Aside from the specifics of the article, I liked the way Harris attempted to address the problems between American tutors and ESL students by asking the students’ opinions on the matter. That is something I often do with my students; when we finish an exercise, I ask – did that help? Are you more comfortable with that idea? Since I can’t get into the student’s head to understand what helps and what doesn’t, I have to rely on his or her response to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for each individual student.
In order to truly help a student learn, a tutor has to understand exactly what the problems are – not just which mistakes a student is making, but why the student is making those mistakes. Harris’s article is extremely helpful in finding an answer to that question, at least regarding ESL students. Even simple things like the level of formality that makes a student uncomfortable can be an impediment to learning.
It is very difficult to help a student when expectations differ, especially if you aren’t even aware of the difference. I found it particularly interesting that she noted the active verbs ESL students used to describe their expectations of the tutor’s role. The “minimalist” tutoring philosophy differs sharply from the expectations of the ESL students, according to Harris. “ESL students expect the tutor to take control of the session – to diagnose and convey to the student what needs to be learned, much as a teacher is expected to lecture and deliver information” (211), Harris explained. However, tutors who work under the minimalist philosophy have to step back. We are guides rather than lecturers. Harris points out that “…discussion is then necessary to help the student see that he or she really is being given an opportunity to learn by offering an answer” (211). By discussing our approach with out students, we might be able to help them overcome their frustrations with what might appear to them as ineffective methods.
I understood particularly well her discussion of the students’ idea that the tutor’s main purpose was to answer questions. I have a student from India who always wants the answer- how do I structure an intro paragraph? Is this idea okay? She has a hard time understanding sometimes that I can’t give her a particular answer concerning her ideas, since they are her ideas that she needs to develop herself. However, she is eager to learn and has improved a lot over the last few weeks. This article helped me understand a little better how to guide her, since I had a better understanding of her expectations.