FeaturedPulseTLC’s new writing program helps ESL students thrive at Trinity

FYE professor helps students who are learning English with writing for clarity
Noelle BarreraMarch 3, 2019824 min
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Photo by Genevieve Humphreys

The Tiger Learning Commons (TLC), a centralized space in the library focused on improving Trinity students’ academic performance, has created a new staff position geared towards helping students who are learning English as a second language (ESL). This new position is aligned with this year’s Qualitative Enhancement Plan (QEP), which prioritizes strengthening tutor training programs to maximize first-year success.

Prior to the introduction of First-Year Experience (FYE) courses into Trinity’s Pathways curriculum, there was a section of Writing Workshop — the writing course in place before FYEs — that was designed for ESL students. Now that FYEs cluster together a diverse group of students, the TLC has recruited Travis Snyder — an English professor at Trinity who teaches in the HUMA, What You Know That Ain’t So, and Being Young in Asia FYEs — to be the TLC’s Developmental Specialist.

In his role, Snyder works with ESL students and students with cognitive or mental disabilities. Snyder aims to give multilingual students the linguistic tools they need to express their ideas.

“I think the advantage of having someone who works with you and meets with you consistently is that they can get to know you a little bit and figure out,” Snyder said. “What I do is I’ll just figure out what’s your experience with writing, what works, what doesn’t work, and then we kind of make a plan based on that individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and personal goals for improvement.”

Snyder has worked with students on a consistent basis either weekly or biweekly both last spring, when it was a new position in the TLC, and this spring. However, as he teaches FYEs, Snyder is unable to tutor students in the fall. Attendance varies with time during the semester from around a dozen students to roughly 20 students.

Many of the students that Snyder tutors are international students who may need extra help navigating American academic customs.

“I have a lot of international students from Asian countries, from South America or even a couple of students from European countries,” Snyder said. “They might write very well, but navigating the American classroom has been something that I’ve been able to help people [with] to an extent, which also works in tandem with some of the academic coaching and other services available.”

According to Jenny Rowe, director of Tutoring Programs within the TLC, ESL students often have unique challenges with clarity and grammar in essay writing.

“We’ve heard students say, ‘My professor was telling me I have to improve my English, and I don’t think that that’s what I need to do. I think that they’re not understanding my ideas,’ Rowe said. “We want to sort of try to address those feelings of frustration so that we can get students talking about ideas, as opposed to simply correcting grammar issues.”

Thoai Bui, a junior whose family came to the United States from Vietnam in 2009, said that being an English language learner doesn’t affect him much except in academic writing.

“I’m not sure professors can do a lot to help because there’s a lot of students,” Bui said. “It’s more on the part of students to seek out help for [grammatical issues].”

Sigurdur Atlason, a first-year student from Iceland, started learning English around the age of 10. Still, adjusting to Trinity’s rigorous academics was difficult at first after he moved to the U.S. from Iceland last semester.

“The teachers [in Iceland] kept emphasizing that we had to be good at English … But it was hard from like writing maybe a thousand essays in Icelandic, then switching to English [at Trinity],” Atlason said.

Atlason’s experience in his Social Justice FYE helped him hone his writing skills in English.

“We [wrote] like four papers, and by the fourth paper, it was getting kind of solid. It was not easy, but it was not as tough as the beginning,” Atlason said. “I felt my abilities with the language and vocabulary increased so much.”

When Atlason needed help with his essays during the fall semester, he would come to the Writing Center. Atlason said that the Writing Center’s peer tutors were very helpful.

“When I came into the writing center, I knew that there was some things that [I needed help with] — not like the big picture, more like the details of my essays,” Atlason said. “Sometimes I felt I was using the same words over and over again. After the [tutors] helped me, the flow of the words was better, and using different words helped to make the essay stronger.”

Atlason said that while he has a busy academic and extracurricular schedule, he would consider working with the TLC’s Development Specialist in the future.

This spring, Snyder and Rowe are also creating a new curriculum for Writing Center tutors that will address how to work with ESL students in a way that meets their needs, by providing information and training on ways to help multilingual students.

“Something you would think about differently, if you’re working with a student whose first language isn’t English, [is] having a different approach to negotiating different styles across languages,” Rowe said. “Undergraduate tutors don’t come to the job with this kind of cultural fluency, and so we’re working hard on having our undergraduate tutors be well-versed in dealing with students of all languages and backgrounds.”

Rowe stressed that student and faculty input is welcomed in the creation of the ESL curriculum.

“We’re just in the beginning of the process of finding out how to best support our multilingual writers here at Trinity … Any Trinity student who has suggestions or concerns should feel free to contact us,” Rowe said. “We’d love to hear from students about how we might extend our support, how we might change our outreach, how we might offer different programming.”

While Snyder is leaving Trinity after this semester (the TLC is currently looking for a replacement for his role, who would hopefully be able to tutor students year-round), he is optimistic about the changes that he has made during his time as a Developmental Specialist over the last two years.

“I think [that] a good future improvement would be [for TLC] to be able to have the resources to bring someone in full time, someone who is both a multilingual specialist and someone who thinks in terms of disability theory and composition,” Snyder said. “Expanding the Writing Center in this direction, I think, would be a really valuable resource for Trinity as it’s looking to continue to diversify its student population.”

Students who have questions or suggestions for the TLC can contact jrowe@trinity.edu or tsnyder@trinity.edu.

Noelle Barrera

| Class of 2021 | Majors: English and Anthropology |

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