Tutoring Individuals in the Writing Center

ESL students who come to the writing center seeking help are individuals just like any other students who ask for tutors’ assistance. Shanti Bruce emphasizes in the opening paragraph of his “Listening to and Learning from ESL Writers” that adding the perspective  of the ESL student reminds us that each ESL student we encounter is an individual. As a writing tutor in training looking forward to tutoring in Stanford’s Hume Writing Center next year, I think it is important for the tutor to try and build a relationship with the tutee, or at least establish a friendly atmosphere. This will ease the nerves of those students – especially ESL students – who feel nervous or weak about seeking help from the writing center. The overall personality and attitude of the tutor makes a difference as well. If an ESL student is concerned about being weak for asking for help with writing, it may be appropriate for the tutor to explain that anyone and everyone can use and benefit from the writing center. I think I would personally say that I have writing tutors look at my writing to help me; it’s always nice to have a second set of eyes looking at your work to catch mistakes and offer feedback for improvement. I suppose before the tutoring even begins, the tutor’s job is to make sure that the students feel comfortable coming to the writing center and seeking help.

Two weeks ago, an ESL student came into the Hume Writing Center and I observed her tutoring session. The tutor read the student’s text aloud, a technique that Bruce mentioned was helpful according to an ESL student named Zahara that he interviewed. This technique was especially helpful because the tutor would read the student’s work aloud and occasionally pause at instances that needed revision. These pauses served as cues for the tutee to realize that something needed to be corrected. Oftentimes the tutee was able to notice the pause and consequently notice her error and correct it. This method allowed the ESL student to take a more active role in the revisions of her paper and I believe, helps to produce a better writer rather than merely  better writing. I hope to use this technique should I ever tutor an ESL student, along with keeping a positive and welcoming attitude.

Bianca Aguirre, Stanford University ’15

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One Response to Tutoring Individuals in the Writing Center

  1. Karla Abi-Rizk says:

    Hi Bianca,

    Firstly, I definitely agree with you on the overall importance of establishing a friendly environment for the student to ensure a certain degree of effectiveness in the session, and to warrant the student’s willingness to take on board advice about their writing. After all, no student likes consulting someone for help, only to be met with a condescending attitude and insensitivity to one’s feelings in regards to their piece of writing…

    Once this welcoming environment has been created, it is then up to us – as peer tutors – to reinforce this image with appropriate techniques in order to consolidate learning, and essentially to “produce better writers, not better writing” (North, 1984: 438). I think this is particularly difficult with ESL students, who (I must admit) I haven’t had very much experience with. However, I found Bianca’s observation of a tutoring session incredibly eye-opening, and I think that the suggestion of reading aloud to the tutee quite a valid one, with significant pauses encouraging the student to recognise their own mistakes, and hence become active participants in the tutoring session.

    Nevertheless, this technique may not always be suitable for the student in question, as Myers acknowledges in her demonstration that “students are very often painfully aware of their errors, but are not sure or simply do not know how to fix them”, and hence need more than the proposed solution of self-editing (2003: 58). Rather, Myers insists that we must focus on better understanding the pedagogical grammar of English (such as the subject-verb agreement, and the countable/non-countable distinction), so that we may present it to ESL students in such a light for it to be comprehensible to them.

    Karla Abi-Rizk, University of Sydney

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