To Begin a Tutor Session
Tutoring English Students
Reminders for Working with ESL Students
Responding to Student Papers
More Response Techniques
Reviewing a Paper
"What if" Situations
Helping Students Survive Grammar
A tutoring session does not always start with reading the student's paper. The conversation that occurs beforehand can be more beneficial to the student than actually reading the paper. Before reading the paper, try to establish the following information:
· Introduce yourself to the student.
· Ask about the assignment and the professor.
· Is there a handout that explains the assignment?
· Is the paper in the beginning draft stage, final stage, or what stage?
· Has the student visited TLC with an earlier draft?
· What is the due date for the assignment?
· What particular feedback is the student looking for in the next half-hour?
- What does the student want the tutor (you) to look for in this paper?
- Is there a certain area of the paper the student wants to focus on?
- Be aware of students who ask for sentence level help in the first draft.
If the answers to the above questions are less than clear, put the paper aside and ask the student to articulate in a sentence or two what the paper is about. Remember that the subject of a paper is not its thesis: a student who says that the paper is about "cars" can mean any number of things, i.e., it might be an explanatory paper on how a car works, or it might be trying to convince an audience that cars are dangerous. Make sure that what the student identifies as the main point of the paper fits the given assignment.
If there is still time to read the student's paper, ask if he or she would like either of you to read the paper out loud. If the student reads the paper, make sure that you are able to see the paper.
--What's the paper about? What is the thesis? Start with this before you even look at the paper. Talk with the student. Do they have a clear idea?
IF THE ANSWER IS "NO" -- Have the student read out loud. Tell them to stop when they come to the main point. If they reach the end of the second paragraph and still haven't found the main point, have them stop. Try looking at the conclusion. Have they wrapped up the paper, including their main point at this time?
IF THE ANSWER IS "YES" -- What are the student's main points? Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, and supporting details for each topic sentence.
--Read the paper. Is the information there? Try a post outline to check for content, as well as for logical organization.
How is the grammar, punctuation, and spelling? Look for trends. When errors occur, make a mark in the margin, or tell the student that there are x number of a particular type of mistake in a certain paragraph. Resist the impulse to simply correct mistakes--your goal is to help students learn to spot and correct their own errors. Point out an example of the mistake, and review relevant grammar and punctuation rules. Encourage students to make their own corrections. This does take time and effort on the part of both the tutor and the tutee. Students will learn more if you give them the support, encouragement, and information they need to do the job themselves.
Overall Tutoring Techniques
Students aren't dumb, so don't belittle them. Respect them for having the courage to ask for help, and for taking the time to get it. Be positive and encouraging. Suggest that students return after working a little on their assignment. Let them know that you care, and that you are there for them. Do your best, and ask for help when you need it!
- Working with ESL students may require more time. Some students may sign up for two sessions knowing that it will take longer to work with them. If you feel longer sessions are ineffective or lead to frustration, ask students to make several separate appointments to discuss their papers.
- Working with ESL students may require pointing out patterns in the Second Language resulting from the First Language.
- Tutors need to be familiar with differences in tutoring native speakers and Second Language speakers. Handouts covering differences between English and other languages are included in the master tutor manual.
- ESL students deserve to know about things that interrupt readability of papers--discuss errors as small as capital letters vs small letters as well as large and underlying topics such as syntax.
- ESL students need to know they can return to go over other areas of their papers. These "other areas" need to be pointed out to the student whether or not the tutor has time to provide instruction in that particular area or sees it as the "appropriate" time to discuss it.
- Tutors need to be honest in their assessment of ESL students' papers; tutors are in the position to promote confidence, but need to do so without giving false hope. Agreeably, it is a very fine line.
- Portfolio papers indicated that some ESL students were not well prepared; is this a result of tutors not pointing problematic patterns and offering suggestions or is this a result of students not acting on tutors' suggestions?
It is essential to realize that different people have different ranges of preference for certain behavior and interaction styles. The following information will make tutors aware of different learning styles as well as how to recognize "symptoms" that indicate a student's bent toward a specific approach in tutoring. However, these various observations are not the "last word" on a person because the real picture of tutor-student interaction is far more complex.
Observations of this person:
Often talks and is seldom quiet; tells jokes and has excuses for not completing the assignments.
Often has poor handwriting or drawing; has trouble reproducing figures or letter.
Remembers spoken words and ideas easily.
Often gets lost in unfamiliar surroundings, poor space perception.
Often has trouble keeping track of time.
May reverse p-q, b-d, n-u when writing.
Ask the student to talk through the steps of the assignment.
Ask the student to spell and/or say syllables out loud when working with words.
Ask the student to think out loud and to listen to the ideas.
Work with the student in a quiet area.
Speak directly to the student.
Repeat, using similar words.
Keep talking by the tutor to a minimum.
If audio equipment, i.e., a tape recorder is available, use it for information purposes.
If working in groups, pair the student with a visual learner.
Observations of this person:
Often learns better when instruction can be seen; oral directions are more difficult.
Has a tendency to watch the tutor's face during conversation.
Likes homework to be neat and orderly and seldom misplaces things.
Often recalls information seen some time ago.
Notices details and had good proofreading skills.
Responds to questions in short statements or phrases.
Use visual directions and demonstrations when possible. Use flash cards or other visual aids. Work in an area free of visual distractions. Encourage the student to highlight important items with a marker.
Discuss one step of a task at a time.
Student should work in a cleared area.
Observations of this person:
Often moves around.
Enjoys doing manual, hands-on jobs and activities.
May need to write everything down.
Concrete objects are best as learning aids.
Often has difficulty learning abstract symbols.
Use concrete learning devices whenever possible in explanations.
Use role-playing when possible.
Plan frequent breaks to allow the student to move around.
Whether students come to TLC through instructor coercion or of their own volition, they expect to get feedback from a tutor. Feedback can take many forms that will be addressed in the following information. Consider some ideas suggested by Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff in "Sharing and Responding." This advice can be altered to meet a student's specific needs.
Remember two things about feedback
Always ask students what kind of feedback they would like to have. No matter what type of feedback is givin, be specific and give examples (do not say "your writing lacks a central focus").
Questions for introductions in the paper
What is the writer saying at this point? Is the audience prepared for what is coming? What are the issues the writer will address?
What are the issues the writer does not need to include?
What does the writer want the audience to know after reading the paper?
Dealing with focus
"Sayback" is a technique to use with beginning writers on a first draft to determine what the paper is trying to say. If the writer can "hear-back" what the paper infers to the reader, it helps the writer to focus the paper in the right direction. "Center of Gravity" is the same as a source of energy. This idea, phrase, or detail in the paper is especially strong and carries a lot of energy through the text. If the center of gravity in the paper is not the same as the writer's central focus, the writer must consider that powerful ideas deserve to be developed.
Dealing with organization
"Says-Does Feedback" is a technique that helps the writer organize what is already in the paper and gain insight on what else is needed. Look at each paragraph separately and summarize what it says (this should be clear) and what it does (i.e., introduces a new idea, gives a specific example, concludes the paper, and so on). "Says-Does" feedback through the entire paper helps the writer recognize the current structure of the paper and suggests ways to improve on the structure. If a paragraph cannot be summarized by what it says and does, the writer needs to rewrite or eliminate the information.
Dealing with development
Telling the writer what the paper "almost says" or implies is helpful with early drafts. The writer needs to hear what the paper does not say and realize that implied ideas actually need to be expanded. Often the writer things this pertinent information is already in the paper so it is important to provide this "almost says" feedback.
What can the reader "see or not see" is a technique for developing narrative pieces. What the writer is describing familiar images, it is not always easy to identify which details about an image have been clearly communicated and which are still vivid and distinct in the writer's mind. Feedback from a tutor can help define clear and obscure imagery.
"Believing and doubting feedback" is a technique to use with persuasive papers. Respond to the paper first as a "believer" and then as a "doubter." From the "believing" perspective, point out the strong arguments in the paper, additional points to enhance the argument, and what information is detrimental to the argument. From the " doubter" perspective, offer judgment on how persuasive the counter-arguments seem to be, and make suggestions to bolster this side of the paper. Ask the question "What will the audience want to know more about from the arguments in this paper?"
Dealing with final drafts
Using "Straight or wavy underlines" is a technique that helps the writer identify areas of strength and weakness for the final draft. Consider using straight underlining of ideas, phrases, and sentences that are strong, and using wavy underlining of the parts that are weak. These "flags" help the writer identify areas to keep in the paper and other areas that need more work. The reader, too, is able to go back through the paper and discuss these relevant strengths and weaknesses. Polishing the paper to this degree usually happens at the end of the writing process.
There are various ways for a tutor to respond to a student's paper. Each student may want different feedback, and the following responses could help identify strengths and weaknesses in the paper.
This technique responds to student writing in terms of the writer's goals and intentions:
How do you (writer) feel about this piece?
What has writing this paper accomplished for you (writer)?
What was your intention in writing this piece?
What was your goal with this paragraph?
What were you trying to say with this sentence?
What is your persuasive argument?
This technique responds to student writing in terms of how the reader is affected:
What I hear you saying is…
I see your main point being…
This idea seems clear to me…
Do you (writer) mean for the reader to feel…
This technique responds to student writing in terms of the paper with little or no reference to either writer or audience:
The thesis statement is in the wrong place.
This paragraph needs a topic sentence.
This paper needs work on organization; perhaps moving these paragraphs would help.
How should this punctuation be corrected?
This technique responds to student writing in terms of the perceived expectations of the instructor:
As with all papers, there needs to be a clear thesis statement in the introduction.
The tone of the paper is too informal for a research paper.
Does the cover letter offer enough details to satisfy the instructor's requirements?
This technique responds to student writing in order to push or lead the writer to make certain changes:
Perhaps you (writer) should switch to this subject because this seems to be the main idea in the paper.
Moving this sentence will help clarify the idea.
Change the pronoun "it" to "The School District" to clarify the meaning of this sentence.
A semicolon can combine these two sentences since the ideas are related.
The last paragraph has pertinent information that should be included in the introduction.
This technique responds to student writing by allowing changes to com from the writer's perspective of what is needed. It is hard to be entirely non-directive. One way to be non-directive is to provide the writer with descriptive feedback, i.e., thoughts and impressions of the piece. If the feedback is different from the writer's intentions, then revision and clarification is necessary.
Responding to student writing is often a blend of directive and non-directive feedback. Being either too straightforward or too vague can be ineffective for the writer. The most constructive comments point to a specific problem in the writing and then offer suggestions for revision. Always be aware of how these suggestions will be received.
Involved versus detached
"Involved" or "detached" refers to the tutor's response to student writing as distinguished by the student. The "involved" tutor frequently makes personal comments while reading a student paper such as "Oh, that's horrible," "I know how you felt," or "I've had a similar experience." On the other hand, the "detached" tutor does not allow personal emotions to show while reading a student paper and reacts similarly to a paper on suicide or marine biology.
Involved tutors are generally more encouraging and more writer-and-reader-oriented toward the student's writing. Detached readers tend to be more text-oriented and often directive. If possible, try to respond according to the student's needs.
Please note that the categories above are somewhat artificial. Most tutors use a variety of strategies when a student does not easily "connect" in the tutoring session. Be as flexible as possible in order to meet the different students' needs, allowing for tutor personality that tends toward one response method over another.
When reviewing a student's paper, the following ideas may help to make suggestions for improvement and revision:
What is the subject of the paper?
What is the thesis?
Talk with the student to see if the paper has a clear idea.
If the student cannot identify a specific subject and/or thesis, ask him or her to read the paper out loud and to stop when the main point is evident. If the main point is not specified by the end of the second paragraph, stop the reading and jump to the conclusion. If neither the conclusion nor the introduction is organized around the subject and thesis, the student needs to be advised on where to begin this structure.
If the student can identify a specific subject and/or thesis, continue to read the paper for main points to support the thesis and logical organization, topic sentences for each paragraph, and supporting details for each topic sentence.
This level of reviewing a paper should help students learn to spot and correct errors or identify patterns of errors such as sentence fragments, punctuation, and spelling. Mark the errors in the margin using them as examples to review relevant grammar and punctuation rules. Encourage the student to make the corrections in order to reinforce the rules and establish new writing habits. As the tutor takes the time and offers support and information, the student acquires new English skills and is able to apply them to other pieces of writing.
General Tutoring Techniques
Always respect students who have the courage to ask for help. Writing is not an easy skill to learn and for most people it does not come naturally. Be positive and encouraging, and invite students to return to share the next draft or paper in process. Most people respond when someone cares or helps, and this encouragement could easily motivate a student's desire to improve.
The following information is a combination of questions and scenarios previously experienced by TLC staff and tutors. Hopefully, this data will be profitable for future tutors and help minimize negative tutoring experiences.
The student wants the tutor to do his or her work
This is often a very subtle, unspoken request from the student. The student may want to have one more math problem demonstrated or one more sentence edited for punctuation and grammar. But the chief goal of the tutor is to help students achieve academic independence. Gently guide the student toward doing his or her own work by suggesting "It is your turn now" or "Go ahead and start the problem and I'll assist if necessary." If gentle guidance does not work, however, more blunt suggestions may be appropriate, such as "You cannot learn to do the work if I do it for you," "You are being graded for this, not me," or "The more work you do, the faster you will improve." Being this candid should not be considered unless it seems obvious the student hopes to manipulate the situation.
The student argues or disagrees with the tutor
Take a deep breath and try to discern if the disagreement makes a difference. Perhaps there is more than one correct and effective method of approach with this student. If the student's idea has some validity, try it; if it is more effective, this is a good learning experience. However, if the tutor's method seems to be more effective, the tutor should explain how and why one method works better than another. If the student insists on using his or her idea, determine whether to continue working with the student or refer him or her to another tutor whose methods may be more in line with the student's thinking. There is, however, a more serious consideration when the student disagrees with the tutor. The student may want to continue doing something that appears to be wrong. If this is the case, the tutor must explain as clearly and patiently as possible why one method is right and the other is wrong or inappropriate. If there is no alternative way to do the assignment, the student should be told. If the student refuses this advice, try to focus on another area that seems to be more agreeable. To use the cliché, "When all else fails," terminate the session and help the student find another tutor.
The student criticizes her or her instructor, other tutors, or staff
Professional ethics prohibit a tutor from commenting negatively about any instructor, tutor, student, or employee to a client. Commenting negatively about anyone is the surest and quickest method of incurring the wrath of a supervisor or losing respect of instructors, fellow tutors, and students. If a student is verbally upset and criticizes an instructor or another tutor, shrug the comment off, say nothing, and continue with the tutoring session. There are two important issues to address in this dilemma: first, it is the tutor's job to improve the skill level of the student, and by reinforcing the student's negative attitude, the job becomes more difficult. Second the student is presenting one side of the story. Even if the student claims to be receiving unfair treatment, there is another side to the story. The tutor is neither part of the problem nor part of the solution.
The student has low self-esteem
If a person has low, negative self-esteem, it is not easy to feel positive about a subject that is difficult such as writing. If the student constantly criticizes him- or herself, the tutor should find areas where the student is doing well. For instance, spend some time discussing the positive things in the student's life such as other classes, other activities, and the good things about the student's writing. If the student shows through subsequent sessions that his or her self-esteem is not improving, refer the student to a school counselor for some professional assistance.
The student has set unrealistic goals
If a student seems to set high, unrealistic goals, it is not up to the tutor to point this out. However, a tutor may help the student break the goals down into small, realistic steps that can be accomplished during the semester. If it seems appropriate, refer the student to a career counselor for further advice. If the student experiences temporary setbacks while working toward a goal, remind him or her that positive lessons can be learned through negative events, and continue to offer encouragement and support.
The student does not seem to be trying or working hard enough
Perhaps the student is having problems in another area of life that impinges on his or her study habits, making it seem as if the student is not working hard enough. Mention this observation in an unemotional manner, and point out some positive observation concerning the student's abilities, personality, or other achievements. Gently explain that the student may later regret not having made more effort on the assignment, and ask if he or she needs some help setting some short term goals to accomplish the task. If the student continually fails to make a worthwhile effort to do his or her work, the tutor may have to discontinue working with the student. Explain to the student that the sessions are either not benefiting the student or it is a waste of the tutor-student's time that can be put to better use. Advise the student to consider future tutoring sessions when he or she is ready to make a more serious attempt or the assignment takes a higher priority.
The student comes to the tutor session unprepared
Often it is necessary in a first-time session with a student to explain what to bring, i.e., rough draft, assignment sheet, or other instructions form class. If the student comes to the second session unprepared, politely repeat the discussion or list of items mentioned in the first session, and explain that it will not be possible to work without some appropriate structure. If the student shows up the third time unprepared, cancel the session. The student needs to understand that in order to be successful in any real life setting, he or she must assume personal responsibility.
The student is late and/or fails to arrive
Do not be upset if the student is late or does not show up for the session. Remind the student of the importance of being on time or calling TLC if he or she cannot keep the appointment. Give the student an opportunity to explain why he or she was late or missed the session, and indicate that it would be good to make a second appointment if necessary. If the student is late or misses the second appointment, remind him or her that if this happens a third time it will not be acceptable since other students need to use the time. Gently explain that a tutor will not be able to work with the student in the future. A good rule to go by is "Three strikes and you're out," which allows the student to miss or be late for two sessions, but missing the third session automatically makes the tutor unavailable. Be sure the student knows about this policy before the third session-TLC is not trying to get rid of students who ask for help, but to get rid of inappropriate behavior that imposes on other students' needs.
The student wants to talk and socialize
Approximately half of most first sessions are involved in listening to a student verbalize his or her problems and getting acquainted with each other. Building a rapport can sow the seeds for future productive sessions. However, try to guide the student into focusing on the work during the second half of the first session. If the student returns for a second session and wants to socialize, explain that the student is there to improve certain skills which requires spending time looking at the student's assignment. If the student continues to be more interested in socializing than working, suggest that he or she should see a counselor who may be able to help in other problem areas.
The student becomes dependent upon the tutor
It is easy for students to become attached to or dependent upon a tutor. Encourage the student to do more of the work by asking questions that require the student to take more responsibility. Resist the temptation to "play God" by offering him or her non-judgmental answers or redirecting the questions back to the student. For example, the student may ask questions that pertain to everything from what courses to take next semester to what car to buy. Casually redirect the question by asking "What classes are available" or "What classes interest you?" Continue this manner of response until the student begins to make decisions or decides to seek help form someone more appropriate. Students need to achieve academic independence as well as individual independence, and that can be achieve by taking control of personal activities and decisions. As the student takes more initiative to make decisions, self-confidence and pride in achievement become the rewards.
The supervisor disagrees with the tutor's methods
When the supervisor disagrees with a tutor's methods it is usually due to complaints received from students, other tutors, or instructors. Calmly discuss the issue(s) with the supervisor and identify the specific problem or complaints. Perhaps the supervisor was misinformed and not aware of the tutor's side of the story. In that case, the matter can be cleared up. On the other hand, the supervisor may have a legitimate disagreement or concern with methods used by a tutor. The tutor should explain the reasons behind using a certain method and then listen to the supervisor explain what is wrong with the method as well as what would work better. Hopefully, this discussion will result in finding a compromise or determining which method is best for helping the students. If a compromise is not possible, however, the supervisor can observe the tutor in action using the questionable method. If the disagreement cannot be resolved, the tutor must accept the supervisor's advice or choose not to be a tutor.
It appears that a fellow tutor is not doing an adequate job
It is important to identify a tutor problem as happening more than one time rather than a tutor who is having a bad day. If a tutor is continually rude, abrupt, or otherwise unprofessional toward students, it is important to notify the supervisor with as much pertinent information as possible. Poor behavior by any tutor reflects negatively on the other tutors and TLC collectively and can damage the tutor program. The cliché "One bad apple spoils the barrel" applies to this situation.
A student does not feel the tutor is being helpful
Due to different types of personalities and different expectations, students can become frustrated with the lack of improvement or progress, and the target of frustration my be the tutor. Encourage the student to explain his or her expectations and frustrations, and point out how the student has progressed. If a tutor cannot meet a student's needs or expectations, it should not be taken personally; offer the option of another tutor to work with the student. Perhaps another solution is to increase the number of tutoring sessions per week, and assure the student of his or her progress in working toward a certain goal.
The tutor is ill or not feeling well
Notify the supervisor as soon a possible so TLC students can be rescheduled or another tutor can fill in. If a tutor is not feeling well but still reports for appointments with students, the tutor should let the student know at the beginning of the session. If the student understands the tutor is "Not up to par" but made an effort to keep the appointment, this tells the student that he or she is important to the tutor. Most students understand other people having a "sick day" and will accept the best service the tutor can offer that day.
The student states that his or her instructor disagrees with the tutor's ideas
A communication problem may occur because what the tutor suggested to the student was relayed differently to the instructor. Calmly listen to what the student relates is in disagreement with the instructor. If the tutor is wrong, he or she should admit the error and go on with the session. However, if it seems the instructor did not get the facts accurately from the student, or the tutor disagrees with the instructor's complaint, the tutor should thank the student for the information and then discuss it with a supervisor. Never discuss the problem with the instructor until the supervisor has had a chance to decide what to do.
An instructor complains to a tutor about work with a particular student
If an instructor complains to a tutor, avoid a heated discussion, and do not argue with the instructor. Instead, get a supervisor involved. Listen to the instructor's complaint, write it down, and find a time when the instructor, supervisor, and tutor can meet to discuss the problem. As a third neutral party, the supervisor can often diffuse the crisis. If a meeting with everyone involved cannot be arranged, allow the supervisor to handle the conflict.
(1) Focus on sentence boundaries with students. Not only should every group of words punctuated as a sentence have a subject and a verb, but it should express a complete thought. Even if students have a hard time identifying S-V groups, they can usually look at ideas and see where one stops and another begins.
Of course, the confusion comes in when writers include more than one idea in a sentence, which is normal and often preferable. REMEMBER! There are four basic types of sentences:
- Simple sentence = one independent clause/one S-V group.
- Compound = two independent clauses/two S-V groups.
- Complex = one independent clause/at least one dependent clause.
- Compound/Complex = two independent clauses/and at least one dependent clause.
Punctuation becomes important and confusing to many people when they write anything but a simple sentence. Here are some punctuation tips:
Compound sentences can be joined in two ways:
- Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, or, for, so, yet, and but). IC, conj. IC
- Use a semi-colon. IC; IC
Complex sentences also have their own predictable equations:
- When you begin a sentence with a dependent clause, separate it from the rest of the sentence with a comma. DC,IC
- You don't need to use a comma when the dependent clause comes after the independent clause. IC DC
(2) Grammar is acknowledging that writing benefits from following predictable equations that exist to help writers organize their ideas. Grammar truly is one of the best analytical tools ever devised.
(3) Because commas are the most common mark of punctuation, they also cause the most confusion. Use the accompanying comma rule sheet to review your own knowledge about commas.
(4) Tell students to rewrite their sentences if they are unsure about punctuation, especially if the sentence sounds awkward when they read it out loud.
Stress that the writer has a lot of OPTIONS in expressing any idea. There is not one absolute right way to say something-- although there are more effective ways a writer can say something. Unless a student is writing for an upper division course, don't worry or make the student worry about style, etc.; it's often enough if they can simply attain clear punctuation.
When you're working with a student, you might show her/him how a sentence can be rewritten in several different ways. Pick out a sentence that they are having a hard time with and play with it, experimenting with different sentence structures. Here are some handy tips to use and pass on:
--encourage students to practice using different kinds of sentences (simple, compound, etc.).
--important information often comes at the end of the sentence.
--the most important information should come in the independent clause.
--help students see the difference between a dependent clause and an independent clause. REMEMBER! A clause becomes dependent when a dependent word (subordinate coordinator) directly precedes the S-V group.
(5) Remind students that the production of good writing involves time and effort. They must be willing to approach their writing step-by-step. If they neglect the editing process, their writing will show it in its poor grammar and punctuation.
(6) FINALLY, before you even look at a paper, QUESTION the student about what their overall point is and how they have supported this focus.
If you question them and they are unsure, then work on organization of ideas, not grammar