Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Mar 20 From TDW Dang’s “The Need to Understand…” and Hartman and Tarone’s “From Preparation for College Writing”

I have limited (okay, no) experience with ESL. I know nothing. I speak only one language, which is ridiculous. I have had one true ESL student in twenty years of teaching. No one told me Edgar didn’t speak English. I thought he was shy. We spent two weeks smiling at each other. He took the TAKS test that year (an “oversight” someone said) and we missed having 100% passing in his grade level by one. I would say ESL is the one area my high school cannot serve a student as well as or better than others.

The students’ comments in the readings about their native schooling experiments were interesting. Turns out the very structure and processes so often maligned in our discussions about theory and pedagogy, other countries are using with success. This reminds me of another student of mine – Fan Pang – from China. Fan spoke nary a word of English when she came to our school as a sophomore. She immersed herself in our advanced math classes and she taught herself to read and write English after school, studying what was around her, even translating and transcribing television for hours. She won state in math and science competitions and graduated at the top of her class. I helped her with college essays. Readers of them would know Fan was a second language student, but it would not affect their acceptance of her in the least. Her intelligence and drive to succeed came through beautifully in her own rich voice.

I was struck by “logics different from our own are not necessarily illogical”(378) - in particular, the student who noted that in Korea “there isn’t a subject verb agreement” (377). I thought - what if someone told me a noun wasn’t a noun? Imagine how ingrained our language and all its nuances is in us – how difficult it must be to abandon a truth you have known about language your whole life in the learning of another! Sometimes it is hard to change primary language students’ own wrong ideas about writing and language that they picked up somewhere because they have held on to them so long they make perfect sense to them. How much more difficult to change something that actually is a fact in their native language!

Hartman and Tarone present several ideas that are useful to all teachers, not just ESL: discussion before writing, revision before correction, a wide range of reading assignments. Their conclusion seems almost foregone: students in ESL classes are more successful than mainstreamed students. (Usually – but not always – Fan) The authors tend to fault the mainstream teacher but imagine how hard it is to teach all the requirements of English III to a class of thirty with varying needs and abilities, realizing that all students need individual attention in some area, and still managing to adequately attend to the needs of the one ESL student. This is a system error. But that doesn’t help me sleep at night. I did smile at Edgar for two weeks. -mm

Melissa Pena

I think Dong’s article presents an important truth about ESL students that teachers must acknowledge-- that just because LEP students may be limited in their knowledge of the English language, that they are not deficient as communicators or writers. This all goes back to the whole “basic writers are not basic thinkers” mantra that we’ve been reiterating all semester. “We need to try to understand and appreciate…and to realize that logics different from our own are not necessarily illogical” (378). I can understand why it would be easy to read an LEP’s student’s writing as pass it off as incoherent or even illogical, but I think it takes a combination of education in this area, understanding, and a willingness to teach to help LEP students become proficient as English writers. I like that Dong encourages teachers to “make good use of students’ strengths” (379), because doing so helps students believe in themselves and their ability to write well, even in a second language. When trying something new, risk is involved. When there is risk involved it always helps to have encouragement, or reassurance that they have what it takes to succeed.

The implications for teaching that Hartman and Tarone offer seem to make complete sense as well. I was appalled that ESL teachers rarely use process writing. I don’t understand how anything but process writing could be effective. Well it’s no wonder why ESL students are hypercorrect with grammar and correctness! I also believe that ESL classes should prepare students for mainstream classes, but like Hartman and Tarone, I believe that there needs to be more time to work with these students in order to teach a variety of writing modes. Another shocking implication was that of encouraging students and even teachers to use the native language in the classroom. I believe that that can be helpful because that’s how I learned to speak Spanish (I guess you could say I had multiple bilingual teachers that used both English and Spanish), but it just surprised me that that would be encouraged in public schools and universities because of the whole English-only mindset that dominates our education system. Reading this kind of makes me laugh and think to myself, "Wow...they're finally figuring it out!"

But really, we can't ignore a person's native language or deprive them of it. I believe it's much harder for a person to learn a new language when someone is saying, "You're in my territory and you need to speak in only the language I speak." That's scary and foreign. LEP students need comfort, safety, and reassurance during this difficult learning process, and only their native language can offer them that.

Anne Ries

I would like to start my discussion similarly to Melanie. I have very little experience with ESL and LEP students. While I took an intro to language acquisition course as an undergrad, I really do not remember very much. I wish I had Olaf's experience, but I don't. And while I do not plan on focusing my career around teaching ESL or LEP students, if I plan on possibly teaching basic writing courses, I know I need to familiarize myself with the field.

I really enjoyed Dong's article. I thought it gave interesting and important perspectives into teaching ESL students - those of the students. Both semesters I have taught, one of the very first writing assignments I have my students write is about their experiences with composition. I use this assignment to gage a lot of how I approach other assignments in my class. It made perfect sense for an ESL instructor to do the same for his or her students. I would understand where some teachers would need a reminder about the abilities of our students - especially those with limited english skills, knowledge, etc. Just because they don't speak English as well as native speakers does not mean they are basic thinkers. I would think that students would benefit from an instructor basing a class partly around what they students are saying, because they have something to say.

But these letters could do more than just help the teachers, they could benefit the student based on how the teacher uses that information. "Dong states that "teachers need to incorporate such knowledge into their teaching, helping students to be consciously aware of the differences in writing between their native language and English and to understand the need to adapt to a new discourse in the new culture" (378-9). Students stated in their letters a lot of the differences in the writing between their own languages and English. If ESL teachers had 6 different languages in one class, it would be next to impossible to be an expert on each. Therefore, if students were asked to list some differences they see, those comments could be used to start a discussion on the difference of each. Or, possibly an exploratory paper could be assigned about the difference between English and their native language. This could also be done in a regular basic writing class if there has been a discussion about different dialects and first languages.

Butch Cárdenas

Reading Responses March 20, 2007 “The Need to Understand Students’ Native Language Writing Experiences” by Yu Ren Dong “Preparation for College Writing” by Beth Hartman and Elaine Tarone

I thought that both articles offered an excellent insight to teaching ESL and LEP students, and in particular, the problems they face when learning to write in English. The Hartman and Tarone article also had some progressive suggestions for teaching ESL and LEP students and many of these we have already studied in other grad school composition classes.

Dong’s discussion of how ESL and LEP students can incorporate their native language writing experiences in learning to write in English also notes that “how they learned to write in their native language . . . and about the differences they perceived when comparing writing in their native language to writing English” (370). Dong also goes on to explain that many non-English-speaking students come to college composition with a somewhat privileged background in both culture and education. She also writes that “Though many of these students might not be verbal in class or perform well in English, they were already successful writers in their native language” (375). My questions center on this: Dong is taking into account that these ESL and LEP students have developed writing skills in their own native language and can serve as a basis for teaching these students to write in English. However, during a grad school course on Literacy last summer with Dr. K. Quick, I learned that Mexican and other Latin American immigrants average an educational rate of somewhere between third and sixth grade education. Given this statistic, I do not think that in an Hispanic Serving Institution such as A&M-CC, this strategy would work successfully with our Mexican and Latin American students who did not learn to read and write proficiently in their native language. I also felt that Dong should have addressed this issue early on in the chapter instead of towards the end where she writes “Not all ESL students have attained written fluency in their language of origin. This concern may be especially important for students who have experienced interruptions in their education for a variety of reasons” (381).

Meanwhile, the Hartman & Tarone article did have some positive writing suggestions for ESL and LEP students. They quote Kroll and note “She recommends correcting errors on the final draft after the content has been corrected” (383). I concur with this suggestion and as writer, it is important for me to put something down on paper and then revise the writing to conform to grammar and other writing conventions. I also thought these authors made a great point when they write that students should be made to understand that revision is not a form of punishment, but instead it is a vital part of the successful writing process.

Hartman and Tarone also mention the incorporation of various writing styles that include short answer questions for tests, comparison and contrast, critiques and term papers. I believe that all junior and senior high school English classes should be familiar with these writing examples that will prepare them for writing in college.

Dong makes a good point noting that we need to move away from a deficiency definition of ESL students’ experiences, rhetoric, logic etc. (378); it is also important to recognize that ESL students are by definition “advanced” writers (if any such label is needed) since they negotiate meaning in a greater range of discourse communities than mono-lingual students do. Dong’s suggestions (378-79) are all useful, even if the fourth observation, regarding ESL students’ literacy (in “linguistic” terms) falls back on a definition that implies that participation is closely tied to vocabulary and syntax. ESL students (and their teachers) often identify such needs, but there is evidence to suggest that their perception is based on the way language and meaning-making are presented in lingua-centric L2 pedagogy.

Hartman and Tarone seem to view the issue in similar fashion when they argue for keeping ESL students in ESL classes in order to “develop their literacy skills to a higher level” (386). There are at least two reasons for questioning this: most ESL classes are strongly lingua-centric and operate on a deficiency-similarity model, i.e. they assume that the students are deficient because they lack language skills and would do better if they were more “native-like.” The resulting pedagogy tends to marginalize students further, thus not really helping the students enter a new discourse community. Second, the model suggests that students actually can get “ready” by preparing, as if there were a clear threshold level that regulates participation; other perspectives/models argue that the development-participation relationship is different, even inverted.

L2 teachers also need to consider how their instruction and its effects affect the students’ identities—what are the consequences for other languages and varieties? What is the role (or non-role) of L2 teachers in politics?



"The Need to Understand ESL Students’ Native Language Writing Experiences" by Yu Ren Dong and "From Preparation for College Writing" by Beth Hartman and Elaine Tarone

In this program, I have learned the more I read and write, the more I learn about myself. What I learned from these two articles is that is so hard for your brain to switch from one language to another. In this article, these ESL students need more time than usual, and have a one to one tutor to help them sort their thoughts from one language to another. What would happen if these students would write their first draft in their native language and get them to translate it into English. According to Dong, “they were already successful writers in their native language” (375). Look, if they were successful writer in the native language, they could try to translate to English. Would the interpretation be a slower pace to learn English? Another thing I learned in this article is we need to learn something of their native language.

In the Hartman and Tarone’s article, what I see is that what is written on the objectives is not correlate what goes on in the classes. I am seeing that in my research project, what is written and what is been taught do not match. On page (382), “The revision aspect of process writing was also quite different in the ESL classes and the mainstream English classes.” The ESL teachers appeared to be focused on grammatical and structure errors in asking students to revise their writing, rather than on teaching writing revision as a process “of discovering meaning or learning to couch their message in more culturally appropriate forms” (383). Please ESL teachers let them gain their confidence, their voice, before thinking about the grammar, the process of writing.

I am closing with this, help the student with the shift of language, give more time, one-to-one tutor and encourage them to first write in their native language then have them translate it in English.

In Yu Ren Dong's article, "The Need to Understand ESL Students' Native Language Writing Experiences" it talked a lot about how english as a second language speakers learned to write. As is shown in Cummins and Collier's research, "students with native literacy skills often qcquire English language skills faster than those without native literacy skills" (371). I think that this is something that gets lost in translation. Students who are learning a second language, are usually proficient, or literate in their first language. The fact that they cannot speak, or neccessarily write in English, does not mean that they are basic in thought...duh, basic writers are not basic thinkers.

I think that its important to create a satisfying assignment, and to take what they have been taught and apply it. I don't think that it is ever a good idea to dispel the belief that what they have already been taught is not good enough. In the case of the Chinese student who revealed how he had used writing to win back his girlfriend. Obsessive and kind of wierd, I know.

In dealing with "nonnative students, compositon instructors need information about students native literacy learning in order to tailer their instruction" (378). I think that this is key to getting a non-native speaker comfortable with the language, and the situation.

In the case of Beth Hartman and Elaine Tarone's article I found several points of this to be helpful, such as not editing or correcing grammar errors on the first draft, because this can be counterproductive. It all leads up to students having more confidence in their writing.

There was a lot of interesting information on each of the articles, and no this is not a cop out.

-Erica Rangel


The Dong piece reminds me of the article by Thurston, which discussed Navajo students and the way that they differed in their expression of ideas. Teachers who did not understand the difference in rhetorical technique might be upset by the students' initial silence and the way that they made their point in a more round about way. In the same way, the student who wrote first in Polish was less specific about the thesis and instead gave "clues" to the reader. This also reminded me of how someone writing a story or poem in English might write - not wanting to state the idea, but rather let the reader get to the idea on his/her own. If someone just told the readers the point of the story or poem, it would be seen as beating the reader over the head with the point and not trusting that they are good enough readers to understand the point on their own.

In the Hartman and Tarone article, they talk about how students need to learn to write an argument, as well as other forms. I understand what they are saying about learning how to communicate most effectively in a given language, and that in English, the idea is to state the argument upfront and go about proving it, however, this assumes that this one way of making an argument is the only way to go about doing so. This reminds me of the feminist section of composition theory, which argued that their are different ways of knowing and saying. By privileging the one style of argument, aren't we prevailing the traditional, white, male style or argument?

Heather Dorn


I enjoyed the Dong article because he was able to give students' first-hand experiences with writing in their home countries. I think it is important for teachers to try and understand where the students come from, but I also think that it would be incredibly difficult for the teacher to learn about each culture. It's similar to the article about teaching at the Navajo university--at a university where the students are all of one or similar cultures, it is easy to know what is acceptable or unacceptable. It would be easy to determine what writing experiences were like if all of the students were of the same cultural make up, but they aren't. However, I'm sure that while it will take an extra effort to get to know the students and what their writing experiences have been like, I believe that it is worth the effort.

The only other question that I had about the Dong article is: how open are first-year students? If we ask them to tell us about their writing experiences in their home countries, or what their learning experiences are, how honest or forthcoming are they actually going to be? I know that students, if given a prompt that appeals to them, will bare their souls on paper. I guess I'm a little bit pessimistic about their level of commitment to the course.

With the prospect of teaching Comp. looming in the not-so-far future, I am having a difficult time trying to figure out how I am going to achieve everything that I need to achieve. It goes back to that discussion that in English depts. we have so much to read and devote so much to teaching writing but not enough time or resources to accomplish any of it. It worries me.


Dong and Hartman and Tarone all highlight some of the issues surrounding the teaching of English composition to ESL students. Through their articles, these three authors, Dong in “The Need…” and Hartman and Tarone in “Preparation …” discuss some of the different perspectives that not only teachers of ESL (or LEP) but the ESL students themselves have regarding the English Composing process.

I really enjoyed Dong’s approach of assigning a narrative about the students’ experiences with writing in their home language. This example shows, I believe, the arrogance that many native English speakers have as we expect non-natives to adopt and adapt to our language norms. These students explained their obvious proficiency and writing skill in their home language as well as demonstrated often advanced concepts of composition. Furthermore, the students also addressed some of the cultural barriers that language does not seem to bridge in the process of writing.

Hartman and Tarone take this examination a step further and offer some suggestions for those who may be working with students of these types. I found it particularly interesting how they encourage he students to write in their native language first and then to revise into English. This seems to place equal weight on both languages and does not seem to infer that English is the only right way and that if anything and those ESL difficulties are not due to a lack of understanding, but rather language’s inability to capture a thought accurately. I was really enthused as I read that these two authors do not suggests a focus on grammar in the pre-writing or drafting stage---I have argued this with some of my peers for years. In fact, I had this discussion yesterday. I wish I would have had my book with me at the time to add some credence to what I had been claiming all along.

While the authors offer valid points and approaches for some exercise, I do not feel that I am completely capable to address the needs of these students. I know, as Dong suggests, that I must be aware of the various language backgrounds of my students and understand their own writing contexts, but I still struggle with what really to address first as a consultant. Many times I have found that these students are quite advanced and their papers, aside from typical ESL grammar issues, are great. I can teach the rule, but often times the same types of errors reappear. Sometimes, in some cases, the sessions result in proofreading and editing—which is not my purpose as a consultant and no matter how many ay times I explain the rule or handouts I give, the same error reappears. I know have a better understanding of why this occurs, but my question is how to I really address these types of issues?