Brooke Kaye, Oregon State University
Received 2018 International TESOL Travel Grant, along with a coworker.
A few weeks ago I was working with Iman, an international ELL student, on an essay for her reading and writing class. She had come to the Undergraduate Writing Studio at Oregon State University because her instructor had highlighted sentences that were confusing and she didn’t know how to express her thoughts more clearly. I encouraged her to talk through her ideas while I transcribed what she said. Sharing her thoughts aloud helped her to compose several beautiful sentences full of meaning. I read the sentences back to her and she was pleased with the results and relieved to have moved through this roadblock in her writing. Iman confessed to me that she had been feeling very stressed – midterm exams were looming, and on top of school demands she had a newborn baby, a 3 year old and a kindergartner to care for. She was also busy getting ready for the holy month of Ramadan. I was in awe of how much she was managing, all in an unfamiliar cultural landscape with no extended family support.
This interaction made me reflect on the excellent plenary talk that Mary Helen Immordino-Yang gave at the 2018 TESOL International Association conference in Chicago in March. Immordino-Yang presented research showing how a person’s sense of emotional well-being has a strong impact on their ability to learn. Essentially, emotion is the driving force behind thinking – meaningful learning always involves emotion. When we feel safe and connected we are motivated and able to create meaning and learn.
In life as in writing projects, connection and meaning are built at many levels - from vocabulary choice and sentence-level grammar to discourse level and audience analysis. At the TESOL conference, I learned tools for using theme and rheme to help create cohesion and meaning at the discourse level. I also learned how ELL teachers are using corpus tools to help students analyze word choice and see patterns in academic writing. I have been excited to use these strategies to help second language learners improve their writing. Immordino-Yang’s lecture, though, reminds me that before we strive to create meaning in text we must first create connection through meaningful interpersonal interactions.
I wanted to help Iman create meaning, not just in her writing, but also in her life. I knew from Immordino-Yang’s lecture that the more connection and support she feels the more successful she will be in school. I empathized with her as a mom who was also trying to manage my own work/life balance. Iman mentioned to me that she didn’t have many other mom friends, so I told her about an international mothers’ group and gave her the contact information. She seemed excited to connect with other women who shared that aspect of her life.
After attending the TESOL conference, I now have more strategies than ever to help students like Iman. The most important of which is tuning in to their social-emotional landscapes. As Writing Studio tutors, we are trained to look at a hierarchy of rhetorical concerns in student writing – addressing issues in purpose and content before grammar and punctuation. Immordino-Yang’s lecture reminds me that the first order of concern should be to meet the writer at an interpersonal level, to create meaning and connection in that interaction, before diving into the complex and beautifully surprising world of second language writing.
The James Nattinger Travel Grant for the TESOL Convention gives an ORTESOL member the chance to attend the international convention when they might not normally be able to due to finances. TESOL Convention provides a wealth of opportunities for networking, learning and growing professionally. For more information about grant opportunities check out the membership tab on the website or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org