(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Example of telling, not leading a students: “I see that you have a mistake in this sentence in your essay. Instead of writing, ‘He was gave a reward,’ you should write, ‘He was given a reward.'”
All over the world and on almost every campus, there is a need for well-qualified teachers/tutors who understand grammar terms and who can “lead” ESL students to discover and correct their own mistakes, and by so doing, become better at self-editing. Unfortunately, many teachers/tutors merely tell students what their mistakes are and how to correct them. This approach has been proven to be ineffective at making students aware of their mistakes and at helping them become independent. The purpose of this posting is to give a brief introduction to an innovative and at the same time straight-forward techniques which teachers/tutors can use when conferencing individually with students about their writing assignments.
Overview of the tutor training
To better understand the tutor-training process, below I have included in this posting:
1) a description of the general steps in—and a brief sample of—a tutor-student conferencing session.
2) some sample tutor-training exercises from the Training Guide: Grammar Conferencing Techniques for Teachers and Tutors (by D. & P. Kehe).
3) some samples of supporting materials from the Handbook: Grammar Conferencing Techniques for Teachers and Tutors (by D. & P. Kehe).
To start with, there are two important points about ESL tutors regarding this process:
1) They do NOT need to be a grammar expert. They do NOT need to be able to explain grammar rules. They need only to know some common grammar terms that they can use when conferencing with students.
2) Their role is NOT to edit students’ assignments by directly tell students what to change. Instead, their role is to lead students to discover their own mistakes by tapping into their (the students’) own grammar knowledge.
General Steps for Conferencing with Students about the Grammar in a Writing Assignment
To lead a student to the first mistake, the tutor would give a hint. If the student can correct the mistake, the tutor then goes on to the next mistake. However, if the student cannot correct that first mistake, the tutor gives a second or third hint until the student can correct it. If the hints are not successful, or if the student seems frustrated, it’s acceptable for the tutor to then ask the student if it would be better for the tutor to directly explain what the mistake is and how to correct it.
In the art of conferencing, an important aim is for the tutor to say as little as possible. ESL students often do not have the listening skills needed to internalize long grammar explanations, so it’s most effective if the tutor can lead students by asking short questions.
Sequencing of Hints
After the tutor has read through the first paragraph . . .
Hint 1: The tutor tells which line, or sentence, has a mistake.
(If the student doesn’t find it, give Hint 2.)
Hint 2: The tutor tells what general grammar point the mistake is about. (e.g. “You have a verb tense problem;” or “Think about your verb tense.”)
(If the student doesn’t find it, give Hint 3.)
Hint 3: The tutor asks the student to identify all the words (or phrases) that pertain to the student’s mistake in the line/sentence. (e.g. continuing with the example in Hint 2, just above, “Underline the verbs.”)
(If the student doesn’t find it, give Hint 4.)
Hint 4: The tutor points to the specific word which is the problem is. (e.g. “Is the word “takes” present of past tense?)
(If the student doesn’t find it, give Hint 5.)
Hint 5: The tutor gives the student two options: The tutor can explain what the problem is, or the student can think about it and tell the tutor later.
Examples of Conferencing (with the tutor’s “script” in italics) about the essay topic, “My Family”
sample student essay: “My Family”
In my family, we have five family member. They are my dad, mom, brother, sister, me. Most of Chinese parents want boys, not girls. . . .
(Tutor) Hint 1: In the first line, you have a mistake. Can you find it?
(If the student finds it, then go to Mistake 2, below. If not, give Hint 2.)
Hint 2: You have a mistake with a noun.
(If the student finds it, go to Mistake 2. If not, give Hint 3.)
Hint 3: Underline the nouns in the first sentence.
(If the student finds it, go to Mistake 2. If not, give Hint 4.)
Hint 4: There is a mistake with “member.” Is there only one member or more than one?
(Tutor) Hint 1: There is also a mistake in the second sentence. Can you find it?
(If the student finds it, go to Mistake 3, below. If not, give Hint 2.)
Hint 2: In the second sentence, you need to add a word.
(If the student finds it, go to Mistake 3. If not, give Hint 3.)
Hint 3: (Tutor underlines the words “brother, sister, me.”) You need to add a word here.
(If the student finds it, go to Mistake 3. If not, give Hint 4.)
Hint 4: (Tutor points to the space after “sister.”) You need to add a word here.
(If the student finds it, go to Mistake 3. If not, give Hint 5.)
Hint 5: (Above the sentence, Tutor writes “a _ d.”) It has three letters. The first letter is “a” and last is “d.”
Tutor: (Hint 1) In the second line, you need to take out a word.
(If the student cannot find it, give Hint 2.)
Hint 2: You need to take out a preposition.
(If the student cannot find it, give Hint 3.)
Hint 3 Underline the prepositions in this line.
(If the student cannot find it, give Hint 4.)
Hint 4: Do you want me to tell you the word to take out, or do you want to think about it more and tell me next time?
Samples of tutor-training exercises from the Training Guide
Part 1: Identifying mistakes
This part is for training purposes only. It provides an opportunity for trainees to discover, discover, analyze, and explain grammar mistakes. This helps lay the groundwork for Part 2, in that it pertains explicitly to conferencing with students.
- You can find an explanation of the grammar point in the Glossary of Terms in the Handbook. To cross-reference with the Handbook, a note is included at the end of each “practice” sentence.
- If you are not sure where a mistake is in a “practice sentence,” you can find all corrected sentences on p. 21 at the end of this Training Guide.
(Note 1: Although in the exercise below, the directions ask the reader to explain what the grammar mistakes are, in actual conferencing sessions, this would not be included in the interaction with the student.)
Exercise 1: Briefly explain what the mistake in each “practice sentence” is.
(Example “practice sentence”) When I was a child, I wanted be in the Olympics. (See the Handbook: infinitives, p.33.)
What is the mistake? (Example grammar explanation) We need to add “to” before “be” because “want” should be followed by an infinitive.
- Steve can convincing anyone to do anything. (See the Handbook: modals, p. 33.)
What is the mistake?
- They are knowing where the crime happened. (See the Handbook: stative verbs, p. 35.)
What is the mistake?
Part 2: Conferencing with a student
Exercise: Write hints to lead students to discover their mistakes with verbs. You may need more, or fewer, than four hints. To see an explanation of the grammar rule and to see suggested hints, look at the Handbook: Grammar Conferencing Techniques for Teachers and Tutors.
- They attending a concert when they heard the news. (See the Handbook p. 7, Section 1.4.)
- Tomorrow, it rains. (See the Handbook p. 8, Section 1.5.)
- There is some features of a car that I need. (See the Handbook p.6, Section 1.2.)
- Allie worked as a teacher since September. (See the Handbook p.9, Section 1.6.)
Samples from the Handbook
The purpose of the Handbook is to give the tutor-trainees support while they are doing the exercises in the Training Guide. To facilitate this, the information in the Handbook is coordinated with the exercises in the Training Guide in two ways.
1) For each item in the Training Guide exercises, the trainees are referred to “suggested” hints in the Handbook.
2) For grammar terms used in the exercises, trainees are referred to a “Glossary of Terms” in the Handbook.
Coordinating the Guide and the Handbook
This attachment shows an example of how the Training Guide and Handbook coordinate with each other. coordinating-guide-and-handbook
A video recording of a conferencing session
For an example of a tutoring session using these techniques, see the link to a YouTube video below:
I’d enjoy continuing this conversation with you about and hearing your perspectives and experiences. Feel free to click on “Reply” at the top of this posting, and we can continue this discussion.