Wednesday, September 11, 2013

First tutoring session

Like a couple of others experienced, my first tutoring session was with an ESL student. To be honest, she was far more prepared to be tutored than I was to tutor. The anxiety I had about tutoring in general was quickly resolved by turning my thoughts to the scripted questions I had committed to memory. After introducing myself, I got right into it, asking, "So what are we working on? What are your main concerns? Tell me, in brief, what you want to communicate in this piece."

She had printed out a first draft, as well as a printed copy of the assignment details. This was very helpful for me, as I then knew for what the Professor was looking. It was a journal entry reader response of the first short story the class had read. We were in luck because I happened to have read the short story about which she was assigned to write. 

I remembered the classroom discussion we had about putting students on the spot who may be self-conscious about reading aloud, so I asked her if she'd like me to read the piece out loud, or if she'd prefer to read it to me. "Please," she said, "You read," if memory serves. 

As I read through the piece, she caught just about every spelling (word form, usually) and grammar issue, without me saying anything. At first I would make the change, but after a few times, I just let her mark the paper herself. I felt this was more appropriate, as well as being empowering. Instead of having someone else's marks crowding her margins, she would make her own marks -- she, after all, was aware of the mistakes without me having to explain what went wrong. 

Her language was a bit confusing at some parts, particularly when she was stringing together apparently unrelated thoughts on the story's subject. I asked a few times, "Tell me, just in conversation, what you mean here." She would concisely explain the connection and the relevance of the thought about which she'd written, and I would respond, "That's perfectly clear! Write that!"

This exchange opened up probably the most significant advice I offered during the session, which was that often we consider writing and explaining verbally two completely distinct exercises, and because of this -- particularly in a classroom setting -- sometimes we have a tendency to make our writing way less clear, and unnecessarily complex, than we normally would in a conversation in which we were simply explaining something. Cheesy as it sounds, it was as if a lightbulb popped over her head, and she asked, "So, you mean, I should just write it as simply as I can? Even if it's shorter?" "Exactly," I responded, "You have great insights about this story -- just write them in the same manner you explained them to me."

Following that, we had a discussion on the purpose of journal writing. I told her that in this form of writing particularly that she should feel liberated to relate the story about which she was writing to her personal experience. Ultimately journal writing is personal writing, I explained to her, and it is an invitation for you to open up about your experience. The Professor, I suggested, will be able to tell that you understand the text to the extent that you've related its subject matter to your own experience, bringing in your own perspective. 

She told me that where she had come from, it was not expected -- or even wanted -- for students to write about their own thoughts about a story in the context of their personal experience. She asked as if she were hesitant to write that way, to which I assured her that her professor would receive her own experiences in her journal entries with enthusiasm. (It helped that I knew her professor, and knew that he wanted nothing more than to get his students to respond on a visceral level to the literature he assigned.)

Overall I felt the session went very well. There were a few things I would have changed -- for instance, it may have helped to make a formal outline of our session for her to refer later on. Before leaving she asked, "So I can come in again for help? Or only a certain number of times?" "Whenever you need us," I told her, "Provided, of course, that we're open," I said, indicating the hours listed at the front.


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