I know the title brings up the word writing first, but let us not get too ahead of ourselves. The topic here is ESL students and their writing. But in order to begin to understand what this means and why it matters, we must consider language.
Language, like writing, is a form of discourse and communication. There are many types and many ways in which one can express themselves. It gives us a sense of commune and understanding because it is learned from a young age and it feels natural. We imitate sounds, and as time progresses speech patterns and their application become clearer.
But when it comes time to attend a university, learning a second language can be quite difficult. A multitude of questions and concerns arise. The unfamiliarity of the many conventions, and grammar can make it very troublesome to start writing papers; this can also make it a bit discouraging to ask a professor what is wrong with the way the paper was written. When students receive a paper marked up with ink, it causes them to make things like grammar become a top priority. Grammar is very fixable and it not being perfect should never be a reason for someone to be discredited.
A classroom setting often cannot provide the individualized attention that ESL students can benefit from. These are students that have unique and diverse voices and ideas. To tackle a new language is very daring and noble because it is a whole new process aside from writing. The best things to do, is to acknowledge the hard work they put into their work, and their dedication to improve!
So now comes the writing part. When a student walks into the writing center the first thing they must know is that we are not there to discourage their grammar, but to establish an understanding. To the writer, their main concern may as well be the spelling and grammar aspects, but ,again, this is not the major part we want them to leave with. We want them to know that it is okay to make mistakes sometimes, and to encourage them to keep working at it. Much more so because at times, we as native English speakers do not know every grammatical rule there is. We must always be open, considerate and patient (especially if it is your first session with an ESL writer). They are very motivated writers and their effort should always be appreciated.