ELL Writing Sample Analysis Instruction essay

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The student jumps from one tense to another in the space of two sentences, revealing a discussion which is largely uncertain of its own chronology. Naturally, this makes the work a very unclear experience for the reader such as in the pair of sentences in the second paragraph, which declare that "A few days later 'This alarms the Crows.' Father Crows discussed the matter with the other animals that live in the banyan tree." Again, only with respect to tense changes, the pattern of error in this sentence jumps from present tense (alarms), to past tense (discussed) and then back to present (live). These examples all come from the first few sentences of the essay, and are consistently observable throughout, indicating that verb conjugation is an area of particular need for this student where written expression in concerned.

Other issues that are often encountered by ELL students will concern the proper or improper use of definite and indefinite articles. The decision of when to use 'a', 'an' and 'the' may be obscured in the early process of understanding and composing in the English language. In addition to the seemingly negligible nature of these omnipresent words, there is a conceptual challenge in knowing whether the knowledge available to the reader justifies the use of a definite article.

In this essay, for example, the second sentence notes that "at the beginning of the story Father Crow and Mother Crow were worried that the babies would be eaten by the snake. Here, the reader is learning for the first time that the main characters in the story have babies. However, the writer has described this as though we have already been told about 'the babies.' Here, it would have been more appropriate to prescribe a pronoun such as 'their' babies, rather than to use the definite article. The same is true of the second sentence in the second paragraph, which refers to "the banyan tree" without previously recognizing that the Crows live in this particular tree.

Beyond some of these central grammatical issues, syntax is also an issue of primary concern for the student, who at times struggles to clearly expresses complex narrative aspects of the story. The description of the 'plan' hatched between Father Crow and the old wise fox is especially difficult to understand. The student reports that "Father crow had angry the servants necklace. The Crows did exactly as he told them too do. Father Crow flew to get that necklace because wanted to put it in the snake hole. Father Crow give Mother Crow the necklace. The servant saw the Crow drop the necklace in the snake hole." Here, the combination of jumbled tenses ('had', 'told', 'give'), misapplied words ('angry', 'too') and incorrectly applied definite articles ('the servants necklace') produce a garbled presentation of the plan that takes some thoughtful deciphering even for one with extensive knowledge and understanding of the English language.

Evaluation of ELL's organization and rhetorical structure (global [essay] level):

This begins to point to the problematic organizational structure of the essay, which runs together sentences in sequences which often defy rational interpretation. An example of an inexplicable sequence comes early in the sample, where the student writes that "Mother Crow started to cry, because she wanted to go away with her babies, but then Father Crow said to Mother Crow that we can live her. Father Crow said 'NO' and promised Mother Crow that he would find away to drive away the snake. Mother Crow did not want to lay her eggs." This sequence of sentences provided here does cause some head-scratching. In introduces a number of inconsistencies into the narrative, particularly the new information that the 'babies' may in fact still be 'eggs.' To this extent, it is not clear that the writer knows what she is describing. The contrast of Father Crow's affirmative and negative sentiments in two succeeding sentences is somewhat of a paradox and shows that the ELL student does have difficulty organizing her thoughts into a sensible presentation.

The work also lacks any of the global elements that might make it an insightful work of literary exposition. There is no driving thesis, and therefore no argument to support. And as a basic summary of the story at its center, it does succeed in the Manley introduced term of descriptive accuracy. But it claims initially to be a 'response' to the story. The writer does not present it as so, and in the absence of a thesis, is forced to repeat many of the plot details as a way to fill out space. This leads to a conclusion which illogically repeats a random plot element. Here the student indicates that "Father Crow wanted to help his family get away form the snake then Father Crow want to tell the old wise fox to help them so they live happily ever after." Here, the student attempts to sum up the whole plot narrative of the story in a single sentence. This is a compensation for the relative absence of an organizational oversight. A these statement and some clearly laid out supports may have assisted the student in finding a meaningful final sentiment.

Suggestions for correction and remediation:

In fact, this would be the area of primary focus in the corrections phase for this student. She seems largely not to connect to the material, and therefore struggles to squeeze out sufficient words simply to relay a summary of its plot. In this regard, the biggest obstacle to her effective 'response' essay is a failure to view the writing exercise as an opportunity to truly response. Christensen remarks in an example with a student football player with clear literacy and compositional deficiencies that when she asked him to write the way that he 'felt,' he was less apprehensive and more successful in his expression. She reports her unique approach with the student, telling that "instead of marking his errors, I asked questions and made comments in the margin of his paper. 'Show me what you like about football. How do you feel when you're on the field. Tell me about a moment in the game. Make me see the movie.'" (Christensen, 1)

The outcome in her example would be a markedly positive one, with the student channeling strong emotion in his second attempt at an essay. This would produce a building block upon which to nurture greater accuracy in expression. In the case of the sample student, it would be useful to engage her in broader discussion on the subject of her essay before attacking the subject again. It would be constructive to ask her how the story made her feel, how she responded to the orientation of individual characters, how she viewed the motives of different characters and what she thought the lesson was to be taken from the work. These might have invoked a closer personal attention to the inner-meaning of the text. This could produce a more attentive global structure with a thesis rather than a jumble of summary details.

Naturally, it is also necessary to focus on grammatical issues and syntax needs as identified above. Christensen offers a way of approaching what appears to be a mountain of grammatical shortcomings by breaking these into numbers sub-foci. She remarks that "frequently, many students in my classes make the same errors -- punctuating dialogue, for example -- and I can teach minilessons. In fact, when possible, I find the best way to deal with these problems is to ask students to generate the rules. They remember their rules far longer than when they read the rule and correct the errors in a punctuation exercise." (Christensen, 2) This helps to point in a clear direction for helping to resolve the impasses evident in the work of the student particularly in question here. Clearly, one area where the student requires significant attention is verb conjugation. Likely, the student will have already had some introduction to the idea of subject-verb agreement and the conjugation of tenses. Therefore, a lesson should heed Christensen's advice by taking a departure from the primary curricular thrust in order to reframe the discussion on verb conjugation. Here, I would work with the student in question in order to develop specific ways of framing the rules that are crucial for properly attending to this aspect of written expression.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, though the essay in question is evidence of a large array of needs in the area of writing instruction, it is positive to note that she possesses a sense of the English language and its syntactical rules. A closer connection with the subject matter, or even the selection of subject matter which is more compelling, could help to induce a greater understanding of the rules of expressive written language.

References:

Christensen, L. (2003). The Politics of Correction: How We Can Nurture Students In Their Writing. The Quarterly, 25(4).

Manley, J. (1988). Telling lies efficiently: terminology and the microstructure in the bilingual dictionary. in:…[continue]

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