REVIEW OF ESL WRITERS: A GUIDE FOR WRITING CENTER TUTORS, EDITED BY BRUCE SHANTI AND BEN RAFOTH
Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi
ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors addresses writing consultants working in a wide variety of academic settings. To help prepare writing-center staff working with English as Second Language (ESL) writers, co-editors Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth have compiled a collection of 18 essays organized into three parts: “Becoming Oriented to Second Language (L2) Learners”; “The ESL Tutoring Session”; and, “A Broader View.” Bruce and Rafoth cover the entire process of the tutoring session by including essays on topics such as understanding the cultural and academic identities ESL writers bring with them to these sessions (Chapters 1-2), practicing writing theories and reading ESL writers’ texts (Chapters 3-14), and viewing the meanings of writing centers and the learning of other languages across the globe from different perspectives (Chapters 15-18). Rafoth discusses the worldwide power of the English language and the responsibility that comes with teaching English in the closing essay “Trying to Explain English?” He argues that that an American education is fast becoming a globalized commodity for many international students and that learning how to use the English language is a large aspect of globalization.
Part 1 of the book, “Becoming Oriented to Second Language Learners,” helps writing consultants better understand “how L2 learners process second languages in their minds as they learn” (29). In Chapter 2 Theresa Jiinling Tseng’s essay, “Theoretical Perspectives on Learning a Second Language,” gives readers four major theoretical guides and approaches to second language acquisition. Tseng, at one time an L2 learner, lends credible perspective to the process. Tseng hopes that the her work “ will not only make [her reader] a more informed tutor but also one who is more curious about, engaged in, and empathetic to the challenges that ESL writers face” (18).
Part 2, “The ESL Tutoring Session,” is the largest section of the book. Knowing that every tutoring session with an ESL writer can veer off into uncharted territories and frustrate tutors and ESL writers alike, Bruce and Rafoth chose essays that might guide consultants through challenging sessions. Carol Severino’s “Avoiding Appropriation” makes an appeal to anyone who is in the position to assess or grade an ESL writer’s text: be careful not to overstep the boundaries of changing an ESL writer’s text and identity. Her anecdotal introduction shows how appropriation can diminish and even inhibit the writer’s agency. In “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text,” Paul Kei Matsuda and Michelle Cox describe a few approaches tutors can apply to a student’s text. Expounding on the ideas of Severino, Matsuda and Cox implore tutors to be aware of the varying levels of writing skills ESL writers bring to a session.
Bruce and Rafoth close out the last part of the book. Rafoth’s “Trying to Explain English?” beseeches consultants to learn grammar and linguistic rules and to avoid telling ESL writers, “That’s just the way it is.” ESL writers look to writing centers for guidance and writing centers should embrace the responsibility to teach the English language thoroughly. Bruce concludes with “Conversations with ESL Writers,” in which she introduces three ESL writers who come to the writing center with varying levels of writing skills. The personal, intimate interaction between the ESL writer and the consultant will differ from session to session depending on the ESL writer’s cultural and academic identity. Bruce explains that no matter how much theory and pedagogy a consultant applies, the individual writer and the identity they want to express is of the utmost importance.
I believe Bruce and Rafoth’s empathy will help writing consultants understand the perspective of ESL writers. Everyday, ESL writers walk into the writing center and sit down with a tutor hoping to get feedback on how well their writing skills are progressing. ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors should occupy an essential place on writing-center bookshelves around the world. ESL writers are essential to the future relevance of writing centers. Bruce and Rafoth's compilation serves as an excellent guide to journeys through the writing process that ESL writers and writing consultants take together.
Shanti, Bruce and Ben Rafoth, eds. ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. Portsmouth, NH: Boyton/Cook-Heinemann, 2004. Print.