparing our students for transition to college.

8:49 AM  
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