Why I Rejected the Holistic Model: Working with Nonnative English Speakers, Localized Edits, & “Micro” Concerns by Kayla Miller

posted Oct 16, 2016, 4:36 PM by Writing Center   [ updated Oct 16, 2016, 4:38 PM ]

As a first-time writing consultant, my approach to tutoring was entirely influenced by the academic rhetoric surrounding Writing Center theory and holistic guidance. I resisted attempts to engage with work at the “micro” level (the level of syntax, grammar, and mechanics) in order to privilege “macro” concerns of structure and ideas. Though this is certainly a worthwhile endeavor and an approach I continue to utilize in my tutoring sessions with native English speakers, I have reconsidered this tactic when working with folks who aren’t fluent in English.

My reasons for this are twofold. While discussing patterns and recommending closer attention to specific details work well with students who are familiar (front-to-back familiar) with the language, this strategy is much less effective when your audience struggles to grasp your meaning. Native English speakers may come to the Writing Center hoping for a mere proofreading session; these misled efforts ultimately seek to shrug off the work of editing and revision, despite the students’ capabilities (granted, their knowledge may be underdeveloped or partial). Nonnative or multilingual writers, however, engage with the act of revision by seeking this “micro” knowledge. These are efforts not rooted in attempts to bypass work of which they’re capable, but instead are crucial attempts to actively participate in their learning.

Working at the local level may be ill-advised when tutoring writers who are fluent in English, but I’ve found it essential to the understanding and acquisition of knowledge for multilingual writers. It is at this local level, of course, that languages are first learned -- as a conversational Spanish speaker, I am unsure I would benefit from a global discussion in Spanish about my patternistic errors in the Spanish language. No se.