Deriving General Principles of Tutoring from the Specifics of ESL Tutoring

Sahar Khan, Stanford ’13

This week’s reading, Sharon A. Myers’ “Reassessing the ‘Proofreading Trap’: ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction” (in The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors) deals with questions arising out of the more specific needs of ESL students. However, it has enabled me to think about my more broad and ultimate goal as a writing tutor. I define this as doing my best to assist a tutee in becoming a better communicator (written or oral). Given this definition, I will not have a predetermined tutoring strategy before a student enters the session because I would use a case-by-case (/student-specific) strategy. Therefore, I would identity the student’s needs and writing background and build my strategy accordingly while remaining cognizant of the abovementioned goal (this remains constant across different tutees). Though similarities exist, students’ needs and writing backgrounds differ across the board and there are many levels even within the group Sharon A. Myers broadly defines as “ESL students.” So, even among ESL students, I do not think that I would have the same strategy for all of them as I would try and understand their specific needs, patterns of thinking, error etc.

Sometimes, even those who are no longer ESL students but are non-native English speakers, make sentence-level errors e.g. I know several fluent non-native English speakers who speak impeccably but are susceptible to the omission of/confusion between “a” and “the” in writing. If cleaning up this minor though noticeable error is what it takes to help improve a writer’s communication abilities, then I would not shy away from it. However, I would not do this by mere editing; I would attempt to use a questioning method to help the tutee understand/self-identify her personal patterns of error with “a” and “the.” Finally, I just want to emphasize that it does not make sense to focus on rhetoric over language or syntax because sentence structures (language and syntax) form the most basic units that constitute the coherence of any piece of writing. Hence, in my view, be it ESL or otherwise, the sentence-level understanding is absolutely key to a tutoring session.

I have not engaged directly with methods specific to ESL tutoring strategy because I have tried to elucidate broader lessons I have derived from this week’s reading. By and large, I agree with Sharon Myers’ proposed methods and tips for ESL tutoring.

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