I thought this reading very interesting and enlightening, in that we got a glimpse of ESL students’ preferences and needs with respect to tutoring in their own words. While several different types of tutoring issues were brought up, it seems that the overall thing to keep in mind when working with ESL students is the differences and the cultural backgrounds from which they have come. I think a major factor in effective learning and academic improvement is having a positive and comfortable environment, and certainly it is important on the part of the ESL tutor to be aware of and to attempt to facilitate this sort of comfortable environment. It was both helpful and perplexing to see, from the survey Harris described, that the range of what ESL students may find comforting, proper, or correct can vary quite a lot – from casual, informal conversation to no-nonsense formality and steadfast application to the writing assignment in question. The most poignant thing I saw in the survey responses was the repeated emphasis on the need, for tutors, to be respectful and understanding of the anxieties ESL students may be experiencing, and also to be aware that there are things they, as native speakers of English, may take for granted which are totally mystifying to foreign students. As a former ESL student myself, I remember it was very hurtful when a teacher laughed if I said something wrong or confused the meanings of words. From the tutor’s point of view, it may seem like we’re being easygoing and friendly by, say, downplaying a mistake and not making a big deal about it, but from the student’s point of view it can definitely feel like a personal insult – like they’re the one being laughed at and not the mistake. Really, the same thing should be kept in mind even for other English-speaking students.
It was also interesting to see the expectations that ESL (and native speaker) students seem to hold with regard to the role of teachers and tutors. It does seem like the case, especially in the very early stages of working with a new student, that the student sort of expects the tutor to have all the answers, and is surprised when he is asked about his own writing. I think a part of this ties into the idea that, while a tutor is not necessarily at the same rank of expertise and authority as a teacher or professor, they are still in a position which the student feels they must defer to, so they look to the tutor for affirmation of their points and for answers, more so than for advice and a collaborative approach to improving their writing. This is why, as Harris points out, it is important to establish with the student a collaborative relationship wherein they are doing the work of writing and thinking about their essay, and not simply absorbing whatever information the tutor tells them.
I think the biggest takeaway from Harris’ article is that tutors need to remember that their tutees, whether ESL students or native speakers are, after all, people too, and it is important not to be a sort of formulaic tutor who approaches every student the same way. Cultural and individual sensitivity is important so that both the student and the tutor are comfortable working together, so that real progress can be made in bettering the students’ writing.