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Author Topic: Commenting on ESL students' papers  (Read 525 times)
blokus
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« on: April 09, 2014, 11:20:34 PM »

I searched the forum and couldn't find anything.

How do you all typically handle commenting on papers written by ESL students in non-English-learning related courses. When papers have frequent errors of the kind that are clearly caused by not having an intuitive grasp of the language, do you comment on this? Do you acknowledge that you know this is an ESL issue and that it is difficult for students to correct?

I'm talking about things like awkward phrasings and sentence constructions, or not knowing when to include articles and when to omit them.

How do you write comments that give students honest feedback but are still encouraging rather than critical or harsh sounding?

Bonus: Do you comment differently if it's an international student or not? International students are likely going back to their home countries, so it seems less necessary that they address this.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2014, 11:21:05 PM by blokus » Logged
mystictechgal
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« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2014, 12:58:16 AM »

I'm not qualified to answer any of your questions, but, if you will permit me to ask one based upon them I have one. (And, I'm not trying to snark, I'm honestly wondering.)

You asked:
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Bonus: Do you comment differently if it's an international student or not? International students are likely going back to their home countries, so it seems less necessary that they address this.

On the face of it, that makes some sense, but whether they return to their countries and stay there, or not, does this really matter? They have a degree in hand that's been awarded by your institution--which happens to be in an English-speaking country. Doesn't that come along with some level of assurances to those who see it that they are fluent in the language--at least insofar as fluency within disciplinary norms?

There's no guarantee, after all, that they are going home. Heck, they could go to a third country. The onus, of course, would ultimately be on the employer, but I'd think the degree at least suggests some level of competency and fluency in the language of the country in which it was awarded. I guess, for example, that if I met or interviewed someone with an advanced degree from the the Sorbonne I'd expect they'd be fluent in expressing themselves in French, whether or not they had grown up in France,mand whether or not I had the expertise to double-check their fluency.

Wouldn't it be at least a bit embarrassing to the institution to award a degree to someone who then, upon publishing something--or on giving a conference talk--in the language of their degree granting institution, was deemed to be semi-illiterate in the language of their program? (Or, as a corollary, might not that person's future employer find themselves somewhat embarrassed to have hired someone they assumed, based on the degree, was fluent in that other language when they were unable to demonstrate any real fluency at all when representing the hiring entities' interests with clients relying on that fluency?)

I can't think that it does the student, the institution, or any future employers any service by letting language skills slide, no matter what language(s)/countries are involved.
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skeptical
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« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2014, 4:55:33 PM »

For a long time I struggled with this; it did not seem fair to hold international students who did not speak English to the same standards as students for whom English is a first language. This was particularly a problem with students who seemed devastated by getting a relatively low grade on a paper. During a conversation with one such student, however, something struck me: If I was attending college in another country and I did not speak the language, why would I expect to get a great grade? I shared that thought with the student and told him that he should not be ashamed of getting a C- on a paper written in English. If I went to your country and took a class, I would be completely lost. I helped him, in other words, to adjust his expectations. He worked hard the rest of the term, and managed to improve his papers significantly.
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poiuy
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« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2014, 6:00:56 PM »

For a long time I struggled with this; it did not seem fair to hold international students who did not speak English to the same standards as students for whom English is a first language.


In my classes I often have students for whom English is a second or third language.  Their writing/speaking skills are superior to the group for whom English is their first and only language, but who all think writing standard English and following instructions is 'to hard' [sic] etc etc. 
I have to do so MUCH remedial writing teaching for these Junior level undergraduates.  I do end up giving the ESL students more leeway and I think it is well deserved. 
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blokus
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« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2014, 8:43:42 PM »

Just to be clear, I do give students some leeway on this in assigning the grade. However, even if I didn't, there's no question of the students failing the assignment or not getting degrees. They ARE fluent, but there's a gap between fluent and native speaker. There are subtleties that it's difficult to grasp even for a person immersed in a language for decades.  To use Mysticchickgal's example, this would be the equivalent of a person who speaks French fluently but sometimes doesn't know if a word is feminine or masculine or occasionally forms a past tense with avoir that should be conjugated with etre. (OK, neither of those are quite right, but since I"m not a native french speaker, I don't know the subtletlies that a native speaker would know!).

My question is less about whether to cut them slack and more about how to frame written comments on the paper. Do you mention the English problems or just correct an example or two and don't point it out further, or something else. If you do mention it, how do you write comments that are helpful but not discouraging?
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octoprof
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« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2014, 10:14:48 PM »

I grade all the students' papers similarly regardless of the students' native languages or national origin. Seriously. I see just as much awkward phrasing from my native English speaking students my bilingual (or trilingual) students. Really.

The standard is the standard. Why would you grade them differently?  All the students deserve the feedback. If they have particular issues, you can help them improve by pointing those issues out.
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systeme_d_
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« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2014, 10:59:40 PM »

I grade all the students' papers similarly regardless of the students' native languages or national origin. Seriously. I see just as much awkward phrasing from my native English speaking students my bilingual (or trilingual) students. Really.

The standard is the standard. Why would you grade them differently?  All the students deserve the feedback. If they have particular issues, you can help them improve by pointing those issues out.

This reflects my own experience, and my own strategies as well.

I'd guess that somewhere between a quarter and a third of my students have English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, and there's a wide spectrum of English fluency among them.  Of course these students include international students, new immigrants, and second generation Americans, and there's no way I can tell you every student's circumstance -- nor do I have any need to know.

I use a rubric for grading papers, and one rubric category is "Do grammar and spelling errors detract from the clarity of the authorís argument?"   On that line in the rubric, I indicate the level of the problem(s) and specify the recurring errors and describe my overall concerns, if any.

« Last Edit: April 10, 2014, 11:00:03 PM by systeme_d_ » Logged

tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #7 on: Yesterday at 09:01:30 PM »

I am reviving this thread in part because I am facing some new challenges about this issue in my own teaching.  I'm also reading some interesting scholarship that has shifted some of my thinking about the most effective and compassionate ways of teaching students whose first language is not English.  I'm simply interested in hearing from additional people about your experiences, techniques, philosophy, overall view, etc -- both for writing-intensive disciplines and non-writing-intensive. 
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