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Getting to Know ESL Writers

So I'm beginning the service portion of my service-learning project tomorrow. In order to learn how to teach or foster literacy/compositional skills for the satisfaction of a course project, I will be volunteering as a Student Tutor at a local Elementary School, helping K-6 children improve their reading skills. I've been reviewing the materials provided by my coordinator to help me understand how to help the children best and found a little sheet titled "Getting to Know You". It has two big stars with smiley faces on it as well as pictures of books, cats and hot dogs. Cute. It asks questions like: What is your Name? Do you have a pet? What is your favorite food? Do you like to read? As I was looking at this sheet, it made me realize how important this getting to know you process is in order to help the children feel comfortable. I don't know exactly why that is, maybe it's just to establish that connection, the connection that you care. The connection that engages the student and improves one's capacity to learn. I wish I could say it in a more eloquent manner that really lets the meaning ring out but I just feel like we all learn better when we're smiling.

In reading a book for our course titled "ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors" by Shanti Bruce & Ben Rafoth, I've been learning the importance of getting to know the college students that I tutor as well. I'm realizing that I haven't been acknowledging the differences between myself and the ESL Writers that I tutor, largely because of the risk that may be involved. I really don't want to offend anyone, but the book made an excellent point by inviting tutors to " interest in their home language, country, or culture by engaging them in the kind of small talk that usually accompanies tutoring sessions..." (p. 13). I've been feeling cut-off from many ESL Students and unsure of how to help them, especially when they are not engaging socially. I feel like, when appropriate, if I acknowledge what I would like to know about a Writer that I'm tutoring by asking them, it might fuel the personal connection that I have with them, deepen the waters that we're allowed to swim in, and allow for a more effective and rewarding session.


  1. Evan, I agree--establishing a connection is vastly important when working with ESL writers. However, I'd be lying if I were to say that the prospect of doing so doesn't intimidate me. I think this is because I'm afraid of floundering, of not knowing which questions to ask and which responses to give.

    But I'm starting to learn something: it's okay to flounder sometimes, because this shows the reality of my humanity, and thus makes me relate-able. If I approach my interactions without thrashing about internally, if I am realistic about my ignorance then I can explore with that person, ask questions and broaden my horizons--together we can "swim" somewhere, together we can learn.

  2. Evan,

    I love this post and the project you chose; I find it fun with the chance of challenging. I think this will stretch and strengthen your tutoring abilities in ways tutoring adults will differ in. Children tend to be more receptive or humble to what you have to say, however, they may also not care by being more energetic and spuratic. I wish you the best of luck in this. I appreciate your use of the ESL Writings we discussed in class today and believe the approach you are taking will prove fruitful and fulfilling.


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