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Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options

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Thamanna Hussain

on 6 March 2014

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Transcript of Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options

Tutoring ESL Students:
Issues and Options

Understanding Conditioned Human Behavior and Accomodating Cultural Differences
Tutors-in-training should be aware of the many human behaviors which are conditioned by one's culture.
(Avoidance of eye contact, personal space, acceptability of touching between strangers e.t.c. )
(Not being able to keep appointments, or showing up late).
"We have to be aware that we might make unconscious judgements about others based on our expectations about such behaviors" (Harris,p.528).
Different Writing Processes
Tutors should work on
planning
and generating ideas, text structure, and language.
Have students write in
stages
; focus on content and organization in one draft and then focus on linguistic concerns in another draft.
Working with ESL Students
Where should you start?
Language or the Writing Process?
Don't make generalizations!
Harris explains that it is important to know rhetorical preferences in cultures, but tutors should not expect all ESL students to fit the models they have learned. Every student is different. She also notes that without knowing cultural preferences, tutors see differences as weaknesses and assume that all ESL writers need basic writing or grammar help.
Harris says that when working on grammar, tutors often categorize types of error; however, this is often difficult because a merely intuitive understanding of the English language would not be sufficient to help ESL students.
Tutors should not be "grammarians" who shout out rules, nor should they be walking grammar handbooks.

Sentence-Level Concerns
"WHY is this wrong?"
Some ESL writers are very rule-oriented and organize their knowledge of English by rules.
It's important to keep in mind that it is harder for non-native speakers to realize English concepts/idioms or when something "sounds good" and they rely on explicit rules.
Resisting the Urge
Global First, Local Later
When ESL students are insistent on having tutors correct all grammatical errors:
Adjust expectations. Explain that it is unrealistic for them to expect to write like native speakers.
Students should focus on substance and not worry too much on style. (Although, there are professors who expect error-free prose from all students).
"Educators, not Personal Editors"- Explain the role of a tutor. Students need to know that tutors are expected to help them with strategies that will make them effective writers.

Remember that as a tutor, your goal is to
HELP
students find their
OWN
answers.
Tutors are not "instructors" who "tell" things.
Since some ESL students cannot easily understand this, tutors should make sure that they and their students understand each other's goals and expectations.
When can you tell?
"Tutors who work with ESL students may have to be tellers because they will probably need to provide cultural, rhetorical, and/or linguistic information in order to complete the student's writing assignments effectively" (Harris, p.533).
Grammatical Correctness
You should begin the session with larger rhetorical concerns; however, when working with grammar, you will most likely see problems with
verb endings and tenses, prepositions and deleted articles
which are the most common noticeable errors.
Research suggests that ESL writers most commonly make the following errors:
Reading Aloud
"The goal of the tutor is to attend to the individual concerns of every writer who walks in the door"
Tutors can face challenges when trying to explain certain concepts to non-native speakers.
Thus, it is important to know effective strategies and rhetorical approaches when working with non-native speakers.


Harris notes that new tutors often see a draft by an ESL student and are unsure of what to address first.
Begin by looking for what the student has done well in the paper and begin the session on a positive note.
Explain to the student that everyone makes errors and that most readers will be interested in the content of the paper.


Suggestion:
You should address the most important error that interferes with the reader's understanding of what the writer wants to say.
Reference
Harris, M., & Silva, T. (1993). Tutoring ESL students: Issues and options. College Composition and
Communication, 44, 525–537.
ESL writers are usually eager to learn and use idioms.
When introducing an idiom, tutors need to set up the appropriate context for the use of that idiom.
Make it clear for the student so they don't use it incorrectly.

We tend to think that all ESL students are the same; therefore, they have the same problems. Obviously, every student has different strengths and weaknesses.
When negotiating the agenda, the tutor must do some assessment about what skills the student has or doesn't have.
Determine whether the student needs help with the writing process or the language.
Assuming that the tutor will see the student more than once...
Locate the student's results on general English proficiency exams.
Consult with an ESL professional.
Analyze some samples of the student's writing and determine strengths and weaknesses.
Ask the student what they are having basic difficulty with.
Research has shown that "adult ESL writers plan less, write with more difficulty, and reread what they have written less..." (Harris, p.529).
ESL students often seek an editor, not a tutor. As tutors, you want to begin with the global concerns before looking at sentence-level matters.
Remind ESL students that it does not make sense to focus initially on grammatical problems because they may disappear after global revisions.
"Tutors need to resist their impulse to help as much as ESL students need to resist their desire to have every grammatical error corrected" (Harris, p.531).
SETTING GOALS
Second-language is a
long
and
slow
process.
"In terms of last minute papers, a tutor cannot do much to help with a paper that is about to be handed in - except give moral support or act as a proofreader" (Harris, p.532).
When dealing with an early draft, it is more realistic and useful to focus on reoccurring errors. Don't frustrate or overwhelm the student.
You might not see great improvements , but going slow will facilitate real learning and writing improvements over time.

Resisting the Urge to Tell
However, "telling" should not become your main style when interacting with ESL writers. Only use it when you feel it would be necessary or appropriate.
Making Minor Accommodations
Modify the normal mode of asking questions. Instead of asking "WHY" or "HOW," you can say,
"Please explain..."
Although this may be a useful strategy with native speakers, it may not be an effective strategy for ESL students who may find it harder to find and correct their own mistakes.
Negotiate the strategy with the student.
"Would you like to read the paper out loud, or would you rather have me read the paper out loud?"

Closing Remarks
Harris emphasizes that ESL instructors and writing tutors need to keep interacting and learning from each other.
Share awareness of the kinds of questions that students ask.
Be mindful of rhetorical strategies and languages of other cultures, and always make the session interactive.
Muriel Harris and Tony Silva
Full transcript