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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Observation of Tutoring an ESL Student


This session was between a writing 990 student whose native language was Nuer. (Sudanese dialect) As usual, the tutor begins by asking the student if he has his assignment sheet, the student nods as he accesses canvas on his tablet. Later I would find out that there were actually two assignments, the first of which was to write 20 simple sentences about “civic engagement.”

            The tutor opens the session by asking the student if he knows what the assignment means by “simple sentence,” the student makes what seemed a wild, yet somewhat educated guess. His guess (as expected) is inaccurate. Responding to the student, the tutor then begins his explanation of a simple sentence by telling the student that a simple sentence consists of only one clause. It seems as if the student isn’t familiar with the term “clause,” so I noticed that the tutor refrains from using this term throughout the rest of the session. I thought this was wise on his part as not to confuse the student even further. Continuing his explanation, the tutor informs that the simplest of sentences will consist of only 2, sometimes 3 components: a subject, a verb, and sometimes an object.

Most of the sentences that the student had written were complex sentences, so the tutor helped show him how to make them into simple sentences by removing some of the information from each. The student also strayed from the topic of civic engagement, and the tutor tried to explain to the student that all of his simple sentences must have something to do with civic engagement. Asking the student if he knew what the phrase “civic engagement” meant, the tutor was again returned with what sounded like a wild guess. It seems as if the student doesn’t understand the difference between the assignment (writing 20 simple sentences) and the topic (civic engagement). At this point, the tutor clarifies the difference, and shows the student how to remain on topic with his sentences.

Nearing the end of discussion for this assignment, the tutor reiterates what differentiates a complex sentence from a simple one. The tutor supplies him with good clues such as: if the sentence uses commas, or “and-or-but” words, then it is complex. I noticed that the tutor refrained from using the word “conjunction” to label these words, rather referring to them as “and-or-but” words. In a way, I thought this was polite of the tutor because the student may not be familiar with the term “conjunction,” and use of the word may cause further confusion.

The second assignment the student presented was very similar to the first, but rather than constructing simple sentences, he was expected to construct complex sentences. The topic for this assignment was “family members suffering from poor health.” The tutor again recaps the difference between simple and complex sentences, reading some of the sentences aloud and asking the student if they are simple or complex. The student struggles to answer correctly at first; again, throwing out what seemed like wild guesses. After the tutor again repeats the differences between simple and complex sentences, the student finally proves to be grasping the differences by properly identifying some of the sentences he had written. The student seemed to be in a state of enlightenment, really seeming as if he understood the differences, which I think he did. The tutor asks the student if he has any further questions, the student does not, so they thank each other and bid farewell. It was very interesting to observe how a student went from being in the dark about such a concept, to what was apparently a firm grasp of it in one session. This really taught me how much some of these students can learn in such a short period of time when it is properly explained to them.

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